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Gentle (but not too gentle) Into That Good Night: Aging gracefully as a jazz bassist

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Jun 2, 2018.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This post by @Eric Hochberg in another thread got me thinking about this issue again, and I thought it might make an interesting thread topic:

    I wrote an article a few years ago about aging gracefully as a bassist, and I think it will be the first of several. As I think about the next installment, I would love to get some input from others who may have their own insights into this issue.

    Eric's post resonated because another summer has arrived and I just finished a recording session with my bass in full summer "sounds like the voice of god, feels like wrestling a bear" mode. For this session, it was fine...I was not expected to play virtuosically because the other to soloists did plenty of that, and the highest tempo on the session was about 250, still well within range for comfortable walking.

    The session itself was fine, even as the setup and string height acted as a "chops governor" for the scope of what I could attempt. In the past couple of days, I've been working on the Courante from cello suite 1, which is the last movement I need to record to complete that suite for the video series. We've had the remnants of a tropical storm come through town, so the strings went up again in spite of the air conditioning. The bass sounds even more godlike now, but I'm not sure I can pull off that movement in one take on video when I can literally fit my thumb under the E string and my little finger under the G. If I manage it, it will sound huge, but it feels like heavy sledding at the moment.

    If it doesn't work, I'll have to concede and lower the strings earlier in the season than usual. I think my three hour trio gig tonight will tell me something, but I thought it might be an appropriate time to start this thread and hopefully hear some stories from others who have gone through this year after year and what some of your coping mechanisms are.
  2. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    To update my post above, after multiple ice baths for my hand and massage sessions around the trigger points causing the pain, I was completely fine last night. No pain.

    I usually find that with the increased humidity, my basses seem to get duller in sound (water-logged?) and not as loose feeling and forgiving to play. My experience the last couple of days just reinforced the need to be very mindful of my setup so as to not cause health issues. I have important gigs coming up next week (both outdoors in possible full blown humidity) and the thought of having to play them through pain was pretty discouraging.
    Winoman, Admiral Akbar, dhm and 2 others like this.
  3. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    It's Jazz Fest time here in The People's Republic of Burlington (VT), which for me means multiple gig days, much schlepping of instruments and gear, and varying weather conditions. Fortunately, my 150+ year-old Tyrolean tends to react minimally to humidity changes, so for me it comes down to protecting my back (lift with the legs!) and dealing with sore finger pads on my right (plucking) hand. For this, I find that icing them for several minutes at night seems to take away the discomfort the next day. Open abrasions can be successfully covered with Super Glue (I know, it's not sterile, but after 38 years of this I still have all my fingers!). If the humidity spikes and the bass neck starts to feel sticky and clammy, a little baby powder rubbed on the back of the neck smooths it out. Also around this time of year I like to do a good cleaning of my several year-old Spiro Mittels with Xylol. Even though I religiously clean them after every gig with alcohol, I'm always surprised to see the black gunk that comes off them when using Xylol. It's important to do this in a well ventilated area (preferably outside!), use rubber gloves, and protect the bass, as this stuff is nasty!

    Summer is a great time here; warm weather, lots of gigs that pay better, everyone's in a good mood!
    Winoman and nbsipics like this.
  4. theduke1

    theduke1 Supporting Member

    Dec 22, 2010
    Manitowoc WI
    To take a line from the Eagles
    Time passes and we must move on
    Half the distance takes us twice as long
    But we keep on singin for the sake of the song......
    A musician is not what we do,
    It’s who we are
    kesslari likes this.
  5. vilshofen


    Dec 27, 2007
    Dunno, Chris, "aging" and "graceful" are not words I normally associate together; what first comes to mind with the word "aging" is "combat."
    As for LH thumb pain: as well as restricting remote and cellphone use to the right hand only, I mostly use the second finger in first position, not the index; for this chicken, there's a lot less force required to stop those low F's and Bb's if done with the middle finger and thumb.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    @vilshofen I know what you mean, but I'm trying to think in terms of compromise rather than combat since the former implies that I have some say in the matter while the latter implies a battle we will all lose eventually. Glass half full and all that. :)

    Striving to stay in decent basic physical shape as the years go by seems as important as staying calibrated on the bass in the big picture, especially when playing from the core is an emphasis. When I was younger, I had energy to spare and ended up wasting a lot of it by being inefficient. Sort of the same way most young people handle time..."oh, there will always be plenty of that, so why ration it so strictly?" But now when strength and energy are waning rather than waxing and recovery from injury takes so much longer, it seems smart to do what we can to avoid injury by living smart and taking care of the body for the lang haul.

    In younger days this physical energy was spent lifting weights and training in a number of martial arts. That was fun and life seized but at this point, two ruined knees and the beginnings of an arthritic foot later, basic core health and not carrying around extra pounds with every step seems more wise. I have a little 45 minute elliptical machine/core exercise routine I do in the house in the mornings, and the family has joined a swim club this summer; I had forgotten how swimming laps is somehow both a lung bursting workout and a gentle zen experience at the same time. Hopefully it can help return some sanity after work in the evenings and also help with core strengthening and shedding those few extra pounds.

    Curious as to what some of the other venerable folks here in middle age and beyond do for basic physical maintenance?
  7. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I'm a yoga guy 4-5 times a week. I find it to be an artful, mindful practice that can be quite a workout when you are going for that. Strength, balance, flexibility, aerobic; all connected to the breath.
    Selim, Winoman, chuck3 and 1 other person like this.
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I agree and I know that yoga is in my future at some point. Would love to practice it with my wife but she has just started Tai Chi instead. Do you do hot or cold yoga?
  9. John Chambliss

    John Chambliss Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    I'll second yoga. I get hot enough in a session that I'm scared to try a hot yoga class! I started with classes in Vinyasa Flow and then switched to Kundalini. I take it more often online and through videos these days.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  10. Jason Hollar

    Jason Hollar Jazz & Cocktails Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2005
    Central Pa
    After several decades as a karate hobbiest, I’ve been doing tai chi for the last three years - finally made it through the entire (short) form!

    Yoga is the Bomb - I need to add more of that along with cardio.
    oliebrice, msw and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  11. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    68yo here: "clinical" shoulders and a bad knee. some slowly developing arthritis in hands.

    denial !!!
  12. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I used to do hot occasionally in my fifties, but now at 65, I think it's too much. The heat really loosens your muscles up, but I think it's more stressful physically. They don't offer it at my studio and that works for me. My wife also practices regularly, but at a different studio. My daughter used to attend with me when she was in High School, and continues her practice, so we're a yoga family.

    When you start Chris, just like bass playing, go slow. Take some introductory classes. I think Hatha is a good way to start as you really have the time for concentration to learn the poses well without having to rush into the next pose as in a flow class. Better for older folks getting started, too. You'll know when and if it's time to move into more challenging classes, like Vinyassa Flow, Ashtanga...
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
    Treyzer and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  13. oliebrice


    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    I'm younger than the question is maybe aimed at, but a few lessons with an Alexander technique teacher (who is also a serious professional classical bassist) and starting to practice tai chi have combined to give me way more stamina and solve lower back pain issues

    tai chi seems to me to help with less directly physical stuff too - focus, being in the moment etc...
  14. kreider204


    Nov 29, 2008
    Good thread, I've been thinking about this recently. I'm not too old, yet, I don't think ... Still, approaching 50 and working with some old injuries (tendinitis / tendinosis, some arthritis in my right knee, etc.) makes playing upright harder with each passing year.
    I'll second (eighth?) the yoga recommendation. I never took fancy classes; I just learned from a Richard Hittleman paperback. When I'm doing it regularly, I can tell the difference: I'm more conscious of my whole body, my posture, unnecessary tension, breathing, etc. Little things like that can make a big difference in how tired or sore I feel after a long gig.
    Unfortunately, the knee issues are starting to trump that. To deal with the pain, I've had to get used to playing sitting down, which for me makes it harder to keep the relaxed, fluid posture I get when I'm standing. I'm still experimenting with the correct sitting position, and hoping to find a happy medium.
    Still, even at my best, I'm finding that I'm more and more sore after long gigs, and I see a day when I'm not going to be able to cut it on upright anymore. I'm not quite sure what to do about that. I suppose there's always the shift to fretless. I'm not opposed to that, but I hate the grief I get from "legit" folks about playing fretless over upright. Audiences also really seem to want the upright, even if they don't know a damn thing about jazz, just because it looks "cooler." Maybe if I get some funky 6-string fretless with a wild shape and fancy woods, it'll distract people long enough that they won't notice it's not an upright ... :)
    Winoman and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  15. P90X III. Seriously. I know it looks cheesy and shallow, but it sure works for me. No gimmicks and minimal equipment. And it's super easy to modify to fit your current fitness level. It's pretty much the same stuff a personal trainer would have you do if you went that route, I'm guessing.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  16. More restorative exercises (yoga, swimming, walking, Pilates, tai chi) and less intensive exercises with age.

    It's still vitally important to push our bodies... but a different way from when we were younger (and felt invincible).

    For Intensive workouts...
    - Train smarter, not harder.
    - 2-3 intensive workouts a week only as recovery is slower.
    - always warmup & cooldown.
    - progress slooooowly.
    - listen closely to your body for little cues of strain, fatigue, poor form, etc.
    - if struggling, break it down into constituent parts and focus on one key area.
    - have several health practitioners to treat, maintain and guide you through your old injuries/aches.
    - have realistic goals.
    - have realistic time frames.
    - be kind to yourself.

    I'm 5 weeks into a 14-week snowboard training program and feeling alive. I don't aim to be the best, I just want to do my best.

    I met an 83yo man skiing and ask him his secret. "Go slow, but don't give up!"
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Don't give up! I started sitting because of knee/back issues when standing, and once I found the range, I've been pain free for years. The key for me was learning to move from the hip to align myself around the bass to optimize whatever I was trying to do at that moment. Having the bass stationary while resting on the endpin/ legs triangle means we can learn where everything is without looking; pivoting the torso around that stationary object is its own kind of dance. Maybe not as fun as standing and dancing with the bass while it moves with you, but still fun in a "Fred Astaire swinging around a lamppost" kind of way. :D
    Winoman and kreider204 like this.
  18. kreider204


    Nov 29, 2008
    Ha, yeah, that's exactly it. Standing, I'm used to moving a lot, very Tai Chi like ... Sitting makes me feel more stable, but sometimes I feel like I can't be exactly where I want to be as easily. There's no danger of me giving up on it, though - my knee won't let me ...
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  19. Great suggestions here on the movement front, i’d like to recommend less sugar as well.

    I’ve been on the keto diet for the last 6 months. That means very minimal carbohydrates and sugar, lots of protein and fat.

    So no bread, no potatoes, no fruit (sucrose), no chocolate, no beer etc.
    Lots of meat, cream in my coffee, eggs, bacon, kale, brocolli, spinach, cabbage, whiskey!

    I know it’s a bit of a fad at the moment, but it’s the mental side of this way of eating that keeps me from straying.

    My brain feels de-fogged and clear. No more sugar crashes after the gig!
    Groove Doctor and Jason Hollar like this.
  20. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    I'm finding that little technical flaws are showing up as pain. You can play great with less than ideal technique, but somewhere down the line, in my case decades, something will hurt. Flat fingers, hunched shoulders, rounded spine, more weight on one foot, tight bow hand....fix it sooner than later cause you're gonna have to fix it sometime.
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    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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