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Jazz Bass - does it always have to be walking lines and especially on Bass Guitar ?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bruce Lindfield, Jul 11, 2001.

  1. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Chris Fitzgerald said elsewhere :

    "One of my pet peeves about jazz is the degree to which the walking bass texture is considered to be an absolute staple for such a large percent of the music. It boggles my mind sometimes when I stop to consider that you have almost an entire genre built upon the same basic groove. Personally I like those bass players who mix it up a bit, but this is a subject way too large to get started in this thread.... "

    So why not have a whole thread devoted to this then?

    My personal view is that we ought to be able to do more and especially on bass guitars with lower actions, greater playability, added strings, etc. we can do more. So how about a discussion of what we can substitute instead and maybe even some examples of where this happens in Jazz pieces or recordings? I mean Jaco always comes up as an example, but there must be others and what is their favoured approach to an improvised, non-repetitive line that isn't a walking line?
  2. I think your question is answered in your own signature...

    I recently bought a copy of "Motion" by Lee Konitz, and was blown away not only by his improvisations, but especially by the incredible bass-playing of Sonny Dallas. He was walking, but what an incredible choice of notes! What he was doing was basically simple, but was done with such elegance that it took my breath away...

    As J S Bach was said to have remarked about his own phenomenal skills as an organist, "Well, there's nothing to it really, I just hit the right notes at the right time and the instrument plays itself..."

    - Wil
  3. Chris A

    Chris A Chemo sucks! In Memoriam

    Feb 25, 2000
    Manchester NH
    Hey Bruce,

    I'm sorry about closing the last thread, but I think it was played out. I'm hoping this one will remain more on-topic. So far so good........

    Chris A.:rolleyes:
  4. This is an issue that transcends any distinctions between bass guitar and doublebass, because it's all an issue of function. Bass is bass whether it's a section of basses in an orchestra, the peddles of an organ, tuba, etc. Walking basslines came about when (I forget which of Ellington's bassists did it first) the bass began playing four notes to a bar instead of two. This was really made possible by the bass being played on a string bass instead of the tuba. While you do still hear a lot of four-to-the-bar walking bass, I'm noticing in modern jazz a lot of syncopation in the bassline, ie. dotted rythms are being injected to the basic four-note-to-the-bar bassline. You have to wonder whether it can be called a walking bassline anymore, but in essence it's just a variation. But what I love is that it creates such a total ensemble sound, as opposed to when the bass just walks endless quarter notes just to provide the foundation for the horns to solo *over*. The reason though the walking bassline is so common is that it's just so damned propulsive. It pushes the music forward, maybe this is why it's called "walking." To try to come up with other things because you play bass guitar and it has lower action and maybe more strings is contrived. Besides, there's probably nothing you can do with low action and lots of strings that can't be done on a keyboard. Yet the walking bassline endures.

    BTW, I keep hearing Jaco's name pop up in this context. The cat played walking basslines. What's different is that he didn't just play quarter notes, but walking nonetheless.
    GastonD likes this.
  5. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    I hear a lot of ostinatos (sp) lately and more melodic playing. I have a lot of respect for the old school stuff, but this sort of gets around to the question; where is modern jazz today? Anybody?

  6. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I think a lot of bass guitarists who play jazz (or what's labeled jazz) deviate significantly from standard walking mode: Lincoln Goines and Jeff Andrews, for instance, come up with a lot of funk or latin-sounding syncopated lines. Victor Bailey frequently falls out of the pocket to cram in 32nd note fills. Anthony Jackson plays unison lines with the soloist; when he isn't doing that, he's usually coming up with something that's more rhythmically inventive than the standard four. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of other examples, but the point is that there's more than one way to drive a jazz tune.
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Wow, a whole thread started by something I said. I don't know whether to be flattered or embarrassed....

    I don't have a great deal to add at this point because David said most of it in his post. No matter which instrument you play, the whole "walking" issue is bigger than that. It involves not only the bassist but the entire group, because if the function of one instrument which was an integral part of the overall sound changes, that will affect the entire group - compensation for what was lost in the aforementioned part will have to be made up elsewhere, and space to allow it to grow in another direction will have to be made. This affects EVERYBODY, not just the bass player.

    It all has to do with "role playing" in a way. There are so many great records out there full of walking bass lines that, for many, the walking texture has become associated with the "natural role" of the bass player - IMO, far too often at the expense of other contrasting textures.

    CAVEAT: before anybody gets a large, greasy, and potentially painful WEDGIE, I'd like to mention that I am not out on a campaign to outlaw or disenfranchise the art of walking bass line playing in any way. But I do strongly believe that there's a hell of a lot more to life and music than outlining the chord changes of a tune with relentless string of quarter notes, even if they do happen to be beautifully chosen and spiced with a dotted quarter or "bucket of sh*t" triplet figure here and there.

    I think that a lot of the time, the walking thing just happens by default, because it's too much trouble for everybody to re-examine their roles all the time. Walking is an established practice, and as such, it's relatively easy to deal with for both the bassist and the other players. Doing something different means going out on a limb. For some examples of different textures that (I think) work beautifully and open up some different musical space to explore, I highly recommend a couple of discs:

    "Dancing in the Dark" - Fred Hersch trio, Chesky records. Drew Gress plays his *ss off in a very understated way on this record, to the point where he blends with the piano and drums so completely that you forget you're listening to a trio; the rhythmic interaction is so perfect and detailed it sounds like you're listening to one guy with six hands.

    "Art of the Trio", Vol. I - Brad Mehldau trio. Same deal, different approach. Great ensemble playing, great bass playing, very little walking.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  8. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    There are cats already doing more and doing it on double bass. Check out "Dark Grooves Mystical Rhythms" By James Hurt, "Black Mud Sound" by Cornelius Claudio Kreusch, "Friendly Fire" by Joe Lovano & Greg Osby.

    If you were in NYC, I'd recommend going down to the Jazz Gallery on Monday nights to check out Frank Lacy's "Vibe Tribe", damn I witnessed some amazing playing there the other night.

    If someone is doing standards tunes and the player walked on the original more that likely when the tune is covered the bassist is going to walk on the tune, unless of course it's done in a different style i.e. a latin version. New compostions, on the other hand, can and often times do incorporate different bass lines.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Lots of recommendations coming up which I shall check out and buy if I can.

    I think this point about standards is probably a key factor - if a standard is called then people are going to expect a walking line. I suppose also that often groups aren't going to have time to rehearse and if they are playing a standard together then the walking line gives a firm basis.

    I have noticed from going to my local Jazz club each week, that with original compositions, there will be different types of bassline and these can be written for the head and inspire a different approach in the blowing.

    But again I suppose it depends on having sufficient time to prepare, whereas I know from talking to them that a lot of Jazz pros in the UK are always rushing off somewhere to play, in order to make enough money to live. So the time for writing, rehearsing etc. is strictly limited.

    I appreciate all the theoretical dicussion about whys and wherefores; but really I was hoping for ideas about other approaches to Jazz bass playing- so apart from the recordings mentioned so far ...?
  10. Josh Ryan

    Josh Ryan - that dog won't hunt, Monsignor. Supporting Member

    Mar 24, 2001
    Just curious, where do you guys think that the Matt Garrison approach (Steve Coleman and Five Elements) falls into this mix?
  11. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    What about a piece like NEFERTITI where the "melody" instruments are playing the ostinato part, or "establishing the groove," and the "rhythm" players play much more melodically, soloing throughout the piece?
  12. A good question, Bruce. I am amazed myself at the lack of improvised bass lines that are not traditional walking bass lines. I think that it is one of the thing that gave jazz-fusion such a bad reputation. Too often, all you get is a repeated bass line with very little variation, and the soloist plays over that. Might as well be playing with a beat box.

    This is the main reason why I don't care for most bass player, too many of them are what I call generic bassist.

    Too of favorite who break this mould are Scott Lafaro on double and Gary Willis on electric.
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I think that what David and I are saying is that you can't just change the bass part without changing the entire approach to the music as regards EVERYONE who is playing. It has to be a holistic kind of approach, and that's difficult to do. Like I said in the other thread, what is established is what people know, and most people are so lazy that they only want to hear something that sounds like what they already know. In order to answer the question, you'd have to have a revised game plan for all rhythm section instruments in a group - much of the specifics of which would depend greatly on the personalities involved.

    But I most wholeheartedly DISAGREE about the "standards are more difficult to change" part of the discussion. In a strange kind of way, standards are the EASIEST kinds of tunes to (re)arrange with a new time feel, because everybody playing them will be so familiar with them that going out on a limb texturally doesn't seem like so far of a stretch when you have a solid melodic/harmonic frame of reference. And of the two albums I recommended for listening to different textures, 16 of the 20 total tunes are standards.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I wasn't really saying that standards are more difficult to change but rather, that if there is an original composition, then the composer has an idea about how it should sound and can inspire eveybody. This is kind of like your point about everybody changing together - with an original composition evrybody knows that this is going to be something different and gets into a different mindset.

    I have been to a few workshops where UK Jazz composers/playes have brought along new pieces they have written and quite often they seem to try to start from a different time signature as this often means you can't have a walking line - so they will specify some sort of ostinato in 9/4 or 15/4 as a point of departure for improvisation. But in a way this seems a bit too contrived and restricting - I suppose it's difficult to get the balance right?

    I have heard quite a few Kenny Wheeler originals which seem to be "original" but not too restrictive for soloists and the odd tune from Charlie Haden, but it does seem to be difficult to find these?
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Again, I think that what sells and becomes popular is largely what people find comfortable to listen to. It was interesting watching the students at the camp in the store when they were checking out CD's to buy. They'd find one by an artist they already loved, but if it didn't have any/many standards on it, most often they wouldn't buy it, opting for something that had tunes they already knew instead. Maybe the whole MP3 revolution and the ability to "try before you buy" will make some of these new sounds less frightening for potential buyers. Let's hope so, anyway.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I must say I'm the opposite and if I see groups at the local Jazz club who are playing originals and I like it then I will buy their CD, but if it's standards then I'm not so interested.

    My main tutor at last year's Summer School was John Paricelli and I loved his album of all original compositions - "Alba" - I still find myself humming some of the tunes unexpectedly. A lot of the students at the Summerschool bought this as well - John sold out of copies very quickly!

    I also liked Gerard Presencer's last album - but this was criticised by the UK Jazz press as not being Jazz and "demeaning" for a trumpet player of Presencer's stature. I mentioned this to John Paricelli who also plays on this album and he said to me "But does the world really need another album of standards?"

    I'm rambling a bit here, but I think I'm trying to say that in the UK, Jazz "students" do seem to buy CDs of original music if they know the people involved. I sometimes think this is how most of the Jazz pros make their money and why they do workshops - once they have explained what is going on, the people there, seem to almost feel obliged to buy the CD! ;)

    Some of my favourite Jazz CDs have been bought at gigs or workshops and have never appeared in the shops!
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Having said that - now back On Topic, with playing walking basslines in odd time signatures.

    Of course you are right that some people can do this, but I suppose I meant us "students" were very unlikely to be able to do this and were just hanging on for grim death!

    Again I think it comes down to the composer setting the framework and mindset for improvising - if you have a theme that is meant to work with a particular bass ostinato, in an odd time signature, then it is probably going to make the bassist play in a certain way and less likely to play a walking line, but it doesn't mean he or she can't do this if they are a very good player.

    I sometimes feel torn between two roles in these conversations - firstly as the avid Jazz listener, who feels confident about discussing the merits of various artists; but then also as the keen amateur player who is in total awe of people who can play such amazingly difficult stuff and make it sound deceptively simple!! ;)

  18. Bruce, I think everyone playing the music must have started out as a fan in awe of the cats who are actually doing it. And when you're getting started, everything seemed complex and difficult beneath that vail of deceptive simplicity. Those cats doing it make it look so easy. But one of the biggest lessons I'm learning is that, while it might not be as easy as it looks, it sure ain't as hard as I'm trying to make.
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I suppose it might help, if I mentioned specific examples. So I was talking about how what sparked my thoughts about this was the week before last we were playing an acoustic song, but the tenor player said it sounded more like Fusion - not in a critical way or anything, just to mention how different it was sounding from the original.

    So I went back to the original and studied the bassline - the tune in question is an interesting and probably well-known example - "Jinrikisha" by Joe Henderson from "Page One".

    So the tune is written in four section where the rhythm section (including bass) play specific figures for ten bars at a time and then goes to walking for 6 bars, back to the figure for another ten bars and then 10 bars of walking.

    Now on the original, the bass player `(Butch Warren) sticks exactly to the same written part for the head and all through the tenor and trumpet solos - quite a few choruses and then he only varies it when it comes to the piano solo (McCoy Tyner) and towards the end he's playing some interesting stuff that isn't repetitive but is not walking lines - but it is quite strongly remiscent of the written part from the head.

    So my specific question are : why aren't there more songs like this? And why didn't Butch Warren attempt any variations until it was McCoy Tyner's solo - was he more confident that Tyner would know where he was, no matter what was happening? I'm assuming that as it was Blue Note date they had sufficent rehearsal and knew the song well?
  20. sounds to me like yall need to mellow out and just play music who cares about all this why do people do this stuff just go play and break all the rules doing it

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