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Early swing-era bassists

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by Nick Ara, Feb 28, 2004.

  1. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    I've recently been offered a chance to back up a female vocal trio who specialize in Boswell Sisters' tunes. I've tried tracking down who played bass on those songs from the 20's and 30's and the best I could do was to come up with several bassists who played with the Dorsey Bros. Orchestra. None of their names seem familiar to me and I was wondering if anyone could help me. Were there any "luminaries" from those days who might have sat in on those early 78's?

    I will say this: My how bass playing styles have changed since then!
  2. John Goldsby's book includes a fair bit on the early swing bassists such as Pops Foster, Welman Braud, John Kirby and more. I don't recall any mention specifically of the Boswell Sisters. Could be tough going trying to find info on those guys. The bass was usually poorly recorded and little in the way of credits accompanied the recordings.

    "I will say this: My how bass playing styles have changed since then!"

    Sure have. Once again, Goldsby's book discusses this. (Every bass player should have this book, IMO.) The early guys played with gut strings, mile-high action and no amplification. Their technique was nowhere near as developed as bassists today, their sound was usually thumpy with little sustain, and their lines were harmonically very simple. But they sure got the job done rhythmically. Check out some early Basie recordings with Walter Page.
  3. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    Eric, Thanks.
    I'm familiar with John Goldsby from his articles in BP, of course. I'll definitely pick up his book too!
  4. Peter Dalla

    Peter Dalla

    Feb 2, 2004
    Or Jimmy Blanton's solo on BODY AND SOUL.

    And then tell me the part about his technique "being nowhere near as developed" again.
  5. Or Jack the Bear.

    Agreed. But Blanton wasn't typical of swing-era bassists. He was an innovator, he was one of the first to step up and solo melodically, and use the second octave. He played something other than the typical walking line solo or "Big Noise from Winnetka" type novelty.

    And yeah, it's amazing what guys like Pettiford could do with gut strings and high action.
  6. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    (My apologies to those of you that have read this before, but..)

    Nick, check out Thelma Terry. She's not a big name contributor in the history of upright bass, but she could play and arrange! And she makes great wallpaper...


    That website is also a great resource for early jazz/blues, if ya hadn't seen it already...
  7. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Thanks Nick for this cool link.
  8. John Kirby, too. He was a very good player and wrote some nice stuff, very early.
    He was pretty cool long before Birth of the Cool.
  9. bass_means_LOW


    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    I should say he could play. You don't become Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb's bassist by slacking off!
    Yes, His group was billed as "The Biggest Little Band in the Land." Another casualty of "the bottle." Died at age 43.
  10. Big Tony

    Big Tony

    Aug 16, 2000
    Some of the bass players on the Boswell Sisters recordings between 1925-36:

    Joe Tarto
    Arthur Bernstein
    Dick Cherwin
    Jake Garcia

    Bernstein played on most of the sessions. He played a lot with Benny Goodman too.
  11. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Try to get ahold of some Teddy Wilson trio recordings, in particular the ones that have Milt Hinton on it. I think Mosaic might have a box set, but I could be wrong about that.
  12. JTGale


    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    Nice wallpaper, indeed! :D

    Here is another link to Thelma Terry, for those intrested:



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