Charnett Moffett: “I try to get a lyrical, singing quality through the fretless bass. It’s a way of being in direct communication with people”

Charnett Moffett
(Image credit: Sharon Crocker)

Charnett Moffett has enjoyed a long and productive career in the jazz world, inspired by the example of his late father Charles Moffett, who played drums for Ornette Coleman. 

A Juilliard alumnus, Moffett has played with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Arturo Sandoval, Harry Connick Jr, Bette Midler, and Coleman himself. His current album, New Love, which features guitarist and vocalist Jana Herzen and drummer Corey Garcia, is his seventeenth as a composer, and is out now.

Talk to us about your new album.

“The idea behind New Love is to bring a little light and joy to the world right now when it’s in such a dark place. The music is supposed to make people feel good! We basically did it all in two days in the studio, because everyone had such a busy schedule here in New York, that it was impossible to rehearse as a unit at that time.

“So, knowing that I had these fabulous musicians that have worked for me for many years now, I said, ‘Look, we’ll just get in the studio. I’ve got these sketches, and we’ll take it from there.’”

You built the songs in the studio?

“Right. That was how it all came together, which was cool for me, because I wanted to leave room for creativity so that we could capture the element of the moment in the spirit of true jazz improvisation. 

“I was really fortunate to have a group of musicians who were key in creating the sound with me – first of all, my partner Jana. The way that she plays the guitar is so lyrical: she plays it like she’s singing through her guitar, which is what every instrumentalist aspires to. 

“Her guitar style allows me to play lead on my bass, switching from melodies, to harmonizing, to improvising. Corey Garcia’s fluid swing on the drums is also key to the constant conversation going on around the counterpoint.”

Which other bassists have influenced you over the years?

“A lot of my fretless playing has been inspired by the great Jaco Pastorius and Alphonso Johnson. Like them, I always try to get a lyrical, singing quality through the instrument. It’s a way of being in direct communication with people, and trying to uplift their spirit and make them have a good day, even if it’s just for an hour a day. 

“The mystery is what we don’t know and what we can’t see – but we can feel it and know that it’s real. That’s what’s happening with my music. It’s not about who is playing the melody, or who is playing the lead – it’s about the sound of the whole overall picture that is being shared.”

Charnett Moffett

(Image credit: Sharon Crocker)

What gear do you use?

“I’ve had the same fretless bass all my life. As the years pass, I’m beginning to really appreciate it more and more, even though I’ve started hunting around for some other bass sounds lately. It’s a Moon bass, and it’s my baby, with beautiful Bartolini pickups. I also play an Ibanez and a Breedlove acoustic, but the Moon has always been my number one bass.”

Were you inspired by your father’s example to become a musician yourself?

‘Yes. You know, I was the youngest of a large family, and everybody in my family played music, so it seemed normal to have an instrument. Otherwise, it felt like I wasn’t supporting the family.” 

How did you end up on bass?

“Basically, the family needed a bass player, because there was nobody playing it, although I started out on drums. It’s funny – trumpet was the instrument I originally wanted to play. I could have been a really good trumpet player, because I always heard trumpet when I played bass guitar. The truth is that I’ve always played trumpet lines with my bass: Back then, when we were playing together, my brother would always say, ‘Stay on the bassline!’” 

So what lies ahead for you?

“The plan is to keep putting music out into the universe that has good vibrations, and hopefully people will enjoy that music, and its reverberations will spread some light in these difficult times. On the gear side, I just added a beautiful Alembic bass to my collection, which is really inspiring me. It will make its debut on a live trio EP I’m putting out this October, which features Jana and some new music that we’ve been working on.”

What does the album title New Love signify?

“What is really the most important thing in this life? The most important thing in life is truly love, in my opinion. How could there be anything greater than love? You have someone that you care about, or someone that cares about you. A best friend, your mom – anybody. It’s someone that you share a bandwidth with, right? The common denominator is love.” 

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