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He's Been Charlotte's Go-To Jazz Bassist For Nearly 40 Years

Charlotte’s jazz scene has seen its ups and downs over the last 40 years.  One consistency in that time has been Ron Brendle laying down the bass.  Brendle has been a fixture on the scene since the early 80s, playing with his own bands and with touring musicians in town for just the night. 

For many years he played regularly at the restaurants Blue and Sullivan’s.  These days you can catch him the first Friday of the month as part of Jazz at the Bechtler uptown. Brendle just released a new album and all of its songs have one thing in common.

“They’re all compositions written by great jazz bass players,” Brendle said.

A Tribute to the Bassists of Jazz Volume One contains Brendle’s take on songs by jazz legends such as Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, and Scott Lafaro.

Growing up in Statesville, Brendle actually played guitar.  He graduated from Appalachian State in the late 70s with a degree in music.  Then at 26, he heard Charlie Haden, best known for being a member of the iconic Ornette Coleman quartet.

“It just did something to me, the way that Charlie’s bass sounded,” Brendle said. “Just the beauty of it.  And I’d listened to a lot of bass players who had way more technique, some of these more pyrotechnical bass players. But when I heard Charlie Haden, just one note made me want to play the bass.”

One tune by Haden that stood out was “Pocket Full of Cherry,” which Brendle included on the new record.

Since Brendle was a latecomer to the bass he worked hard to make up for lost time, sometimes practicing up to 8 hours a day while a stay-at-home dad for his newborn son, Cameron.

“When he’d take a nap, I’d go and close the door in the practice room,” Brendle said.  “If I wanted him to go to sleep I’d just play long tones with a bow on my bass and it would put him right down.”

Tragically, Cameron took his own life in November of 2001, just before his 18th birthday. Brendle says after that something in his playing changed.

“It probably made me realize how precious life is and probably made me more serious about it,” Brendle said.

He also thinks it made him a better musician.

Throughout his career, Brendle has thought about leaving Charlotte for a bigger city where bass players are  in higher demand.  But some advice he got early on from jazz guitarist Joe Pass has stayed with him.

“At that point, I had just started playing the bass,” Brendle said.  “He asked me, ‘what’s your plans son?’  I said, ‘well I’d like to go to New York.’ He said, ‘why do you want to go to New York?’  He said ‘this seems like a nice town, just get good on your instrument and work here.’”

It hasn’t always been the easiest choice, though. Gigs have been hard to come by at times with fewer places in Charlotte offering live jazz. And he says he makes the same amount per performance now as 20 years ago: $100 to $400 depending on the gig. In leaner years, he’s had to sell some of his instruments and other items to make the mortgage. But Brendle has no regrets.

“If I were thinking back in my youth about a job that I would make a whole lot of money doing, this wouldn’t have been it,” Brendle said. “But that’s not why I got into it. I love it. It feels like it’s a part of me and I feel like I should do it.”

Brendle will mark the release of his tribute album with a performance this Sunday at the Evening Muse in Charlotte.  And he’s already working on Volume 2.