Bass & Word

More than 300 composers have written music specifically for Turetzky

Bertram Turetzky: They always blame the basses.
  • Bertram Turetzky: They always blame the basses.
  • Photograph by Michael Klayman

Bassist Bertram Turetzky retired with the title professor emeritus from U.C. San Diego 15 years ago, but he’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon. Even though he’ll celebrate his 86th birthday in February, Turetzky managed to release three CDs this year.

He’d still be playing concerts around the world if it didn’t require traveling with a huge contrabass in a post-9/11 world.

“I’m a man who is concerned about sound,” says Turetzky. “So I have to have my own instrument, but the airlines and the TSA make that very difficult. A lot of players are getting the basses with detachable necks that fold up – but I wouldn’t do that to my basses. Because I don’t travel anymore, I need to keep the work going so I put out three albums instead.”

In the classical world, more than 300 composers have written music specifically for Turetzky to perform, and one of the new discs is a personally curated collection from that world called “From The Archives,” which features a piece from Arnold Franchetti, a mentor to Turetzky.

“No one knew him when he was alive,” says Turetzky. “Why does a composer have to die to become famous?”

Also released this year is Bass & Word, a collaboration with poet, musician, and club owner Chuck Perrin.

Completing the trifecta is “Trio Music,” an improvised date with trumpeter Steph Richards and woodwind artist Vinny Golia. “That one involved serious listening. Improvisers have to be great listeners or it turns into the Tower of Babel!”

As if that weren’t enough, he’s also writing his third book, a performance memoir called The Basses Are Too Loud, a reference to “clueless conductors who blame the bass section when they get lost or something goes wrong.”

Turetzky has experienced this situation first hand. “I was playing in the symphony when a conductor said that. The only problem is that we were observing a 25-measure rest! I put down my instrument and walked away.”

He’s almost done with the book, which took a minute.

“I’m really old-school, I write it all out long-hand on legal pads and I’m always adding things which makes it a nightmare for the typist,” he said.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re dying, and I don’t want to die. There are still so many things I need to do. I want to make another record with my wife Nancy, and I want to learn new things on the bass.”

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