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Bass Solos - From a Listener's Perspective

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Jim Dombrowski, Nov 3, 2017.


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  1. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Found this on an audiophile forum:

    Jazz Alley
     
  2. Gotta say, for the most part, I agree with ‘em. The bottom drops out on the bass solo. The harmonic rhythm, the volume, intensity, everything.

    This is why I hate soloing on upright.
     
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Like anything, there are good examples and bad examples that can be found. Bass solos are less busy as a rule because the instrument is not as naturally facile as a horn or piano and because the lower register sounds heavier than the upper register. Having played both bass and piano professionally, I can also attest that it's a lot easier to solo meaningfully with the support of the bass player than without it!

    I would agree that I tend to dislike more bass solos than I like, but this has to do with a number of factors that I'll list in no particular order:
    1) The "Everybody must solo on every tune, with the bass player last" paradigm: IMO, this is unmusical and lazy and leads either to bassists soloing on tunes they'd rather not solo on, and/or listener fatigue by the time the other soloists are done running scales and patterns for often more choruses than needed. In any world where the tune is conceived of as an entire arching musical statement, the bass would rarely solo last after the high/fast/busy stuff has already happened.

    2) Bass players, unlike horn players, are primarily accompanists: People become proficient at what they do the most. If the bass player's job is 90% accompanying and 10% soloing (and that's often generous depending on the circumstance), a typical bass player is not likely to be as proficient a soloist as someone whose role is to play the melody and solo on a facile instrument. It's like asking an offensive lineman to line up at quarterback or wide receiver, but only for three or four plays per game, while spending the rest of the game in the trenches chopping wood and carrying water. What is the likely outcome of this scenario?

    3) Bass players often resort to rhythmic thuddy gestures and noisemaking instead of trying to play simple melodies in tune: I'm sure I'll get some pushback on this, but this point actually comes from my wife, who loves music but doesn't know anything technical about it. When bass players play busy rhythmic gestures either out of tune or too low or with an indistinct sense of pitch because they are trying to imitate the momentum of the previous soloists on more facile instruments, she just kind of throws her hands up in the air as if asking "why"? When they play a singable/comprehensible melody in tune, she likes the solo. I happen to completely agree with her on this.

    4) Be who you actually are rather than who you wish you were: Yes, there are virtuoso bass soloists out there. If you are one of them, be that. But if you aren't, or aren't yet, embrace making the best possible music with the skills you actually have right now. Rather than royally shag up something difficult and complicated that you don't really have the chops for by playing it sloppy and out of tune, play something within your grasp beautifully and with controlled intent. As always, IMO, EEMMV, and EEMWCB. :)
     
  4. Also, there tons of good reasons for the average "jazz listener" to not listen past eras where the great bass soloists were far fewer. My straight ahead listening is anything but contemporary - I tend to stick to the eras of the music where I feel it was innovative.
    Even in areas of the music where there has been very little innovation, the percentage and quality of great bass solos & soloists is way up.
     
    MDrost1 and peteswanson91 like this.
  5. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    This isn't always the soloist's fault.

    A lot of piano players and drummers don't really comp behind bass solos, so any natural intensity or interplay drops off the table immediately.

    This is actually a peeve of mine. I think most of the time it's because of traditional norms. Yes, back in the day, if the drummer and piano player didn't drop out almost completely, no one could hear the bass solo. But, I'd say the majority of bassists are using some sort of amplification on gigs now.

    The drums and keys comp for everyone else. Why not the bass player? Instead, the bass solo turns into the time to turn to the sax player and talk about that girl at the bar, or to ask him what the tip jar is looking like.

    Wthout some harmonic support behind a bass solo, whatever is played is even more likely to come off to audience members as just a bunch of meaningless notes.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2017
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i didn't get from the other forum that the "listener" was much more than a record collector. if he was a true 'jazz fan', IMO, he would not have asked the question in the first place: he would have known. i'm guessing that he equates/confuses the sparseness of other instruments during the bass solo with slowing down the tempo (i know non-musician folks who do the same/similar). his best friend could be a drummer.

    also: the 'drop in energy' (they stop playing!) by the other players in the ensemble creates a 'hole' which is perfect for a bass solo, but not perfect for those listeners who lack an awareness of the 'protocols' mentioned or alluded to in the three posts immediately above.

    IME: audiences love bass solos as much or more than other solos when they are executed well. YMMV. :)
     
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    People who play with me get told pretty pointedly: "DON'T you hang me out to dry! I play music with you, so you play music with me, OK?"

    There are a lot of ways to separate intensity from volume. I try to play with people who try to use them. I try to BE one of those people.
     
  8. Grumry

    Grumry

    Jul 6, 2016
    Nashville
    Unless the guy can just totally shred, I'll usually just hear another verse part with only bass and the drums laying back. Sometimes the guitar and drums will crash a note on the 1 of each measure or something similar.

    Bass is not for solo unless the whole band is built around the bass player(usually).
     
  9. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    cool beans! :)

    i like some time keeping from the drummer --- for the most part --- but it doesn't really matter that much on a pick-up gig. when playing arrangements: what happens during all of the solo sections is usually 'baked in' to some extent. IME.

    really? i assume that you got that from a reliable source...who doesn't play jazz! ;)

    as a listener: i can get bored with any solo/soloist. conversely: i can get moved/excited by any. it's an effort on the part of the player and the listener...at least in jazz.
     
  10. Grumry

    Grumry

    Jul 6, 2016
    Nashville
    This was my opinion, as a listener, and I wasn't even thinking about Jazz.
     
  11. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    of course. but the "listener" to whom the OP referred was.
     
  12. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    USA
    I've found some players bore me and others don't. It's all about how it's executed. I have heard some pretty lame excuses for a solo in my day, but on all instruments.

    Personally i like the drummer and piano player to keep comping for me when i solo. But they have to know to go into "bass solo" mode which usually means lowering the volume a little bit, becoming sparser, and the piano player moving up his voicings. If i get left hung out to dry, whatever, i just embrace it but i don't prefer it.
     
  13. Jim T

    Jim T

    Nov 28, 2004
    Seatlle
    A lot of great comments; those by Chris really resonated with me.

    My question to Chris, and others here, is how do you most effectively teach / learn creating melodies in a bass solo context? I have read many of the answers on this forum ( usually centered around "...listen to , and play a lot of melodies, from all instruments.."), but I wonder if there are other methods that I have not been exposed to. I asked John Patitucci recently during an onlline forum, and he effectively scratched his head saying "..boy, melody is really one of the hardest things to teach".

    I have studied with some of the best players in the world, and the approach has usually been focused on the paper. I would imagine if I had a teacher with piano skills, or one that leveraged technology to, loop sections of music that could guide me buy approaching it aurally - like methodically "try playing an X-7 arpeggio here, starting on the flat 7th on the and of two and landing on the root of the next chord on the and of 4... Now try it starting from the X, or with this alteration, scale fragment, this interval, etc... that would help. There is a ton on paper, and yes you must in the end listen intently and break it down / do the work, but typically in my experience, most teachers play something very fast from their vocabulary and expect (hope) you will assimilate as you try to figure out what they did, looking at a mirror image, hearing a speed you can't yet execute...

    Thanks for any thoughts!
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I'll venture a guess that might help you: learn to play and memorize jazz blues heads and solos, preferably without paper. Simpler than bop but most of the devices and conventions that make a good melody are there, phrasing, tension/release, call & response, dynamics, range, chromatics, leaps. Once you get the basics, as a 90 year old saxophonist told me, "you learn to fill it in."

    Regarding jazz bass solos, Chris pretty much said everything there is to say except, IMO, most jazz solos are merely competent and very few soloists can command and deserve our attention all/most of the time. There's an awful lot of student-quality solos sang out into the world, and not just from bassists. That makes folks like Chris Potter and Scott LaFaro that much more valuable to us. Even then, those guys recorded things I didn't care for, but beauty... There's a saying, "Perfection is not attainable, but by pursuing perfection, we might catch excellence."
     
  15. This is a cool topic. I'd just like to add that you have to be strong and not look to drummers or pianists/guitarists to provide harmonic and rhythmic guideposts. Being able to play with or without accompaniment is a desirable goal. I play with two piano players who both like to completely lay out for a section or two and then build their accompaniment as I try to build my solo. Honestly, the only two things that drive me nuts are: (1) The drummer goes to a ticky tack feel which neither provides groove and/or pulse. (2) The pianist or guitarist decides to compete with me in terms of melodic content and/or sets up some sort of unasked for rhythmic framework that dictates where I can go instead of providing some sort of actual support.

    I agree with Chris about just taking the last solo in every tune. That is pretty unmusical and boring. IMHO :cool:
     
    the_Ryan, MDrost1, Jmilitsc and 3 others like this.
  16. As I pointed out, it is not really an issue anymore. It was a far bigger issue in the golden period of the music. The guys on that forum are talking about RECORDED music. Most of them probably listen to only or mostly LPs, straight ahead jazz bass solos get far better in the CD era and are better still now.
    There are a ton of jazz fans who just don't beyond the classic Blue Note LPs as far as straight ahead jazz is concerned and there is plenty to hear there.
    We've solved the problem but we are late to the party. We are waiting on a time machine now.
     
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  17. rickwolff

    rickwolff SOLD For Sale: Headway EDB-2 HE $260 Supporting Member

    As usual, some real-world wisdom from Chris F. #4 (quoted above) really spoke to me. It is only fairly recently that I have really started to enjoy soloing, and I think that is due to my recognizing and accepting my technical limitations and consciously trying to be musical within my abilities (OK, I will go a little beyond what I can truly 'nail' because that is the only way to grow). Several of the superb pianists I work with turn (subtly) toward me at the end of their soloing and I can either shake my head up and down (yes, thanks, I'll take a chorus) or side to side (no, thanks, I either don't feel comfortable enough with the tune or just don't feel I can add anything musical at this time).
     
  18. skwee

    skwee

    Apr 2, 2010
    Minneapolis
    That sonic change of pace can be really nice in a song. Anything formulaic on a jazz date can get boring, and sure there are limits to what recording equipment and technical skill can bring to the table on a golden era record. Still, to say anything categorical about bass solos is indefensible.
     
    Lee Moses likes this.
  19. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I can't argue that melody is hard to teach! But for me, the best place to start is with the simple statement "if you want to sound like X, do what X does". So to follow this logic, to sound melodic, do as melodies do.

    So what do melodies do? Obviously that's a huge question, but in the simplest sense, they repeat short motives at different pitch levels, and they center them on and around chord tones. One way to look at them is as embellished guide tone lines. I think this is a lot more helpful than thinking of chords and scales and licks, because a guide tone line is a pared down long tone melody that is easy to hear and sing, like the skeleton of an animal; it can be dressed up many ways with flesh and hair and clothes, but underneath it all it's the same basic structure. The other thing that's great about guide tone lines is that in and of themselves they aren't hard to play at all and they don't require a lot of support from the other musicians to still work and sound good. When a melody outlines the tune because of guide tones, the harmony and form are always apparent even if the accompaniment is less than stellar.

    To get students started building useful guide tones lines, I like them to voice the harmony of the tune in double stops. The double stops consist of either 10ths or 7ths, and are always voiced with the 1st string on top; 10ths are voiced from the 4th string to the 1st, and 7ths from the 3rd string to the 1st (The system I use is laid out here and here but there are certainly many ways to approach it). When double stop voicings are built and voice led in this way, there will always be a close voiced guide tone line on the top string that is good fodder for basic embellished guide tone solos. Under this system, there are two ways to voice every progression - one starting with a 4th string chord, and one starting with a 3rd string chord - and this gives two sample guide tone lines to explore right off the bat.

    Anyway, that's usually how I start of teaching the subject. If the student isn't advanced enough to play the double stops, then we work out the same ideas theoretically and let them play the double stop voicings when they are ready. Another option when the student doesn't have the chops to play the double stop voicings on the DB, we might also have them work them out on the electric bass, which yields the same lines but doesn't crush the hands and spirits of players who aren't ready to play the double stops (or play them in tune) yet.
     
  20. I found this gem on the linked thread in OP. Very tasty interplay in this piano-DB duo.




    This is still my favourite bass solo ever. Note how beautifully the other players support the bass.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald and Tom Lane like this.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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