Articulation, Timbre, Tone, etc.

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by charlespf, Jul 6, 2008.

  1. charlespf


    Oct 21, 2007
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Hey all, I don't post a ton, but I have a few thoughts that have been floating around in my head a while I'd like to share and get some commentary on. Please bear with me, everything's pretty jumbled and disorganized at this point.

    One of the biggest challenges we face as bass players face is articulation. Many of us talk about achieving horn-like melodic-ness and phrasing, which is obviously very difficult to articulate on our sometimes unwieldy instrument.

    I feel like the jokes about 'The Bass Solo' are generally because we fail to accurately articulate lines and musical ideas. Many players know how to generate music in their left hand, but their right hand never really pulls out the right timbre, and the pitches become somewhat indiscernible. One of the biggest compliments I've received was recently from a pianist I was playing with, who told me that he could really hear all the notes I was playing in my solo.

    I then took these ideas, and started extending them to the classical bass. I don't think ambiguous pitches are restricted to jazz pizz playing, but are also very present in lots of classical cats' playing. One thing that I believe sets Edgar Meyer apart from other players is the huge sense of clarity in his sound. Like him or not, you can really hear every note in every run in his take on Bottesini 2 in a way that I haven't heard any other bassist do.

    Our instrument really lets notes 'bloom.' That is, you can play without much initial attack, so the note takes a while to really hit the listener. I hear this all over the place in Larry Grenadier's playing, for example. This sound is one that lends itself very well to section-type playing, but which in a solo setting, jazz or classical, often lacks definition, distorting melodic intent.

    Anyway, just a bunch of jumbled ideas, I'd appreciate any and all input.
  2. I have been dealing with this same basic idea myself. It seems that everyone wants the big massive bass sound, but also want clarity and articulation, and very few seem to achieve both similtaneously. I play BG primarily, but even in that, it is the same deal. When I started playing, the standard was 15" speakers. Somewhere along the line, multiple ten's became the standard. My dad used guts on his bass, but spiros became the standard jazz string. He used to gripe at me about how thin my sound was. Nowadays I can't say that he was wrong.

    It is a never ending quest for the perfect balance. I think that spiros are great for articulating solo work, but when it comes to background playing, the sound is just to thin. Guts are great for background work, but not for soloing. This (along with other reasons) is why I choose to not solo, just do the background stuff. If people dig my sound, great, if not, that's fine too, I am the one that got the call to play, not them. If I am asked to solo, then they have to take what they get, but most of the people I play for already know this.

    Just my two cents.
  3. Plenty of players get a huge sound with Spiros, it just takes the right touch and technique.
    I am listening to Red Mitchell now with Donald Bailey and Jimmy Rowles. His sound is huge and full when walking and he changes it during his solos.
    I think guts can also be just as clear when soloing, but guts take every bit as much or more practice arco to keep up on intonation and unfortunately
    the bulk of gut players I run across don't seem to do this, Wilbert Dejoode being a rare exception.

    My primary music, improvised music is very (maybe even mostly) concerned with the timbre and articulation.
    Unless the content is really stellar, I get bored quickly with straighter jazz and classical when it is played with a monochrome palette.

    That is one of the reason Red is such a great listen. I feel like he is dealing with so many different musical elements beyond line and harmony.
  4. charlespf


    Oct 21, 2007
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Oh for sure, I'm talking entirely about technique, and not gear at all.

    To me, Scott LaFaro still articulates better than almost any other bassist, or any other instrumentalist for that matter, on his gut strings. Mingus is another who got a super clear sound on guts.

    I'm really fascinated by the vast multitude of sounds that can be achieved by the bass. Going back to Edgar Meyer, he plays one of my favorite cadenzas ever in his recording of Bottesini. He goes from super clear and singing to ground shattering lows, and also knows when to put some attack on the notes, and when to let them bloom.

    I do feel like, however, when we are soloing in an ensemble setting, having that sense of clarity and edge is really important if we want to hold our own with the horn guys, and also just to really express musicality. A good example of this for me is Eddie Gomez on the Three Quartets record (Chick Corea). Great, super interactive section player, and then a stunning soloist.
  5. charlespf


    Oct 21, 2007
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Oh, and also a side note, Rodney Whitaker, who gets one of the biggest sounds ever, plays Spirocores. Drew Gress and Ray Brown also. On the other hand, I know Eddie Gomez has played spiros for many years, and he gets a nice, super clear sound (of course some disagree). They're the best strings ever. The also bow nicely, contrary to common belief.
  6. I didn't mean to sound like I am concentrating on the equipment making the sound. I believe that it has mostly to do with the player. I have been given compliments on my sound, then people realize I don't have any magic box that creates that sound, just me and the bass (maybe the amp). They walk away and don't want to talk to me anymore. I feel that a lot of how we play, and approach the instrument has a lot to do with how we learned, and what we had available to us individually duing the learning process. If you want to arco with a sweet sound, and all you have available is rosin, and strings known to create hashness, you learn to play to aleviate that harshness in some way.
  7. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    One thing that I've felt is that some bassists fall into that whole trap of trying to make every note a big long event, forgetting that notes have a beginning and an end, with spaces of all varieties in between. One of the great moments of my life was when I was playing with Art Lande, and he pointed out to me that I didn't play all the notes as if I was trying to flatten them out, that each one had a life of its own. That was a great affirmation for me, because I've spent a lot of time in my life listening to singers and tenor players, trying to get that sensibility into my bass playing.

    I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I don't know how else to verbalize it.
  8. The Italian composer Giancinto Scelsi only wanted women to play his solo music because he said each note need to to be born, cared for and killed - or something to that effect. It is a bit dramatic, but it is a nice way to start thinking about that sort of thing.
    Must have been great playing with Lande - what a great musician!

    I think Barry Guy has a lot to offer in this area and his work in this context might translate to more traditional ways of playing:
  9. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    I like that... simple way of stating it.
  10. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Timbre is a big deal. Good stuff about the spaces between notes. I think the spaces might have just as much to do with the articulation as the attack.
  11. charlespf


    Oct 21, 2007
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Damon, I really dig this. I think it's something a lot of bass players don't think about enough. It really reminds me of Miles' playing.

    +1. Ron Carter talks about not stopping any notes, only playing new ones, so you keep a consistent legato feel going when walking. This concept doesn't always work with soloing. In any kind of a run, all your notes will run and mash into one another, distorting the actual line.

    Listen to any Clifford Brown solo, and you'll hear spots in which he'll slur certain phrases, but also in many runs he will leave lots of space in between each note, and put lots of attack on all of them.
  12. Ben Rolston

    Ben Rolston Supporting Member

    Aug 30, 2006
    Brooklyn, NY
    What's up Charles!

    Anyway, to borrow from a teacher, music is sound and silence, and the silence is every bit as important as the sound. Without the silence, sound is meaningless. I've been hearing that for years, but I just made the connection that that should be applied within phrases--not just between phrases.
  13. charlespf


    Oct 21, 2007
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Ben! Hope everything's good.
    Sorry for the late response, I haven't been around the computer much lately.

    Anyway, yeah, I dig that idea. Definitely stuff I've been thinking about a lot recently.
  14. svenbass


    Dec 12, 2002
    Nice thoughts all around,

    I agree note length/life is a key point here - I find that when I'm soloing, I can get ahead of myself with ideas, and not spend enough time executing what is happening at the moment in a clean and relaxed manner. I spend a great deal of energy working pizz tone, yet that can go right out the window in the heat of the solo. One thing that has helped me immensely is to only play while inhaling, and focus on the next phrase while exhaling. Also I try to play half of what I'm thinking nicely as opposed to everything in my head sloppily.
  15. emilio g

    emilio g

    Jul 16, 2008
    Jersey City, NJ
    Learning to play in a smooth, long, legato style is the way to go. Once you've got that down, its easier to shorten notes and create different articulations.

    That being said, I rarely hear DB players talk about practicing pizz articulation. For instance, seeing how to get the most bottom end, or how to get the most attack. I see lots of players who kind of play with the side of their fingers, others who use the tip like an electric player would, but I don't see many guys mixing it up. They're all legit techniques so why limit yourself to one?

    My teacher always says "not to be just another thumper"
  16. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I think Jim Hall once said something in a similar vein... something on the order of where where its sorta takes guts to just let single note or chord ring out. Something like letting a note live it's full life is much deeper, because all the qualities of that note are left to be seen/heard as it is, all vulnerabilities & imperfections included. That's how I remember it, but maybe I'm embellishing a bit... I forget what he said exactly.

    I think one difficulty is that timbre is such a personal thing... everybody's hands are different and we all get our own sounds. Something that is also very innate as string pullers. When to use 2 fingers together instead of alternating? I mean, it's just as subjective as using dynamics during a solo. Everybody can do it, but it something we don't talk about.
  17. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
  18. shadygrove


    Feb 14, 2008
    Marysville, WA
    Bolo - Thanks for posting that video link. I though that solo really illustrated what Ben Rolston said about leaving space as well as the many comments about articulation and variety in tone through technique. To my ears that solo was so much more interesting than a constant flurry of notes all played with the same attack and volume. It's time to go practice!
  19. svenbass


    Dec 12, 2002
    I hear that!!

    I also really enjoyed his walking as well. And kudos to the drummer - just laying down some great support.
  20. bolo


    May 29, 2005
    Apex, NC
    Glad people seemed to enjoy that video clip. I am no great player, but I do like to try and mix up right hand technique myself, sometimes within songs and even within phrases if it seems called for. And I have gotten to the point where long breaths or pauses are part and parcel of my jazz solos now, whereas at one time they kind of made me uncomfortable.

    Kudos to charlespf for starting the thread to begin with. Everything you conveyed in this thread is thoughtful and helpful. I like how you referred to so many great players, and not just bass players, and various elements of their sound and style. You've obviously listened to a lot of great stuff. Clifford Brown. Beautiful.