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KNKX Connects showcases people and places around Puget Sound. Through audio, art, photography, music and journalism — discover a new connection with Tacoma.

Talking with Tacoma musicians: Osama Afifi

A man dressed in black wearing a flat cap smiles while holding an electric bass on a brick plaza.
Kassandra Morrow
Osama Afifi
Osama Afifi has been a professional bassist since 1983. He studied at the Dick Grove School of Music, as well as with jazz fusion bassist Jeff Berlin and bassist/composer Gary Willis.

A professional musician for four decades, bassist Osama Afifi relocated to Tacoma from Los Angeles in 2005. He's toured internationally with French artist Vanessa Paradis and the B Sharp Jazz Quartet.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Afifi has worked with Jazz Overhaul, the Tacoma Symphony, Judy Collins, Kareem Kandi Quartet and many others.

KNKX Music Director Carol Handley spoke with Afifi about being a musical chameleon and playing with a mentor at almost every gig.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How do you differentiate the Tacoma jazz scene from the region, or do you?

I don't really differentiate it. I feel like a lot of players have moved down south in the past few years. So there's a lot of incredible musicians down here. I'm driving constantly up north, wherever the work [is]. So yeah, a lot of awesome players up north and down south. And you know, guys like Kareem Kandi really help promote Tacoma.

How does the environment of the Pacific Northwest, play into your compositions?

With me, not really, because I'm such a night owl. So whenever I'm working on music, it's three o'clock in the morning. So whether it's summer or winter, it's always late at night.

Does it feel like Northwest players have a sound?

I moved here, way back in 2005. So now I've been here for quite a while. So probably my thoughts were a lot different back then. I came from Los Angeles, that's where my whole career was and everything.

I've talked to a lot of musicians where there used to be, like, you would really hear a big difference, whether it was quality or sound or personality. It's kind of changed with the internet, because we're all able to just, log on. You can just find everything now, so, for me as a bass player, not particularly.

Would you consider yourself only a jazz musician? Or do you play with other South Sound people and in other bands or even other genres of music?

I grew up in Los Angeles and my thought as a kid was always like 'Oh, I want to would it be kind of like, a lot of the studio players there.' So in LA, you were taught early on, okay, you got to read really good. Have really sharp ears. Learn a lot of different styles, especially stuff that you're into. But because even in just R&B, there's a lot of different styles.

I'm probably kind of known as more of a chameleon. If you look at my gig schedule, I'm doing everything from R&B, rock, jazz, and (with the band) Jazz Overhaul, we take rock tunes, and jazz them up a little bit. So yes, I'm definitely a big mixture. And I started on upright bass, and then got into electric. And now I’m getting back out there playing more of my upright bass, because, I also love all the straight ahead jazz.

Definitely not just a jazz player, I guess you would say, but that's my love.

Who from the Tacoma area has been a mentor, or inspiration to you as a player or as a person?

When I moved up here, one of the guys that helped me kind of get going [was] Chris Siemer. And Chris introduced me to Kareem Kandi. And I knew Chris, great bass player, when he was in Los Angeles. We were never like buddies, but we would run into each other. And then he moved up here a couple of years before me.

And Kareem, definitely in terms of jazz and just as a player overall. (He) definitely helped me get my name out there. Mark Ivester, who lives in the south end is another Tacoma musician who really means a lot to me. And then Cliff Colón is another one. So there's a few of them! Tracy Knoop, we don't play that often but he's like, Mr. Tacoma or something.

And then, Mason Hargrove, guitar player. He's like the first musician I met when I moved up here. I drove up and then went to this club, Jazzbones, I'm thinking, 'oh, there's gonna be jazz there.' I think there's more blues. But anyway, they were doing a Monday night jam. And there was Mason standing there playing and he's been like one of my buddies ever since.

So, all the players I play with, I always learn from. I almost feel like every gig I go to, there’s a mentor.

What venues past or present are ones that you think our listeners should know about because of their contribution to Tacoma’s culture or current support of jazz?

I'd never played at The Spar until, maybe last year, and then all of a sudden, I’m playing there quite a bit. They're actually doing quite a bit of jazz there. So there's The Spar and then McMenamins, they do some

Bremerton probably doesn't count as Tacoma, but Brother Don’s. I've been doing a Monday night at Brother Don’s and it's turned into a really nice thing. I mean, they have like such a nice fan base out there. People would think of it as more of a blues or rock club that people are really enjoying jazz there.

And then there's this place way up in Keyport. That's not really Tacoma...but for me, I can get there easily. They have a place called Casa Mexico and they do jazz at least a couple of Friday’s a month.

It seems when you go to those areas people are so appreciative. Where if it's a big city, it's like, 'oh, yeah, we can see this whenever we want.' You take it for granted.

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