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Gene Perla
Photo by Pauly Kramer

Gene Perla, hailing from northeastern New Jersey, had a diverse journey before establishing himself as a renowned jazz bassist, composer, and educator. From his early days attending public school in New Jersey to a brief stint at the New York Military Academy, Gene’s path eventually led him to the University of Toledo, where he initially pursued civil engineering and business. However, his passion for music started at a young age with classical piano lessons at just five years old. In high school, he discovered jazz and played the trombone for five years, even marching on Fifth Avenue in New York City during the Memorial Day Parade. It wasn’t until his final year at the University of Toledo that Gene’s interest in music took center stage.

At the age of 24, inspired by Charlie Haden’s performance on Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape Of Jazz To Come,” Gene made a pivotal decision to switch to the bass as his primary instrument. Upon moving to New York City, he quickly became a sought-after musician, sharing the stage with jazz greats like Willie Bobo, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Nina Simone, and many others. Gene’s impressive roster of collaborations includes iconic figures including Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughan, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, and even Frank Sinatra.

Besides his illustrious performance career, Gene Perla has been an influential educator, teaching at institutions including William Paterson University, Lehigh University, Center for the Media Arts, and currently at New School University. Additionally, his ventures extend into sound design, with notable credits in Broadway shows, theme parks, and custom installations. As a multifaceted individual with business acumen, Gene has continuously expanded his activities, venturing into music publishing, record labels, recording studios, promotional firms, Internet design and hosting, and computer networking businesses as platforms for his creative ideas.

A few days ago, we had the honor of sitting down with the illustrious jazz bassist, Gene Perla. In a candid conversation, we delved into his remarkable career, explored his latest projects, and got an exciting sneak peek into what’s in store for his upcoming gig at Zinc.

Charles Carlini: Your journey from engineering and business to jazz bassist is truly fascinating. How did your early experiences in civil engineering and business influence your approach to music and the music industry?

Gene Perla: Unknowingly back then, it was preparing me for the realization that being a jazz musician encompasses far more than simply playing notes. While aspiring to lead a comfortable life and possibly start a family, I came to understand that relying solely on playing music might not guarantee the financial stability I sought. Thus, when various business opportunities presented themselves, I embraced them, even going as far as revisiting my engineering studies to delve into the intricacies of sound recording.

CC: Switching from piano to trombone and eventually settling on the bass must have been a transformative musical journey. How did this variety of instruments shape your musical style and understanding of harmony in jazz?

GP: Throughout my musical journey, I’ve always focused on how the music resonates with me, and my ultimate goal has been to create a strong, infectious swing in my playing. As I aimed to capture the richness of Bill Evans’s harmonies, I came to realize that the piano or keyboard holds the key to unlocking a wealth of musical knowledge. Observing those 88 keys is like gazing upon an entire symphony orchestra in one instrument.

CC: Your collaborations with jazz legends like Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Is there a particular memory or story from your time working with these iconic artists that stands out to you?

GP: Once Miles shared the bass line with me for the recording of “Ali,” his instructions were clear: “Don’t make it swing.” Later, as we made our way to perform at Sinatra’s New Year’s Eve home party, he kindly carried my electric bass while I took charge of the double-bass. When the clock struck midnight, Miles shook hands with all of us in the band, and his wife graciously gave each of us a warm kiss.

CC: Your tenure with the legendary Elvin Jones was undoubtedly a significant milestone in your career. Can you share with us how this experience performing alongside him impacted your playing and approach to music?

GP: My journey to NYC was driven by a profound dream of playing primarily with Elvin Jones, and perhaps, through a stroke of luck, with Miles Davis. My ability to thrive in this realm can be attributed to my skill in synchronizing with Elvin’s expansive beat, but it also stems from my unwavering belief in myself and my capabilities to make it happen.

CC: In addition to your musical pursuits, you’ve also been deeply involved in education. How has your teaching experience impacted your growth as a musician, and what motivates you to share your knowledge with aspiring artists?

GP: Teaching has not only granted me added financial stability, which was a significant incentive, but it has also enriched my understanding of concepts through the act of explaining them to others. Witnessing the spark in my students’ eyes when they grasp these ideas fills me with gratitude for the invaluable opportunity to impart knowledge.

CC: As you prepare for your upcoming show at Zinc with pianist Leo Genovese on August 15, we’d love to know what specific qualities and musical traits of this pianist have attracted you to collaborate with him?

GP: Leo’s incredible power and relentless drive are precisely why I feel sheer delight every time I have the opportunity to play alongside him. His infectious positivity and joyous spirit make him a true pleasure to be around.

CC: Your ventures in sound design and various business endeavors showcase your versatility beyond the stage. How do you balance your roles as a performer, educator, and entrepreneur, and what advice do you have for musicians seeking to diversify their careers?

GP: Time management plays a crucial role in my daily routines, and I rely on my computers to stay organized, manage schedules, take notes, and maximize productivity. I consistently urge my students to engage in music creation, emphasizing the significance of writing songs, as my own music’s usage by others has led to both financial and aesthetic triumphs. Embracing knowledge and understanding opens the doors to richer life experiences.

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Thank you, Gene Perla, for sharing your incredible journey and insights with us. Your dedication to music, education, and entrepreneurship is truly inspiring. To our readers, make sure not to miss Gene’s upcoming show at Zinc this month, where he’ll be performing with pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Jimmy Macbride on August 15. For more updates and information, visit Gene’s website at http://Perla.org. Don’t miss the chance to witness the magic of his performances! Click here to book your tickets today.

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