Trevor Ford: The Bass Can Sing, Too


Trevor Ford photo by Daniel Sheehan


The musical evolution of bassist Trevor Ford reveals a non-traditional route to jazz excellence. It is a story full of the basic distractions of modern life in America — environment, career, family, and just plain hard work. A story to this point of time, that lacks a litany of original recordings or an extensive performance resume with prominent artists. For the Seattle jazz community, he is seen as the artist that he is — a virtuosic, hard-swinging bassist who refers to himself as a jazz musician and is proud of that title.

Ford came to Seattle to complete his MBA, not to pursue music professionally, at least not exclusively. His education led to his current position at Nordstrom. He had expectations to play, of course, but after appearing around town on several gigs, including those with riveting Barcelona-born pianist Marina Albero, the pandemic hit, leveling live performances in the city for the better part of two years. Still, inspiration abounded, drawn from a well of dedication found within himself, his personal artistic environment that dwelled within his humanity. He was married to the love of his life in May, and the balancing act was on between his business career and music, now with the support of his partner.

While the litany of jazz biographies generally expound about musicians typically from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans, Ford was born and raised in the idyllic country around Bend and Sisters, Oregon. His parents are classical musicians, and their son subsequently grew up playing violin and cello. The music played live with family members was the soundtrack of his childhood. The family didn’t have a stereo and speaker system in the house. Music heard within the home was created by family members.

It wasn’t until middle school that Ford was introduced to the bass, something that seemed quite natural to him at the time. The move, in reality, was made to facilitate the jazz program at Sisters High School, where Ford was bitten by the jazz bug. As is too often the case in jazz education, the music was not introduced as a Black art form, and Ford was not exactly surrounded by Black mentorship to tell him otherwise, outside of his parents. “I’ve always been part of just a handful of people of color playing this music,” says Ford, a sentiment that applies to Seattle without doubt. “It wasn’t until I started to attend high school jazz competitions that I started to see people who looked like me that play this music.”

Ford attended the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver, under the auspices of bassist Ken Walker. Walker led a prominent sextet in town as well and had extensive performance credits with the likes of Slide Hampton, Freddie Hubbard, and Roy Hargrove, among others. He not only mentored Ford in terms of bass technique, he represented the young bassist’s first Black mentor in the music. The influence was profound and can be plainly seen in his playing today. “I probably got a lot more fulfillment out of the program because the bass instructor looked like me,” recalls Ford. Of course, the fact that Walker is a superb musician was a benefit as well. It set the bar high for Ford in so many ways.

The most visible ensemble Ford has performed within Seattle is the quartet led by trumpeter Thomas Marriott, perhaps the most prominent jazz musician in the city over the past twenty years. Marriott’s music is hard-swinging, soulful, and immersed in jazz tradition. Still, while the trumpeter knows exactly what he wants in the music of his quartet, he understands part of the tradition is change and moving the music forward. He saw something in Ford that represented those principles. The Marriott association also upheld Ford’s personal musical principles and ambitions. “I feel humbled to be asked to help with the music they create,” says Ford respectfully. In the case of Marriott specifically, he says, “It’s one thing to write and perform music, that takes a lot — but to work to create a community is so admirable,” alluding to the trumpeter’s work with the Seattle Jazz Fellowship.

Ford’s sound is lyrical, melodic, and, when the music calls for it, madly swinging. As a young, Black jazz musician, he is keenly aware that the vital connection with the blues and the swing rhythm are the main components that identify jazz as Black American music. He sees that understanding as a personal responsibility moving forward, in both the receiving and giving aspects of mentorship.

“One of my goals as a bassist is to do justice to the music. For someone like Tom [Marriott], who is so articulate about what he wants in the music, even more so. It has the right balance. It feels like a good fit for what I want to play. It has the freedom that jazz is supposed to provide musicians. I appreciate the balance he has struck between those two worlds. Jazz is a community building thing; it’s about making each other sound better. Innovation can happen within the context of jazz — you don’t have to attach anything to it,” cites Ford sincerely.

While Walker may have instilled in him a pride and purpose in this musical form, that is the height of artistry in Black American music, he also gave Ford a literal, living, breathing approach to the instrument that speaks to listeners with every note he plays. He plays as if he is blowing into the instrument, using his breath as a way to manage the dynamics of his playing. In simply holding and playing the bass, there is a dance going on.

“The bass can sing, too. Sometimes, I’m up there playing lines, soloing as if I’m using my breath to play the instrument. So if I run out of air in my own body, then I’ll stop playing pizzicato because it wouldn’t seem natural to keep playing. I do that with swing and uptempo too. I try to turn the bass into my own body. It feels that way; I’m hugging this thing, this big hunk of wood,” says Ford.

Over the next few years, Ford has intentions to release his own recordings of original material. While the past five years have been about severe changes in his life, things are settling down, and composition has returned to his musical priorities. After all, achieving a business degree, moving to a new city, getting married, and surviving a one-hundred-year pandemic can take a lot out of a person. His own music will, at some point, take precedence and, much like the home music of his youth in Bend, become the soundtrack of his life.


Posted on

January 29, 2024