Jay Kott
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Jay Kott

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The Bassman Cometh
Robert Downes

Armed with a seven-string bass and a ripsaw army of electronic minions, Jason Kott is giving full-blown bands a run for their money these days in terms of pumping out some of the most happening music in Northern Michigan.
Kott conjured up a wall of sound at the recent Ignorant Art Show in Traverse City, creating a dense electronic storm that crackled with sparks, whipcracks & whistles, jabbering rhythms, racheting echoes and flailing sonic tentacles. All underlaid with a whale’s-throb heartbeat of bass and drums. His music is intensely visual. It’s like what you’d imagine an electronic orchestra would sound like, rumbling and tumbling down the longest staircase in the world; or perhaps the whirling Tasmanian Devil from an old Bug’s Bunny cartoon, amplified to the level of a jet engine and plowing through a hardware store. It’s a mix of the haywire and the sublime with an underlying pulse moving it forward and together.
In short, it’s different, and Kott has no end of projects as well as requests to perform at venues across the region. He’s already playing up to five or six nights a week either with local jazz and funk bands or simply on his own, as at the recent opening of the new terminal at the Cherry Capital Airport.

NEW DIRECTIONS
What’s it all about, Jason?
“I really got tired of seeing bands everywhere embracing the past rather than using the new tools of technology to move music forward,” he says. “I mean, at one point even the saxophone was a new, unheard of instrument, yet over time it was incorporated into popular music. To me, these electronic machines are the new instruments of the future. Someday they will be used a lot more, and should be.”
In fact, some of the most innovative musicians in the region are already using electronic aids in performance, including Jeff Bihlman, Greg Seaman and Don Julin, who’ve all used effects such as loop stations (which repeat musicial rhythms which serve as a base for improvisation) to one degree or another. But no one in the region has gone to the electronic extremes set by Kott, who is literally a one-man electric orchestra.
Using a range of electronic effects, Kott can recreate sounds ranging from simple turntable scratching to archaic music scales from ancient Turkey or Greece, adding the spice of antiquity or a flourish of the middle east to spacey drum-and-bass beats.
It’s not all wild innovation all the time, however. Sometimes he uses his electronics as a backdrop for old school jazz jams.
“It’s definitely a hard road learning to get all of these machines to talk to each other,” he says. “But what I like about the machines is that none of them are very expensive, yet they are all pretty complex in what they do. I also see myself going from a classical music background more into jazz and studying the structure of music, then going from that to hip-hop or funk.”

KOTT’S JOURNEY
Kott, 29, has been on a musical journey since elementary school. Born in Pontiac, his family moved north where he caught the music bug in a chorale class in the second grade. He still recalls his music teacher, Bill Hayes, singling him out for his singing talents at an early age.
He played bass for the very first time on a whim before hundreds of music educators at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor while participating in a junior high school chorale program. “Someone asked if anyone knew how to play bass and I raised my hand even though I’d never played it before in my life,” he recalls. “But I did know how to play tuba and sing, so I thought I could do it.”
Self-taught (he’s had only one bass lesson in his life), Kott graduated from Traverse City Senior High in 1993 and attended Albion College, where he studied classical voice. He tested out of all four years of music theory classes. Upon graduating, he freelanced with a number of bands, and performed with the Bihlman Brothers.

LOOKING FORWARD
Gradually, however, Kott has become more influenced by hip-hop, jazz, funk, electronica and the drum-and-bass sound. What he’s playing now on a solo basis, however, is a step beyond all that, as well as beyond traditional song structure.
“I kind of think of it like TV or a movie, where I’m providing a vibe for the place I’m playing at,” he says. “I’m not trying to ‘perform,’ necessarily -- I’m just creating an interesting atmosphere that represents what’s happening.
To use a clichè, Kott aims to push the envelope.
“I want to play more than what most bands are playing,” he says. “I want more control, more consistent music at a high level, more music that’s representative of myself.”
He’s intrigued by musicians such as Square Pusher, a bass player who uses computers and electronics both onstage and on his new “Ultra Visitor” album. “I also love hip-hop,” he says. “There’s so much jazz in it and it’s way of performing songs that move along with what’s happening. It keeps music in a state of constant change.”
Kott is also a collaborator with many high-flight musicians around the region. Currently, he’s recording an abstract hip-hop CD with long-time friend and drummer Matt Hayes, using the talents of local rappers (drop by Lil Bo’s on Monday nights if you think you’ve got the right flavor). He’s also working on a jazz fusion album with Hayes, Jeff Haas and Ron Getz, and he performs locally with Getz and Don Julin at venues such as Poppycock’s in TC. He also sits in with numerous bands, such as a recent appearance with the hip-hop group Rhino from Chicago. A classically-trained vocalist, Kott adds a welcome touch to many instrumentals-heavy jazz concerts.
But for something revolutionary, check out the solo version of Jason Kott jamming with his electronic orchestra. Kott is playing the kind of music you’re likely to find only in your dreams.

Jason Kott’s regularly scheduled gigs using electronics:
--Mondays: LiL’ Bo’s, TC, 10:30 p.m. - 1:30 a.m.
--Thursdays: Chandler’s, Petoskey, 8-11 p.m.
--Fridays: 310 Restaurant, TC, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
--First Saturday of every month 310 Restaurant (with Getz, Haas, and Hayes) 11 p.m. - 2 a.m.

sidebar:
The Gearbox:
Jason Kott’s
Electronic Arsenal

“It’s complicated,” Jason Kott says of the electronic gear he works with.
• For starters, there’s a seven-string bass which allows him to play guitar-like melodies and chords at pitches impossible to attain by tradional four-string bass guitars. “The seven-string bass opens up a whole lot of new possibilities,” He says. “You can play rhythm guitar parts and solo -- it offers the ultimate freedom to improvise.”

And factor that in with the following:
• A Roland MC-505 Groove Box sequencer/arranger with pre-recorded drums, bass, keyboards and orchestral sounds. Kott writes music on the machine and then uses a pedal to introduce musical phrases as a backdrop for his bass work.
• A Boss RC 20 loop station. Increasingly used by other musicians in town, this device allows Kott to record a rhythm that repeats itself ad infinitum. He can then jam over the top of the loop.
• A Bose PAS tower line array: a new concept in P.A. systems, this odd looking tower stands behind Kott as he plays. Augmented by bass units on the floor, the slim tower replaces the hefty speaker cabinets and P.A. horns that you see at most concert performances.
• A Chrono DB Controller: This is an instrument similar to the theramin invented by a Russian scientist in the last century and used for ethereal “atmosphere” in many science fiction movies, not to mention the effects in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” hit. Kott moves his hand up or down over a beam of light which results in a corresponding freaky sound from the device.


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Discography

Son Seals- "Lettin' Go"
LTJ Bukem- "Earth 4"
The Bihlman Bros.- "American Son"
Ron Getz- "The Sentencing Phase"
Mike Moran- "Spaces"

Photos

Bio

I have always played music. I have won several awards, international competitions, and scholarships to Interlochen Arts Academy, and Albion College. I have played all over the USA, Canada, and Europe. Toured and/or recorded with Trey Anistasio(Phish), blues legend Son Seals, The Bihlman Bros., Matt "Guitar" Murphy, LTJ Bukem, Jon Beltran, and Marcus Belgrave (Ray Charles). My influences range from Gustav Holst, Miles Davis, Bob Marley to Eminem. My approach is unique...I play a 7-string bass made by Keith Roscoe. It has been heavily modified with the addition of a MIDI pickup, custom electronics (by Mike Pope), and a rare set of pickups (by Lane Poor). With the addition of a loop sampler (Boss RC50), and a few other effects, I can create sonic landscapes unheard before. I try to blend hip-hop/r&b sensibilities, classical orchestration, jazz leads, with ear grabbing melodies and vocals compared to the likes of Stevie Wonder or C-lo Green (Gnarls Barkley and Goodie Mob).
I have produced 5 albums for clients in the past 2 years, including 'Spaces' and 'The Sentencing Phase' in my discography.
Currently, Matt Hayes and Jay Kott have formed an alliance under the banner 'DaddyOutLoud'. Together we are aiding in the production of new material for aritsts, Brent Grunow, Hannah Rider, and Willy Nash under the guidance of industry veterans Bob Iadeluca ( Jay-Z, Beyonce, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton), And Bob Cutarella ( Eric Clapton, The BeeGee's, The Police, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Elton John, Alannis Morirsette)
The next artist to release will be Brent Grunow on FreeArtistRecords...