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SBL Student Spotlight – Maddie Jay

In our brand-new feature, we’re going to be shining a light on a select few SBL students regarded by many as ‘ones to watch.’

Throughout the year, we’ll be catching up with a diverse set of breaking and established talent to air their thoughts and experiences about bass playing, tunes and music in general from their own vantage point (the only thing that anyone can do, really). Want to join them? If you're studying with SBL and would like to share your experiences, then please don't hesitate to contact us as we'd love to share your story and promote your music to the SBL audience!

School Days - Breaking into Berklee

Born and raised in the small mountain town of Smithers, British Columbia, Maddie Jay was classically trained in music theory at a young age. A natural instrumentalist, she is fluid on almost any piece of gear she picks up – most notably the violin – but in her teenage years she finally found her passion in life when she first picked up the bass. “Music was always the plan, but I ended up switching to bass guitar the year before I graduated from high school,” she tells us. “I had attended a Berklee program that summer on violin, but when the bass player didn’t show up to a rehearsal, I ended up taking over. I spent the next 8 months obsessing over the bass!”

Confronting the many possible futures that now lie before her, Maddie soon realised that it would take more than a natural gift and a few lucky breaks to stand out from the crowd. Luckily for Maddie, the rise of the YouTube generation has levelled the playing field that was once only the preserve of a select few. “I ended up perusing YouTube after school,” she says. “I found one of Scotts older videos from around 2011/2012, which was when SBL was still in its infancy, but there were so many videos to help get me to the next level. I later decided to apply to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. It felt like a long shot, but I’d watched everything from Scott's most basic lessons on walking bass to his more nuanced videos where he would talk about letting the snare drum breathe. You can’t really get that from an instructional book! The format and the style really helped me internalize everything. So, even though I'd never taken a formal bass lesson in my life, I felt really prepared for Berklee. In fact, the last four years have been confirming and building on everything I’d learned from SBL.”

With groove and the ability to improvise topping the list of ‘givens’ that every bass player should now be pursuing, Maddie’s latest project as a bandleader draws on jazz, rock, R&B, hip-hop and more to create a pretty interesting mix. “I play in quite a few bands outside of my studies at Berklee and SBL, but my main project is a band I run called Maddie Jay & The pH Collective. We released an album last summer, which was a huge learning curve for me (you can check it out here)

Asked about her favourite players at the moment, Maddie explains: “Tim Lefebvre is a huge inspiration. He’s such a fearless player with an incredibly humble attitude. Pino Palladino will always have a special place in my heart. It was listening to his playing that made me understand the importance of tasteful bass playing above anything else. I love Michael League because of his entrepreneurship, his writing and his band leading skills. Esperanza and Tal Wilkenfeld will always be role models. They’re both incredible women achieving amazing things in the bass world.”

When it comes to bass guitar, Maddie is the real deal, not to mention a talented bandleader and singer. We asked her these 10 questions, covering everything from her gear to learning Teen Town and what it was like to meet Janek Gwizdala.

How do you unwind?

I like to jog outside. There’s a beautiful route just down the street from Berklee along the Charles River.

Tell us about your bass gear…

When it comes to gear I am a bit of a minimalist. My only real pride and joy is my FBass VF5. After a couple years of searching, this ‘school bus yellow’ godsend came to me and has been the most versatile and beautiful instrument I could hope for.

What’s the most challenging bassline that you’ve ever tackled?

I took on Jaco's Teen Town a couple years ago. I haven't spent much time on anything like that since, but it was a great challenge.

Can you tell us a few of your all-time favourite basslines?

  • Holding You, Loving You - Don Blackman (Barry "Sonjohn" Johnson)
  • Do That Stuff - Parliament/Funkadelic (Bootsy)
  • Trippin' - Lucy Pearl (Raphael Saadiq)
  • Whats Going On - Marvin Gaye (James Jamerson)

Any career highlights?

Early last year I had the immense pleasure of joining some incredible musicians at the Baked Potato in Los Angeles as a part of a Berklee scholarship fundraiser. I jammed with Steve Bailey, Abraham Laboriel Sr. and got to play one of my originals with John "JR" Robinson on the drums!

Who have you met thats impressed you the most?

I met Janek Gwizdala a year or so ago and that guy is a machine! I have never experienced such an intense ‘Type A’ musician before. Not only does he have a sparkling solo career, he has played with just about everybody and has a semi-pro tennis habit. He’s unreal.

What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?

A producer. My guilty pleasure is making electronic music in my spare time.

What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve bought lately?

Final Cut Pro!

What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?

I would tell myself to go to every audition and every jam that I possibly could. I was very shy and unconfident with my playing during my first year of college and I missed out on so many opportunities.

Who would be playing on your fantasy jukebox?

Some kind of collaboration between Thundercat and Michael Jackson!

Check out Maddie in the videos below and at www.maddiejaymusic.com

To join Maddie and our other amazing students within the SBL membership click here and grab your 14-day free trial today.

  • ThunderBass

    Great story and really great songs. Good luck in your future endeavors.