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Electric Bass and prejudice

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Rob W, Jan 28, 2001.


  1. This thread is aimed primarily at the doublers in here, but anyone should feel free to respond.

    Does anybody else here get the sense that the electric bass is viewed by many non-bassists and non-musicians as a somehow 'inferior' instrument to the double bass?

    I'm sure Jazz players get their fill of this, but I'm starting to get it too in other circles. As many of you know, I spend a great deal of my time playing symphony orchestra gigs, so I have a great deal of respect for the double bass. But I also have been a member of a very high quality Scottish dance band for the past 16 years, which I've always played electric bass in until recently. The past couple of months I have been using my double bass since I finally found a clip on mic that at least does a passable job at amplifying my double bass (I absolutely hate pickups and most mics because they ALWAYS alter the natural sound of my bass).

    We see many of the same people at our gigs from week to week, so I've noticed a lot of sudden strange reactions. I've had a number of people that have never talked to me once in 16 years all of a sudden come up to me and strike up a conversation like somehow now I am a credible musician. I've had people come up to the band stand and ask who the new bass player is (that's a bit aggravating after 16 years of playing for essentially the same crowds).

    Last night, I decided for whatever reason, to take the electric bass again and all of a sudden I had people coming up to me asking why I wasn't playing my double bass.

    All in all, my general impression was that they seemed to think that electric bass is somehow inferior or less valid as an instrument. It also felt like my ability as a musican was being judged by which bass I played. When I started bringing out the double bass, I got the feeling all of a sudden that people's respect for me as a musician went way up.

    Now I kind of resent that. I am the same musician regardless of which bass is in my hands. I have tremendous respect for the electric bass, and I happen to feel that it is superior to the double bass in certain situations - particularly in the case of amplified situations. On the other hand I also feel the double bass is superior for other things, particularly purely acoustic situations.

    I did notice, my first gig in a while on electric (with that particular band), that I was able to execute my dynamics and articulations with much better clarity on the electric bass than with my double bass amplified. Don't get me wrong, I have a very fine hand crafted double bass that is about as good as it gets, but once you amplify it, you destroy some the ineherent tone and eveness of the instrument. The amplified sound is 'patchy' and indistinct, and really doesn't closely resemble the true sound of my bass. In purely acoustic situations, nothing can touch my double bass, but if I have to amplify, I generally reach for the electric.

    Anyway, I'm sure you Jazz players run up against this mentality, that the double bass is better, all the time. I think they both have their strengths, but I certainly resent the implication that someone is a better musician suddenly when they pull out the double bass.

    [Edited by Rob W on 01-29-2001 at 01:58 AM]
     
  2. Maybe I am qualified to answer since I doubled for over 20 years. Several years ago I decided to stop playing the double bass as It was no longer possible for me to play it without consequences, it had gotten to the point that I would have severe left shoulder pain every day all day from practice and gigs. Since then I don't get called for jazz gigs very often, usually only as a last resort.

    While it bothers me to get attitude for choosing to play electric over acoustic from other players what really hurts is the crap and attitude I get from fellow bassplayers. You know the acoustic bass guys who feel that they are superior to electric bass players, as though real music cannot be performed on the electric.
     
  3. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Play 'em some Steve Swallow, he's one guy who for me proves the beauty and validity of the bass guitar. And besides music is music and the instrument one plays is for the most part incidental to it.
     
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    I, too, have respect for the double bass, particularly in symphony orchestra settings, (electrics would ruin it for me). Some of my friends play only double. And I played one for a few years.

    However, from time to time, when I encounter one with the "attitude" you describe, I mention that Bass Player magazine, TalkBass, and a lot of other resources wouldn't exist for them if it wasn't for the popularity of the electric bass, (e.g., check who does the advertising for this site). If they are really abusive, I remind them that the people who make the desireable acoustics are DEAD and that the music they often play was written by people who are DEAD. But that's only if I'm having a rotten day and I usually regret it later, (feels good at the time though).

    Thankfully, most are open-minded and their love of music overrides any false sense of superiority or mistaking that one is just a version of the other.

    [Edited by rickbass1 on 01-29-2001 at 02:35 PM]
     
  5. Ken Burns' Jazz, of nothing else, comfirmed for me the terrible bias against electric bassists in the jazz community.

    To describe Miles' "invention" of fusion on Bitches Brew as essentially a move designed to get the same crowds enjoyed by Sly Stone at Newport, and then dismissing his (and others') electric music out of hand while canonizing Wynton Marsalis becuase he "saved" acoustic jazz (Burns' phrase, heard ad infinitum during Part X) sealed it for me.

    As far as jazz, though, I think any electric insturment is despised. Notably, while Jaco and Clarke and other landmark bassists were ignored, so were electric guitarists like Wes Montgomery, John McLaughlin (how do you discuss Brew without mentioning him?), and Al DiMeola, and electric keyboardists like Joe Zawinul.

    It gets worse with bass, though, because--even in rock--we are seen as either frustrated guitarists or guitarists who weren't good enough to get the gig in their bands, or wanna-bes who can't play a lick but want to hang out with real musicians (aka the Stu Sutcliffe Syndrome).

     
  6. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999

    ...the vibraphone(vibes)is an electric instrument, right?
    Too, just because many purists diss electricity doesn't mean it's despised. Look at some of the *Greats*-
    Lionel Hampton, Miles, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, Hancock, Corea, Zawinul, Elvin Jones, etc. They all took a chance & played, at times, with ELECTRIC bassists.
    Also, IMHO, if you're plugging an URB into amp via some mic/pickup...isn't that electric? :D

    BTW-
    ...from what I've heard about Burns' episode 10, it's the worst & most damaging in the JAZZ series yet.
     
  7. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    man, i've been confronted with so much ignorance and prejudice from bassists and non bassists alike the past 7 years (since i started playing only 7 or 8 string basses) that i don't much take it seriously anymore.

    the only thing that fumes me is that, since we aren't gigging lately, it's hard for me to show my validity as a player. and that doesn't even fume me that much.

    i often find myself going downstairs to the studio/basement in the wee hours of the night in my underpants, putting on my doubleneck to play some in the dark, and saying, in my best Joker voice, "wait'll they get a load of ME" :D
     
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    JimK - You used a no-no, "URB." That will get some elitists BVD's in a bunch!
     
  9. I quit saying double bass because everyone thinks I'm a drummer with two bass drums. Why try to fight this ignorance just say urb. when I got out of the navy in 1958 the only paying music gigs I could get were for bass guitar. I wanted to play my double bass realy bad. Now I want to play bass guitar and can only get gigs on the upright bass. The bassplayer is between my ears, so keyboard. tuba, doublebass, or bass guitar it is the same as long as you have a gig.
     
  10. Jeffbonny, I could play them some Steve Swallow but the point is that I want them to let me play!
     
  11. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    I have a question for those of you who are facing negative attitudes either towards or against the double bass. What do folks think when you show up with an electric upright? Do they see it as electric or acoustic? I mean is it acceptable to the critics in a jazz setting or is it not accepted by rockers in a rock setting or what? Or do the jazz purists feel it is an abomination or do they welcome it as the best of both worlds or what?

    jason oldsted
     
  12. Monkey

    Monkey Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Dayton, Ohio, USA
    Although I've done a lot more gigs on electric, I get more attention when I play acoustic bass, even though I'm not as good at it. I think a lot of people identify with the visual aspect of the acoustic, even if it doesn't sound as good. I get so frustrated trying to get a decent sound at amplified gigs that I don't play it out much anymore. I do love playing it unamplified, though.

    I think that part of being a bassist is putting up with prejudices. We are under-appreciated and often over-looked, but that is part of the beauty of it.
     
  13. I personally can't relate with any of this, although some times some of my dad's friends ask me "So do you play any musical instruments?" and I say "Yeah, bass guitar." And they understand and accept it. Some of them ask me in a joking manner, "Why don't you play double bass?" and I'll tell them that I think it's too big for me and we all have a good laugh about it.
    Then again, I don't think any of my dad's friends have ever played double bass, or often times any musical instrument at all, so they probably aren't prejudiced much, if at all in regard to this.
     
  14. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    ...is that right or did Burns flub this, too?
    I thought On The Corner was the record to get the young, Sly Stone/James Brown lovin' kids into "Jazz"?
    Bitches Brew, IMO, would be a pretty big bite to chew on for somebody solely into '70s Funk...
     
  15. brewer9

    brewer9

    Jul 5, 2000
    Hey its good to hear from you again Rob W.

    The "attitude" is everywhere. Double bassists are real musicians while electric bassists are just fooling around. Its especially felt if you play metal, cause of course, you dont need talent to play metal.

    Well, I happen to play electric bass in a metal band and just ignore the attitude stuff. You cant beat it so just lay back and laugh with 'em.
     
  16. nanook

    nanook

    Feb 9, 2000
    Alaska
    Doubles are great for Ho-Downs.