Masterclass: Sharay Reed

8 February, 2019

Prolific Chicago-based session bassist, arranger, writer and producer Sharay Reed paid a visit to BIMM Manchester to give a kind, humble and passionate masterclass in which he demonstrated his skills and discussed various aspects of his incredible music career so far.

Hosted by fellow bassist and Head of Education Stuart Eastham, the masterclass started with Sharay asking everyone to mix things up by getting up and saying hi to someone new, whilst he played some incredible bass in the background.

He then proceeded to perform a few songs in full – showing off his amazing bass skills which have facilitated collaborations, performances and tours with the likes of Chaka Khan, Boys II Men and the late, great Aretha Franklin.

He then went on to discuss his formative years and how he grew up with music being central to life in general:

“It was not something you thought about. It was just, everywhere, in the home. Everything was connected – if you heard Luther Vandross, you knew mom was cleaning – other songs played and I knew dad was working out – there was a song for everything.”

When quizzed as to why he chose the bass guitar over other instruments, he responded simply with:

I think the bass chose me.” 

Sharay reminisced on when he first starting to play professionally – performing at bar gigs in a dance band two-to-three nights a week – and recalled the realisation that he could get paid to play music. He advised any aspiring session musicians in the audience on the importance of networking to get gigs.

“Don’t wait until you get out of school to make connections – start making connections now. Start playing, get on YouTube, do it now, set it up. You’ve got to create your own name.”

He continued: “Make it for yourself – it can be frightening but it doesn’t have to be – you have to find who you are and find your voice – find out what separates you and go for it – it’s your marketplace.”

When quizzed on how he deals with the pressure of the more high profile gigs, Sharay mused on the importance of living a stress-free life.

“I have to be cool with you to make music with you. I have to put out my soul – it has to be positive. I don’t do the stress thing. I was preparing for my future long before I was where I wanted to be. Start seeing where you want to be – and you can be there.”

Staying humble despite his many successes, Sharay talked jokingly about something many musicians (particularly bassists) will be all too familiar with. The gurning, groove-induced pout that’s known in musical circles as ‘bass face’.

“I worked on my bass face by playing in my mirror to Chaka Khan at college.” Joked Reed.

“Little did I know that later on I would get a call to say ‘come and play bass for Chaka’. See, it sounds crazy, but what I was doing was seeing my future and trying to be there – so when I got to it, I already knew all the songs – they said it’s as if I’d already been playing with Chaka Khan for a while.”

Just because he’s performed with some of the world’s most well-known artists, Sharay is still subject to limitations and difficulties when playing larger shows, as he explained. 

“I was playing for R.Kelly with some of the best players ever. And was asked to just play the bass line that was already written on top of a recording. It was like bass karaoke. I was doubling something that was already there – playing bass over the top. It had no soul. So, I had a dilemma. I can’t add anything to the track. I was almost questioning if I wanted to be there, and that was crazy.”

With the majority of the room consisting of musicians and music fans, it was a dilemma that was completely relatable.

“So I thought ‘What else can I do?’ I could work on feel. I could work on tone, feel, space and dynamics – the really important things that (if I was limited) I wouldn’t have been able to develop. So, there is always something else you can work on. Never feel stuck. There is always room for more, to grow.”

Before the masterclass concluded with some more of Sharay’s excellent bass-playing, he mused on a subject he cares for greatly – the groove! 

“Good things go to the place where you can take care of good things. The groove is something I care about. It’s a heartbeat. A unified beat that everyone in the room experiences.”

And with that, Sharay finished up the session by demonstrating the phenomenal sense of groove that has kept him in demand as one of the world’s top session bassists. 

Isaac batty, a BA 2 Guitar student who was in attendance voiced his approval of the fantastic masterclass, saying: “It was great! Everything he was saying and playing hit home with everyone in the room. I think we all came out of there feeling better – that we are doing the right thing, that we can keep growing.”

If you’d like to gain access to exclusive masterclasses such as this one, why not Apply Now for a course at BIMM and start your journey to a life in music today.

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