Bass-ic instincts

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Rod Jost has made a lot of fans in this area with his skills on the bass guitar. But now the Hillsboro youth minister and musician has caught the attention of some of the biggest names in bass playing.

Jost will leave Wednesday for Myrtle Beach, Fla., where he will participate in a four-day clinic called “Bass on the Beach.”

The event is organized and led by two giants on the bass scene, Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey.

“Victor is phenomenal,” Jost said. “I get a lot of tips from him and I really admire his playing.”

Participating as guest artists are other great bass players, including Otiel Burbage, Mike Pope and Felix Pastorious.

But this is no musical equivalent of a fantasy baseball camp where anyone can lay down the bucks for a chance to rub shoulders with icons of the game.

In truth, Wooten and Bailey selected Jost to join them-as one of only 60 participants from more than 400 aspiring bass players who applied for the limited openings.

“It was a nice compliment,” Jost said about being selected. “One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten has come after doing some worship (music) or a concert or something and somebody says, ‘You sound like Victor Wooten.’

“That’s happened once in a while.”

Now Wooten may hear the comparisons for himself-in person.

Jost discovered the clinic on Wooten’s Web site, which he said he visits frequently. At first Jost didn’t think he could afford to go even on the odd chance he would be selected.

“Then I figured it’d be interesting to see if I could get in,” he said.

So, a few days after the deadline, Jost sent in the materials Wooten and Bailey were requesting: a written application, a resume of his playing experience, a recording of him sight-reading a short piece of music they provided, and a five-minute recording of his personal playing styles.

“They weren’t looking necessarily looking for the great bass players in the world,” Jost said. “They were looking for dedicated people who had been playing for a good amount of time and had a vision for it.”

Whatever they were looking for, they found in Jost-and gave him some helpful feedback on the materials he submitted.

“They said they felt like I had good soloing ability and chordal structures-that sort of thing,” he said. “But they said my sight-reading skills were just ‘OK.'”

Jost expects to work some on his sight-reading skills-which he readily admits is his weakness-in sessions that cover a gamut of topics and will last 10 to 14 hours a day.

“I’m just hoping to have a great time with equal and better musicians than I am,” Jost said of his expectations. “I want to hear their ideas and see how they play.”

Jost traces his first encounter with the bass guitar to his freshman year at Tabor College, where he became friends with a group of aspiring student-musicians that included Bruce Kunkel, now a building contractor in Hillsboro.

“I was always intrigued with that and thought they were some pretty cool guys,” Jost said. “They always had interesting music going on in their (dorm) room.”

When he listened to Kunkel play the bass, Jost said he was attracted immediately to the sound and the tone.

“Bruce had a Fender Precision bass, and I asked him if he could teach me to play the thing,” he added. “He let me take it into my room and play with it.”

By the time the spring semester ended and Jost returned to the farm in Nebraska for the summer, he was convinced he wanted to play the bass. He talked his father into buying him a used Fender Telecaster, circa 1972.

“I just played it all the time that summer-four or give hours a day,” he said. “I’d be working out on the farm all day and then go home at night and just play long hours.”

Jost kept up his four- to five-hour daily practice regime when he returned to Tabor that fall. He finally made his first public performing debut the New Year’s Eve in the 4-H Building on the Marion County Fairgrounds with a group of local musicians that called themselves The Spiny Normal All-Star Jazz Band.

“We did one gig and then we disbanded,” Jost said with a laugh. “We practiced all the time, though. It was hideous.”

That first gig has since led Jost into dozens and dozens of others. He estimates he has played for some 18 different groups, including various combinations of worship bands-many connected with regional and national youth conventions through the Mennonite Brethren denomination.

That speaks to Jost’s other passion: youth ministry. He has been a full-time staff member in the area of youth at the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church since 1988.

Those two passions feed each other, he said.

“I’ve always had a passion for playing bass and music, and a passion for ministry, primarily with youth,” he said. “For me, it’s a dual feed. When one becomes frustrating, the other one is very satisfying-and likewise the other way.”

Jost said he hasn’t always been sure his two passions could coexist.

“At first I really struggled with why do I have this drive (to play music),” he said. “I prayed to God that if this was something I should give up, he should let me know. But I’ve gotten so much affirmation for it.”

Jost said he sees the bass as an tool for ministry-and not necessarily within the walls of the church. In fact, in the earliest years, while he was still playing in Nebraska, playing in the church was declared out of bounds.

“When we first started playing, we started in the church but the church couldn’t accept it,” he said. “Concerts seemed acceptable, so a lot of times we’d be sponsored by a church group-but we couldn’t use the church building. They’d get the park or the civic center or some other place.”

That reception has changed to the point where leaders of his current congregation have even blessed him to play in secular venues, including bars.

“As time went on, my heart went out more for the fringe people and lost people,” Jost said. “I wanted play where they were hanging out. So through the years I’ve played at bars and places like that.”

Invariably, Jost said, he’ll get a chance to connect with some of the patrons who enjoy his music.

“In the course of conversation they ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a pastor or a youth pastor-and I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about it,” Jost said.

Instead, people frequently open up about spiritual issues and some even ask advice about dealing with their troubled children.

“I’ll sit there in a bar and give advice to a parent who is frustrated with his kids that probably would not have gotten that advice anywhere else,” Jost said.

Even as prepares for his trip to Myrtle Beach, Jost is looking for his bass guitar to be bridge rather than a barrier to the people he meets there.

“I don’t know what it will lead to,” he said. “I know they are very open to spiritual ideas because they talk about karma and such things on the Web site. So I’m here saying, ‘Lord, prepare me to represent you correctly.'”

Jost, who is largely self-taught, sees his abilities with the bass as a gift-to be used for a high purpose in a variety of settings.

“God gives all of us individual gifts and abilities that he wants us to use for him-and not just within the four walls of the church.”

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