John Basile Continues Moving Ahead

By Ross Boissoneau

John Basile is not as well-known as many other guitarists. Perhaps it’s because his discography is limited, with 14 recordings under his name over the last 38 years. Maybe it’s because of his many other interests and vocations, including radiology and boxing. That’s right, he ran and managed various imaging clinics, and to this day judges and referees boxing matches. Or maybe it’s just because he’s more interested in the doing of music than chasing the plaudits that accrue more visible players.

Whatever the reason – and it’s probably a combination of all the above – those in the know recognize his gifts, his penchant for melody and harmony, often at the same time. He credits not other guitarists for that approach, but singers and pianists, specifically Frank Sinatra and Bill Evans. His guitar playing has often been described as pianistic, and he prefers comping chord fragments and playing melodies simultaneously, which he feels provides a better backdrop for singers as well as improvising.

Michael Manring 1

John Basile – Penny Lane

“I’ve done a bunch of things,” Basile admitted in an interview. That includes playing with legends such as John Abercrombie and Jim Hall, backing various singers (Rosemary Clooney among them) and today utilizing technology for his own recordings and providing backing music clips for film and other broadcast media. Plus those aforementioned non-musical forays (more on those shortly).

A proponent of musical education, Basile attended Berklee before graduating from New England Conservatory of Music. He subsequently moved into playing with the bands that were popular at the time in his home base of Boston. “There was a lot of work. If you could play you could work,” he said.

Among those were the eight-to-ten-piece show bands that played the jazz, rock and soul popular in the 70s by bands such as Blood, Sweat and Tears, Tower of Power, the Spinners, Parliament/Funkadelic and others. Also big in his development were those artists and recordings featuring the mighty Hammond B3. “There were a lot of organ groups, pop-soul things. It’s funny how that stuff stays with you. I always try to have one or two pop tunes from that era.”

That led him into jazz, with favorites including Pat Martino and his “main guy,” Jim Hall. “How he approached the song and improvising – it was very orchestral and compositional. It was conversational,” he said.

Basile draws from that approach today. “That stuff I go back to year after year.”

It hasn’t always been easy or straightforward. In the 90s, following a series of disappointments in his career, he stepped away from music as he became interested in the field of medical imaging. Basile became an MRI technologist and eventually both an instructor and manager of several imaging centers in New York. Those were eventually bought out by a larger company. “It’s been a weird transition. I was working ten- to 12-hour days for 25 years. Letting go was tough,” he said.

The music and music technology have helped him recover. “I’m writing for films, (film) cues. If (I) can keep learning, that keeps me going.” Today he has embraced the latest in recording technology. The piano, drums, horns and other instruments on his 2015 tribute to the Beatles, Penny Lane, were all triggered by his guitar through MIDI. That’s the approach he uses in his home studio for his film work.

And then there’s boxing, which he says offers parallels to his music. “I’m not a sports fan, but I’ve always wanted to be a boxing judge. What’s in the ring is everything in life: joy, fear, success,” Basile said. “When I’m playing ‘Body and Soul,’ I’m in the moment. As a judge, you’re in the moment.”

Basile’s instruments: “I play a Telecaster and a jazz guitar. I like Thomastik-Infeld, but those strings are so expensive. But they’re great quality.”

He’s also begun using Stringjoy strings, 11 through 50 gauge. “They’re out of Nashville. They’re good, and half the price. I use an unwound 3rd – I got that from Jim Hall. It blends better when you’re playing melodies,” he said.

“Occasionally I use D’Addario. The nylon strings, you can pull on a little. It feels good. I like round wound, that little extra bite. Flats can get muddy. I have a darker sound.”

Basile calls himself primarily a fingerstyle player, though he’ll occasionally use a pick. “It helps you be more conversational, forces you into playing less.”

Ross Boissoneau is a regular contributor to Something Else! Reviews, Northern Express and Local Spins. He’s written for the All Music Guide, Jazziz and Progression Magazines, and is a member of the Downbeat Critics Poll.

Ross Boissoneau

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