Big band charts & "bass fines"

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by tomshepp, Jul 26, 2009.

  1. tomshepp


    Jan 11, 2006
    Maynard MA
    Sort of a joke, but I found in a list of "bass fines" : "Not playing the written walking bass line = $5.00" Playing the written walking bass line =$10.00" :D

    I tend to read the line with my band, but can't help but think that there are lines that are much better/ cooler than what's written. Do you transcribe these lines and read them, if they work with the arrangement, or improvise the line and trust that you can do it better than what the arranger wrote?
  2. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    Ive actively avoided big bands for this reason, theyre not my cup of tea.

    I do recording projects with smaller groups though and Ill often talk through the composer on these matters. Sometimes a particular line is supposed to match up with horn lines, but most of the time the composer just pads out the arrangement with a bass line so they can hear what it sounds like on their midi file :p

    Cmon wheres the pride? Who knows how to make better bass lines than bass players!
  3. Michael Eisenman

    Michael Eisenman Supporting Member

    Jun 21, 2006
    Eugene, Oregon
    I'm fairly new in our big band (my first), and at this point I'm reading the dots. (It has improved my sight-reading.)

    There are some tunes for which the supplied lines are not good. The one that bothers me the most is Basie's "9:20 Special." The written line is crummy; nothing like the 1941 recording with Coleman Hawkins. I've lifted a few things from that recording, but I haven't been able to transcribe it yet.

    I change things when I feel like it; nobody's listening to the bass line that closely. All I really need to do is keep the horns from dragging and play notes that sound good.
  4. moles


    Jan 24, 2007
    Winnipeg, MB
    I tend to do the same thing in my big band. I'm pretty new at this anyway, so I don't at all definitively think that I'd *always* come up with something better than what the arranger has down on paper - reading the written lines is good for the sight reading...I always approach a piece by playing the written line, so I can hear what's what.

    But, when things get swinging I improvise when I feel like it - nobody complains.

    Those were always my favourite two lines outta that joke list too. :D
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I tend to think that if there is a written line that is NOT a walking line - then it is compulsory to play it - but any walking line is up for grabs and something you make your own - it would just be boring for all concerned if it is played as written and would also not be in the spirit of the music.

    I also think that reading a walking line would tend to make it stiff/formal as opposed to what you want - which is swinging/flowing/natural....?
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Agreed. Unfortunately, on some charts, they only give you the line and don't include the changes. Then the real challenge is to understand the changes but build your own line by analysis on the spot in the flow. This kind of chart drives me crazy.
  7. tomshepp


    Jan 11, 2006
    Maynard MA
    That's the type of chart I'm referring to. My band has an arrangement of Moonlight Serenade which has the root repeating throughout the measure. (no changes) Seems kind of boring, unless they want a pedal point kind of thing? Years ago, I transcribed the same tune that had a wonderful bass line. I find myself wanting to bring the transcription to see if it will "line up" with the arrangement we have. It certainly would make it more fun for me.
  8. Sonata or serenade?
  9. tomshepp


    Jan 11, 2006
    Maynard MA
    Serenade, Duh:meh:
  10. There's a cool chart out there based on the moonlight sonata, but it is in 11/8 - drop the last eighth note.
  11. moles


    Jan 24, 2007
    Winnipeg, MB
    It's the same on the arrangement we use. It could be a little boring to play I guess - the pedal-note thing seems to work well with the rest of the band's parts. Personally I tend to want to re-write parts when the whole package sounds like arse. If the drummer and I can do something cool with the feel, and keep it minimalist, it's good.

    I like hearing that sort of really simplified approach on slow tunes sometimes too. Frank's version of Spring Is Here, etc...

    Once in awhile we get some real simplified "easy jazz" type arrangements that have hilariously dumbed-down walking lines on really swinging tunes. Those lines pretty much go out the door.
  12. Chrix


    Apr 9, 2004
    Guh. I've done way more big band time than I'd always like to admit. But I digress...

    I think there needs to be some give and take with knowing when and when not to play the written bass line (and specifically walking lines, not riffs, patterns, pedals, etc...that are to be played as-is). I've noticed that many big band composers couldn't write an interesting bass line if you tattooed one onto their foreheads. On the converse side of that, there are some big band composers and arranges that write lines that I love sinking my teeth into. Thad Jones, in particular, writes stuff for the bass that I rarely try to veer away from. And often what he's written in the bass is meant to be part of the voicing of a sax soli or band soli section or something. He's also the first guy I go to when teaching advanced bass line construction to my students.

    I must admit, though, that reading written lines is how I learned to walk. Particularly lines that had the changes to go along with them. I think big band writers that write lines without the changes do a terrible disservice especially to young learning players, to whom these charts are often written.
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Ah well - I've only seen a few big-band charts, but I can't imagine why they would not put the chords in, seems a strange idea - false economy? :confused:

    I was in a Latin big band and I think I did write the chords in on one or two charts!
    But they intended you to play the written "groove", so it didn't seem so strange.;)
  14. I'm going to speak as an arranger here and not as a bass player, although I have a lot of experience playing in, and directing big bands. So, as an arranger I have to say I sit and think about which note in the bass suits the harmony in the band at the time, and then temper that with the idea that the bass should also swing as a line, so I spend a lot of time coming up with a line that will not only support the harmony, but also make any comprimises nescessary to make the line swing as much as it can without ruining the bands upper structures. There is NO WAY even the best bass player can do this in even a moderately complex arrangement. It is disrespectful to the arranger and composer to play something that you might think of 'on the spot' as being better than the written line. What if a classical player decided that some notes in Bach could be better if he just played what he liked? since the writing in most modern big band arrangements are much more complex than Bach then how much more unlikely is it that a bass player will 'busk' something more appropriate that what is written after thought and reflection by a professional arranger?
    Many chart have passages where the chord structure is simple and some freedom can be given to the bass player to exercise his ability to walk over some changes, but as soon as notes are written, they should be played.

    I was directing the Greek National Radio Big Band back in 1994 and the bass player asked if he could do this. I had given him a written part but he was sure he could come up with something better if he could just see the chords written out. The next day I brought him a detail harmonic description of what the band was playing written out in chord symbols with sometimes as many as 8 chords (with flat9 sharp11 and 13th extentions all notated) in one bar. Of course he couldn't read it at all and was left floundering for the first playing of the piece that day. I know this was like a cheap shot but I wanted him to see how much work and thought had already gone into the bass part. He quickly reverted to the written part.

    So, show some respect for the guys who spend a lot of time thinking about how bass lines in big bands should go!
  15. That's basically what I'm talking about.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree on this part!

    This just sounds unnecessarily over-complicated to me and not within the "spirit" of Jazz...?

    Fair enough you want to write a piece of contemporary music influenced by Jazz, that's fine and I have listened to and enjoyed many such pieces played by top symphony orchestras in London - but I don't really see that as Jazz, as such - just vaguely influenced by it!! ;)
  17. As many times as I have seen a great line written out for a tune (maria Schneider charts come to mind), I have seen ten more charts that have awful lines that sound repetitive and directionless. Often times, these lines do seem like filler for the bass player who can't walk (like on some sammy nestico charts). Not that his lines aren't good, but they are just kind of primitive, functional and often boring to play. And who knows who's bass line that is?
    I almost guarantee there is pressure from a publisher of old charts to stick a bass part in the book so that it can be sold to high schools and colleges, but many of those recordings have very inaudible bass lines, so the likes seem very fudged, and really don't represented the recorded line in the amount of detail that the rest of the instruments receive. Drummers also have to deal with these things. I've seen drum charts that have the basic ride pattern, four on the floor kick drum, and 178 measures of repeat or something like this. So we have less to complain about maybe?
  18. Most Big band charts worth playing are much more harmonically complex than most classical music by a long way and the choice of bass note is made to support the harmony and if the composer or arranger can make a comprimise to keep the line swinging h or she should and most often does it!
    Listen to records od Bigbands and you'll hear in the ensemble passages at least that the bass part is always a balancing act between the two. If, as a bassist you go off on your own with a great walking line which, in a small band might be the best thing since Sam Jones played with Miles, you stand a huge chance of upsetting lots of other things going on in the ensemble! Big band music is not as free as small band jazz and one of the main differences is this new role for the bass player. It's oten harder to make the quirky lines swing but you need to work on that too. There are transcriptions of how far players like Todd Coolman fro instance 'stretch the bass line that has been written but they never ignore it for their own invention.
  19. endorka


    Oct 15, 2004
    Glasgow, Scotland
    As a bass player who also arranges, I can say that there is much truth in what Fergus says on this matter. It is very, very easy for the bass player to upset the delicately balanced harmony of an arrangement through busking changes instead of using the written part, e.g. the use of a commonplace but inaproppriate chromatic passing note that would be fine in a combo situation can really throw the arranger's intent out of kilter.

    Also, many here seem to be speaking from the point of view of experienced bass players re-interpreting these written lines. This is not always the case, however; inexperienced or lazy players are commonplace, and can mess up your arrangement in ways you couldn't possibly imagine by avoiding playing the written line. The easiest way to make them play the written line is by not having chord symbols above the part. Indeed, if you put chord symbols there, some will assume that you intend them to improvise a part.

  20. larry


    Apr 11, 2004
    Would a better solution be to have chord symbols, and insert a written line only in the important places where the arranger wants that line played?

    When I see a chart like that, it clearly indicates to me that the written notes are important. If you say everything is important (by writing out the whole chart and not including chords), then nothing is important. Make sense? :)