Born and raised in Cuba, Fodera artist Carlitos Del Puerto has quickly become one of the most in-demand session musicians in the world. As a doubler on electric bass and upright, Carlitos’ ability to seamlessly transition between instruments and styles and his technical proficiency has led him to work with the likes of Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Sergio Mendez, Chick Corea, and Barbra Streisand among many others.
Currently, Carlitos is on a European tour with Chick Corea and Steve Gadd, two of his musical heros. Despite his busy schedule Carlitos sat down with us to give us a better insight into his early influences, life in Cuba, and what it takes to be a successful session musician.
1) How did you come to play the bass guitar? What were some of your earliest musical memories you had in Cuba and with your father?
I discovered the electric bass when I was in Cuba because my father had some basses at home. I never did any live shows on the electric bass until I got to the U.S. That is when I really started to become serious about learning the instrument and playing live.
Dad! There are so many memories of him. My dad wrote a lot of the theory books that were used in Cuba to teach the bass. In fact, he introduced the electric bass into Cuban schools. Prior to that it was only upright bass and classical music that was taught. My dad changed all of that. He brought in Cuban Music, Jazz, pop, etc. and it was really cool to see that happen. Before it was not a part of the school programs in Cuba. And of course, “Irakere”, my fathers band, which I saw develop and saw the impact the band had on Cuban music and in bass playing.
2) Describe what it’s like to double on both upright and electric. Do you approach both instruments the same or differently?
I love both instruments. I wanted to play both, early on, and to do it well. They are both quite different in the way they respond to the hands, the way they respond to the music, and from a technical approach. But that is the beauty of them. The challenge to sound good on both is not easy and I am still trying to accomplish that, which I think I will continue for the rest of my life.
3) Describe some of your early musical influences and what it was like for you growing up a musician in Cuba.
My earliest influences were my father, Carlos Del Puerto, of course, but then I was exposed to the music of Chick Corea when I was in the National School of Music in Cuba. His music really got me started and all the bass players he had on his albums were amazing! Stanley Clarke, Eddie Gomez, Miroslav Vitous and then John Patitucci, etc. That was a great school for me and I’ve been fortunate that life gave me the opportunity to play with Chick and share the stage with my first big influence and now my best teacher.
4) How did you establish yourself in the LA music scene, and in particular, session work?
Los Angeles has been an amazing city for me. It took me a long time to get going, in terms of work, but it did. I’m glad it took a while because it gave me the time to become a better bassist and a better musician. Much of the session work came by word of mouth. I tried my best to do a good job on any of the work I got and it started leading to more opportunities. Thank God I’m still here and still working!
5) What do you enjoy most about session work and describe, in your opinion, what are key qualities to becoming a successful session player?
What I enjoy the most about session work is the creative process, the collaboration with the producers, artists, and fellow musicians. It’s a lot of fun and very challenging at the same time. You never know when you walk in into a session what kind of reading you will have to do. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it’s not easy at all and you have to read and interpret music at a very high level. Not to mention that the other musicians around you are incredible, so you have to bring it!
6) Any particular session experiences that stand out for you?
While every session is an incredible experience, I recently had the opportunity to record a record with Chick Corea and Steve Gadd which was incredibly special. Not just because of who they are and what they represent but it was a very special and sentimental moment to record with my teachers. These are the guys that encouraged me to start my career way back when I was a kid and I used to dream of the moment when I could record with them.
7) Tell us about your recent tour with Chick Corea and Steve Gadd. What has the experience been like and how has touring with them influenced your own playing?
The tour has being great! We’ve been on tour for almost three months now and every day is different, new, and exciting. It’s like going to school with Picasso and Salvador Dalí. They are painting as they play and telling stories in an incredible way.
8) Tell us about your custom Foderas and the back story behind the “17” on all of your basses.
My babies! Man, those Foderas are special. They really have everything I dream of in an instrument. The sound, the focus, the playability, the evenness of the tone, the quality of the materials, and the best craftsmanship there is, period! Vinnie, Joey Jason, and the whole Fodera staff have taken such deep care of every instrument and every client. I absolutely love them!
The number 17 is my lucky number but it also has a symbolism in Afrocuban culture. 17 is the number of Babalu Aye – Asojano, better known as Saint Lazarus.