Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’


Cover of "The Bassist's Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydecoby Tim Boomer, author of The Bassist’s Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco

The most common role for a bassist is, of course, to support his or her band rhythmically and harmonically. Bassists are not limited to any specific role, however, as we can do considerably more, such as playing the hook (or the melody) and soloing, improvising, and comping.

Providing a solid foundation for a band is still, however, the usual role of the bassist—especially if you play in a dance band. The bassist is the bridge between the melodic players and the rhythm section. You live in both worlds: melody and rhythm. You are that bridge.

There is truth in the saying that “You make most of your money below the fifth fret.” You establish the chord being played and the basis of the pulse simultaneously by playing the root note of the chord on the first beat of a measure (and at most chord changes). Next in importance to the root, usually, is the fifth, then the third or seventh. Pretty simple stuff, but it works.

It is also common to play patterns. Bass lines. This does not prevent you from varying the pattern in a musical way by slightly changing the notes played, note duration, or by adding a little syncopation, but over the course of a song there will still typically be a pattern. This might seem obvious, or easy, but you need to lock in with the drummer, be aware of solos, notice when the lead singer changes the form, watch the dancers on the floor, try not to knock over your drink, and still keep it interesting.

You can learn a lot by watching the dancers and seeing the effects of your playing. A groove is a pattern, a predictable sound that dancers can follow. Watch them. Bassists (and the rest of the band) may get bored playing the same lines over and over again, so, of course you’ll fill and vary the pattern in other ways, but if you break the groove too often, dancers will get out of sync, the thread will be broken, and the dancers will stop.

One way to be creative, and keep dancers happy, is to understand playing “in the pocket.” This is often described as playing in such a way that the groove is very solid. The bassist locks in with the drummer and never wavers. Using the standard rock beat as an example, the drummer plays kick drum on beat one (the downbeat) and also on beat three, and the snare on beats two and four. The bassist also plays precisely on the downbeat, followed by a pattern. That pattern can be a little ahead of the beat or behind the beat or exactly on the beat. As long as the drummer and bassist are in sync with each other, and play/feel the downbeat at the same time, they are in the pocket. You know it when youre in it, as it feels like the music is playing you, or the entire band is one instrument.

If you are not playing for dancers, you can leave the groove at any time—but returning to it provides resolution in a song. For instance, in jazz, the bassist (or more often a horn player or pianist) plays the “head” (the melody played in the first verse of a multi-verse song) after several choruses of solos to bring the tune to a close. And the audience will recognize it—“Oh look, theyre playing that theme again”—and any improvisation that came before the final statement of the head will seem intentional.

In the same way, once you have established the basic foundation of a song, look for holes where nothing much is happening—a sustained note or chord perhaps, or a straight groove. You can then find a space to develop an idea—either melodically or rhythmically. You can repeat a note, syncopate, or play (a) note(s) outside of the pattern you’ve established.

You can also intentionally leave holes by resting, as in Reggae bass lines. This sets up a pattern that extends across measures rather than a pattern that repeats within a single measure. It still allows complexity, but in a relaxed context. It also allows your bandmates a lot of space. Study Miles Davis to learn about the spaces in music.

Developing your own style has a lot to do with knowing when to play and when not to. In a few words: “If in doubt, lay out.” Typically, if there are vocals, you simplify and come down in volume to allow the focus to be on the vocalist.

Another important aspect of playing bass is to learn to use fills tastefully. Fills are usually played at the end of four– (or eight- or twelve-) measure patterns that lead to a new section of a song or the repeat of a verse. They are not played in random places.

This doesnt mean that a bassist must strictly follow rules. Jazz musicians and jam bands often break rules, and often get away with it—sometimes with brilliant results. It is simply helpful to know that some styles sound better when you play patterns typical of them.

The bass now encompasses everything from standup bass to electric bass to synthesized and sampled bass. Basses themselves now feature not just 4 strings, but 5, 6, and even 12 strings; theyre produced with up to 28 frets. There are both fretted and fretless basses, acoustic bass guitars, piccolo basses, and onboard-MIDI basses. And its certain that more variations are waiting in the wings.

The technique of playing these instruments has also evolved greatly over the years. Bass technique is virtually unlimited now. You can combine nearly any style with any other, from anywhere in the world. You can use effects, tap, slap, pluck, pick, thump, play with a bow (or an e-bow). You can lay down an unmistakable heavy groove or take extended solos in a jam format. You can also just play roots, fifths, and octaves on a standup or a P-bass and be happy.

As one of my deepest influences, John Entwistle from The Who, said when asked what he thought when he saw another bass player, and what he felt about the camaraderie of bassists: “The first thing I think of is poor fellow” (and, paraphrasing, “poor bastard”). We are underrated and underappreciated, but essential.

I love bass. Thank you all for being bassists. We need more of us.


It’s always fun to see what other folks include on their “desert island discs,” so here you go. Since most such lists are for single genres and usually encompass ten discs, I’ve allowed myself more leeway here — listing all types of pop music — and am listing 25 discs, which seems fair given that they cover the following genres (jazz, blues, soul, funk, country, latin jazz, rock, and punk). I’m cheating by adding a list of “honorable mentions.” Whatever. Here ya go: my desert island discs, in no particular order:\

Desert Island Discs

  • James Brown Live at the Apollo (1960) — the seminal early funk disc. If you only listen to one cut off this, check out “I’ll Go Crazy.”
  • Kutche, by Saib Khaled and Safy Boutella — the best Rai disc. Incredibly good musicianship combined with intricate syncopation. Nothing else in the genre comes close.
  • La Cuna, by Ray Barretto — not for Afro-Cuban purists, this disc features a mix of genres (latin jazz, latin rock, funk, soul) with amazingly good musicianship by some of the best musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s (including Barretto, Steve Gadd, John Tropea, and Joe Farrell). The next time you’re impressed by some guitarist playing fast scalar passages, listen to Tropea’s solo on “The Old Mountain.” That’ll put it in perspective.
  • Songs for a Tailor, by Jack Bruce. Impressively inventive song writing, and better than competent execution.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.  The best, most driving rock album of the ’70s.
  • The Harder They Come soundtrack. Pretty much every great tune from this mind-numbingly boring, awful genre on a pair of discs. Huge fun and great lyrics.
  • Repo Man soundtrack. Minus the Sex Pistols, the best punk from the early ’80s all in one place. Iggy Pop’s title track is a gem.
  • The Sermon, by Jimmy Smith. My favorite type of music — hard-driving blues-jazz with great solos (especially those by Smith and guitarist Kenny Burrell).
  • Jacaranda, by Luiz Bonfa. Not available on CD, this ’70s Brazilian-jazz-rock album features great songwriting and very good musicianship. Not for those who expect sambas or bossas.
  • Tied to the Tracks, by Treat Her Right. A great, hard-driving blues-rock album by the forerunner to Morphine. The lyrics are twisted, the harp playing is mind boggling, and this disc is better than anything by Morphine.
  • Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. Beautifully executed, the perfect background for a 3:00 am beer out on the patio.
  • Everlastin’ Tears, by Willie Edwards. Great contemporary blues. Edwards got totally screwed with this one, signing away the rights to all the songs to the producer. I can’t re-record any of this shit without dealing with the vampire who’s sucked Willie dry.
  • Are You Experienced?, by Jim Hendrix. Need I say more?
  • Strange Days, by the Doors. Every song is great, including two hard-to-play masterpieces, “Love Me Two Times” and “Moonlight Drive.”
  • Inner Mounting Flame, by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Great musicianship and proof that odd-time and compound-meter songs can drive. A whole lot of fun.
  • Are We Not Men?, by Devo. The best and by far funniest new-wave album. Contains the best cover ever recorded: Devo’s version of “Satisfaction.”
  • The Last Real Texas Blues Band, by Doug Sahm. Great, greasy R&B — a reminder of an era.
  • Sugar Thieves Live. Both a wonderful contemporary blues band and a throwback to classic material.
  • Losin’ Hand, by Al Perry and the Cattle. Well produced and very funny alt-country.
  • Ah Um, by Charlie Mingus. Probably the best, most intricate blues-jazz album ever recorded.
  • That’s The Way I Feel (Thelonious Monk tribute by various artists.) An absolutely fantastic, mind-boggling, at times hilarious (via Todd Rundgren!) tribute to the greatest jazz composer who ever lived (and, yeah, I’m counting Duke).
  • Bringing It All Back Home, by Bob Dylan. The first album that helped me focus my rage at the atrocities being committed to others and to me by the government and the corporations.
  • Barbeque Dog, by Ronald Shannon Jackson. A brutal, dissonant LP with one of the cuts simultaneously in different keys. Thirty years on, it sounds fresh.
  • How Shall the Wolf Survive?, by Los Lobos.  The first album by my favorite live band. A whole lotta fun, with uncomfortable things to think about.
  • Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones. Not their best LP by a long shot, but the one I want to hear after having a few beers.

Honorable Mentions

  • Revolver, by the Beatles (best songwriters of the 20th century)
  • Abbey Road, by the Beatles. (see above)
  • The Doors (eponymous album).
  • L.A. Woman, by The Doors. Like so many other albums of this time, the first side was great and the second side sucked.
  • Beggar’s Banquet, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Let It Bleed, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Battered Ornaments (eponymous)
  • Harmony Row, by Jack Bruce. Damn near as good as “Songs for a Tailor” — the songs he saved up while being the bassist in Cream.
  • Thousands on a Raft, by Pete Brown. Fun stuff by Cream’s lyricist.
  • Raw Sienna, by Savoy Brown. Kim Simmonds’ attempt to match the Beatles. Not anywhere close to successful there, but a very good album in its own way.
  • Science Fiction, by Ornette Coleman.
  • Guitars Cadilacs, by Dwight Yoakam. Best country album of the ’80s.
  • In a Silent Way, Miles Davis.
  • Jack Johnson, Miles Davis.
  • Bitches Brew, Miles Davis.
  • On the Corner, Miles Davis. A great early genre-bending LP.
  • Jerry Reed’s Greatest Hits, most of the soundtrack from Jerry’s by-far best album, Smoky and Bandit II, plus the novelty hits (“Amos Mose,” etc.)
  • Junior High, Junior Brown. Huge tongue-in-cheek fun from maybe the best current guitar player.
  • Gravity, by James Brown. The best funk album of the ’80s.
  • L.A. is My Lady, by Frank Sinatra. I still can’t decide whether this is deliberate or inadvertent self-parody. Fun either way.
  • Birds of Fire, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
  • Treat Her Right (eponymous album). Contains a fantastic cover of Harlan Howard’s “Everglades.”

 


by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory

Decades ago, in my 20s, I took up piano en route to getting a degree in music theory/composition. I’d taken a couple of years of lessons as a ‘tween with an incompetent teacher who hadn’t even taught me to count, and then gave it up in frustration a couple of years after I started, thinking the problem was with me.

When I hit 25, I decided to go to school, and rather than choose a money-making, academic-track, or scientific career, I decided to do what I really wanted to do: music. I was essentially at ground zero, and had to learn an instrument. I chose piano, because I at least had some technical rudiments.

For the next five years, while taking a full load, working 20 to 40 hours a week, and shutting down the bars two or three nights a week (hey, I was in my 20s), I practiced three hours a day on piano damn near every day. I was fairly decent by the end of those five years.

For the next year and a half I was a t.a. in grad school (since you asked, Washington State), where I continued to practice three hours a day, while teaching 9 credits per semester (ear training and class piano) plus assisting with another 8 credits of classes in theory, all for $350 a month, out of which they took tuition. I spent an entire winter walking up the hill to the department with one of my feet in a cracked boot, with my foot wrapped in plastic bags to avoid the wet, but not the cold.

At the end of that time I was utterly disgusted. I hated two of the three people on my committee, they hated me — the department was giving m.a.s to outright incompetents, but me? Hell no; they simply wouldn’t do it — and I was tied to the written page. I could sight read like a son of a bitch, and could also realize figured bass at full speed at first reading, but could I improvise? Not a chance.

More importantly I was nauseated by the snake pit, by the departmental politicking, so at the end of my third semester I took my loan for the following semester, bought a 1961 Rambler, loaded all of my shit into it, and took off for San Francisco.

An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverThen I quite playing for eight years.

But two years after I escaped academia, I decided to put my time there to good use, and wrote An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz and Blues Musicians. It was a wise move, as the book was well reviewed and has sold considerably north of 10,000 copies over the years.

A few years after I wrote the book, I started playing guitar in a regular jam session with some other SF musical hippies. My technique was nonexistent, but my time and phrasing — thanks to my time in academia — was right on. We were doing a lot of off time and compound meter stuff which was all over the map and which, thanks to Bartok, I had no problem with.

Front cover of The Drummer's Bible Second EditionAt that juncture, I talked my longtime pal Mick Berry, an excellent New Orleans drummer, who hadn’t played in ten years while pursuing a futile career in stand-up comedy, into coming out of musical retiremen and playing with us. That eventually led (with co-author Jason Gianni) to See Sharp Press’s best-selling music book, The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco.

Two years after that band started, by which point I was almost a semi-decent guitarist, my dad had a stroke, and my parents wanted me to move to Tucson to help. (A horror story all its own, which I won’t get into here.)

Once in Tucson, I realized there were only two ways to go: blues or country. (Jazz/avant garde shit was out of the question; punk paid as badly — not at all — as it ever did.) The choice was easy.

I shortly started making musical friends and playing in a blues cover band (yours truly, bassist, drummer, and vocalist). A few years into it, I started, in my late 40s, to write tunes.

Since then, it’s been a succession of ever-evolving blues bands, involving people I barely knew to people I loved dearly who killed themselves with booze and hard drugs. (See Slow Motion Suicideabout my closest friend and longtime bass player Randy Oliver.)

After that, more evolution. First as Pinche Blues Band, with just me, wonderful bass player Jaime DeZubeldia, and my now-longtime friend and musical partner Abe Acuña doing both drums and vocals. I loved it. So much fun. I could just stretch out whenever I wanted, without fear of running into anyone else.

Following that we went through a lot of permutations, most notably with the addition of extremely good player and nice guy Fred Hartshorn on keys/sax. Following a bunch of personality b.s., we just reformed and will be hitting the circuit shortly.

Throughout this time (2005 to present), I’ve been writing more material, sometimes with Abe, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with former bandmate, great vocalist, and lyrical genius Brian Hullfish.

Lately, I’ve also started playing with Paul D, a former session guy from NYC, who’s an extremely talented bassist, guitarist, and vocalist, plus Fred and drummer Dave Miller.

I’m mostly playing bass, plus doing occasional lead vocals, which has given me a fresh appreciation of how good the bass players I’ve played with over the years have been, and how hard vocals are.

It’s a revelation. Bass playing at least is a hell of a lot of fun. (At least so far, vocals not so much — I’m filled with shame.) And bass playing is challenging. Here are probably the best examples of the bassists I’ve played with:

I hope you find this at least interesting if not useful.

Hail to the bass players, if not Hail to the Chief (and fuck that lying, bullying, narcissistic, seriously mentally ill piece of shit).

Cheers,

Chaz