Will Lee started playing bass for David Letterman in 1982, first on his NBC television show and since 1993 in the CBS Orchestra. His daily routine for the past three-plus decades has prevented him from spending time in the studio as a solo artist. It has been over 20 years since he released a album on his own. Now, Love, Gratitude And Other Distractions will be released August 20th.
Lee is a bassist and so has to surround himself with other musicians to create his sound. He must have been owed a lot of favors as a number of well-known artists appear on the album. Guitarists Steve Lukather, Pat Metheny, Chuck Loeb, and Billy Gibbons all add their chops to his music. Also on hand are pianist Bob James, vocalist Akiko Yano, drummers Peter Erskine and Steve Gadd, plus longtime Lettermen keyboardist Paul Shaffer who all provide support for his music.
There are a number of highlights on the album. He wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten tracks and the albums’ lead track is one of the best. “Gratitude” features Shaffer on organ and Metheny providing the guitar solo. Through it all Lee reintroduces himself as one of the better bassists working today and also proves he is a competent vocalist when needed. It is an autobiographical tune that flows easily along and the trumpets provide just the right flourishes.
“Papounet’s Ride” is an instrumental that moves in a jazz direction. Bob James’ keyboards allow Lee the room to improvise during his solo’s. Many times simple is best and the Charlie Chaplin tune “Smile” proves that point. The only other musician is guitarist Loeb who provides the foundation. It takes an artist to carry a tune on the bass but his distinct runs are more than up to the task. Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life” travels in a different direction as ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons contributes on guitar and then forms an effective vocal combination as he duets with Lee. Even Toussaint joins in on the piano as they cruise through the gritty side of New Orleans music.
The most interesting track is a cover of Len Barry’s hit “1-2-3.” He performs a vocal duet with Akiko, as they slow they slow the tempo, which fits Akiko’s jazzy voice perfectly.
If Love, Gratitude And Other Distractions is any indication, Lee needs to spend more time in the studio creating his own music. His Letterman commitment, plus 1700 studio sessions as an in demand bassist have taken up most of his time. Now that Letterman has announced his retirement, maybe it will not be another 20 years before he releases another album.