How to become a better accompanist (DB Forum)?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by hdiddy, Aug 29, 2013.

  1. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I'd like to just cast this wide net out there and ask an open ended question.

    As jazz musicians, everybody loves to focus on developing ones soloing ability but obviously there's much more to a bassists life than taking your shot at saying something. Yeah we know... this mode and that scale, phrasing, transcriptions of solos, motivic development, solo development etc. but that's not a bassist does 80% of the time for a song.

    How do you focus on becoming an even better bandmate? Lets assume we know the fundamentals: chord tones (esp on strong beats), outlining the harmony, time keeping, knowing the tunes, etc. That's all essential, but what do you guys do that break out even beyond that? Or is that all there is? What's your take?

    If listening skills are to be developed, what exactly should one listen for?

    I'll try my best at just listening and getting folks to clarify their thoughts without asserting much.
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    To me, it's about being a part in the totality of what the collective music wants to be. I don't really know how to put it much better than that. When everyone is wide open and listening, it determines the direction I'll go; there's no time for thinking. It's all reaction.

    As far as listening skills, it's about what your bandmates are doing in the moment: What are they playing, and more importantly, what is the character of it? What mood does it srike? Whatever that happens to be, that's what you have to work with, to react to. I don't think there's one "correct" way to react to any given situation, but I do think it's important to take a stand musically and play with intent at all times, even if the music calls for the result to be subtle or restrained sometimes.

    Underneath all of this, of course, is your vocabulary, your technique, and your level of experience and comfort with what you are doing. Without those things all of the above doesn't mean much.
  3. Ant_C


    Jul 25, 2012
    Tamarac, FL
    I think the biggest thing I do that has gotten me many compliments in my short time playing the Double Bass, is communication between the soloist and I, or the rest of the rhythm section and myself (usually in a big band setting). For example if the soloist was playing more of the upper structure of chords, I would do as much as I can to outline what he/she was doing in my own line I was walking/comping. It also depends on what type of chart we were playing as well.

    I believe listening is crucial as well. I'm going to agree with what Chris is saying involving the "listening to what your band mates are doing". I've come to understand that as a bassist the notes/rhythms I choose can affect the entire atmosphere of the piece I'm playing. I have to pay attention to the melodic landscape that is presented before me, and I chose which notes I'm going to use as the foundation of this landscape. I hope that makes sense.

    So in general the best way to be a better accompanist is to listen to what's going on around you, pick up on anything that your band mates are doing, and doing as much as you can to fit what's going on around you and making sure what you're doing fits vibe of the music as if I were to do something different than my band mates (say I was playing in a different feel or pushing the beat forward too much) it can have a negative effect on the product (it can also result in a positive effect, but that also goes into just being in the moment).
  4. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I'm no expert but I've been complimented quite a bit for being a *supportive* player for what that's worth. I usually interpret that to mean that I'm not too busy, but it's true that I try to emphasize the harmony and the turnarounds when the player doesn't know the tune, etc, so who knows.

    I agree with what the others said: listen and respond tastefully, using texture, dynamics, rhythm, even harmony to develop an appropriate groove/conversation. If the soloist is up high I can take my line low or go high too. Both can be cool, depending. When I learn a tune, I try to develop many of ways to play my lines to help me be more open to different ways of accompanying.

    One of Rufus' refrains at the jazz camp is to play duets. I haven't had a chance to ask him why yet, but after considering it a bit, and playing regularly in a few different duet pairings - guitar, piano, trumpet, voice - I think it might be because in a duet situation you have more freedom to concentrate on just the one other player, so it's easier to focus. It's closer to soloing than four on the floor but you still have to leave tasteful space for the other guy. Maybe Chris can elaborate or correct me if I'm just imagining it.
  5. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    I've noticed things, only by listening back to recordings, that I have done 'in the moment' and as been said above - there's no thinking involved

    anchoring the harmony when the soloist is taking it 'out'
    playing counterpoint to the soloist's line
    shadowing or leading or echoing a soloist

    now, don't get me wrong, lots of stuff I'd change and need to improve but it's amazing how much good happens and you're not even aware you're doing it

    in a rhythm section setting you have to maintain the groove so a lot has to be done as fills and/or harmonically

    I recommend recording live
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    FWIW, I have my own answers. It's not like I'm seeking an answer to a problem I have but I want to hear what you guys think. Just posing the question for fun/curiosity.

    What do you do when the soloist messes up? Gets lost? Loses his place in time?

    And what do you do about the audience?
  7. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    What do you do when the soloist messes up? Gets lost? Loses his place in time?

    Good question - the way I came up, with the old school jazzers, there's no question, you let them hang themselves - never give up the 'form'

    jazztime is just a conveyor belt and everyone's just along for the ride - they would hang you out to dry no mercy

    but, practically, if it's a quartet or more, you have to stick to the form/rhythm and let them come around

    however, if it's trio or duo you may have to bend to the chordal power of a pianist or guitarist

    but that's part of your playing skills too
  8. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    It doesn't happen all that often any longer with the folks I play with, but, when it does, it depends. If I can tell that the melodist or vocalist is just off a measure or so, I'll follow them and if I'm the bandleader, I'll expect everyone else to follow too. If they're just off a beat, I'll emphasize beat 1 both rhythmically and harmonically for a few measures until they pick up - simplify my line and outline the changes in an obvious way. Roots and fifths in the worst case.
    The most recent experience was with Little Sunflower and the tenor player lost the form and finished early. It was my solo and the guitarist wasn't sure what to do so he just played the A section until I was through. I spent the whole solo listening for him to go to the B section, but it saved the tune, given the mistake.
    If it's a tune with a more complicated tune, like Nefertiti or All the Things You Are in 7/4, then I stick with the form and at the worst, we regroup at the top of the form. I'll make sure I announce the top as clearly as possible, a busy turnaround or a pedal tone, etc. If the melodist is off and searching, I'll play the melody for them (if I can play the tune's melody) to help set them back on track.
    I worked with a piano player who had the *always keep the form* mantra. He left our singer out to dry for an entire chorus of Triste when she came in a measure off while the rest of the band adjusted. And again, while playing in a trio, I came back to the top a beat too soon somehow and the drummer followed me. Five or six measures in, the pianist said *you guys know you're off, don't you?* I fired him. It was 2 against 1. And the worst with this guy is he'd mess up and then insist on playing the form his wrong way. He played one standard 2 bars short every chorus. I gave up trying to correct him and just followed him, but that messed up the tenor player because the melody no longer fit. The tune ended badly, abruptly.
    I think you have to do what you can to save the tune. Sometimes, it doesn't work out and all you can do is call *top*. It might be different if I could get these guys to rehearse, but the most I can do is send them mp3s and they'll check those out, sometimes.
    Not sure what you mean about the audience. Can you elaborate?
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    That depends. Before anything else, if I hear the soloist in a different place in the form I make sure I outline the next things I play as clearly as possible to see if they'll hear it and come to me - especially we got separated while deconstructing a tune rhythmically or harmonically; if we got separated because we took some chances, like a squirrel walking out too far on a thin limb, I'll scramble harmonically/rhythmically back to the trunk of the tree for a minute and see if that steadies the soloist and helps them get their bearings.

    If they aren't listening or that doesn't workd, the short answer is that I go with the consensus. In a duo setting if they're clearly lost and don't seem to be getting found and I know where they are better than they appear to know where I am, I go to where they are and instantly make them found. In a trio or larger group if it's clear they are lost, I look at the other accompanying players and raise an eyebrow, if everybody but the soloist hears it, we usually just go to where they are and shrug. If the soloist is just plain lost and we can't tell where they are, we usually play really obvious signposts to help them get their sea legs back under them.

    To me when I'm playing, the audience doesn't exist. They materialize before and after each tune. They can create an energy in the room, but when the music is happening, it's about the music.
  10. Great topic....

    Like a motorcyclist that visualises his corners and 'sees' his line 100m in front of him, I 'hear' where to go musically. A bit like Hal Galper's Forward Motion. It happens intuitively, subconsciously - just like the tune you didn't realise you've been humming the last few minutes (which I do a lot).

    I tend to think bass lines in phrases (I also sing) and that they are telling a story (which is also how I did Math interestingly).

    When the band is on fire it's like one big conversation musically (aka 'the zone'). It happens much easier when the band can laugh together, which puts us all on the same wavelength.
  11. It seems that 95% or more of what a bassist does is accompaniment. All the standard lesson material, questions, procedures, guides, for bassists is about accompaniment.

    However, that being said, and it might be more true with the electric bass, it many situations the bass instrument leads the band. It leads the harmony, leads the rhythm, leads the form, leads the figuration and style feel. Soloists dance on top, but they rarely lead, until they go back to playing the melody.
  12. That is a great answer Chris. I think you nailed it and your musings regarding the audience are also on target!

    There is no black or white answer. If you're trying to make music and not draw some musical line in the sand, you do whatever serves the music at that particular moment! It may still be a drag but like Groove Doctor says, If you're with guys that you can laugh with, it makes it much more fun.
  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
  14. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    "We need emotional content."

    Nuff said.
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