Music & Art · This & That

Abraham Laboriel: Most Recorded Session Bassist

Years ago I attended a Willow Creek Arts Conference in Chicago. For about a decade or so, Willow Creek was one of a handful of megachurches leading the pack as regards the arts in the church. I felt like they started to fade five or six years ago, not having embraced new musical sounds and landscapes—really, just getting old. But at this conference, there was a guest artist I’ll never forget: Abraham Laboriel.

The incomparable Abraham Laboriel has been considered one of the most widely-used session bass players. His handling of a 4-string (or 5-, 6- or whatever he’s playing) can be heard on over 4,000 recordings. Here is just a handful of those he’s played for:

  • Donald Fagen
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Elton John
  • Ray Charles
  • Paul Simon
  • Madonna
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Michael Jackson

I had the privilege not only to see him play with the house worship band but also to hear him share what drives his pursuit of excellence. He is a follower of Christ and plays to the best of his ability because nothing less than his best would be a worthy offering for his Savior. His constant refining of his craft convicts me of my sometimes lack of musical discipline. What’s more (and even more important), his humility reveals how much pride I still have that needs to be chipped away.

The Willow Creek worship director at the time (I don’t know if he’s still there) recounted for us what took place in a rehearsal session just prior to the conference. The band had been working with charts like this one to the left, which Abraham would have been provided at the first rehearsal. (Good session players don’t need much prep time.) I guess they’d been playing for a little while before Abraham called the director over and softly asked if he’d be permitted to play whatever he was feeling, using the chart as more of a guide. The director replied, “Uh, you’re one of the most recorded bass players of all time. You can do whatever you want.”

Despite his unparalleled skill and knowing his reputation proceeded him, Abraham still humbled himself as just another player in the band under the direction of someone with just a smidgeon of the talent and experience he had.

I’ve played with some cocky players. And I’ve played with some humble ones. I wonder what others I’ve played with think of me. Where do I fall in the pride/humility continuum? If I were honest, probably a little too much to the cocky side.

I may never be featured on any professional recording, but I want my humility to match that of Abraham Laboriel—extraordinary musician, even greater man.

*By the way, Abraham Laboriel isn’t the most recorded bass player. Some say it’s Carol Kaye with over 10,000 recordings. I just didn’t want my blog title to be too long.

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