Welcome to my website and blog! On my maiden voyage into blogging, I’m very excited to share my thoughts on bass playing and music (jazz or otherwise). Please feel free to share your comments below.
In this first post, I will share the thought that is always at the back of my bassist mind — that caveman question of “What is good bass? How do you bass good?” To channel the essence of the bass ethos, I’m watching interviews by bassists Milt Hinton and Percy Heath as I write.
In the year since graduating music school, I’ve narrowed my focus to the most important thing: the role that bass ought to play. I, and every single teacher I’ve had, find that the ability to really swing like the masters is what gives weight to a bassist’s playing. The most surefire route to this: getting a deep historical understanding of the bass in jazz.
Meeting Peter Washington and David Wong —
Two of my favorite contemporary bassists-in-swing are Peter Washington and David Wong. I’ve spoken with both of these world class bassists. Each encounter left my spinning head thinking “I can’t believe how much he knows about so many records,” and “Who is he talking about and why have I not heard of them?” When I asked David Wong how I could improve my time, his first answer was “Do you check out a lot of records? I mean a lot?”
My encounter with Peter Washington went about the same. To be honest, Washington didn’t say much to me; I stumbled into a conversation between him and bass legend John Clayton. Never in my life have I heard a conversation so closely related to my life’s passion, yet I knew so little about what was being said. It really flattened me.
To this humbled (and silent!) bassist, the back-and-forth between Washington and Clayton was astounding. They covered so many decades of bass history in so few sentences. Clayton talked about which Milt Hinton bass lines he had transcribed, and the way Ray Brown used to floor audiences with his simple confidence. Washington detailed the difference between Clayton’s various live recordings and the Monty Alexander trio from the 1980’s. (Here, I took a moment to thank Clayton for seeing us through the worst era of upright amplification). It was clear that these men had spent their lives practicing the bass and ravenously consuming as many records as they could.
Listen and listen some more —
I’ll never forget that conversation — my first encounter with the great ones that made me feel like I knew exactly what I had to do. It’s true that, while I was in school, I understood that I needed to Listen! Listen anew! Listen to the old records! Do the work! Do it all the time! – only now I actually knew it. I’m positive this happens over and over in cycles to people in any profession.
Since then I’ve been looking back a lot, and finding that the bassists of the past are not that different from those of the present. For my purposes, the giants of the first wave of swing are Jimmy Blanton, Wellman Braud, Pops Foster, Milt Hinton, and Slam Stewart. They left us with sublime examples of how to do the thing right. They are the truth. And the masters of our time know it.
Case in point —
Since this is an introductory post, I won’t go into analysis. I’ll leave you with this — where I started: Ellington’s “Black Beauty” (1928). Whether bowing, slapping, or pulling the strings, Braud gets the thing done with joyous time and feel. I suggest headphones or good quality speakers.
Keep getting down,