Born one of the seven children of Thomas and Gwendolyn East in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
and his family moved to San Diego, California, when he was four years old to accommodate his father's aerodynamics engineering job. As a child,
pecked out familiar melodies on the family piano. He began playing the cello in his junior high school orchestra. At the age of 14,
switched to bass guitar, inspired by his older brother David's mastery of the instrument. He began playing for local church groups and folk masses with his brothers.
. The young bassist began playing in his high school's jazz ensemble, marching band, choir, chorus, and pep band, as well as Top 40 bands.
's breakthrough came while he was a member of a band named Power
. They were hired as the road band for a Stax revue. Barry White
subsequently hired the band -- while East
was still a teenager -- as performing members of his Love Unlimited Orchestra. East
earned a bachelor of arts degree in music from the University of California at San Diego. He was starting to work on a master's degree when instructor Bertram Turetzky
suggested that he could begin a lucrative music career. White
contacted him to play on some of his recording projects, and in 1980 veteran writer/arranger Gene Page
, with whom East
worked on White
's sessions, called the bassist to play on a recording session for a commercial jingle. Impressed with East
's ability to read music as well as his diverse playing skills, Page
on numerous projects, including sessions for Dionne Warwick
and Johnny Mathis
's reputation grew on the L.A. session scene, so did his job calls. From that point on, East
worked consistently. By the end of the decade, he was recording during hundreds of sessions for the likes of Norman Connors, Phyllis Hyman, James Ingram, George Benson
, Anita Baker, Lionel Richie
, and Kenny Loggins
. He also toured with Loggins
and was part of Eric Clapton
's late-'80s band. Some of the '80s hits on which he is featured include Loggins
' "Footloose," Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further," and Anita Baker's "Fairy Tales." He also co-wrote and played on Philip Bailey and Phil Collins' Grammy-nominated "Easy Lover."
In 1990, while recording Bob James
' Grand Piano Canyon
album, the keyboardist asked East
, Lee Ritenour
, and Harvey Mason
if they'd be interested in forming a group where each member would be an equal partner and could contribute songs. James
, who worked for Warner Bros.' jazz A&R department, got them a deal with the label; a couple months later, the group now known as Fourplay
began recording their debut album. That set, 1991's Fourplay, sold half a million copies and remained at number one on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart for 33 weeks. Their next LP, 1993's Between the Sheets, reached number one, went gold, and received a Grammy nomination. In 1995, their third gold album, Elixir, inherited the number one position from Kenny G's Breathless
and held on to the top spot for a record 92 weeks.
Through the early 2010s, Fourplay
remained one of the most commercially successful contemporary jazz acts; by the end of 2012, they had released a dozen studio albums, all of which peaked within the Top Five of the jazz chart. All the while, East
remained busy as a session musician. His profile extended beyond jazz and R&B listeners again in 2013, due to his involvement on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, which was certified platinum and won Album of the Year at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony. In March 2014 he released his first solo album, a self-titled set on which he was joined by several longtime associates, including Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, Eric Clapton
, Ray Parker, Jr., and Greg Phillinganes
. The following year he and James
teamed up for The New Cool, a low-key, mostly instrumental album with Vince Gill the lone vocal contributor (on a version of Willie Nelson's "Crazy").