Samadhi, that high meditative state whereby the human spirit realizes it's total oneness with the Creator, is deemed the greatest ecstasy one can experience. Bassist Bob Cunningham appears to reach, or closely approach that ecstatic state as he blends himself in oneness with his Bass and with the rich, luminous sounds he skillfully coaxes from it. He clearly enjoys and relishes every stroke and sound of the instrument, and this thorough enjoyment of his polished musical craft inevitably translates into the collective enjoyment and soul movement of each audience Cunningham musically serves.
Cunningham's exquisite mastery of the Bass was not born full bloom overnight like many of the jazz greats before him, Bob Cunningham has had years of "dues-paying" under his belt. His first link with the world of music was at the age of seven when he began studying the piano. At twelve he had entered into the first stage of his life long romance with the bass, little realizing that by 17 he would be a recognized and highly appreciated professional musician.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio having entered life on this planet on December 28, 1934, Bob Cunningham has tasted the fruit from many different trees of the music world from classical to contemporary. He studied the Bass privately with such accomplished master instructors as Jacques Possell and June Cobb of Ohio, as well as the illustrious Art Davis and Homer Mench of New York. The Cleveland Music Institute and the prestigious Julliard School of Music further contributed to the rounding out of his musical growth.
The contemporary greats with whom Cunningham has performed read like a brilliant "Who's Who" of the music world. Having moved to New York in 1960, he has jammed and gigged with such notables as Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Betty Carter, Aminata Moseka "Abbey Lincoln", Sun Ra, Art Blakely, Freddie Hubbard, Pharoah Saunders, and Yusef Lateef, for whom he composed and arranged a number of pieces.
With the Yusef Lateef Quartet, Bob and his beloved Bass toured many parts of the world including Africa, the Caribbean, and North and South America. The richness of these travels, experiences, and cultures enhanced his music. He relates "That music generated in him a range of emotions and personal memories of people and places" with his mind "occasionally flashing back to those places that inspire the music, such as Ipanema and San Paulo in Brazil".
These memories of Brazil in particular, reveal themselves in the sambas Cunningham is fond of composing and playing. His commitment and intimate involvement with music leads him to describe music as sensual, as sending him "floating and flying" as having the capacity to captivate and elevate him as a musician to a point of "near levitation".
Viewing the intense effects of music on his own psyche, Bob feels a great responsibility in regard to the type of music he composes and plays for others. "Songs carry thoughts and emotions with them," he states. "They have actual physical effects on people, effects, which can be either healing and uplifting or destructive". "The musician has to be cognizant of the possible effect of his or her music on the listeners and that different kinds of music create differing reactions in people." " For example sad songs, while they may make us want to cry, also help us to cleanse our souls, to get rid of a lot of pent-up waste."
"Music is a good unifying force for people". "People of different ethnic and religious groups can all get together through the common thread of music." "Music can even bring Democrats and Republicans together".
Bob Cunningham's love affair with music has brought him together with many varying elements of the music field, including stints with such great symphonies as The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Collective Black Artists Orchestra, Cologne Germany Radio Orchestra, and Symphony of the New World.
His composition, "Soul Fruit", was filmed in 1981 for a German television Jazz documentary. Noted as 'one of the modern arco-masters on bass " Cunningham has gone to work with not only accomplished musicians, but also noted choreographers such as Eleo Pomare, Rod Rodgers, Raymond Sawyer and luminous poets like Sonia Sanchez, Sandra Sharp, Camille Yarbrough, and Gylan Kain.
The Bob Cunningham Super Show, his group, moved beyond musical offerings to encompass also the world of singing and dancing with a sprinkling of original poetry to further enhance the artistic flavor.
Viewing the musician's need to be "aggressively progressive", Bob Cunningham has mastered the art of successfully combining musical genius with business acumen. He presently serves as chairperson of Musicians Union 802 Jazz Committee, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Jazz Foundation of New York. Having done work for television and motion pictures, he looks forward to future television and acting work involving his music.
His recent album "Walking Bass," is a testament to his skill as a business person, as well as his many years of disciplined and polished artistry as a bassist. Tunes ranging from stimulating, upbeat numbers such as the title tune," Walking Bass" to the mellow, pensive pieces ("Lover's Theme" followed by "Rainy Afternoon") keep you on your musical toes. Here in too are the dedicated renditions to the greats "Blues for Basie" and Gillespie's Jazz classic, "Manteca". One cannot help but agree with Aminata Moseka's (Abby Lincoln) words on the cover, "Bob Cunningham is brilliant, the flame is high!"
In the book, Writings of the Yusef Lateef Quartet: Something Else, Bob Cunningham pens, "Religion is said to be a way of life. For me, music is a way of life. My religion is music. Through music I have gained a greater feeling of empathy and realization of my Creator".
And with that, this master bassist continues in a fabulous career of making a joyful, skillful, and most beautiful "noise unto the Lord". He has reached a realm of musical Samadhi, and indeed as Moseka, our beloved melodic messenger has attested, "The Flame is High".