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Curious: How many can play "What's Going On" the way it was recorded?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by NCD, Jan 31, 2013.

  1. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    With the passing of Babbitt last summer I got to wondering about this. During the SitSoM movie there was a three way discussion with Jack Ashford, Nate Watts and Ralphie Armstrong in which Watts and Armstrong agreed that they had not heard any bassist play "What's Going On" (Marvin Gaye) the way that it was recorded with the sole exception of Babbitt, during the reunion concert. Everyone else was apparently playing a simplified version because the song is so hard to master.

    The movie was recorded ten years ago or so and I can't believe I'm the only one who was inspired by that comment.

    Every bass player has the one song he or she is in love with and plays all the time and this is the one song I keep coming back to, despite only being up to the first chorus after working on it on and off for two years (it didn't take me this long to learn "Darling Dear"). I'm a bit of a fanatic about it and am constantly comparing the way it was written to the way that it sounds on the released recording, as well as to the isolated track of Jamerson, in order to get it just right. For me, being able to replicate this song is like a painter being able to replicate the Mona Lisa.

    Has anyone else mastered it the way that it was actually recorded? Is anyone else taking the time and effort in their attempt to get it "just right"?
  2. SirMjac28

    SirMjac28 Patiently Waiting For The Next British Invasion

    Aug 25, 2010
    The Great Midwest
    It's funny because I just started working on it recently. I never realized how really complex and abosutely fantastic that bassline is can you give me a link to the isolated track I would like to see how close I am.
  3. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    Here's the link to the isolated track:

    When Motown upgraded to an 8 track system they gave Jamerson his own track. Many of these isolated recordings have found their way onto Youtube. Just do a search for "Jamerson Isolated" to find a bunch of them.

    The music can be found in the SitSoM book, page 104.
  4. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    I have a lot of trouble playing motown. I think part of it is they just have so many changes, and it's hard for me to memorize. I was trying to learn "Let's Stay Together," by Al Green (I believe it's Leroy Hodges on that bass track,) and I was just amazed how it sounded so easy, so simple, so smooth, and yet I had such a hard time learning it. I really do need to get back to working that one.

    If I get it down, maybe I'll try something like this, but that does seem a bit daunting.
  5. Epitaph04

    Epitaph04 Supporting Member

    Jul 5, 2010
    I'd love to learn it someday just for the satisfaction and fulfillment of playing such an excellent bass line, but as someone stated, it's much more challenging than you'd ever think.

    I don't know much about motown, but that bass line, along with Darling Dear, make me respect the living hell out of Jamerson.
  6. ugly_bassplayer


    Jan 21, 2009
    It's definitly possible to play those lines, I worked through the entire Standing in the Shadows of Motown book a few years ago when I was studying for my bachelors degree.
  7. billgwx


    Apr 10, 2009
    Centereach NY
    I wonder if Jamerson would even play it the same way twice? He and Paul McCartney in particular play some really fantastic stuff off the top of their heads that I've never tried to duplicate exactly, because IMO that kind of playing has to come spontaneously from constant play, practice, and exposure to many different musical genres. Have heard myself play some pretty intricate stuff like theirs (in a P&W setting no less)--if I had to go back and play it note for note that would be an exercise in frustration.
  8. ugly_bassplayer


    Jan 21, 2009
    I agree, Jamerson would never play the same thing twice.
    He was a jazz player first.
  9. christoph h.

    christoph h.

    Mar 26, 2001
    Just out of interest I listened to this track while looking at the "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown" book and I was surprised by the amount of mistakes in the transcription!

    It's a great book for sightreading and if you want to get the basic idea of Jamerson's style,
    but if you really want the details, you need to transcribe the line yourself.
  10. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings
    I'm the exact opposite. It seems that the more complicated the song, the less trouble I have remembering it. I sometimes struggle with very simple songs.
  11. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    The beauty of his basslines were that they weren't difficult. What makes them hard to learn is that they were mostly improvised, and there's fills EVERYWHERE. As another poster asked, he probably didn't play it the same each time.
  12. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    Supposedly this line wasn't improvised the way that most of Jamerson's were. This is a quote from Dave Van dePitte, who arranged the entire What's Going On album:

    "...If you wrote something down that he had played before or you could find a lick, he would take that lick and he would elaborate on it.... On 'What's Going On' though, he just read the part down(sic) like I wrote it. He loved it because I had written Jamerson licks for James Jamerson."

    Apparently Van dePitte used a collage of licks that Jamerson had improvised in the past and arranged them into the bassline for the song. This gives me the impression that they were Jamerson licks collected and made into a bassline by Van dePitte and that Jamerson liked it enough to play it without changing a lot.

    I've studied the song in depth up to the 40th bar so far. As of now, I've only found three places where Jamerson deviated from the written music (so far) and one may be a tiny mistake because he was so exhausted when the song was recorded.

    That possible mistake (or done intentionally?) is in the last 2 notes of the 12th bar where he drops from the C# to the G#. You actually hear that with a syncopated note in between and after more than an hour of experimentation I found that I could only recreate that sound by keeping my index finger on the B as I ran B - C Nat - C# - G#. What I hear is apparently a lift off as he moves from C# to G# and the sound that comes through is the B, apparently because the index finger may have still been on the B during that C#-G# drop. It's the only way I can make the sound I get match the isolated line exactly.

    The second deviation is typically sadistic to those of us trying to cover it... which is par for the course with Jamerson. lol

    That one is in the 23rd bar, in the dead note at the end of the bar. After a lot of experimentation and deep thought about the way it sounds I've become personally convinced that Jamerson modified that dead A into a live B in order to create a scalar approach passing note from above that leads into the C# which is the first note of bar 24. Such a passing note would be perfectly appropriate for a Jazz musician who was used to using approach notes in walking basslines, which is what Jamerson really was in his heart.

    But the speed!!! :eek:

    That entire run from the high C# in bar 23 to the low C# in bar 24 is continuous with absolutely no pause at all... making it necessary to jump the left hand at some point in the middle of it all without so much as a tiny hiccup. I've been working on it two ways:

    One way is using my ring finger on the G# of the D string then my pinkie on the E string for the B and then jumping my index finger to the C# on the A string. I'm having a lot of trouble hitting that consistently due to poor technique and short fingers (I have Victor Wooten hands).

    The other way is to play the D string G# with my pinkie and jump my index finger all the way up to the B on the A string. It's very tough, but my personal results are a little more consistent.

    If anyone is fingering that entire run in a completely different way that might be easier I'd love to hear about it, please!

    The third deviation sounds as if he played the dead note at the end of the 30th bar as a live open A to keep that whole phrase consistent. It's hard to be positive because it's so fast, but after listening over and over again to the isolated track at that point I'm 90% sure that's the way it was played.

    Other than those three minor points, carefully going over the recording and the isloated track seems to indicate that Jamerson played the first 40 bars note for note with the SitSoM transcription on page 104 of the book.
  13. braud357

    braud357 Supporting Member

    Jul 1, 2010
    Gonzales, LA
    It is all about feel ! Bob Babbitt did a good job on it - but he was not "dead accurate". I have worked on this song, and think that I do a fair job on it. But, I did not use a transcription - I used my ears. I think that you can get a better grasp of "feel" that way. Jamerson still amazes me !
  14. My mind is blown every time I listen to Jamerson.
  15. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    Braud I agree about that feel!

    I'm working in two stages. The first is to figure out what was played exactly but then the hard part begins.

    On those 1 in 10 times when I get the whole 40 bars to feel just right, that's when I'm reminded that maybe there still is some magic left in the world after all.
  16. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    It is an admirable line, perfect in every sense. A true jewel.
    I don't find it very difficult to play though. Some runs are a bit tricky but it is accessible to the average player with some work.
    This said, I don't understand how he managed to play it with a single finger.
  17. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    I wanted to post this fantastic video from the outdoor concert in Harlem but it seems to have vanished from Youtube.
  18. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    Jazz Ad the only thing I've ever heard about how he was able to use only that finger on everything is when Babbitt gave an interview that I saw on youtube. He said that the reason Jamerson could do it was that he was so relaxed and he used an extremely light touch when plucking, which allowed him to move with incredible speed.

    So goes the story...
  19. I do this tune w/a sloppy covers band- the crowd loves it, we mangle it. I was pretty surprised, though- I never studied it too hard, just listened a lot and went for the feel- but I actually play very close to the Jamerson track. It is of course a masterpiece- the whole song and the bass line.
  20. NCD


    Mar 19, 2011
    Oh, and a quick tip for all who are working on this:

    If you weren't already aware, Jamerson had gotten very little sleep for 3-4 days before this was recorded and he was planning to go home and finally sleep after finishing a live gig. He was in the middle of that gig when they begged him to come back to the studio around 2 AM to record this.

    He'd been drinking while playing live which was not at all unusual, but combined with his being exhausted it created a situation in which he couldn't sit on his stool without falling off. As a result he played this laying on the floor with the bass on his belly while someone held the written music up for him.

    Think about that... how relaxed would his hands have been? I found that if I relaxed my hands to the point that my right just hung on the body of my bass and the left almost fell off the neck, two things happened.

    The song was actually a lot easier to play... and the way it all came together to create that feel was magical.

    I'm personally convinced (JMHO) that it's impossible to get the feel of this song right if I'm "trying" or have any tension in my hands at all. If I play it while imagining I'm in a comfortable hammock and almost half asleep, it all comes together beautifully.