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  1. #51

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar

    In a group where everybody has equal quality time, it doesn't emerge as an issue.

    But this post is about bass players.

    I've been playing for about a year (weekly, outdoors and distanced during Covid) with a brilliant drummer. We've had several bassists. Most musicians of my acquaintance tend to keep their opinions to themselves (about other musicians), but this drummer was willing to tell me who his favorite bassist is.

    It was not one of the obvious virtuosos. Rather, it was a guy who calls himself a "meat and potatoes" bassist. He plays simply. He isn't a flashy soloist -- and doesn't always want to solo. I recall him telling me, a few years ago, that he took drum lessons as a way of working on improving his note placement for samba. That is, he took the micro-placement of quarter notes very seriously. He could have been working on a multitude of fancier things, but that wasn't his choice.

    More recently, I started playing with another long term pro bassist (we haven't had a session with that drummer yet, although they know each other). His playing is completely non-flashy. His soloing is the same, but you notice that he never drops the groove while he solos, so the bottom doesn't fall out of the band during the bass solo.

    I find that, with these two bassists especially, my attention is not drawn to the bass. It feels like the foundation of a house. You really don't want your attention drawn to it. That only happens when there's trouble.

    As it turns out, I spend more time focusing on the drums. He includes a lot of rhythmic detail which makes it easier to find a comping pattern that adds to the group sound.

    Which is the time leader?
    I agree. I really prefer bassists who hold it down. Some Scott LaFaro action is cool at times, but when it's all the time it gets frustrating. I think if you want to be soloing all the time on bass, maybe you better learn another instrument lol!

    I think the OP implies 2 different questions. There's who keeps time in the group, and which instrument builds the beat the most. For the question of who keeps time, it's everyone's responsibility to keep good time. I get mad when there are group members who can't keep time regardless of what instrument they're on. The question of who builds the beat then yeah it would be the bass because he's playing the simplest and most supportive rhythms.

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  3. #52

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    I used to like bass players who would really lock it down to walking. And that's always cool.

    But then my time got better, and I started to enjoy playing with more interactive bass players.

    Never abdicate responsibility for your time.

  4. #53

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    To my ears, the bass is not only the time keeper but also the fundamental (pun intended) harmonic indicator in a jazz combo. A lot of bassists seem to think that playing a walking line that outlines the harmonic structure is somehow being relegated to a "less than" role, but to my ears that is what ties everything together and is the most important aspect of a combo. although, as christianm77 points out, everyone is responsible for time.

    When you play with a really good bassist, it is amazing how easy negotiating a standard becomes. When you play with a bad bassist, it's like you're always swimming upstream. A sublime bassist not only creates the groove and ties everything together, they're maybe also not playing what you think they are playing. You hear the roots, the fifth, etc. even if they aren't actually covering those and are doing something else.

    The bass is a mystical instrument that can elevate the entire bandstand. Or sink it.

  5. #54

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    To my ears, the bass is not only the time keeper but also the fundamental (pun intended) harmonic indicator in a jazz combo. A lot of bassists seem to think that playing a walking line that outlines the harmonic structure is somehow being relegated to a "less than" role, but to my ears that is what ties everything together and is the most important aspect of a combo. although, as christianm77 points out, everyone is responsible for time.

    When you play with a really good bassist, it is amazing how easy negotiating a standard becomes. When you play with a bad bassist, it's like you're always swimming upstream. A sublime bassist not only creates the groove and ties everything together, they're maybe also not playing what you think they are playing. You hear the roots, the fifth, etc. even if they aren't actually covering those and are doing something else.

    The bass is a mystical instrument that can elevate the entire bandstand. Or sink it.
    It really depends on the style of the music and the ensemble. Obviously, you don't want someone playing like Scott le Faro on a gypsy jazz date. On straight-ahead dates it can be less defined. Some people's idea of straightahead is exactly what Miles played in 1957, others what musicians are doing with standards in NYC right now. So this can create clashes - it's less defined. 'Jazz' covers a lot of bases, as it were.

    Sometimes people can come in with their preset idea of what they want the gig to be rather than what it is. This person has often, I'm embarrassed to say, been me.

    A really good bass player, as with any musician, knows how to play with the musicians they are on stage with, and to the room. They play the gig. That might mean dead simple one night, or super interactive another. If you need them to help you, they will, but if you need them to challenge and stimulate you they can do that too.

    These people are real professionals. Happily, there seem to be more of them every year!

    You do have to be a certain sort of character to play bass well...

  6. #55

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    I had what I thought of as a very interesting experience the other day.

    Guitar, bass, tenor, drums. First time in that format with this bassist and drummer combination.

    Suddenly, it felt like I knew how to comp.

    Listening to a recording (made with a handheld), I focused on the bass and drums. Made me feel like dancing. They were just locked together beautifully. I felt it was the best I'd heard -- and I've been fortunate enough to play with some pretty good players.

    If there's an epiphany, it's the joy of playing with truly great players. And, the difficulty of trying to achieve your goals in their absence.

    Who was the rhythmic leader? I'd say the lock-tight nature of the bass/drums combination. When you've got that, it can feel like anything you play will work.

    The pianist had to arrive an hour late, so I was the only comping instrument at first. When the pianist arrived, the bass/drum combination was still great, but comping on the guitar changed. Instead of listening to the horn and the song while feeling the rhythm, it became a question of listening to the piano (busy and percussive) and trying to figure out something to contribute without making mud. This is not unusual for pianists in my experience. It's a minority that will leave enough space for a guitar to do a Jim Hall style, ie spare, accompaniment.

  7. #56

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    Harry Edison told this story:

    Charlie Christian and he [Freddie] were very close friends, and Christian gave him an amplifier. But whenever Freddie would lay out of the band to take his solo, the whole rhythm section used to fall apart. It got to the point where we had to do something about it. So one night I would remove the plug from Freddie’s amplifier wire and it wouldn’t work. Next night Herschel Evans would break a wire in it so it wouldn’t play, and Freddie would have it fixed … So finally we took all the guts out of the amplifier. Freddie got ready to play one night and there was nothing but a box. Naturally he got furious but nobody paid him any attention. So he reached a point where he said, “Well, to hell with it. I won’t play anymore solos.” So that’s the reason he’s not a soloist today. He probably could have been one of the best at that time, but we had to sacrifice him for the good of the band.

    In a terrific colloquy that has been preserved on YouTube, Oscar Peterson and André Previn discuss music. At 2:23 in this clip (part 3), Mr. Peterson is talking about Nat King Cole, and he demonstrates how NKC would get the group back in time when they went astray.