By Tim Hazell, Ken Bichel, and Antonio Lozoya
Guitarist and progressive musical thinker Ken Basman was internationally recognized for more than just his prodigious talents. He was an artist who consistently pushed the boundaries of tonality, yet showed his respect for the greats of jazz, blues, and many other genres by working from “within the music” he was interpreting. Ken’s consummate guitar techniques illuminated sound and showed his audience, as well as other musicians on the same stage or in the studio, something new that they may have overlooked in an arrangement. “Virtuoso” and “genius” are overused terms, frequently misunderstood in a world where much that was left to our wild imaginations and skills is now proffered to all at the touch of a cursor. Ken was both in his inimitable, understated way—a master musician who evolved distinctive approaches to his life and work, quietly providing us with an example of true discipline in both rigorous dedication to his craft and uncompromising devotion to his family.
Ken’s legacy is as clearly etched today as a human being of worth as it is if we look at his musical acumen alone. He could be irascible and difficult to collaborate with, depending on his moods, an impatience that grew out of a refusal to tolerate capricious attitudes as to what “being a musician” entailed—legacies of significance that he constantly aspired to and measured himself against. He was generous, eccentric, charismatic, and outspoken. Ken has left a void behind on his journey to a distant star that can never be filled, only balanced by other rare individuals with equal gifts.
Composer, pianist, and conceptual artist Ken Bichel has this to say about his colleague and friend:
“How to quantify such an enormous loss? The passing of this extraordinary man will leave a giant rent in the fabric of San Miguel society and culture. Ken was a consummate musician, with dazzling expertise in any style. Always fresh and engaged in his playing, whether accompanying or soloing, he brought a level of solidity, reliability, and uplift to any musical situation. Every time I heard him, he was stretching his limits to find new levels of expression, always with intense concentration, focus, and egoless humility. This was especially evident in his intimate duo with keyboardist/composer Doug Robinson, where I never heard him play the same lick twice. Ken’s acumen as a recording engineer was unparalleled. He could make his funky little studio sound like anything from Carnegie Hall to a smoke-filled jazz garret. As we say in the business, he had “Elephant Ears,” and would often hear things I didn’t notice. He was uncompromising in his production standards, but also a willing collaborator in the making of final decisions. Simply put, he was a unique and delightful human. So Godspeed, brother Ken; you will be sorely missed.”
Ken Basman was able to improvise without specific preparation, in the act of engaging life’s essential creative muses. He could come up with infinite variations to a riff—one reason that his colleagues had to be specific when they recorded with him in his studio. There was always a myriad of possibilities, so his question, “What do you have in mind?” took on special significance. Improvisation engages body and spirit in supreme moments when inventiveness elbows its way to the front of the line wherever artists are about to put themselves at risk. When done well, it engages audiences to the point where disbelief is suspended, and they are brought to the very edge of a precipice. Ken guided countless aficionados out there with him, then safely back to earth, changed, and exhilarated.
Jazz Festival director and bassist Antonio Lozoya worked jointly with Ken in a partnership that spanned two decades. He fondly recalls the musician and the man:
“A little over 20 years ago I had the good fortune to play for the first time with Ken Basman. Since then it has been an extraordinary experience to work on a myriad of projects, hear his great musical expression, and feel inspired by his passion for music—always studying, composing, making arrangements, or as recording engineer—leaving a legacy for all colleagues to emulate.
He has my respect and admiration for always; he was part of my family in San Miguel, as well as his wife, Alina, and their children. To close, I will be scheduling a concert in his memory and for his family’s support. Thanks Ken—for everything you shared as a human being and exceptional musician, you’ll always be remembered.”