Bassist, Songwriter, Composer/Arranger


jeffrey washBiography

Full Bio -

As far back as I can remember I was always banging or strumming on something in a musical fashion (at least I thought it was musical!).  My crude attempts became a little less annoying when I discovered the bass guitar. I had a few lessons early on but never had the discipline to sit still behind a music stand… fortunately I was gifted with a strong pair of ears so I picked things up quickly and spent hours every day playing along with records in my room.  My first real gigs were playing bass in piano bars with my mother, Evelyne, who is a fine singer and pianist and has a true gift for interpreting a song.  Like most young musicians I started out wanting to play all the notes all the time. However, playing those early gigs with my mom gave me an appreciation for what it means to be an “accompanist” and I learned how to “play the song”, not just how to play the bass.  This remains a guiding principle for me to this day.




In my late teens and early twenties we lived in Reno NV - I sowed some wild oats playing with Rock, Punk and Heavy Metal bands in that area. I was playing hard with a pick on a Rickenbacker 4001 (damn, I wish I’d never sold that bass!). I loved the reckless energy of Punk, the cocksure force of Hard Rock - I still enjoy playing in that fashion whenever I get the chance – yet I always felt like a bit of an odd duck in those circles.  After the gigs I’d be off somewhere listening to something completely different: Stravinsky, Willie Nelson, Duke Ellington, The Beatles, Lou Harrison, Nina Simone, Elton John, James Taylor… composers and songwriters with a penchant for melody were the people who really rocked my world.  I was especially drawn to the work of the arrangers & producers behind the scenes, such as Paul Buckmaster with Elton and George Martin with the Beatles. It was a fun time in my life, but I reached a point in my mid twenties when the lifestyle became dangerously self destructive for me. It was Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll and the music was starting to take more of a backseat to the lifestyle.


jeffrey wash



Around that time I got a call from a friend who was living in LA.  He needed a roommate and I jumped at the chance for a change of scenery.  I didn’t have a lot of money and my VW Bug blew up on the drive from Reno, so I did a lot of walking and riding the bus in LA.  During the days I worked at a factory in the City of Industry; it was a repetitive job that required no mental engagement on my part and on retrospect it was probably one of the best practice routines I’ve ever gotten into: I’d put in my earplugs, get into the physical groove of the job and practice the bass in my head, visualizing the fingerboard, running scales and patterns in my imagination.  At night I’d come home, eat and shower and play “real” bass for several hours before going to bed. 

I wanted to go to MIT (Musicians Institute of Technology) but couldn’t afford the enrollment so I made due taking private lessons with Paul Farnen who was a teacher there.  Since I wasn’t gigging I was essentially playing bass in a vacuum.  Paul, more than anything else, helped to keep me grounded by stressing the fundamentals of bass playing and reminding me not to take the social aspect of music for granted.

I lived in LA for about a year.  It was a pivotal place and time in my life but I was gradually becoming disenchanted with the quality of life there.  I came to Santa Cruz to visit a friend over a Labor Day weekend and immediately fell in love with the area - the ocean breeze, the Redwood forests, the Bohemian spirit on the streets – it felt like home to me. While visiting I chanced to pick up a copy of the Class Catalogue of local Cabrillo College and saw that one of my favorite composers, Lou Harrison, was teaching Gamelan classes there.  I had no idea what Gamelan was but resolved that, if Lou was teaching it, I was going to learn!  I went back to LA, packed my bags and moved to Santa Cruz.


jeffrey wash


I attended Cabrillo College for 3 years where I studied music theory, music notation, composition and Gamelan (traditional Javanese music) with Lou Harrison and Jazz arranging with Ray Brown (the other one!). Ray is a great musician, composer and arranger in addition to being a gifted teacher.  With Ray’s encouragement I bought a standup bass, began lessons with Stan Poplin (the venerable!) and threw myself into playing with and writing for a variety of Big Band and Jazz ensembles.

At the same time I was getting deep into playing Gamelan music in Lou Harrison’s classes.  After a few months in his class I made bold and wrote a Gamelan piece called Endless Gift.  It turned out pretty well and Lou suggested I take composition lessons with him.  I showed up on his doorstep the next day!  Over the next couple of years I had the privilege of recording and performing with Lou in concerts, many of which included my compositions, in Santa Cruz, Berkely, New York and Vancouver BC. 


Upon completing my studies at Cabrillo I had some choices to make. There were several obvious, established paths that I was considering at that point: I could stay inside academia and work to become a Music teacher or an ethnomusicologist, I could become a composer of “serious music” (love the music – hate the title!), I could move to NYC or back to LA and try to make it as a studio musician. 

And as I was struggling with these weighty decisions the unexpected happened: I fell in love.  I got smitten by a girl named Mary.  Overnight, all my priorities changed and now it seemed I had another choice to consider… although, as everyone who’s been there knows, in matters of the heart one really has no choice at all… Love is weird that way.  Mary and I got married and a year later our son, Colin, was born.  Looking back on it, I realize that it was the best choice I’ve ever made.

My student loans had dried up and the need to make money was becoming a real priority. I began playing out and about with some of the local dance bands and within a few months I was working my way up the ranks of “working musicians”.


I often run into people who, upon finding out that I make a living as a musician, invariably express admiration for the fact that I do so.  It helps me to remember that playing music is really a pretty cool thing to do.  One thing is for certain: it’s seldom ever boring!  In those early years after my son was born I was scrambling to make money and I took every gig that came over the wires.  I remember one particularly surreal weekend: I played a country gig on a Friday night, a Jewish wedding Saturday afternoon, attended the premiere of a modern classical piece (my composition) in the evening, then played R & R in a biker bar the next night… Born to Be Wild, cranked.  For me, one of the great things about music is that it can be experienced in so many ways: intellectually, viscerally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s something I try never to forget, never take for granted.

Through Ray Brown I was introduced to Bill Hopkins who was leading one of the busiest local dance bands. In the mid 90’s I became Music Director for his group, The Bill Hopkins Band, a 10 piece group of extraordinary musicians. This group has grown to become one of the San Francisco Bay areas premiere special event bands and I am proud to be a part of it’s success. The band travels regularly and has backed up many successful artists and celebrities, including Glen Frey, Huey Lewis, Tone Loc, Kenny G, Michael Bolton and Darius Rucker.


jeffrey wash


At a recording session in 1994 I met Bruce Kaphan. I was blown away by his skills as engineer and producer. We hit it off that day, kept in touch and over the next few years we did some recording sessions and projects together. In 2008 British singer/songwriter Thomas Dolby happened to hear some of Bruce’s music, including a piece I had played on called “Clouds” from Bruce’s first solo album, Slider. Thomas, who was working on a new album, contacted Bruce to see if he’d be interested in recording on the album and also possibly performing at the TED festival in a duo with me on fretless bass. Long story short, (the details are chronicled over at Bruce Kaphan’s website if you’d like to know more), the TED festival didn’t work out for us, but the connection with Thomas led to a couple of great things: first, the process of creating music for the TED evolved into a larger body of work and eventually became the Bruce Kaphan Quartet album. Also, I developed a musical relationship with Thomas, played on a couple of tracks on his album “A Map of the Floating City” and subsequently toured with him and his band in October 2012.

Having a family and working as a full time musician keeps the calendar very full. Despite an oft-demanding schedule, original music remains a priority for me and I make it a point to be actively involved in new music as both a writer and collaborator (see Credits & Links). In between projects and gigs I am working to complete an album of my own original instrumental music. This album represents something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time – a marriage of virtual, electronic and acoustic instruments within a framework of compositions drawing from the disparate musical influences that continue to inspire me.

jeffrey wash

October 16, 2006
Updated November 25, 2012