Kris Funn was in town recently to play with Christian Scott who he has played and toured with for quite a few years. In his early days he studied computer science at Howard University, later touring with jazz greats Kenny Garrett, Christian Scott, and Warren Wolf.
Tell me about yourself.
“I am 35 years of age, born in Baltimore, Maryland. My dad is a musician and I started on trumpet at age 4. Jazz music would blast 24/7 in my childhood home. My brother, four years older than me, played trumpet too, so around high school there were no trumpet chairs open in the jazz band and I thought I was free and thought, “Oh cool, I’ll give up the trumpet.” My dad was a good friend of the band director and he said they really needed an upright bassist and that happened to be me; my dad taught me how to play it in one summer. So I made the switch through high school and I wanted to move New York and not go to college, but my parents weren’t having it. I had to major in something — and if I was going to New York, I didn’t want do music, so I ended up going to Howard University for computer science and took music theory and other music classes there. When I got out of school it was a really bad time for the technology industry; that’s when the Silicon Valley bubble popped and everyone (was) getting laid off, so I couldn’t really get a job. I lucked out because a friend of mine was playing with Kenny Garrett, who needed a bassist at the time, so I started going to Kenny’s house. About six months later I started touring with him for about four years; then I took some years off, started touring sporadically, then played gigs with Christian Scott — he asked me to tour with him, which I have done for about seven years now.”
Did you finish your college degree in between all the touring?
“Yes, I graduated with a computer degree, but I did some web design on the side to keep my brain working. But I never really had a 9-to-5 job.”
What music did you grow up with?
“Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Freddie Hubbard. I would say that is the holy trinity. When I first started learning bass, I had to learn all of Ellington and Monk’s music. I would say those were the top main guys. Bass was funny, because my dad is also a bass player, but I remember he played Ray Brown, Christian McBride, and Charles Mingus for me.
Were there some particular albums that influenced you?
“When I first started, myself and Quincy Phillips (drummer for Roy Hargrove), we kind of learned jazz at the same time in Baltimore and my dad was teaching us. I stole this record from my dad and it changed our lives. It was Benny Green – Live at the Village Vanguard: Testifyin’. Quincy and I were listening to this at this jazz camp my dad was running. We listened to it a lot and can probably still sing every note, every comp, and every solo off of that record. A year ago I was playing with Warren Wolf where he got Quincy and myself on a gig where Benny Green was the special guest. I haven’t been that nervous since high school.”
Who were some of your teachers and mentors along the way?
“At Howard University there was this guy, Charlie Young, who played saxophone — but in terms actual lessons, mainly just my dad. I took some classical lessons at Howard and I worked a lot from a CD player.”