## Thursday, 23 February 2012

### The Jazz Bass Book: Technique and Tradition

by John Goldsby

I bought this book back in 2005 (yes, Amazon remembers that!) in a hope to refresh/improve my upright bass technique. Well I didn’t but this is because I did not exercise at all. Instead, I was reading and re-reading it, as one would read fiction.

There are four sections: The History, The Players, Technique, and Concepts. The first section is not really the history of jazz bass but three short essays which should get any jazz enthusiast hooked. The history is covered in the next section, The Players, which consists of 48 chapters dedicated to great jazz bassists. As is explained in the Epilogue/Dedication, most of these musicians came on the jazz scene before 1970s, so the history of the last 40 or so years of jazz bass is yet to be written. I expected Technique to be less entertaining read, more or less along the lines of traditional bass methods. I was wrong. It proved to be as fascinating as the rest of the book, even though I did not run through any single exercise from this or, indeed, from any other section. The only exception is the Paul Chambers’s bass line from So What (see below), which I used to play years ago. Instead, I discovered some other useful things. For instance, I never thought of Dorian scale as W–H–W–W–W–H–W, or diminished scale as W–H–W–H–W–H–W–H (where “W” and “H” stand for “whole-tone” and “half-tone” intervals, respectively; see p. 159). The final section, Concepts, gets rather philosophical. What integrity, respect and honesty have to do with bass playing? Read on, you’ll see.

It’s beautiful — everything about it. The sound, the shape, the feel, the idea of it. It’s the foundation, the core, the heartbeat.
♪ ♪ ♪
No one invented jazz bass playing.
♫ ♫ ♫
Ed Thigpen once told me “the groove is like your heartbeat”. Okay, set down your coffee (or herbal tea), lay two fingers on the inside of your wrist, and count your groove — er, pulse. Your heart beats in a triplet: bu-duh-rest, bu-duh-rest, bu-duh-rest. Ed’s point? The groove is an organic thing; you are a living, breathing example of a groove.
♪ ♪ ♪
Remember, there are thousands of possibilities when you improvise — you just have to play one good one!
♫ ♫ ♫
A good bass player can groove alone or with a drummer, with a click track, or with stuff falling down stairs.
♪ ♪ ♪
When you run out of things to practice, ask a saxophone player or guitar player what they are practicing at the moment.
♫ ♫ ♫
Swing is one of jazz’s great gifts to humanity. Don’t screw it up.
♪ ♪ ♪
If I waited for inspiration every time I picked up the bass, whole gigs might pass before I played a single note!
♫ ♫ ♫
Respect yourself. Respect your elders. Respect your peers. And, as long as we’re on the topic, respect everyone — especially people who play bass!

The final quote is taken from Chapter 66, Major Melodies (p. 188):

When listeners hear something familiar repeated and developed, they feel they understand what you’re saying with your solo. Too much repetition and they get bored; too little and they’re confused.

Naturally, it relates to any kind of improvisation, not just jazz bass solo. I am trying to keep that in mind during my Zumba classes.

The enclosed CD has 47 tracks: examples, exercises and three play-along tracks, all performed by Bill Dobbins on piano, Hans Dekker on Drums and the author on bass. A great help to sight-reading challenged people like me. (Of course, I would love to hear all the examples from the book, but that probably will require another three CDs.) A pleasure to listen on its own, I should add.

And now, the promised bass line:

% *******************
% So What (Gil Evans)
% *******************
\version "2.12.3"
\layout {
ragged-right = ##f
}
title = "So What"
composer = "Gil Evans"
}
\score {
<<
\chords {
\set chordChanges = ##t
d1:m7
}
\new Staff
{
\clef bass
r 8 d8 a8 b8 c'8 d'8 e'8 c'8
d'1
r 8 d8 a8 b8 c'8 d'8 e'8 c'8
d'8 a8( a2.) \bar "||"
}
>>
}