Music legend and Cincinnati native Bootsy Collins is a busy man.
As most of his fellow Cincinnatians already know, Collins became a music icon as a bassist for James Brown’s band and became an even bigger star as a driving force in Parliament Funkadelic. That would be more than enough fame for a lot of people.
After revolutionizing the role of the bass in modern music — being sampled in countless Hip Hop songs and generally funk-ing up the globe with intergalactic grooves — many musicians would rest on their laurels. But Bootzilla still has work to do. As Collins said in a recent YouTube promo, he “just can’t keep all of this funk to (himself).”
Collins has been hard at work finishing his upcoming album, Boot-Z-Class University, scheduled to debut this fall. (In fact, he's been so busy in the studio he was unavailable to talk to CityBeat for this story.)
But Collins’ has a longer view of his legacy than just his next album. Over the years, he's grown increasingly concerned about the legacy of Funk in a world full of Auto-Tune, Guitar Hero and electronic drum machines.
“Our live music is being threatened every day by the ease of our friendly computer and all its handy programs,” Collins said via e-mail.
His latest project, Funk University, which began classes July 1, might become the way to preserve Funk for the next generation to enjoy.
“This Funk University will be the first of its kind to not only show love to the Funk but even more importantly to lift up live music in general,” Collins said.
From his local studio, Collins is taking up the role of professor, teaching a collection of Funk music courses available to tuition-paying students online. To help create his Web site and curriculum, Collins’ Bootzilla Productions partnered with SceneFour, a Los Angeles-based company. SceneFour has built other music-related projects with a variety of artists including Beck, The RZA and Nine Inch Nails. The company has also worked with Current TV and mtvU.
“I’ve worked on a lot of projects for a lot of years and this is by far the most special experience I think I’ve been involved with,” says SceneFour founder and co-owner of Funk University, Cory Danziger.
“Bootsy is arguably the most influential bassist on the planet alive today.”
Instead of teaching courses at physical school buildings, Collins and Danziger are delivering their bass guitar-centered curriculum to students through video and audio lectures and other multimedia materials. Students at Funk University (F.U. for short) will see more than demonstrations of Collins’ bass technique. Collins will also teach philosophical, in-depth lessons about the history behind the tunes.
FourSquare’s Web accomplishments and Collins’ legendary status in the music world have helped earn the school press from a variety of outlets, getting early notice from NPR, The Huffington Post, CNET, Vibe magazine and AllHipHop.com. Danziger is most excited about the A-list “guest professors” Collins has lined up for Funk University’s first semesters.
“Bootsy is really opening up his little black book and saying, ‘Let’s bring this to the people the right way,’ ” Danziger says.
This year, F.U. features lectures by a group of the most distinguished bassists ever assembled. The list includes Victor Wooten of Béla Fleck, Divinity Roxx from Beyoncé’s all-female band, Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy, P-Nut from 311 and Meshell Ndegeocello. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Les Claypool are also planning to make appearances. Innovators like Billy Bass Nelson of Parliament and DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, who played with Miles Davis, will keep courses “true to the source,” Danziger says.
Funk University’s goal is to provide as much realistic interaction with the professors and the course material as possible. Like a physical campus, the F.U. site has a digital “library” for research and a “cafeteria” for chatting with other students. After enrolling, a syllabus tells students about the multimedia content uploaded every day and the planned themes for bass instruction that month.
“Upon entry, (students) will look at their syllabus and they’ll see that today in the ‘lecture hall’ Bootsy’s talking about groove and what groove means,” Danziger says. “Then they’ll see that later on in the afternoon something is going to be uploaded in the classroom section where Victor Wooten is actually giving an example of his favorite groove and why he likes that groove.”
Students will also submit their “funkwork,” F.U.’s version of homework. As part of a program called “The Track,” Collins will assign musical objectives and students will upload audio recordings for Collins and the F.U. staff to review. The students that are the best at reaching Collins’ musical objectives will win bass guitar equipment and other prizes. Between lectures, students also have access to an online community that allows them to ask questions and personally interact with Collins and the other bass experts.
Danziger is careful to describe F.U. as “entertainment” and an “informal learning environment.” Students who complete semesters or even entire years of instruction won’t receive any diploma, and F.U. is not accredited in any way. No one will be using their F.U. transcript to get into grad school.
But Funk University’s greatest challenge is defying the emotionally distant, antiseptic environment of cyberspace. Each musician involved developed over long years of gritty, sweaty performance and personal experience. Can Funk like that really be transmitted through the Internet?
It’s a challenge Danziger welcomes. He is traveling all over the country with a camera crew to spend copious amounts of time with each guest bassist/teacher in the most natural way possible.
“I’m in people’s homes,” he says. “I’m in people’s personal studios. Someone asked if they could come to my home and actually shoot it by my pool. People have their own comfort zone. They’ll go from speaking about one thing and then move to the instrument to kind of show you what they’re talking about.”
Danziger is confident that with Collins and his friends giving up the Funk F.U. will have a whole lot of rhythm going around.
"We want to blow people's minds," Danziger says.
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