Mastering the bassics

Published 2:08 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NICOLE ZEMA | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Alan Solano accompanies singers and the Rev. Ron Roper, pictured in the background, on the keyboard for worship at Believer’s World Ministry Center service in Natchez. Solano also plays bass at the Under-the-Hill Saloon.

NATCHEZ — Alan Solano can coax the thump from a bass guitar as professional musicians do, but he overcame two major challenges to get there — challenges he has a real handle on now.

At Sunday’s worship service at Believer’s World Ministry Center in Natchez, Solano cradled the bass like he has known it forever, in hands that, to him, are equally as familiar.

Born with a complex bilateral disorder that affected his hands, Solano underwent extensive surgeries as a child to separate his fingers. His doctor transferred tendons from Solano’s foot to be used in his hands to make his fingers functional.

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“I was kind of his pet project,” Solano said. “I’m grateful. I would not be as functional as I am if it weren’t for him.”

Solano, who said he’s always loved music, started playing bass when he was in high school. Back then he was into “super-fast” punk and metal.

NICOLE ZEMA | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Alan Solano plays bass at a Believer’s World Ministry Center service in Natchez Sunday afternoon. Solano, who was born with a disorder affecting the function and appearance of his hands and fingers, has been successfully playing bass for years.

“I played that for a couple years,” Solano said, “But I hit a rut, and I got into jazz. I’ve been playing seriously for three years now.”

Solano said jazz was a big influence on his musical style.

“There’s soul,” Solano said. “There’s feeling behind the music. I was drawn to that over speed and technicality, although, those help too.”

Solano said bass players usually have four fingers with which to pluck the fret board of the guitar.

“With me, I only have two fingers to fret with, and only can really pluck with one,” Solano said.

But the bass beats that Solano lures from his guitar don’t so much tell the story of his hands as the story of his character.

“This experience has helped shape who I am,” Solano said. “People ask how I do it — but there are people a lot worse off than me.”

Solano, who is a student majoring in athletic training at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez, said he does not consider himself to be disabled at all.

“People have asked me — why not just try to get a disability scholarship?” Solano said. “I’m not disabled. Is it a set back? Yeah. Does it throw me off? Yeah. But it’s not different than losing an eye. Does it kill you? No. Do you have to deal with it? Yes.”

Outside of church, Solano plays bass with bands at the Under-the-Hill Saloon. He also holds down two part-time jobs to pay his way through college.

Solano said he is not ashamed of the appearance of his hands, but blatant staring irks him.

“If someone asks me what happened, I don’t mind,” Solano said. “But sometimes I do tell kids it was a freak chainsaw accident, or a pit bull mauled me.”

Solano’s advice to folks coping with a physical or mental setback is to keep pushing.

“If you’re dealing with an obstacle, it will pass,” Solano said. “Life keeps moving forward, and it’s our job to deal with it.”