Last night I saw François Rabbath, the Yoda of double bass, play music composed by a son he clearly cherishes and accompanied by students he calls his children at Augustana Lutheran Church in West St Paul. It was a lesson on how to live your life.
François is 85 years old. He is a self-taught virtuoso. He plays music with his son, an accomplished pianist and composer. He is in the Twin Cities to teach and play at the Twin Cities Bass Camp, where musicians of all ages and level and invited to hone their craft.
The show began with father and son walking onto the stage. François in the Nehru jacket, Sylvain in paisley print shirt under vest walking hand in hand, the family resemblance surpassed only by the clear inherited coolness. François to the bass, Sylvain to the church organ, queue the flock of strings on the altar and the music begins.
I have seen father and son play alone, but this time they were accompanied by the strings, drums and keyboard to play new work from Sylvain. The work showcases the talents of both men and the musicians that join them. The Rabbath men in turn support each other, lead the melody and play a balanced duet. In a song like Samir, François hammers the bassiest sound to create a depth of melancholy that builds a rhythmic release to a staccato bowing to create a joyous sound. While, Sevilliana has a jazzier sound and is a showcase for the piano.
Known for organic and improvised playing, François plays so smoothly that it all feels just as it should be. Many compositions have been used in movies; listening to the songs you can feel the action and story progression in the notes.
The highlight of the night was when 12 students from the Bass Camp join the band on stage to play with François. Thirteen upright basses takes a serious stage so just the visual is inspiring. The physicality of watching that many musicians play in sync is mesmerizing. Yet, each musician has his or her own personality, which shines through even in the time of one song and especially as each musician in invited, maybe instructed, to perform a brief solo while François guides them.
Here is where he shines. As amazing as Rabbath is playing on stage he seems to get even more joy watching his children play. His smile is beatific. He appreciates each student. And that is the lesson is life – do what you are called to do, do it well and pass your talents on to others when you can.