Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog / by Doyle Armbrust

Jason Heath is not “a facilitator of the Zionist plot to overthrow the Palestinians.” Yet after he posted a decidedly nonpolitical interview on his popular Double Bass Blog with Israeli bass virtuoso Guy Tuneh early this year, a reader identifying himself as “xxx@fuckamerica.com” tagged Heath with this handle…and threatened to assassinate him. The 33-year-old spent the rest of the day scouring his blog for any mentions of his home address and deleting them.

Fortunately, most of Doublebassblog.org’s readers are bassophile classical students and professionals, not anti-Semites. Conceived in 2005 while Heath taught at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, as a kind of bulletin board for lesson plans, the site lands around 5,000 visitors per week and features interviews with prominent performers such as Cleveland Orchestra principal Max Dimoff, personal anecdotes and even virtual lessons on subjects like “left-hand pivot involved in the Rabbath technique.”

After graduating with a performance master’s from Northwestern University in 2000, the bassist and his (now) wife, Courtney, a harpist, faced the apparent nonexistence of available orchestra positions. When speaking about this subject, and of music in general, the Evanstonian’s sentences end with exclamation points; he often eagerly interrupts himself, editing midthought: “You are sold a giant lie when you go to music school. For me…there was always this promise of, You’ll get a job. Oh, yeah, a job. Job, job. There are no fucking jobs!”

Heath’s vehemence seems to stem not from anger but amusement or disbelief. It’s easy to share in his frustration as he describes humiliating scenes from the audition circuit, such as the health-inspection portion of his wife’s Army Band finals in 2006. “She had to strip down to her underwear and walk like a duck across a room with all these other people,” Heath rants. “Most of them were high-school dropouts, and she’s got a master’s degree! She said, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m done with music. This sucks. I’m going to go to med school.’?”

Heath agreed it did indeed suck and decided to forgo the traditional professional-orchestra career path himself. Instead, he relied on freelance work and teaching; currently, he teaches orchestra at Libertyville High School. The stories from his days as a mercenary musician, archived on the site, are some of the most sidesplitting diaries we’ve read. There are itinerant tales of a sectionmate’s unfortunate gaseous outburst during a particularly delicate passage of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and cash bets placed by players in a local orchestra, guessing the length of the conductor’s painful in-concert monologues. The blogger is careful to protect the names of both the innocent and the not-so-innocent.

In his best, most bewildering story, “My Car Caught Fire and Exploded,” the hapless freelancer speeds home from a Northwest Indiana Symphony gig on a frigid winter’s night. His Saturn wagon bursts into flames on the shoulderless express lanes of the Dan Ryan. After just barely rescuing his instrument from the calamity, Heath is forcibly directed to put his hands on the hood of a police cruiser as he’s searched for weapons, a river of molten GM plastic streaming through the snow at his feet. The post became so popular that, for months, one could simply Google “car caught fire” and it’d top the results page.

As a young instrumentalist, Heath just wanted to be known as a good bass player and inspire others to share his passion. With his ever-growing collection of invaluable bass wisdom in the form of interviews and lessons, plus a recently self-published book, Road Warrior Without an Expense Account, it’s clear his mark grows more indelible every day. “My blog has had waaay more impact than my bass playing ever has,” he says, laughing. “In a weird way, the blog has accomplished what I always wanted to do with music.”

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on June 30th, 2009