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Acoustic vs. Electric!

Discussion in 'Ask Janek Gwizdala' started by Hestan, Jul 26, 2007.

  1. Hestan


    Jan 29, 2007
    Hi Janek,

    Hopefully the title of this thread isn't going to start any arguments on the forum! I'm really just looking for a bit of your pro bassplayer insight again. ;)

    I know you used to play (maybe still) acoustic bass as well as electric but you're getting to the top of the jazz tree, playing with stern and metheny etc, through your electric skills alone. Other contemporary guys like matt garrisson spring to mind also.

    In the jazz scene I'm in I seemed to have reached a ceiling. The gigs below that are fun and you never seem to get the feeling the other musicians care you're playing electric. However, on the rare gigs I'm starting to get with the top few percent of guys on my scene there always seems to be a feeling that they'd rather be up there with an acoustic player no matter how good a job you do..... Marcus Miller described this as 'feeling like you're up there with an oboe or a kazoo or something'.

    After one of those recent gigs the drummer said 'really good job' and was full of praise before then switching into his lecture mode and trying to convince me to play acoustic instead. I quote him "the general consensus is the electric bass doesn't swing". Don't get me wrong, I like acoustic sure, but never on a level that's inspired me enough to learn the instrument well like electric has.

    My question for you is, while coming up did you ever experience 'anti-electric bass' vibes on jazz gigs or from other musicians or feel like you were missing out on playing with some of the better guys on the scenes you've been involved in because they were biased in favour of acoustic bass?

    Is it just the scene that I'm involved in or as an electric bass player do you always come up against this type of attitude no matter how high you go? What were your experiences in London and New York regarding this? Have you got any advice on dealing with any of these issues like swinging a straight ahead jazz group?

    many thanks - i know this is a lot of stuff!,

  2. janekbass


    Jan 28, 2004
    Los Angeles
    Founder and CEO of http://janeksbassstudio.com
    good thread.

    I have had many issues in dealing with what you have just described, you are not alone by any stretch of the immagination.

    Band leaders often think with their eyes and not their ears, and will want to see an acoustic bass onstage because it looks right first of all. So I say to them, it's 2007, electricity has been invented, and why don't you close your eyes, open your mind, and let your heart feel what is music.

    Drummers (as well as almost all other instrumentalists and singers) sometimes say that the electric bass doesn't swing as much as the acoustic. So I say to them, it's 2007, electricity has been invented, and why don't you close your eyes, open your mind, and let your heart feel what is music.

    When getting a call for a "jazz" gig whatever that is these days, I can be certain that the band leader has called at least 50 acoustic bass players first. This being a list of people that might include Reginald Veal, Rodney Whitaker, or christian McBride at the top of the list, all the way down to nnumbers 49 and 50 who are people that just own an acoustic bass and will look the part. When all those people can't make the gig, I might be in the top 5 of the electric players on a list that they keep on top of an old cupboard somewhere. If my name hasn't been bleached off the list from exposure to the sun, and Will Lee, Matt Garrison, Anthony Jackson, and Richard Bona are busy, then the call will come. Once on the gig I might be expected to play 20 standards in keys so far from the original you need a map and a compass to find the root motion, (this is generally when a singer is involved) and then you're expected to deal with, in New York at least, 1) wages that may be as little as $35 for 3 sets, 2) a cab for your amp back and forth from the club which will exceed the money you're making, and 3) the constant stares and tuts from people who refuse to admit electricity has been invented, and who can't get out of the 50's and 60's and demand to see an acoustic bass.

    The bottom line for me is, that there are so few "jazz" gigs in New York worth taking no matter what kind of bass you play, I don't let this be an issue for me anymore. I have made my choice as to what I want to do with my career right now, and that doesn't include playing $50 jazz gigs at cleopatra's needle, smalls, detour, or any number of the other ****** clubs the city has to offer.

    I can avoid butting heads with jazz nazis who refuse to move on, and refuse to be innovative. And I can work on my own music without having to worry about playing stardust in Ab, or Lush Life in K# minor.

    The state the jazz scene is in on a local gigging level in the world in general right now, is such that it's pretty much unbareable to be a part of. Unless you're playing original music, and not answering to anyone elses bullsh*t, you're going to come across problems that you really don't want to deal with.

    I'm not sure where you're from, but it sounds like the drummer you mentioned is pretty regressive, and closed minded. Don't get me wrong, to make an electric bass work in the kind of context you're talking about takes a lot of work. And I'll be the first to jump in and say there are a lot of sorry assed electric players who didn't do any homework on jazz at all, and totally suck. These are the kind of guys that get electric bass players in jazz a bad name. but there are a few, and I consider myself one from the kinds of gigs I get, and from what people I greatly respect tell me, people who can make the electric bass swing. It's about understanding interaction, attack, and time.

    I've listened to Paul Chambers, Oscar Petiford, Ray Brown, Slam Stewart, Ron Carter, Miroslav Vitous, Scott Lafaro, and many other incredible upright players way more than I have listened to electric bass players. I've transcribed them, studied their time, their feel, the way they fit in the band, where they place the beat, where the attack of their notes are.... there's a whole history to study to be able to achieve what it is you're talking about. As long as you put in the time, there's no reason why you can't swing on the electirc bass.

    So enough rambling.


  3. 6stringbassist


    Jul 9, 2007
    Wow, though to be up there with people like that, that's a major achievment.

    This is a worldwide thing with regard to electric bass.

    I play in a quartet, the guitarist and the sax player are always saying how they'd like me to play upright.........even though they knows that I wouldn't be able to play anywhere even remotely near as proficiently as I do on electric, it would 'look right'.....how daft.

    The guitarist also thinks I have too many strings, but that's a different argument.
  4. stevek


    Apr 27, 2006
    El Paso, TX
    This is a problem in bluegrass music as well. Players have a pre-conceived idea of what instruments should be used in 'traditional' music. But, just like jazz, it seems to be people that want to pretend music stopped in 1960.

    Janek, I applaud your willingness and ability to explore other genres of music. Was this the case when you first moved to NYC? Or were you intent on being strictly a jazz musician?
  5. musicman5string

    musicman5string Banned

    Jan 17, 2006
    I agree with everything Janek states in his post.

    Bottom line is: if you are a great player and know the music, you can make something swing just as hard with electric. I've seen Janek do it, as well as a number of other amazing players.

    The thing though, is this: the double bass and the electric bass are two totally different instruments, even though they both fulfill the same functions. Both take an incredible amount of work to learn to play. You have to love the instrument you choose to play, or else it will eat you alive. I happen to love both acoustic and electric, so I have to practice 10x harder than most people simply because I have to in order to stay on top of both. It's ALOT of work, and many times I've wondered if I could choose just one, but I can't.

    As far as bandleaders, yeah, most are narrow minded regarding using electric on gigs. What I've tried to do is play acoustic with some for a while then maybe bring out the electric and see what happens. Then again some actually want you to double, which is great, but then you have the hassle of having a rig that works for both, or having to bring two rigs, which is nearly impossible.
    Who are the top guys that double? John Patitucci is the number one example in my book, because he's an animal on both. Christian McBride? Eh, his electric playing ain't exactly up there with his upright.

    The point is: when you're the player, you have to play an instrument you love. Whatever comes after that, so be it. If there are guys playing upright just becasue they think they'll get more work or whatever, they're fooling themselves, and eventually the music world will weed them out anyway.

    If you love the electric, and you study the music, you will succeed.
  6. Lorenzini


    Dec 31, 2004
    Los Angeles
    From my experience, the truth is:

    If an electric player puts in as much time and energy into learning "jazz" as a "legit" upright player, he can swing just as hard and fit the bill just as well.
  7. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    I just played stardust in Ab for 35 bucks...
  8. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    The variable that determines whether an instrument swings more or not is the player. The EBG and DB occupy a different sonic footprint which may or may not be what people want to hear.


    I don't know where you're getting this impression from. Care to elaborate?
  9. Janek,

    I have recently been struggling with a sort of internal debate that is ongoing in my head, and this is weather or not I should start the upright. The main thing that sprung this on me is that, lately, I have been noticing that I really enjoy the upright's sound and just the instrument as a whole, but I love the electric and don't want to give that up.

    I noticed that I like fusion,funk,and just about anything, but the majority of the time when I want to play jazz I am really into acoustic jazz. This isn't to say I don't view electric legitamatley, but I don't know if others do. I have recently fallen in love with music from guys like Joshua Redman,Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Michael Brecker (Pilgrimage), John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and the rest of the jazz guys. I don't know if I will get the chance to play this acoustic music with people if I am on the electric. I hope you understand what I am saying, I know that Redman and others have played with electric, but when they play with electric they don't play the same type of acoustic jazz.

    I have been working on transcriptions and music in general a whole lot and really believe that I want to do it for a living, I am 16 and want to dedicate my life to it, but what drives me nuts is when I hear you say that instead of being great at one (bass), you will be mediocre at both. I don't want to give up electric though because all of the funk R&B that I really enjoy stays on that instrument.
    You always talk about your "personal voice" and this includes both your improvisational style and your compositional style, both of which you have found. Your music is unlike anything else, it is unique to you. The music that, compositionally, I want to be playing is more of the acoustic sentiment and I don't know if I'll be able to play it with others If I am only playing electric. Normally I would just start the upright, but I don't want to end up "Mediocre" at both because mediocrity will get me nowhere in the professional world, I hope to reach a level that you have arrived at on both Electric and Acoustic, but do not know if that is possible, or how long it will take. Is 16 too old to start the uprite and end up at a high playing level by 26?
    Do you know of any music that has piano trio style music with an electric bass?

    I guess in summary I am asking if I would be able to play with cats like Redman,Mehldau,Rosenwinkel,Turner and others if I play the electric? My dream is to play with those guys and guys that are similar in style and I don't know if I would be able to play with them with just electric, and I also am beginning to find myself drawn towards the uprite. I also don't want to abandon the electric though due to the fact that I love it and I love it's chordal possibilities and ability to play other electric styles which I enjoy also.

    Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate the time you take to answer stuff, and I apologize for the huge post with sometimes jumbled thoughts, as you can see I sometimes overthink things. Your opinion means a lot,


    Josh D.
  10. Hey Sk8terguy,

    I know how you feel: I really like to play "acoustic" music, piano trio and stuff, but for me the double bass is not an option. It's true that people won't call me first when playing this type of music (except for people who know me well and know that I can play it), but there's an easy solution: Don't wait for them to call you, call them! Come up with your own band and concept, and if you play well enough they will come. An who knows, maybe the'll call you in the future...
  11. Wally Malone

    Wally Malone

    Mar 9, 2001
    Boulder Creek, CA
    AFM International Representative Endorsing Artist: Accugroove Cabinets & MJC Ironworks Strings
    Attended a clinic a little over a week ago with John Patatucci and a question from the audience was "What most do you like playing the URB or your electric bass?" His answer was that this is like asking if I love one of my daughters more than the other.

  12. Ben Rolston

    Ben Rolston Supporting Member

    Aug 30, 2006
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    This thread is very interesting to me because I mainly play Jazz, and mainly play the Double Bass. I respect the wish to move forward and not be unknowingly stuck in the past, and I am all too aware of how stagnant the Jazz scene has become, but for me it is just a question of sound. I've heard (not live) people like Janek or James Genus walk on electric, and it's clear that they have put in a lot of time in order to sound and fit into the band in the way they do, but the majority of instances where I've heard electric bass walking it doesn't fit-it doesn't have that bounce. Please notice that I say when walking, I think that this is the main area in which the electric bass can fall down.

    Musicanman said: Bottom line is: if you are a great player and know the music, you can make something swing just as hard with electric. I've seen Janek do it, as well as a number of other amazing players.

    While this is true I hope you will admit that it's not in the same way.

    Maybe this is because my ears are conditioned that way, but its impossible to really know. I think that Janek most likely has been in enough situations that he has somewhat of a right to rant about this subject, but I don't think it's right to imply that the only reason that electric bass isn't popular in Jazz is because of looks or old fashioned ways.

    This is all IMHO, and I hope it doesn't set anyone off. I was just trying to bring a different opinion to a thread that I think is a very important consideration.
  13. The jazz scene where I live is so ******.

    I personally love playing bass guitar...

    :dodges bullets for not calling it "electric bass":

    ...in a jazz setting. And I love listening to it. When I play jazz on electric bass I enjoy it heartily and have never felt like I needed to be playing acoustic.

    I was almost going to start shedding acoustic in order to get gigs. But then I stopped and thought about what "gigs" I was missing out on. And I realized that I really don't want to play with people who are only interested in doing things the way they were done in the 40's and 50's.

    The way it was done my ass. Where's the innovation, where's the fearless originality? Weren't those the most important things to being with?

    I also think it's a terrible thing to begin playing an instrument out of fear. I LOVE electric bass. Love it. I play it because I love it. Why drop that in order to play a very demanding instrument because I'm AFRAID of not fitting in, of not getting gigs. So many youngsters start playing acoustic out of FEAR, they play standards out of FEAR, they play the standard II-V-I ideas out of FEAR. They want to fit in. They don't want the respected establishment to not see how talented they are. They don't even recognize it as fear either.

    The whole mentality is very destructive to what jazz was originally about. Jazz is becoming more and more of an establishment, it's becoming more academic, there's a RIGHT and WRONG way to play it, to define it, to feel it. There's a whole ideology that certain people believe you have to subscribe to in order to be playing "authentic jazz."

    It disgusts me.

    This is the one step path to musical success:

    Study what moves you. Play what you love.

    Simple, right?

    I think the problem is many people don't even know what moves them. Or their concept of musical success has footnotes like "respect," "career," and "money" attached to it. In my opinion, for one's music to truly be powerful, it can't have any attachments at all. It has to come from a place of love.
  14. janekbass


    Jan 28, 2004
    Los Angeles
    Founder and CEO of http://janeksbassstudio.com
    swinging on the electric bass can never be done in the same way as an acoustic. the attack is completely different. The acoustic is all attack and a very quick decay. the electric is less attack and a longer decay.

    I rarely play straight ahead music anymore on electric bass, it really seems to finally be a thing of the past. I write my own stuff, and it ends up being what feels good to me. no matter what the actual genre or time feel might be.

    I'm not ranting about the acoustic bass really, I just hate playing the thing. I love to listen to it, no desire to play it. And I love to hire great upright players when I'm producing acoustic jazz records. I'm just finishing up one right now where I was able to hire my good friend and incredible acoustic bass player Orlando Le Fleming.


  15. PUCKBOY99


    Sep 17, 2007
    Great thread guys; very interesting esp. to an at home hobbyist.

    SO............where does the EUB fit in the equation or are they COMPLETELY not the right look ?

    I saw Tony Levin playing that Stick & thought it looked ridiculous...............then he started playing & the LOOK really didn't matter anymore ;)
  16. Ben Rolston

    Ben Rolston Supporting Member

    Aug 30, 2006
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    Well Said
  17. janekbass


    Jan 28, 2004
    Los Angeles
    Founder and CEO of http://janeksbassstudio.com
    yes, there aren't many things that matter besides the music tony levin makes.

    I was very fortunate to get to play with him recently, and it was awe inspiring. He is everything and more that hear on all those records. And he is a learner which is incredible to me. Still checking out new music and trying new ideas after such an incredible career as an innovator.


  18. Sorax


    Sep 9, 2005
    Sydney, Australia
    I recently made the decision to focus all my attention on electric, and not split my efforts between the two. I basically feel like by playing acoustic just because it's what people want to see, I'd be betraying myself and the instrument I love. So, I'm busting my ass transcribing and listening to understand this art form. And if it means I never get a straight ahead gig in my life... then so be it.
  19. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    Recent quotes from musicians around me (last 6 months) concerning Electric Bass.

    #1 Big Band Gig (band leader to me): "Well, you've restored my faith in the electric bass!" (Gee thanks)

    #2 From a sax player I did a pick-up gig with :
    "Acoustic bass isn't like electric. You can't just pick it up and play it."
    (Hey ******* I'm standing right here in front of you!)

    #3 From a band director at a local university to me:
    "Here's a bass chart that's like most ELECTRIC bass charts - Easy!" (This does wonders for my self esteem)

    #4 From a Music School Bass Dept head to his electric student (heard this 2nd hand) :

    "Now you know you gotta get an upright if you want to play Jaaaaazzzzz!"
  20. Tslicebass

    Tslicebass Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2007
    Great topic and one that has incredible relevance to my life now.
    I have always considered myself an electric player. But for the past year and a half I have been giging regularly on the chicago jazz scene with some pretty heavy players... on upright. I have never taken an upright lesson and am totally self taught. I do not think my chops are where they should be on upright to be playing with these guys. However, i am not a schlub on upright and i do get many compliments on my playing. But i also do not practice upright. Sometimes I feel guilty because i feel like i am getting work i am not worthy of. But the biggest thing for me is that playing upright has made me a significantly better MUSICIAN. I probably would have never had the opportunity to play with half the musicians i play with now if i only played electric and that would have been many missed opportunities on learning new ideas and working out musical concepts.
    With that being said, I hope to be able to stop playing upright soon. The jazz scene in Chicago is bountiful for bass players. I get a lot of calls, even from people that know i am not mainly an upright player. Most of the gigs pay pretty well. But the thing is... most these gigs are playing wall paper standards in hotels or restaraunts. After a while there is only so much you can take away from these gigs, no matter who is on it... because the best players are still only going to be playing the gigs. When it comes to clubs, the artistic freedom is there... so i don't think whether you play electric or upright is going to be as important.
    Now when it comes to being a sideman... i think the best thing is to do both. Even if you don't do one as well as the other. Eventually you will hit a wall with the instrument you don't spend as much time on and you won't get called as much. But you will learn much more about music, as a young player, if you do both. And you will get electric gigs thru being and upright player and vice versa. When you get comfortable with where you are make the decision on one or the other... if that is what you need to do.
    As far as jazz being stuck in the 50s and all that stuff... that is a whole nother topic for another time:smug:
    just my 2 cents.

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