Photo: Kharen Hill
GRAMMY.com Exclusive First Listen: Nathan East
Nathan East — longtime bassist for GRAMMY-nominated smooth jazz quartet Fourplay — is set to release his self-titled debut solo album on March 25. Ahead of the album's release, GRAMMY.com has your exclusive first listen to his instrumental bossa nova take on the Fourplay track "101 Eastbound" and his melodic string-laden rendition of "America The Beautiful."
Co-produced by East and Chris Gero, Nathan East features 13 instrumental and vocal compositions, including covers of the Beatles' "Yesterday," Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" and Pat Metheny's "Letter From Home." The album also features collaborations with keyboardist Bob James, GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter Michael McDonald, guitarist Chuck Loeb, and GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles.
Best known for his work with Fourplay, East has also performed on recordings by artists such as Eric Clapton ("Tears In Heaven" and "Change The World"), Phil Collins ("Easy Lover," which he also co-wrote), Michael Jackson ("Bad"), Whitney Houston ("Greatest Love Of All" and "Saving All My Love For You"), Beyoncé ("Listen"), and Randy Newman ("I Love L.A."), among others. Most recently, he was featured on Daft Punk's GRAMMY-winning hit "Get Lucky," which he performed on the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast with the duo, Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams, and Wonder.
In addition to the First Listen, GRAMMY.com conducted an exclusive interview with East regarding the making of his first solo project, recording with his son Noah, and performing on the 56th GRAMMY Awards, among other topics.
How gratifying was performing "Get Lucky" on the GRAMMY Awards ceremony?
It was probably the most exciting moment ever in terms of being at ground zero, the center of the musical universe. It was surreal, a "feel-good" moment that connects all of us. I bumped into Paul McCartney in the hallway, then I looked out there to see Yoko Ono and Beyoncé dancing. It was five minutes of [my] life where [I said], "It does not get any better than this."
How did you end up playing on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories?
They approached me. Apparently, they're scholars when it comes to who's doing what. They've been studying the music going on in the States for a long time. With Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers, I felt very fortunate to be among the list of people they felt were worthy to call for their project.
You pay tribute to them on your album with "Daft Funk."
It was just an opportunity to celebrate our collaboration, a fun way to keep the party going in the spirit of that sound. It was [a] little retro action, the two guitarists, Michael Thompson, who wrote it, and Ray Parker Jr., opening the track with that funky feel.
How did Sara Bareilles end up singing "I Can't Let Go Now"?
She's also a Yamaha artist. They sent it to her after we recorded the track. Her management turned it down at first, said she wasn't available. Just as we were about to move on, she heard the track and said she had to sing on it … and was able to do it within the month.
Have you worked with Michael McDonald before?
I've known him for 30 years and he's been a dear friend. I [played on] both of his Motown albums. When he found out I was doing this, he said, "I'm in for whatever you need."
You recorded this album for the Yamaha Entertainment Group label.
I've been playing their bass for more than 30 years now. Chris Gero, who runs the label, and I have done many live shows together, including their NAMM 125th anniversary show last year with Elton John; Earth, Wind & Fire; David Foster; Chaka Khan; [and] James Newton Howard conducting the orchestra. It was a natural progression to bringing that kind of energy to a record. Bob James, my colleague from Fourplay, has been pounding on me for 20 years to do a solo album.
"Madiba" sounds like an epic party song.
It ends up having a world feel, sort of a South African/Brazilian/gospel mashup. [It's] a tribute to Nelson Mandela. Madiba is his tribal name. We didn't care that it went over eight minutes.
It must have been a thrill to play with your son, Noah.
It's a moment that forever will be one of those things in my life that [is] special. He came in and nailed it on the first take. I was so proud of him. Noah came to visit in the studio straight from his piano lesson and Chris asked him what he was working on. He played "Yesterday" and Chris said, "That has to go on the record."
There's a tremendous orchestral version of "America The Beautiful."
We wanted to have something that could potentially become an anthem. We said, "Let's go big or not at all." It really turned out great. I was doing the Jaco Pastorius solo bass version that I really loved. I just wanted to take it a little bit further, just pick up where he left off.
How do you feel about singing?
It's something that I love to [do], but I consider myself a bassist first and leave the rest to the real singers.
(Roy Trakin, now a contributing editor for The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, has written for every rock publication that ever mattered, some that didn't, and got paid by many of them.)