Bouncy swing of the 30's!

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by perytojie, Jan 4, 2005.

  1. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE
    I currently play in a band covering rhythm and blues music from the 30's/40's and i just can't figure out how those cats managed to play that kind of swing. Check out some Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic, Big Joe Turner etc. if you don't know what I'm talking about... I think it doesn't sound so much different to most swing music of the 30's like Basie's.

    I tried everything : play against & on top of the beat, mute the strings after each note ( ! ), shout after the drummer to make it swing... What's worked the best was to think about the off-beat and pull the string as close to it as possible.

    Could anyone help me understand what make the bass bounce so much? Can a bass line bounce on its own? I don't want to end up playing like the average european jazz upright bassist who can't swing & don't know how to play a blues ( but that's another subject )

    Thanx very much.

    ( Somewhat different to R'n'B bass players, Ray Brown got that bouncy bass feeling. )
  2. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    I wish I knew! That stuff swings like wild dogs. I did a band called "Martini Time" that did a bunch of Louis Jordan etc. What a blast that was. Probably the most fun for me was listening to the rehearsal CDs!

    A lot of it is on the pianist, I think. Maybe one of the keys is for nobody in the rhythm section to overplay, and everybody just try to drop those notes in exactly the right spot. I used to use the two finger old school pizz quite a bit in that band. Great fun. It's just one of those intangible things; when it's right, you'll know it.
  3. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I think Marcus is on to it: it's about how the whole thing fits together, not necessarily about what and how the bass player is playing.

    I wouldn't discount those old rhythm guitar players, either. Basie band? Freddie Green was chopping out four voicings to the bar and making the thing swing, swing, swing. I think my nine-year old son could sound good with Freddie behind him.
  4. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE
    it's true that when the pianist plays this boogie off-beat comp well it seems easier to swing... But think about that : would for instance Ray Brown still bounce if he was playing with a one-handed deaf pianist and a death-metal drummer over using his double pedal? I think he would!

    Lots of people told me i would know how to swing when i actually swing but i'm just not patient enough... You know, I can hear it, feel it and I know i'm almost there but not quite.

    Another thing about this swing bounce that has been discussed in another thread is the importance of the set-up, especially the strings. I think i may switch to gut.
  5. Perytojie, while Ray Brown swings like crazy, I think the nature of his groove is quite different from that of the early swing bands. He also stopped using gut strings pretty early on, and still swung like crazy, so if you want to sound like Ray, there's no need to go gut. Ray Brown was influenced strongly by Jimmy Blanton, who changed the way walking lines were played. Instead of short notes, he aimed to get as long a note as possible. One of the ways he did this -- it's certainly the way Ray Brown did it -- was to pull the string near the end of the fingerboard and to pull it sideways, toward himself and into the fingerboard, using the length of his index finger. If you look at movies of the bass players in the swing bands they use a completely different technique. Usually their strings, which were gut, were pretty high (Ray Brown never had his strings really high off the fingerboard, despite what some say) and they were plucking the bass pretty high up the fingerboard, and rather than pulling the string toward them they tended to pull the string out from the fingerboard, giving a short sound. Check out old movies and you'll see what I mean. Also, an earlier post on this thread was right about the guitar in the old swing stuff. Four chords per bar on the guitar in the Freddy Green style swings like crazy.
  6. There are several reasons why the music of that era bounced and swung like it did.
    1. This was dance music. Bands had an obligation to get people moving, if for no other reason than if they didn't they wouldn't get hired.
    2. The incredible sense of ensemble which can only come from playing the same tunes night after night for months and years on end. Bands that lived, ate, slept, breathed, and were otherwise 100% immersed in the music.
    3. A culture which fostered live music and musicians. This was one of only a few forms of entertainment, unlike today. So kids grew up with this style of music as an influence, they grew up in homes where playing a musical instrument was commonplace, encouraged, and part of daily existence.
    4. Characteristics of the bass and bass playing as mentioned already - gut strings, high action, short sustain, big thump, no amplification, and different pizz technique.

    You can only hope to approach a modest emulation of the feel for these reasons. But it sure is fun trying!
  7. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE
    Don't you think Ray did actually swing less when he switched to modern metal strings ( i'm speaking about his sound on the whole "My Best Friends Are" series ). A good compromise as far as sound & swing is concerned would be, I think, the fullness of P.C. sound with the energy and bounce of Ray.

    By the way Chief, do you know when Ray Brown switched to metal strings and what kind of strings those were? Did he play them on those live recordings with the peterson trio (the sound of the trio, we get requests, at the blue note...)

    Furthermore, what was considered as long notes back in Blanton/Brown years certainly has nothing to do with this almost endless sustaining sound one can achieve with modern strings and set-up...
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I think you're chasing the wrong thing when you focus on strings, action, the physical aspects of the instrument. Absolutely they have an impact on the sound, but what we're talking about here is feeling music and expressing music.

    I'll bet Ray Brown could have swung on a washtub bass.
  9. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE
    Right, Ray Brown would have swung on a washtub bass but it still would've sounded like a washtub bass... See what i mean?
  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
  11. ctxbass

    ctxbass Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    Central Texas
    I think it's a matter of "pushing" the beat without speeding up the tempo. I find this is easier in a bigger band where the rhythm section isn't the whole band. Playing with that intensity in a trio situation is more likely to speed things up a bit.
  12. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    As far as the bass and the playing is concerned, there's definitely a certain sound to begin with. Gut strings and short sustain and a very natural sound. Even with the wound gut strings I have, I have to consciously shorten the notes with the left hand to get the right sound. As far as playing - lots of repeated notes, simple lines with diatonic scales, not too much chromaticism, nothing above F above the staff. With this kind of music, as soon as you start trying to be too smart with too much chromaticism, it sounds all wrong.
  13. Paul Warburton

    Paul Warburton In Memoriam

    Aug 17, 2003
    Denver, Co.
    Not to answer for Chief, but since I was there, the first popular steel strings were Lycon.....Red Mitchell was one of the first to do this in the early 60's. When Ray switched, he had his own pack of special Lycons that had a little lighter feel then the regular....The RB specials came in a green plastic case with green windings and an autographed picture of Ray. The other Lycons had blue windings and they were great, but like Thomastik, they didn't bow for ****.
    As Damon said though, you're chasing the wrong thing as regards the strings. In those days and even today, the drummer in those swing bands played four on the bass drum along with the DB player. How well the drummer and bassist grooved together with that constant four quarter note thing goin' on, had alot to do with how big the band swung.
    I spent many years playing with Gus Johnson ( Basie and Ella ) who did the four on the floor thing just great. But, you get stuck with a drummer who tries to do this and don't swing, you're in for a long, long night!! :rollno:
    I don't think Ray swung any less with steel strings. You either swing or you don't.
  14. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE
    The last thing you want is to slow down everything. If it doesn't get ridiculous, speeding up is far better than slowing down...

    Even if it's not really the topic of the thread, I'd like to share an experience with you Paul and others, as far as gut strings are concerned. I've been playing upright bass for a little more than a year & a half and teached entirely myself using everything available to help me not getting bad habits etc. As upright bass luthiers seem to be more specialized in classical than jazz, and mainstream stuff down here, it's hard to find and/or try stuff like gut strings.

    So here what I did : as I noticed tones produced with gut decay faster and have a fatter attack, i put rubber bands across my thomastik to deaden the sustain a bit and found that I could actually swing more with that trick. Maybe just because it's easier to fall in the right place with a fuller impact and less sustain...

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    EXACTLY! You usually find out pretty quick how good the drummer is in a smaller group. When everyone is listening it swings hard. It is INCREDIBLY hard to keep the groove going when you are trying to hold back the drummer/guitarist etc.

    Gut strings and high action will give you alot of the tone from that era, but you can swing hard with steel. Swing is in you, not in the bass.
  16. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE

    so no 7th chord tones on first beat of a measure!!!
  17. I remember the Lycons. I think I got a set from Bob Bowman. And then the Thomastiks became popular.

    Paul nailed it. It's how the bass & drums lock in. I played several weeks with Gus. I think I was actually subing for Paul on Spike Robinsons gig. But when Gus played, it was like a Velvet pocket. No matter who it is, I know in two notes if it's going to swing or not. You can't teach anyone to swing, they have to learn it.
    For me, to get that 'bounce' or swing of the 30's & 40's, I think/ hear my bass sounding like a bass drum except with pitch. Now, if you could get your drummer to make his bass drum sound like a string bass, you've got it! If his bass drum sounds like a marching band, forget it.
    The technique I use is like chief bogan mentioned. Pulling the string a little more sideways. I also let my left hand fingers act as dampers. Shortly after I play a note, I lift the finger but keep them on the strings. Not staccato. This isn't something I practiced, it just came natural. The opposite would be if I want the note to sustain, I hold my finger down longer. Experiment with it. It's all timing & feel.
    I like the rubber band idea!
  18. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Some other thoughts on the subject -
    By way of introduction:
    Which is another way of saying how much a rhythm guitar contributes to that feel. Not just Freddie Green; more often than not, the great 30's swing bands had a rhythm guitar in the section.
    And after WWII, when Benny Goodman toured USSR, he had Bucky Pizzarelli chomping away.
    I worked many years in duets with guitarist/vocalist Eddie Hazell playing a Gibson L5. That's a monster. I can't tell you how many times people told us we sounded like Basie. (Can you see two guys doing The Kid From Red Bank? We did it.)
    This brings up another factor: no amps. With Eddie, we played acoustically into house microphones. The difference in feel between that and individual amps is shocking. Certainly, you were not hearing amps in old Basie, Lunceford, et al .
  19. Leco reis

    Leco reis

    Sep 2, 2004
    Astoria, NY
    I find helpful to record myself playing a tune alone.
    Melody,walk,solo,walk, melody.
    That should swing or at least feel good.
  20. What TBal says.
    It's dance music, first and foremost. As such, it has to be smooth and very consistent in metre. It has to have drive, a very strong pulse, at any speed. To achieve that, the rhythm section has to really lock up. It's easiest to get that lockup if everybody plays good straight time with few syncopations and embellishments, with clean air between the notes. Bass and guitar play mainly straight quarters, piano and drums play more swung (dotted) eighths. It takes time to ingrain the feel, playing with the same people over time helps.

    My steady part time gig is with a 16 piece big band. I rarely solo (I suck at it), I'm more than content to be part of the driving force beneath the band. My approach is to play on top of, or towards the front of, the beat. I listen to the drummer's right foot and the piano player's left hand. When it all hooks up, it makes the hair on the backa yer neck stand up.

    Many of those old swing tunes are written in, or pass through, keys like Db, Ab, Gb, that lend themselves to playing up the neck on lower strings, which adds to the thump factor.

    Personally, I think the swingin' rhythm section feel has nothing to do with type of strings used, and little to do with choice of notes.