BY DEAN WONG
In Steve Kim’s latest CD, he refers to his bass guitar as the main character in a set of music that ranges from jazz cover songs to classical.
“The Book of Changes” was a self-produced project by Kim under his company name “Kimpossibilities,” released in 2005.
“It’s like an art exhibit, like different works in a collection with connecting elements,” Kim said describing his CD.
Producing “The Book of Changes” was a three-year process. For two years, Kim went to a studio every other week to record. Kim brings fellow musicians to his Beacon Hill home where he has a practice studio in the basement. Next to the front door is a sign which reads “Kimpossibilities – Realizations In Music.” The work space has recording equipment, an electric keyboard, drums, an upright bass, three electric basses and a collection of African drums. Kim works with musician friends, teaches private lessons and writes new music in his work space.
At the age of 14, Kim got his first bass guitar when he made a trade with a neighbor. Three years later, he added an acoustic upright bass. “I thought it was easier to learn,” said Kim, explaining why he decided to play the instrument. He also thought he could join a band quicker. Unlike a regular guitar, a bass only has four strings.
“I played and fumbled around. People showed me things. I copied things off records,” said Kim.
He listened to the blues and to Jimi Hendrix records. Then came English blues bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin. His exposure to music widened when his mother joined a mail-order record company and checked the box that said jazz. She was expecting to receive big-band music like the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Instead, the company sent Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderly and Ron Carter.
Kim had not heard of those players, but he listened to their records and was influenced by what he heard.
In the mid- to late 1970s, Kim brought his bass to the New Chinatown Restaurant in Seattle’s Japantown where he jammed with a young pianist named Deems Tsutakawa. Deems brought other Asian American jazz musicians together at a time when Asians were not known for their music and had few venues to play.
Kim enjoyed those sessions. “It was great being around other Asian guys who could play,” he said.
At age 17, Kim attended Tacoma Community College where he took classes that were transferable towards a music performance degree at a four-year college. Around that time, Kim started working as a musician. He then decided to take lessons from the great jazz bass player Gary Peacock.
“I learned all kinds of things. He is a very intellectual guy. Peacock was a big name. The first big musician to be around,” said Kim. He also took a master class from Ray Brown. Both Peacock and Brown were instrumental in Kim’s development as a musician.
“Those two guys have radically different approaches. They were real masters. They were way beyond anyone I hung around before,” said Kim.
He prefers the electric bass over the upright acoustic bass. “I like how they both sound different,” said Kim. “I’m more comfortable with the electric bass. I played it continuously for a number of years. If I have a change of mind [while performing], I can pursue it more on electric bass. It’s like speaking – a train of thought can take you somewhere else,” said Kim.
An older white bass guitar sits in his living room, next to an expensive custom model. He takes the white bass on vacation with him so he can always play music and not be so worried if it gets lost or damaged. He also owns an expensive Chinese upright bass.
“It’s a versatile and wonderful instrument. There are people that will tell you the upright is the king of instruments,” said Kim.
During his music career, Kim has shared the stage with Larry Coryell, Alphonse Mouzon, Dave Valentine, Scott Cossu, Lee Oskar and Diane Shurr. His discography includes work with Van Manakas, The Jazz Police, Jovino-Santos-Neto and Don Mock. Kim says he learns from everyone he plays with, even his students.
He teaches privately in his home and in classroom settings at Shoreline Community College and the Roberts Music Institute in Bellevue. He has also taught at the Pacific Lutheran University music department and the National Guitar Workshop. Kim has been commissioned by the Southern Arts Council, the Seattle Arts Commission, choreographers Bill Evans, Clay Talefero and filmmaker Eric Patton. He was chosen as a cultural ambassador to represent the City of Seattle in Kobe, Japan in 1987. Kim was also selected by the State of Washington as a Centennial Artist during the 1989 Centennial Celebration.
Kim has appeared on over 35 recordings. His first solo record, “Apologies To The Great White Hope,” came out in 1987 on Binary Records. In 2000 and 2006, he recorded CDs named “How/Why,” with Charlie Nordstrom.