Basses Are Loaded At Glendale



UPRIGHT AND INTENSE: Acoustic bassist Armen Manavazyan covers the bottom in the Group II Jazz Combo.

Sal Polcino, Staff Writer

When three student bass players joined GCC’s jazz performance department last year, there were few options for them to showcase their talent.

But this semester, with a large increase in participation in the jazz program, two more small combos have been added to accommodate the new additions. Now there are separate spots for all three upright basses.

Marvin Paez, 24, has been a student at GCC since 2008. Although he has only been playing bass for three years and jazz for two years, the other bassists agree Paez is the most advanced.

“I had to step up and practice every day,” said Paez. What we would do in the Saturday Big Band was we all played the song altogether. We [would] all take turns in a song or two or three and all four of us didn’t care because we were having fun playing together.”

Mario Lopez, 32, was the second bassist to join the big band. He described the competition as a “friendly rivalry.” “Marvin is awesome,” said Lopez. “He is just so relaxed.”

The youngest of the three, Armen Manavazyan, 22, was the latest addition to the program. He joined in the spring of 2012. “We all try to help each other,” said Manavazyan. “Sharing when we have new things.”

Last spring, a small combo, The Jazz Tentet, was added to the roster and it gave the battle of the basses more options. Before that, jazz musicians only had three choices. They could audition for the Big Band, the Vocal Jazz Ensemble or the Jazz Guitar Ensemble.

Paez plays with the advanced combo, the Jazz Vocal Ensemble and the Guitar Ensemble. Lopez and Manavazyan each have combos where they are first chair as well.

Manavazyan and Lopez are both music majors, but despite a 10-year gap in age, they are musically close.

Lopez picked up the electric bass in 2006 and the acoustic bass in March 2012. He got into jazz because he said it is, “the foundation of American music.” Lopez still plays the electric bass and plays gigs around town with a hard rock band, Hunter 99, that he described as “Hendrix meets grunge.”

Manavazyan moved to Glendale from the Ukraine almost three years ago. “There are many professional musicians [in the Ukraine], but education is not evolved and [most] schools are very expensive,” he said.

Manavazyan started playing the violin when he was 8 years old and still enjoys classical music, but he wants to learn all styles. Like Lopez, he believes that if you can master jazz you can play anything. He also plays electric bass, but he prefers acoustic, which he picked up only a few months ago.

There are similarities in the goals of all three musicians: knowledge of the instrument, favorite jazz bass players, (they all like Ray Brown and Charles Mingus) and all want to be professional musicians. Yet the most important commonality is their teacher.

Director and instructor Chris Coulter, also a professional bass player, has a special affinity for the players, as well as the instrument. Coulter, originally from Argentina, has a master’s degree in music from San Jose State University and he knows jazz bass well. Not only does Coulter direct the small jazz combos, but he also gives the bass players private instruction.

“He is so passionate about music and teaching,” said Lopez. Manavazyan and Paez agree that Coulter’s enthusiasm spills over to his students.

It seems the GCC jazz has scored a three-bass hit.