Saturday night will mark the first time Schenectady native and Brooklyn-based journeyman musician George Rush performs at Proctors — at least as part of a billed performance at the venue.
“I think the last time I played Proctors was part of the band for my high school graduation,” he said recently, while on vacation with his family in Tucson, Ariz. “But I’ve never officially played Proctors, so I’m really excited. I haven’t really seen much there since they did the renovation, the retrofitting, so I’m really eager to check it out.”
The longtime bassist and tuba player is part of the Martha Redbone Roots Project band during her tour behind her latest album, “The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake,” including the stop at The Eighth Step in Proctors GE Theatre on Saturday night.
Rush, who in the past few decades has played with musicians ranging from Ben E. King to the Pizzicato 5 to Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, landed this gig through a mutual friend of his and Redbone’s — Bill Bragin, director of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. It’s a rare touring opportunity for Rush, 42, who is the father of three young children.
“Oddly enough, Martha was a connection not so much through doing music, but from my non-musical liberal arts college background,” Rush said.
“Bill is really amazing; he’s been programming concerts around New York for the last 25 years, 20 years or so, and we went to this very small school so we knew each other. He knew that Martha had made the record down in Kentucky with a bunch of Nashville guys, and he knew she was looking for a bass player — she asked him if he knew of an acoustic bass player that can play with a bow, and he said, ‘Yeah, my friend George; that’s what he does.’ ”
Rush had actually played with Redbone before, about a decade ago when he was part of the house band for a series called “Downtown Messiah,” a reworking of Handel’s “Messiah,” at The Bottom Line.
“So I had worked with her briefly and was somewhat familiar with her music,” Rush said. “This is a real departure for her . . . I was a little familiar with her music, so this was a surprise.”
While Rush’s training in music began in classical music and then progressed to jazz, by this point he has played nearly every genre, including rock, country, blues, R&B and roots music. His other main project, Hem, which plays a mix of folk and indie rock, is also touring this year.
He got his start in music playing violin in seventh grade at Oneida Middle School, but quickly lost interest in the instrument and almost quit music altogether. The school’s orchestra conductor, and Rush’s music teacher through high school, Lila Serapilio, persuaded him to take up double bass instead.
“I went in to quit, and she said, ‘You know, we don’t have any bass players, so instead of quitting why don’t you just move to the bass?’ ” Rush said. “That was the much better option, and that was kind of it — I just started playing the double bass, and I just kind of played through high school. And then I started playing electric bass with rock bands up there.”
It wasn’t until after he graduated from Haverford College in Philadelphia with a liberal arts degree and relocated to New York that he decided to pursue music professionally. He then went back to school to study music performance at the New School in New York City.
“I took a job working at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and had the realization that I would much rather be the one receiving grants to make music, than the one writing grants,” he said.
While Rush continues to land the occasional big-name gig, more often than not he’s slogging away at nightclubs in the city, playing gigs for $50 or less. But he’s happy to be able to make a living doing the thing he loves most.
“My office is the bass — I get to play music for a living,” he said. “It’s a struggle and it’s not terribly lucrative, but it’s almost impossible to stop. . . . It’s been a lot of hard work . . . for me at least, and for a lot of other people, for every Martha Redbone there’s been just a lot of kind of anonymous, very little money gigs. But even those are a part of the picture, a part of the puzzle.”
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