On Saturday, September 28, former City Music student, Aaron Liao, took the stage at the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival with renowned artist, Meshell Ndegeocello. Liao is in his final semester at Berklee and this performance marks a milestone in his career as an artist. In a post-concert interview Liao shared what this experience meant for him.
When did you find out you would be playing with Meshell?
Terri Lyne Carrington contacted me in mid-August about the gig. She mentioned that Meshell – someone who I’ve looked up to ever since hearing her song GOD.FEAR.MONEY when I was 15 – was coming to Boston and was going to play Beantown Jazz Fest with a student band. I confirmed without looking at my calendar, and she asked me to put a band together.
What was it like working with Meshell?
It was like breathing the freshest air your lungs have ever had. She was critical and precise, but maintained an incredibly uplifting and loving spirit the whole time rehearsing. She lived and breathed the music from the first to the last note. She is a one of a kind singer, writer, performer, and all around artist. She is also of course, one of the best bass players alive and even though I played maybe 80% of the time, one huge part of the experience was trading the bass role with her, from song to song, and even from section to section within a song. She would start off some songs and lay down the groove, and when she started singing, she’d stop playing bass and I would jump right in and pick up where she left off.
Observing what she focused on in rehearsal was also a huge lesson in itself. Meshell blew me away with how in tune she was to each element of the music, and how visually expressive she was. More than anything, she heightened my musical awareness in a playing situation to a whole new level. I felt like I made a big step forward as a leader, bass player, and overall person and musician from this experience. Before the first rehearsal, her first words to us were “Be yourself, otherwise it won’t work.” At the end of the last rehearsal, she said, “I don’t see you all as students; I see you as peers. We are fellow musicians making music together, and I am grateful for your time.” Hearing that from a hero of mine knocked me out.
What performances do you have coming up?
I am a member of an electronic ambient rock project called ISIS LUNE, hitting at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge on Monday, October 14th at 9pm(Columbus Day). This band formed just about a year ago, and I’m extremely excited about the recordings we are currently working on.
I’m playing bass and singing backups behind my dear friend and amazing guitarist/singer Maddie Rice for her show at the Copley Boston Book Festival in Copley Square, just down the street from Berklee on Saturday, October 19th at 2:30pm. (FREE SHOW)
I am the student musical director for the Berklee Dwele ensemble, taught by Tia Fuller, and we have our first recital this semester Monday, October 21st at 7:30pm at David Friend Recital Hall. (FREE SHOW)
What can we expect to see from Aaron Liao within the next few years?
Right now, I am going through what is probably the biggest transition period in my life: bridging the gap between being a student and being out of school. All I know is that my current idea of whatever life post-college is like is going to be very different than what it will actually be like. BUT, if I were to look into the next few years, I would say that the groups I’ve been playing with hopefully will have developed and become more seasoned, and I will likely be on tour with someone, somewhere. Maybe with one of those groups, maybe not. I also have some original music that I might decide to focus on. Who knows. Anything can happen…