Bill Pritchard Mixes Meters With “The Fourth Valve” tm

“Think outside the box”, must be a mantra for sousaphonist/tubist Bill Pritchard. If there are genres, he’ll blend them; if there are meters, he’ll mix them, and if you hire a bass player near Atlanta, you had better double check the case that instrument comes in! Bill believes that tuba bass fits anywhere. “The Fourth Valve” tm is delighted to mix it up with the sensational southerner Bill Pritchard. Enjoy!

1. What are the advantages of sousaphone? Any disadvantages?
The biggest advantage is you really have is the advantage that both trumpets and trombones have is that you can control your bell angle and decide where you want your sound to go. That of course goes away a bit when I’m in a rock club because I’m almost always mic’ed.

Another advantage is the mobility, I think it really adds to the visual element of a show when you can actually move around a bit.

The disadvantages are really intonation and in general, sousaphones feel pretty nebulous in the staff. I don’t think that sousaphone development has come as far along as tuba development has in even say the last 5 years.

I just recently became an artist for Eastman and along with playing their new CC tuba (632) I’m going to be working with them on tweaking their sousaphone. I’m really excited about that!

2. How do you approach mixed meter? When do you think the small notes, and when do you think the big ones?
I’d say that so much of what I do in both Mercury Orkestar and 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer (4WAKO) I’m focused on the big beats and the overall groove.

I remember being in an Alan Baer masterclass and he was taking about how excepts can be in time, but not groove. He recommended playing with a drum machine, and honestly that’s the best way to do it.

I’ve tried with my students to explain the difference, but I always come up short in expressing it verbally, but you can really hear it and when sting with a drum machine (or drummer for that matter) you can really feel it.

Playing Fountains or the Ride with a waltz beat completely changes how you approach it.

Don’t get me wrong, the subdivisions are vital and I’m hearing them in my head or the drummer is playing them, but as far as feel is concerned, I’m usually focused on the big beats.

3. Would you rather play a melody or a bass line?
Wow, great question! I love solo playing, I really do, especially 20th century literature, and I love playing melodies when I’m in Midtown Brass.

In both Orkestar and 4WAKO in terms
Of composition, I’m in a weird spot. I’m clearly the bass line generator, but I’m still a horn and at times used as part of the horn section and not just part of the rhythm section.

I’m also called on in both groups to take solos, which is rare for bass players in general and very rare in Balkan music. I really love being able to do that and it’s pushed me so much musically to learn how to craft a good solo.

I’m really lucky that I get to do so many different things in music. I think if I just did one, I would go insane, so I love both really and I would feel really out of balance if I could do both.

4. How have you changed your concept of sound and equipment to play with amplified instruments?

I would say in general, my sound concept has changed on both tuba and sousaphone.

Growing up around NYC, I wanted to be Warren Deck (didn’t everyone) and I think we were all trying to go bigger and darker all the time.

I think I took things a little too far and at some point I realized that the sound wasn’t very lively and there was very little clarity to my sound.

At that point, clarity and flexibility of sound color became really important to me. I changed my big horn from a PT6 to a PCK, changed my F from a PT10 to a handmade 822 and now play an Eastman CC (632) in quintet.

I also began playing Parker Mouthpieces (and liked them and Michael so much I became an artist). Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel as though that they give more clarity and carry to the sound (along with feeling nice in the face).

As far as Sousaphones are concerned they are pretty different in terms of what kind of sound they make. For example 20K’s make a really great big warm sound. I played one in the Army and if you want to retain lots of the tuba color, that’s your instrument. On the other end of the spectrum are the old King’s that are a much brighter sound.

I play a Yamaha (for now), which is a much brighter sound that helps me have a lot more clarity when playing with amplified instruments and really meet the standards of clarity and flexibility for me.

5. What are your favorite non-traditional uses of tuba?
I love hearing the tuba, all the time! It’s super cool to hear tuba in rock bands. I play in one (B Wayne and the Belfry’s), but other than shameless self promotion, guys like TubaJoe Exley and Matt Owen (Eclectic Tuba) are doing great stuff.

In world music hearing a classmate from Eastman of mine John Altieri of Red Baraat. Of course so much of what happens or is inspired by New Orleans is great, so guys like Nat McIntosh of Youngblood, Matt Perrine of Bonerama, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Tin Men etc…

The guy I’m following the most (maybe stalking, JK) is Sergio Carolino. He’s amazing, all over the horn, in every style in all sorts of settings, he is killing it.

6. What would it be like for tuba players today if tuba players in the 40s had completely given up bass function?
It would really have been pretty disastrous for us. We would have only been used in the orchestra and only to bolster the bass section or maybe for an occasional March.

There would have been no way for Canadian Brass to happen, and they really influenced brass playing and chamber music for everyone. They made it a viable income source for all of us.

We would have never been considered to play in crazy world music or rock stuff, bands like The Roots would have never had a sousaphone.

Even our contemporary classical music, wether it be orchestral, solo or chamber has been influenced by pop music (rock, jazz, rap whatever) and we function as a bass player. If we lost that ability, composers wouldn’t have written it for us.

7. How did Greek (Balkan)wedding music come to Georgia, and what makes it different?
I really found that music through Slavic Soul Party (they’re amazing). After hearing them I started checking out where they’re style came from.

I then ran into groups like Fanfare Ciocarlia, Taraf De Haidouks and guys like Boban Markovic.

Little did I know that a great friend of mine, Erik Kofoed (who I went to Eastman with and we lost contact after school) had moved to Atlanta and also loved that music too.

He started by organizing mixed chamber music concerts where we would play music written for us, classical transcriptions and the occasional Balkan tune.

We became roommates and we were looking at each other’s CD’s and we started talking and wondering could we have a group that just does party music? Luckily we decided to do it.

Well, I guess Erik did, he’s really a genius arranger and composer and he runs Mercury Orkestar and has done all (except maybe one) tune.

We’ve had a really great reception here in Atlanta, it’s been really cool.

8. What are your personal mixed meter song hall of fame nominations?

There are so many! One really common time signature is called the Balkan Four. The big beats are in four, but it’s written in 9/8, so that one of the beats is elongated by one eight note.

But my favorite has to be a Bulgarian tune called Krivo Horo. It’s written in 11/16 but felt in 5 with the 3rd big beat being elongated by one 16th note. It’s a great tune and Erik’s arrangement is lots of fun to play.

9. What is your basic approach to bent notes and using your voice? How important are they in your playing?
I can’t say that I use my voice often when playing. Occasionally I used multiphonics on solos or at the end of a tune and maybe the occasional yell or vocal noise, but nothing to the extent of someone like Nat McIntosh, he kills it and if I can’t do it better or more original, I’d rather not just sound like an imitator.

I do use a fair amount of bends and rips when I play and feel like that’s more of my voice than my actual (very high) singing voice.

Technically speaking I use some half valves for effects and for rips in general, when you push down all thee valves in a sousaphone and blow pretty quick, you can get some pretty neat sounds, but like with all things I do, I really let me ear guide what I do and form follow function (thanks for that Jan Kagarice!)

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved

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