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Bassist Nathan East on Playing for the Pope, Obama, and Daft Punk

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Nathan East. | Photo: Kharen Hill.

If you have listened to a radio, watched a TV or gone out of your house in the last thirty years, you have heard bassist Nathan East. The Tarzana-based musician has 2000 recording credits that range from Kenny Rogers to Wayne Shorter. That's East shouting "Put your feet on the ground" during Kenny Loggins' "Footloose." That same year he co-wrote the Phil Collins/Phillip Bailey hit "Easy Lover." His funky bassline drives Daft Punk's recent hit "Get Lucky" while Whitney Houston's slow burner "Saving All My Love For You" is lifted by his patient support. Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." and Michael Jackson's "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" also feature East's electric bass. But it wasn't until March of last year that he finally saw his own name on the cover of an album.

"Nathan East" dominated the Billboard Smooth Jazz charts when it was released last March. Friends like Eric Clapton and Michael McDonald made guest appearances while drummer Ricky Lawson contributed to numerous tracks before his untimely passing last winter. The album was recently nominated for a Best Contemporary Instrumental Grammy Award and East has plans for a follow-up as well as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of his co-founding the band Fourplay.

East spoke to Artbound about a few of his more memorable live gigs in and out of the spotlight.

Hubert Laws & the Modern Jazz Quartet
Summer 1982
Hollywood Bowl

I was with [flutist] Hubert Laws for a few years in the early 1980s and that gig was a thrill of a lifetime.That was my first time playing the Hollywood Bowl. You're just thinking "wait a minute, this is the Hollywood Bowl. There are 17,000 people out there!" It was great because we played a song that was a duet with just piccolo and upright bass. It was cool. So much space to fill.

Live Aid: Kenny Loggins
July 13, 1985
JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania

That was the first time I saw what 250,000 people looked like. There is definitely a different energy. I look at all the gigs as pretty much the same whether it is one person or 10,000 people. You stand up and do what you do. I find that sometimes with the bigger gigs I feel myself digging in a little harder because you have to reach more people. It's like flying a Cessna 172 versus a 747. The basic functions are the same but the takeoff speed is a little different. Either way, you're still flying a plane.

Pope John Paul II's US Tour
September 11, 1987
Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

I was playing with a Christian youth group. 50,000 people in the audience. The Popemobile entered the building and he circled around and came to the back of the stage. I can remember our eyes met. Mine just started tearing up. He gave us a little sign of approval and then he came up and shook all our hands. I remember shaking his hand while I was playing. My mother, that was a very proud day for her. My oldest brother is a priest so a couple of her sons ended up touching the Pope. I feel very blessed. I've lived a charmed life. I look sometimes and say 'Lord, let it keep going.'

Clapton Unplugged
January 16, 1992
Bray Studios, Windsor, England

It was truly unplugged. Needless to say it was very well received. The album was just as long as it took us, two hours out of the day to record it. Eric said he wondered if it was good enough to release. It wasn't uptempo and was pretty laidback. Nobody would have predicted it would be embraced like that which is another testament to Eric. He does what he does and keeps reinventing himself. You never know. That thing absolutely blew up and then to win those Grammys.

Obama Inauguration
January 18, 2009
National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Two million people in the audience. Three miles shoulder to shoulder, left, right and in front of you, just audience. I had pictures of my grandparents and parents on my music stand. They weren't alive to see this take place, it was an emotional experience that way. It was 1 degree outside. James Taylor, that poor guy had to play guitar... If I just did that one gig, the resume at the end of the day could say "today I played with Bono, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige." The green room was buzzing.

Nathan East
November 8, 2014
Coex Convention Center, Seoul, South Korea

The first gig I did as Nathan East was just a few months ago in Korea and Japan. The record was released in Japan and they sold out of the initial order the first day. There was a demand to get over there and play. As I went over to that side of the world, I hit Korea first and it was a wonderful reception. That was also my fourth trip to Japan last year but the first time in 69 visits to play as Nathan East.

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