Featured Musician - March 2014  

Dylan Sundstrom
Dylan Sundstrom

Name: Dylan Sundstrom

Instrument: Bass

Early Years/Education: Originally from Tacoma, Washington, I started playing trombone in the fifth grade at age 11, but I really didn’t want to play the trombone. I stayed with it for one year, and then saw one of my friends play electric bass in a band, and I said, ‘I want to do that.’ The next year my dad bought me an electric bass, and I started taking private lessons with Jho Blenis. Within a year, I was playing at the Silver Dollar Pub in Spanaway, Washington. I’d sit in on jam sessions and got to play the blues.

Blues was the first kind of music I got into as a bass player. My roots are soul and R&B, which is what I grew up hearing at home. Music was constant in my house; we didn’t watch a lot of TV, it was either read or listen to music. My first live concert was Jackson Brown on my eighth birthday. Jho Blenis taught me from age 11-18; he was my first teacher. More than theoretical knowledge, he taught me about the different styles of music. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing this kind of music. He introduced me to Jaco Pastorius, The Staple Singers, he taught me the “soul” bass lines, etc. He was my main mentor.

In middle school, I was in the concert band; in junior high it was concert and jazz band. In high school, I switched to upright bass, and in my junior year I joined the Tacoma Community College All-City Jazz Band. We did big band charts and standard repertoire. In high school I was still getting into jazz. Bassist James Jamerson was a huge influence on me at that time. The first jazz bassist I ever heard was Jaco Pastorius, and then Weather Report. I guess I got into jazz fusion first, then went back into the more traditional kind of jazz.

At the end of my high school career, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to choose music for a career. I had a teacher back then named Maria Joyner. She came up to me one day and asked me if I wanted to go to Oregon to play bass. She said Dave Barduhn needed a bassist for the vocal jazz group down there at Mt. Hood Community College called Genesis. So we went down to Oregon for the high school jazz band competition, and I met Dave. I auditioned and went to Mt. Hood Community College in 2007. After two years, they asked me if I wanted to stay, so I stayed another year, ending in 2010.

After Mt. Hood dismantled their music program, I found out Chicago bassist Clark Sommers (currently the touring bassist for Kurt Elling) was going to be moving to Boise to teach privately, and that drummer Kobie Watkins was joining him. Watkins, who is also from Chicago, was with Sonny Rollins and also plays with Elling. I was planning on going to LA, but a friend suggested I move to Boise to study with these great musicians who were starting a college level jazz institute there called Arts West. It was one of the best things I’ve done to advance my playing. I was in a college jazz group, playing all the time, practicing all the time, attending master classes, student teaching and gigging in a little club in Boise. At the end of the two years, I wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to New York, so I came back to Portland in the summer of 2012.

Portland: At one of my first gigs in Portland, I met (drummer) Christopher Brown. I went to a jam and someone asked me if I could do a gig, Then Farnell Newton put something on Facebook about needing a bass player, and I got to play with him, etc. By working with Genesis, I got to know producer Bob Stark of Kung Fu Bakery (recording studio). He’s helped me get gigs and put me on sessions — he’s done a lot for my career. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of the right people.

Musical Influences: Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Jho Blenis, Clark Sommers, Dave Barduhn, Maria Joyner, Jeff Baker, Chris Brown and my dad.

Dylan Sundstrom with bass

Most Satisfying Experience: For me personally, getting to play with Paul Creighton’s funky-soul band, Innervision, was huge. I was young, and when Bob Stark brought them to my show to check me out, it affirmed that what I was doing was working (musically). That was very positive for me.

Recently, I was in a show at Jimmy Mak’s in Christopher Brown’s Quartet. The quartet included David Goldblatt on piano, John Nastos on saxophone, me on bass, and Chris Brown, on drums. Chris took ‘80s music and re-harmonized it for jazz. That particular night we were filling in for Dan Balmer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jimmy Mak’s that packed. Musically, I was thinking how transcendent it was, how connected we all were, and to have that kind of an audience, it was unreal! We took a break and even the late set was packed, with people lined out the door trying to get in. It was really exciting to see that people still really cared about that music and that we were a part of that. We were playing the music of Michael Jackson, Journey, Whitney Houston, etc. There’s enough of the melody there that the average listener can relate to it, but it’s jazz.

Favorite Recordings: Ben Webster/Oscar Peterson - “Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson!”; Jaco Pastorius - “Jaco”; Marvin Gaye - “What’s Going On” (w/James Jamerson); Miles Davis - “Kind of Blue”; Oscar Peterson Trio - “The Trio Live”; John Coltrane - “Crescent” (w/Jimmy Garrison); Kenny Garrett - “Songbook”; Robert Glasper - “In My Element”; Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band - “Seasons of Change”; Tom Waits - “Heart of a Saturday Night”; Oscar Peterson Trio - “Plus One”; Brad Mehldau - “Art of the Trio Vol. 4”, “Day is Done” and “Largo” (w/ Larry Grenadier).

Discography: Did a number of tracks for studio sessions at Kung Fu Bakery in Portland. While at Mt. Hood I recorded with the vocal jazz ensemble, Genesis — in 2007, “Keep the Change,” in 2008, “We’ll Be Loving You Always,” and in 2009, “Carefully Taught.” I have an upcoming release with Camden Hughes.

Gigs: Wednesdays in the Christopher Brown Quartet at Jimmy Mak’s, 9:30-11 pm; March 2, Christopher Brown Quartet at The Blue Monk; March 8, 22 and 29 in the Christopher Brown Trio w/David Goldblatt, Quartet Restaurant, 6:30-10:30 pm; March 20 in the Christopher Brown Quartet, Savoy Tavern.

Future Plans: I’m really into the thing Chris Brown is doing right now. I have a couple of pop projects in the works. But my goal is to continue to do what I’m doing now. I would at some point like to go on the road.

Other: I feel you have to be not only at a certain playing level but at a certain mental level to tackle New York City. I’ve heard a lot of dark things from a lot of people about it. I know friends who have gone there and had struggles, even crushing players who had a hard time trying to survive out there. I really didn’t want that.

I wanted to be in a place where I still have time to work on my thing and be able to have some sort of a scene. I feel like Portland is that ultimate medium right now; and it’s definitely getting bigger — it’s got a decent scene and some phenomenal players. Also, I’d like to see the older musicians checking out the younger musicians in town more.


-- by Rita Rega