Nathan East has never run across any style of music he didn’t want to play.
“I’ve never said oh no, I can’t play that kind of music,” he tells Billboard with a laugh. “I’m an equal opportunity musician, still out there trying to swing that bat.”
East’s latest turn at bat is new album Reverence. Released Jan. 27, the bassist’s second solo set for Yamaha Entertainment Group debuts at No. 1 on both the Jazz Albums and Contemporary Jazz Albums charts this week. The set is the follow-up to the genre-crossing footsteps taken on the musician’s 2014 Grammy Award-nominated, self-titled debut album.
Currently leading the charge for Reverence is a cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic “Serpentine Fire.” Initially recorded in 1991 with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and East’s brother Marcel East, the track’s original tape was rediscovered last year. The digitally remastered version now includes added vocals and instrumentation from EWF’s Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson.
Also among Reverence’s guest lineup of singers and musicians are Yolanda Adams, Greg Phillinganes, Kirk Whalum, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Albright, Nikki Yanofsky, Ruben Studdard and Chick Corea. Such an intriguing lineup is no surprise given East’s storied career, working with everyone from Clapton, Collins and Barry White to Fourplay, Daft Punk and, more recently, Barbra Streisand on her latest, the Grammy-nominated album Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway.
“These records become kind of like family reunions,” says East.
Between planning his upcoming 78th trip to Japan (“I’m going to take the band over there and play some of the new record”), locking in a couple of future dates with Chick Corea’s electric band as well as prepping for upcoming shows in Los Angeles. New York City and London with former bandmate Clapton, East recalls five of his most memorable music moments to Billboard.
Recording Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”
“Those are the kinds of projects that live inside your heart forever. That was a song that played me. I didn’t play it. The notes just came out. But essentially everything Eric and I have ever collaborated on has been a highlight, especially his Unplugged album.”
Collaborating with Phil Collins
“He really isn’t playing much drums anymore, but he’s a very special drummer; one of my favorite drummers ever. I just love the way he puts the groove on a song in a different place than anybody else that I’ve ever played with. His “In the Air Tonight” is the classic Collins groove and sound. One of my most fun collaborations was writing ‘Easy Lover’ with him and Philip Bailey.”
Playing with a Beatle
“I remember going to Japan in 1991 to tour with George Harrison and Eric. We performed in venues with 45,000 seats so it was like playing with all four of the Beatles. Such collaborations are especially magical when you’re performing with people you’ve revered since you were a kid.”
President Obama’s first inaugural concert
“I’ll never forget what that day meant, looking out at so many people as we played on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I had photos of my parents and grandparents on my music stand. Everybody was crying. It was one of those monumental events with pretty much the entire music industry on site: Stevie Wonder, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock … just dozens of folks.”
Musically bonding with pianist son Noah
“Being able to work with my 16-year-old son [who guests on both of East’s solo albums] just makes my heart soar. I’m going to ask him to play some gigs with me. He’s definitely at the age where he’s considering music as a career. There’s that thing where you think, ‘OK, do you really want to do this’ [laughs]. But if he’s happy, I’m happy. With his perfect pitch, he’s got a gift. And when the good Lord gives you a gift, I think he’s thinking about you using it.”
Listen to “Serpentine Fire” below.