Versatile bass maestro Norm Stockton has worked with many artists throughout his decades-long career. He works equally skillfully with American Idol star Clark Beckham as he in the realm of smooth jazz funk with Fattburger’s Steve Laurie.
His rock chops are incredible, and his thirst to explore the possibilities of Y-music in all its forms led him to explore the groove of West African polyrhythms.
In addition to his bass adventures, Norm is an educator who has produced a well-received series of instructional DVDs and a book, The Worship Bass Book: Bass, Espresso & The Art of Groove. He regularly gives workshops at music colleges in Los Angeles and London, as well as on his website ArtofGroove.com (opens in a new tab) has subscribers from all over the world.
Norm’s solo works feature top guests including John Patitucci, Greg Bissonnette, Etienne Mbappe and others. He has worked with numerous Grammy winners and was the bassist for chart-topping Lincoln Brewster for six years.
His music and his Christian faith are central to his life and work: there is a philosophical element to his music that is easy to appreciate. Now living in Orange County, California, Norm talks us through the five albums that have marked key moments in his career.
Norm Stockon – Grooves And Sushi (2021)
“Sushi is kind of a recurring theme for me. I’m half Japanese, born and raised in Japan, so it’s close to my heart. I was very excited that this was the first project I had ever done as a leader where everything was tracked live.
“The idea was that we would record one day and it would be done. Then I thought, “If we’re going to do this, how much harder would it be to have a camera crew to film it so we can actually see the performances?” It’s a much more complicated process, but by then I was too far down the road, so we did four different shoots with four different ensembles.
“We thought it would be fun to eat sushi and tell stories, and maybe even record a couple of those stories! I had tons of great conversations, so it ended up being a web series with people like Greg Bissonnette talking about working with Ringo and Chris Coleman talking about playing with Prince.
“It was definitely a thrill and a challenge because we were playing music that we had never performed before in an ensemble that had never played together. It’s a testament to the great players involved in the project that everything turned out incredibly well.”
Norm Stockon – Tea In The Typhoon (2010)
“When you’re an independent artist, you have complete autonomy over the artistic statements you make. You don’t have a label telling you that it has to be more commercial or something, so I’ve always wanted to make my music come from the heart and really touch someone on an emotional level. I immersed myself in the daylight of the West African music I was listening to and it inspired the writing.
“In terms of technique, a lot of it is fingerstyle. It’s not breaking some crazy new ground, but the timing approach, groove approach and beat placement are all very different from the standard Western approach. Dave Owens, the drummer, got me interested in an album called thank you Jean-Luc Ponty; the rhythm section is all West African players who were living in Paris at the time and they are just incredible.
“From that time I started listening to other West African stuff and I was shown the 12/8 and 6 by 4 feel. These musicians do it seamlessly, going back and forth, and to a western musician you say, “Man, that groove is crazy… but wait, where’s that one?” It’s really interesting music.”
Norm Stockon – Thinking About Sushi (2003)
“My first project as a leader – and what started the sushi motif. At the time I was a clinician with the Christian label Maranatha! Music, mostly went to churches in the USA and Canada, studied.
“I had a room full of bass players and I thought it would be great to spend extra days and teach the important stuff. So it ended up being a couple of videos looking at timing, grooves, phrasing, not playback. Back then, people would ask me, “Where’s your music?” Considering sushi my answer
“Everything was tracked using a Roland VS-1680 in hotels across North America with guitarist Kevin Rogers. He would come and we would connect and lay the tracks. I tracked down my solo version Star-Spangled Banner one night in New York overlooking Manhattan. It was a real moment. When we started mixing, we couldn’t use 1680, so we had to transmit it using MIDI timecode.
“In places, I can tell things have been a bit off, timing-wise, due to timing issues, but no one has ever noticed, at least not yet! On a tangent, though, one of the hardest skills to develop is being able to step back and go, “Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it was musical.” Use your ears to edit, not what the screen is telling you.”
Lincoln Brewster – Today Is The Day (2008)
“Lincoln is a great guitar player who played with Steve Perry from Journey for a while. He is very well known as a contemporary worship artist and I have worked with him for many years. It was a really important album for me, not only in terms of exposure, but also because it covered such a wide range of styles.
“I came into music as rock and prog, but then I saw Chick Corea play and later the Stu Humm Band, which completely changed my trajectory. I could have played rock, but I burned out on it. Lincoln, however, is a rock guy. He told me that this is not a fusion album. There is another way to play eighth notes in a rock context; different phrases, note durations and all that. We did everything from John Mayer blues to highly caffeinated rockers to gospel rock.
“I grew a lot as a rock player on this album. It’s very easy to lose sight of what makes music worship, what makes it resonate with someone on a spiritual level. We were able to focus on where the music was saying what the lyrics were saying. Songs from this album are still heard in churches every Sunday around the world.”
Steve Laurie – Vineland Dreams (1996)
“Steve was an original player in Fattburger, a big smooth jazz band in the States and Asia. He is an incredible jazz guitarist. This album was released on CTI Records, featuring George Benson, Ron Carter, and so on.
“This was my first real national release – everything I’d done up until that point had been with local or regional artists. This was back in the day when it was so exciting to see it on sale on Tower Records.
“I lived in San Diego, where Steve also lived; we became friends and I played on two songs and also did the whole sequence of those tracks. I played a Modulus Quantum V SPI on this album.
“I later used my MTD J5, which was the prototype for their Saratoga basses and eventually my signature MTD. It was a Michael Tobias version of a kind of jazz bass, and it’s a really great rock bass with a very aggressive sound.
“On my first solo album I used a lot of effects and then none tea, but then I went back to more textural stuff – a less traditional use of it – on the last record. Ironically, it came out a year after my first article bass player At that moment, I definitely felt that everything was moving in the right direction!”