Bass Notes (from May 2014)

Comment

Bass Notes (from May 2014)

Back in May, I taught a bass class at the Foothills Acoustic Music Institute's three day camp. At the start, let me say that this is a great camp for beginner and intermediate players. There are some very talented teachers and the environment FAMI has created at these camps provides a great experience.

I had a class of around 10 or so bassists and we worked on some basics, some technical aspects of playing, what makes for an interesting bass line. The conclusion of the camp is a concert where our ensemble/class (10 basses and only basses) performed a couple of songs. (The first year I taught at the camp, we played Reefer Man. Below is a video featuring Milt Hinton, my favorite slap player.)

Anyway, below is a package I prepared for the camp. It's a rough set of notes and tips on playing, some recommended listening, and some exercises, etc. The notes also include some notes written by Rob Kohler, a great bassist who I met at the Stanford Jazz Residency. At the time of the camp, I had told everyone that I would edit and revise the notes (largely meaning adding some exercises and fixing all my typos).

So, almost 6 months later, I still haven't revised it. That said, I thought I'd make it available. Feel free to give it a read. I have a larger document (a draft of a book focusing on playing slap upright bass and including etudes) that I'm working on. If you find this useful and would like to take a look at that document, let me know.

Comment

Does Your Instrument Have A Barber?

Comment

Does Your Instrument Have A Barber?

I have a barber. One guy I go to when I need or want a haircut. Corbett knows what kind of cut I like, he knows what my job is, and he knows me. So the haircut experience is about what I want to look like, and the various aspects of my life. (He’s also a bit of a bartender for me: I can talk about various problems I’m facing with him. He’s often the sounding board for various ideas I’m thinking about.)

My bass also has a “barber.” I’ve been taking my basses to the same luthier in Calgary now for at least 7 years. The beauty of having a single luthier for my basses is that he knows what kind of sound I want, what kind of music I play, and the various aspects of the performances and recordings I’m involved with. So the work I get done is about the sound I want from my instruments, not just about making my bass playable

All too often, players seemed to take their instruments to one repair person or another, never spending the time with a single luthier, never letting the luthier know the type of playing they are doing and the sound they want. I’ve sat with my “barber” and asked him to adjust little things: the bridge here or there, the nut on a string or two, the slope of the string between the bridge and tailpiece.  This rapport has allowed for experimentation, moving the sound post a bit or swapping tailpieces to identify the sound difference. All of these affect the playability (tension, string height) and the sound of my basses, allowing me to “tune” my basses for different types of music and different types of sounds.

For the record, I’ve tried numerous barbers before I found the one I like (Corbett at Corbett’s Rock and Roll Barber Shop; in my opinion, the best barber in Calgary). I also tried several luthiers in Calgary before I fell into the great relationship I have with Ross Hill at Aeolian Strings. In my opinion he’s the best at stringed instrument repairs and set-ups. (As an aside, I take all my electric guitars and basses to Jim Mozell.). I found a real “partner” in Ross, someone who is willing to work with me to get my bass the way I want it. I’ve tried several others luthiers and they’ve all been fine, but I didn’t really get the feedback and advice from them that I do from Ross. The exception to my “they’ve’ all been fine” comment is one: V.A. Hill Fine Strings. Poor workmanship, over-priced, and the owner can be really condescending. It’s the only shop I advise people NOT to take their instruments to. Among the stringed instrument players and luthiers I know, there is a veritable encyclopedia of V.A. Hill stories, ranging from the hilarious to the grotesque.  (Yes, there is a relationship be Ross Hill and V.A. Hill. Long story and the service and expertise are on opposite ends of the spectrum.).

My advice, take the time to set up a relationship with your luthier. Take the time to let them know the sound you want, the music you play, the way you play. If you're in Calgary, my recommendation: Ross Hill (stringed instruments) and Jim Mozzell (guitars and basses, acoustic and electric guitars).

Comment

Ray Drummond's Core 50

Comment

Ray Drummond's Core 50

A fewyears ago, I attended the Stanford Jazz Workshop. At the sessions, bassist Ray Drummond gave out a list of the core 50 songs every bassist (and other instrumentalists) should know. If you're interested, here's the list.

1. I can’t get started
2. Body and soul
3. Take the A train
4. Sophisticated lady
5. Chelsea bridge
6. Prelude to a kiss
7. I got rhythm
8. Cherokee
9. Cheryl
10. Now is the time
11. Giant steps
12. Invitation
13. Blue monk
14. Well you needn’t
15. Willow weep for me
16. How high the moon
17. Whispering
18. All the things you are
19. What is this thing called love
20. I’ll remember April
21. In a mellow tone
22. It don’t mean a thing
23. All God’s children got rhythm
24. Scrapple from the Apple
25. Round midnight
26. Sweet Georgia Brown
27. There will never be another you
28. Afternoon in Paris
29. Have you met Miss Jones
30. Caravan
31. Was for not
32. I remember Clifford
33. Gone with the wind
34. Like someone in love
35. Con Alma
36. A night in Tunisia
37. Bebop
38. Yesterdays
39. Polka dots and moonbeams
40. Stella by starlight
41. Love for sale
42. Mr. PC
43. There is no greater love
44. Softly as a morning sunrise
45. Summertime
46. Dolphin dance
47. Lose in the closet
48. Lover Man
49. But not for me
50. Lover come back to me


I've been working my way through the list, trying to develop a deep understanding of the pieces. I think there are a lot of interesting inclusions and omissions from this list. Part of Ray's point here (I believe) is to establish a list of songs which have important forms and changes.

Comment

Comment

The Will Sheff Experiment

In a recent post on The Talkhouse, Will Sheff of Okkervil River wrote about his method of listening to music. In an attempt to rediscover what he liked about music and move away from the opportunities that digital music gives a listener via endless choices. We've become separated from our music, in a state of aural anomie.

As he points out,

"Too much choice and too much freedom mostly just overwhelm people and cause inertia. The real freedom in listening happens when you take away some measure of choice and control — when you put a record on and then walk away from the player, letting it spin, your hand unable to skip anything. Even better if it’s an entire album — a collection of songs, put together with deliberate care, a product of a certain time and place."

I've been experiencing a similar lack of excitement in my musical exploits as of late and, like Mr. Sheff suggests, have been stuck in a state of inertia with respect to my music (listening, writing, performing).

So, as an experiment, I'm trying his approach to listening. I'm restricting myself to only a handful of albums to listen to each week. After the week, I'll classify the songs and see what kind of playlists I come up with. So here's what I'm listening to this week:

  1. Sun Ra's Jazz in Silhouette
  2. Mise en Scene's Desire's Despair
  3. Hank Mobely's Roll Call
  4. Herbie Nichols' The Art of Herbie Nichols
  5. Flaming Lips' A Priest Driven Ambulance

Comment