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A Bass Story
CPO Bass Player Patricia Bereti-Reid told us the very cool back story behind her 1879 double bass. Montreal, Juilliard, and New York all played a part.
In 1988, I had just finished school at Indiana University and had won my first job in the Thunder Bay Symphony. I was hoping to get a job in a bigger orchestra and felt it was time to buy a new instrument. I traveled to Montreal where I met with Mike Lighter, the then principal bass of the Montreal Symphony who also had a business as a Double Bass dealer. I found a bass that I absolutely loved. It was an 1879 Ludwig Glaezel, not one of the better known names in instruments but a fine instrument none the less. While playing in the Thunder Bay Symphony, I spent my summers at the Aspen Music Festival playing in the Chamber Orchestra. That particular summer I showed up for the first rehearsal, introduced myself to my stand partner, and asked him (as you would) how he was. He said he was great- he had just sold a bass. I said I was great – I had just bought a bass. He looked at my bass and his face fell. “That’s the bass I sold,” he said. Quite a coincidence, we both certainly thought. For the time being that was all I thought, though I did find it peculiar that so many people were interested in seeing the bass I had just bought. I was very proud of it and was happy to show it. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the only people interested in it were the Juilliard students, and they didn’t just play it, they all had a good look. Eventually someone filled me in. A Double Bass belonging to the Juilliard School had been stolen earlier that year….more importantly, this Double Bass had been stolen from the Juilliard School earlier that year. The questions were, of course, “who stole it,” and “what now?” Well, my stand partner, let’s call him Fred, was a little uncomfortable. He came over to my house wanting to sand off the small “Juilliard 001” carved in the back. He said, though he was a Juilliard student, that he did not steal it, he bought it from a guy on the street, he paid cash for it and there was no receipt. Now, I know you can buy many different things on the streets of New York, from some pretty shady characters, but certainly Double Basses would not be your average thief’s idea of an easily salable, not to mention convenient item to fence to the citizens of New York. As an aside, Fred’s girlfriend was coincidentally the owner of a new and expensive violin that same summer.
So all pieced together, the story goes: Fred stole the bass from the school, not hard to do considering the students have keys and access to all the instruments, if not all of them, certainly the instrument that the student plays. He then drove across the border to Canada thinking the Canada/US border was like the Russian border during the Cold War or something and as long as he made it back alive he was good to go. He had some work done on it in Toronto and then sold it to Mike Lighter in Montreal. When it sold, he cashed the cheque and headed out to Aspen, Colorado for a summer of great music and good fun with his girlfriend and her new violin. Then we get to the part of the story where Fred meets his stand partner. The fun went out the window.
Now what happened to the bass known as “Juilliard 001?” It was a difficult time that following year. We all had a lot to lose. Mike Lighter had some long meetings with the people at Juilliard, and in the end they decided that there was not enough proof to convict Fred, and that the only people who would end up suffering for his indiscretion would be the people who did business fair and square. So as it turns out, Juilliard got its insurance money, Mike Lighter got his sale, I got my beautiful bass that you see every night on the stage of Jack Singer with the CPO. And Fred, well, I don’t know for sure but he may very well have – in the end – gotten the girl.