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Acoustic playing...with a big band!!

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Anon2962, Nov 26, 2004.


  1. Anon2962

    Anon2962

    Aug 4, 2004
    I recently joined a big band which aims for an authentic early swing big band sound - no mics, old style mustes for brass. It is a really refreshing sound. Only problem was I was supposed to play a 3 hour gig and be heard.

    I was wondering if anyone else ever did a gig like this, or if anyone had any advice regarding set up changes which might be good. I was thinking that seems as the bass rarely goes above the octave in the written parts, that the string may have been substantially higher?

    Also, if anyone has any advice on technique for this kind of playing, I'd be interested in hearing. I have begun to use almost the entire length of my inex finger, even above the knuckle to create that big boomy sound i hear on the records, but i'd have to raise my strings higher to make this more effective methinks.

    Comments?
     
  2. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    This is the height of silliness. The records those folks are listening to were all about mic placement. I don't suppose the bandleaders are going to ask both the audience members to move closer to the DB.

    In other words, you've been given a choice between bad music (i.e. not being heard off the bandstand) and a physical injury. I'd pick a different band. Move on to one that at least recognizes the 1950s, man.
     
  3. I agree with Sam. If you ever play with a smaller band that won't overpower you but may require you to dig a little harder (something a little less suicidal than what you are doing now) you should consider phat gut strings. Not necessarily gut strings, but I don't know the name for the kind that do not constantly fluxuate in pitch like the guts do but are very similar.

    I don't have any but I've played on a bass that has and it is almost too easy to get a loud bassy sound out of them.
     
  4. ctxbass

    ctxbass Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    Central Texas
    I think any bassist from that era would have taken advantage of today's technology had it been available. I would guess that your bandmates are not arriving by horsecart.

    Gut strings and increased string height will help get the sound you want. A good microphone (rather than a pickup) and a small amp/speaker system can reproduce that sound very well. There is no reason to risk injuring yourself.
     
  5. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    I just played a gig last night with a 14 piece without an amp. We were playing in a large club with about 200 people. After the first set I asked a couple people if they could hear the bass, and they said it projected great. I just started using Pirastro Chordas with high action. It was a bit muffled sounding from where I was, but they said it came through clear from where they were. I was on a high riser with the drummer. If we were playing outside I would definitely have the bass mic'ed. I just love the sound of the acoustic bass though.

    You have to find a balance between high action and playability IMO. As you get better with it higher, you can raise it a bit more until you get the tone that you want. Also note that the bass can only take so much. If the band is really loud, you can't play harder and make more sound come out. In these cases you need a mic or pickup. There isn't any reason that you should hurt yourself playing this way. If you have good technique, you will be fine.
     
  6. ctxbass

    ctxbass Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    Central Texas
    Adrian, how high did you set the Chordas?

    Playing on a riser can be a big help. Coupling the bass to a hollow floor can really increase the sound output, and being above the crowd will decrease the absorbtion of sound.
    I've noticed that the bass will sometimes be louder in a large room than in a smaller one. Floor, wall, and ceiling surfaces, as well as upholstery all have an effect.
     
  7. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    I have the E at 16mm. The G unfortunately is at 10. I would prefer it a little higher, but I have a solid bridge right now so thats where it is! I am sure it will sound better when the Chorda G is on there...for the time being I have the Pizzicato Nylon wound G on(with the Chorda E,A,D), and it doesn't have the same depth of tone the Chordas have.

    Yes, playing on a riser definitely helps as the riser resonates too. I am playing with a trio tonight in a smaller room, so we'll see how that goes...
     
  8. Hey guys, this is actually a really nice band. Their conductor Mara Peippo is a really nice guy, not a freak who would not accept any mics or amps. It´s just that the whole band is trying to achieve a very authentic swing era sound, both by playing and using intruments that can produce that kind of sound. I´ve heard them and they are doing nice.
    You can check them out, their homepage is:
    http://www.lahtibigband.com there´s a short intro in English, too.

    R2
     
  9. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    So does Buster Williams, Ray Brown and a lot of other guys that came up in the era of no amps.
     
  10. I have to say I agree with Sam and others on this. With this old swing stuff, the "authentic" sound and mix of the bass that we hear on era recordings is undoubtedly not what was actually heard in most live settings. If you want to emulate the recorded sound in a live setting, you almost certainly need to add some sound reinforcement.

    There are so many choices today, this should not be very difficult to do, and in a pretty discrete manner as well, if your purist bandleader doesn't want to despoil the band's look on stage. You don't need a tower of marshall amps behind you. Look through the posts in the amps and pickup section hereabouts and you'll see many posts from bass players who have found a sound reinforcement solution which has won them a "gee, it sounded so good I didn't realize you were using an amp" compliment.

    That said, you should, however, definitely start with your natural, unamplified sound on the bass. To summarise what has already been said above, you should try these :

    a naturally loud, thumpy sounding, good projecting bass - spread the word around in a number of bass shops, and wait until a real cannon comes along, and make sure you have someone compare by listening from a distance. Some basses manage to get a big sound that comes together at a distance, but which is not really apparent to the player behind the bass;

    the right strings and set-up - aside from setting strings a bit higher than, say, NHOP, there are no hard rules here, the right choices will depend a lot on the bass. Gut is definitely worth a try;

    the right attack - use as much meat along the side of the finger as you can, learn to get the power from your back and legs into the attack and de-emphasiaze the role of the wrist and fingers in the motion - other posts here refer;

    good stage positioning - get up above the other instruments on a riser so you can project out better;

    plus, try a hollow riser engaged with a pointy end-pin to give your sound a "natural" boost - danger, this works but can get boomy. Stuff a little foam under the riser if it booms too much.

    This will get you a long way toward the sound and power you need for that kind of material live.

    But I would think it'll still be hard to keep up the chops you'd need to drive a dozen or so horns through a three-hour show, especially if you're not playing this stuff every night of the week. I'd add small amp and a mic or mic/PU combination.

    By the way, the MP3 on the band's website sound nice.
     
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I don't think they are trying to emulate the recorded sound as much as the actual live sound of a 30s era big band. When NO bass amps were around, when you had a tiny Public Address system that a singer might sing through. Fletcher Henderson, Cab, Duke, Basie, benny Moten - ALL of these bands played big, crowded, noisy dance halls WITHOUT amplification.

    And it can be done, still. It's a different approach and if it's not something you are interested in, you shouldn't do it. But if you ARE interested in it, then you're going to need to pay a LOT of attention to physical approach. Playing acoustically and projecting is NOT about "playing harder" it's about playing smarter.

    I've rehearsed acoustically with big bands but, since all of the gigs had the horns mic'ed, I had a mic as well.
     
  12. Quote ( by Foghorn ):
    Playing acoustically and projecting is NOT about "playing harder" it's about playing smarter.

    Ed, you are just absolutely right. And I would like to add that these guys in the band AND the conductor generally know what they are doing.

    R2
     

  13. Can you expand on this?
     
  14. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It's about refining physical approach so that you are using right and left hand in sound production, using all your muscles (not just hand or arm)in conjunction with gravity/physics, plus tweaking your set-up for the optimal ratio of quality-of-sound to volume. You do need a bass that projects well, that has a well defined fundamental. But you also need to have a well defined approach, gomezzing don't work. The bass "lives" in a different space than when using an amp. Getting a big projecting sound is about playing with good time, playing the notes that you "mean" to play and playing with a relaxed and tension free physical apporach.

    I was playing for an event that was raising money for arts programming, one of the presenters was from the Metropolitan Opera, the other was an actor in the musical RENT. The MetOp guy made a refernce to the use of mics onstage, vis a vis Braodway musicals and such. And the same sort of thing goes here, too. Opera singers (and older stage actors) train in such a way to project to the back of the hall WITHOUT any electroacoustic sound amplification, because that's the voice that the composers was writing for. And to get more volume, you add another voice in unison. And another etc. But would you get the same experience if, instead of a full choir, you had 9 or 12 folks with mics and a PA?

    Which is what it sounds like these guys are doing, for better or worse. They are trying to re create an experience, what it was like for musicians to play with no other interface than their instrument. For whatever discussions we've had here about the pros and cons of using pick ups and amps, that does not apply to this discussion.
     
  15. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    Yes. It is extremely important to play relaxed when playing acoustic. I think if you are tense you develope problems(as well as not being able to play near your full potential volume or tone wise). You have to utilize the larger muscles in the body. You also need to think more in terms of playing with every one, not at them. Your job is to provide the bottom and keep time. You are part of the groove. Thats what it is about.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher

    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    From a technique standpoint, you may be able to pull more pizz volume out of the bass if you set the string in motion with three or even all four fingers of your right hand. It's certainly less strenuous than relying solely on the one finger alone for volume.

    No one's yet mentioned slapping, and the technique may not be entirely appropriate for the music you're playing, but it might be a further aid to getting you heard. Do a search - there's been plenty of discussion of it in the technique forum.
     
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Sorry I disagree. Again it's not about applying more effort. There are a raft of players, current as well as historic, who play(ed)without amplification and with a single finger (generally with the second finger "on top" for support).

    Slapping in this context would be generally inappropriate and, fom the aims of the group as stated, historically inaccurate. For the most part. The Judge did have some slapped parts as part of an arrangement (as did others), but that's not the way they approached playing 4 to the bar.

    Forgive me if I'm misreading your profile Chris, but the only "vertical" bass I see listed in your profile is an electric upright. Do you have other experience playing an acoustic instrument without amplification that we should know about?
     
  18. Christopher

    Christopher

    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Ed -

    Yeah, I've played ply 3/4s of varying quality from junior high to college before coming to the Eminence. Trust me, you need to have your RH technique in order if you're going to practice with other people using an unamped Eminence!

    I don't disagree with your main point. Achieving additional volume, whether on the double bass or any instrument, is not about applying more effort. IME, if your goal is big acoustic sound, it actually requires less effort to grab the string and set it in motion with several right hand fingers, rather than just one, especially if -- going back to your's and Myrick's point -- you also rely on large muscles and gravity, especially the weight of the arm. Think about how your right hand falls on the string and the way it pulls against the string when you use three or four fingers rather than one - the effort is distributed across more digits, requiring less muscle and resulting in less strain. That, to me, is playing smarter, not harder.

    Well, it's just something to try. I'm not saying it works for everyone. As you note, one finger is enough for a lot of pro players, and if you put the large-muscle/whole body/gravity concepts together with the one-finger approach, it probably works just as well. The problem I see is that many pizz players don't do this - they anchor the right hand on the side of the fingerboard, keep the right limb static for the most part and rely primarily on the large (first) knuckle of the index and/or middle fingers for movement. I think that's OK for amplified or fast pizz work, where alternating digits are required, but, IME, it's not the most efficient way of projecting unamplified sound. Just my two cents.
     
  19. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    Hmmm....I don't think that approach is really effective. You may get more "volume" playing solo, but you loose the attack. There is less definition. The real way to get more volume no matter how you play is just to play all the time. Practice hard.
     
  20. Anon2962

    Anon2962

    Aug 4, 2004
    Interesting comments and advice, thanks everyone.

    I agree with Ed that the band is not trying to recreate the recorded sound of bands at this time, which is not really accurate, as mic placement makes such a difference. And the fully acoustic sound is really enjoyable, in my opinion.

    I felt that the bass could be heard at the gig, I asked a few people to listen, and they said it could be heard quite clearly, which was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately I am not playing with the band anymore, as I've returned to Ireland, but will hopefully return to lahti in a year or two, so who knows...

    Christopher - i found (just from experimentation) that dropping the weight of the arm into the string against the side (entire length) of the index was the most relaxed way for me. It seemed to make sense to me because the entire hand could be kept relaxed - i found that when i used three fingers there was some tension in the fingers as they 'grip' the string. this of course could be simply due to my bad technique. could you explain a little more about this three fingered method? are the fingers curved or flat? is the wrist at an angle? Do the fingers pull the string at the same time as the arm?