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Martin Pizzarelli

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by Tbeers, Dec 9, 2005.


  1. Tbeers

    Tbeers

    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    I took a trip to NYC tonight and went to see John Pizzarelli at Birdland. Some of you probably know that he uses his brother Martin as a bassist. The guy has atrocious technique, does not seem to know what an endpin is (or to care, for that matter).... Oh and his entire bass, including the bridge, is painted black. I would be flabbergasted if you told me he ever took a single lesson in his life.

    And despite that, I have seldom heard as solid a feel as the one between him and drummer Tony Tedesco. It was so utterly in the pocket throughout the entire set! Listening to them made me think about taking my own playing back to the "bassics." It also made me ask questions like: "What is the appropriate role of the bass in an ensemble?" I mean, the guy never took a solo and seemed satisfied with his exclusively supportive function. Maybe we're not entitled to a bass solo in every other chart, just because we CAN play over the changes.

    Anyone here familiar with Martin? BTW, this is not some superstitious anti-technique thread.
     
  2. Uncletoad

    Uncletoad

    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Interesting observations. This is more about "what is the double bass players job" and "why does this guy have a gig".

    I know I get hired because of my ability to sit in a pocket and to make it happen on the bandstand. My solos are very immature in comparison to the pocket I can provide so very often when I'm playing with guys that can kill I tend to pass. I don't want to look stupid.

    Truth is that I get calls over some guys that can play me into a corner because I show up on time, prepared, properly attired, sober, and I leave my emotional bags at home. I focus on serving the tune, honoring the groove, supporting the soloist. I always follow the singer even if they are wrong (more or less). It's important to make them look good even if they aren't. I see my job as a servant of the song rather than to show myself off. If I've played every lick I know by the end of the night I probably played to much. One note is better than 10 if its exactly the right note at exactly the right time. I try to remember to play each gig as if it were my last and not phone it in even if the gig sucks.

    Now I'm not going to get a New York call, and I do get passed over for some gigs here because I should be able to solo with the same maturity as I can groove. Total package player I'm not. Good reason for me to be in a practice room more often.

    Maybe Martin's gig is nepotism. Maybe he can kill on a solo but he was off his game that night and thought better of it. Maybe his gear is as good as it gets cause he lives in poverty and can't afford something better. Maybe something else. Hard to see what's up from the tables and chairs.

    Good technique is better than bad I suppose but doing the job is what you get hired for. I saw a fellow in Chicago some years ago played the best blues bass I've heard on a Fender Precision. I was wincing watching him play. But when I closed my eyes he killed me. He was singing with his bass through the whole gig.

    I saw Ismael Rivera this past summer and his bass player played sitting in a big salsa band with a Fender Jazz playing like an DB straight up and down. Sounded just like a baby bass. He never once showed his ass. Most of the people there were just grooving on Ismael but this guy showed everyone on the bandstand where it was. The charts were a mess. The band sounded like ringers. He held it together like a beacon in the dark. He knew exactly his job and played it with such maturity and precision that he had me shaking my head saying "damn" out loud all night. He took me to school that night but I'll bet most of the folks who were watching didn't notice at all.

    He was just doing his job. He was an artist at the top of his game.
     
  3. Andy Allen

    Andy Allen "Working Bassist"

    Aug 31, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Good post, Phil - nicely put.

    This is my attitude exactly - being cheerful, friendly, reliable, solid and competent gets me gigs...I'm no virtuoso by a long shot. I'm always hearing horror stories about 'great' players who are completely unreliable...some of the stupid tricks they pull are unbelievable (not to mention inexcusable).
     
  4. ctxbass

    ctxbass Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    Central Texas
    +1

    I love playing bass because of the "groove power". Maybe I shouldn't admit it, but solos just aren't that important to me.
     
  5. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It's funny that Bucky and John (dad and son) both have a very clean technichal approach to their instrunment, but brother Martin doesn't. I don't know if he's another guitarist who's playing bass by default or if he just doesn't care about doing anything else but accompanying family. Certainly he and John have been playing together for a long time and that kind of "togetherness" can generally overcome deficiencies in technique or concept. Personally I don't find Michael Moore an "inept" accompanist because he is a wonderful soloist, if anything it's the opposite. Almost every player that I've heard that plays smart, musical, engaging solos ALSO play smart musical, engaging accompaniment.

    Tony Tedesco is an extremely solid drummer, I had the good fortune to play a steady Thursday with him behind a singer out in Smithtown Long Island (lo those many years ago); not to draw anything away from Martin, but ANY bassist would have to be incredibly lame for Tony NOT to make it sound groovy.

    But given everything, I'm just not sure that Martin would have the gig if his last name was Smith...
     
  6. Steve Bassman

    Steve Bassman Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    I have several CD's that feature Martin Pizzarelli on bass and I have to say that while he doesn't solo on any of them (aside from a few brief "walking solos", if you can call them that), his time, intonation and note choices are top notch IMHO. Nepotism aside, I don't think his brother would have used him on almost all of his projects (including CD's with Jessica Molasky and Harry Allen) if his bass playing was not of a professional caliber. Many of John Pizzarelli's CD's feature him with a drummerless trio a la Nat King Cole and Martin's groove and sense of swing are undeniable. Any bassist who's played in group like this knows how challenging it can be. I must agree that Martin's playing technique looks pretty "homegrown" but so did Slam Stewart's, and somehow he always played in tune and swung his ass off, so there you go (and I'm definitely not "anti-technique"). As far as his basses, I belive Martin Pizzarelli rents a bass wherever he goes, so the black painted bass may not have been by choice. I think he records with a Kay bass (again like Slam Stewart who his father Bucky often played with) and he never uses a pickup when he plays live. Frankly, I have come to admire his swinging-yet-selfless approach which is very much rooted in the jazz bass playing of the past.

    - Steve

    My web page
     
  7. Tbeers

    Tbeers

    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Yeah, I will say that Martin's miked sound was rather pleasant. They had this microphone pointed at his bass that tapered to a very thin point. It looked almost like an electric toothbrush, except it was all black. I remember having been disappointed to see Mark Johnson relying so heavily on his FC pickup and amplifier, when I went to see John Abercrombie at Birdland in May. It's not a big enough room (although I've been reminded it is one of the larger ones in NYC) to justify very much amplification.

    It was a great experience seeing John Pizzarelli. He brought out his dad for the latter half of the set, and all the tunes they did from that point on were instrumental only. Some unbelievably good playing....

    My favorite moment, though, was in this one tune when Tony Tedesco switched from brushes to sticks. It was grooving so damn hard. My buddy and I were in the front row of tables, and Tony must have seen something in the expression on my face. He looked right at me and with a smile, he nodded knowingly. I don't mean to sound philosophical, but it was pretty cool to imagine that for just a second or two, he and I were thinking the same thing.
     
  8. Steve Bassman

    Steve Bassman Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    I was in New York for a friend's wedding the first weekend in December and I left just before John Pizzarelli started playing Birdland again. I would have loved to have seen them. He will be down here in Florida in January and I hope to catch them then. I wanted to see some live jazz while I was in the city but the guys in the bachelor party had other ideas (can you say "Scores"?). BTW, I'm a native New Yorker but after twenty years in Florida I can't take the cold anymore. It's below 60 out now...brrrr ;)

    - Steve

    My web page
     
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I've noticed this phenomenon locally - i.e. that a lot of Jazz guitarists will also have a DB - presumably because they know about chords, how it all works and can construct good lines - but they never play solos...
     
  10. Or the converse...a lot of jazz bassists, like me, have a guitar because we know chords, etc., but never solo. Pizzarelli is a great guitarist which is sometimes downplayed to the public in favor of his vocals. He's also very funny, especially when he recalls learning guitar from his father.
     
  11. Steve Bassman

    Steve Bassman Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    The jazz guitarist I work with also plays electric bass and he always picks up my upright and plays the intro to "Jack the Bear". He sometimes sits in on upright and then tries in vain to receive sypmathy from me for his blistered fingertips. :rolleyes:

    BTW Martin Pizzarelli isn't a guitarist but started on electric bass. There is a discussion page on John Pizzarelli's website and both John and Martin have answered some of the questions I have posted there. Martin recently released a solo album with his father on guitar and pianist Ray Kennedy.

    Here's the link

    - Steve

    My web page
     
  12. RSalvador

    RSalvador

    Nov 19, 2005
    Springfield, MO
    Speaking of Nat King Cole...on John Pizzarelli's CD Dear Mr. Cole, the only track with drums is the only track Martin plays on. The rest of the CD is Guitar/Vocals, Piano and Bass played by Christian McBride.

    Martin does sound good, but talk about groove and swing...wow. CM not only grooves great along with John's rhythm playing but walks AND keeps the accent/feel on 2 and 4 while John's solos. I love bass and drums but this CD is a great example of the bass player being the anchor. Good bass solos too. Great stuff if you like standards.
     
  13. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    I knew Tony back in college. Are you saying that he doesn't solo on the bass anymore? That would be too bad. I remember he always had a big grin when he was playing.
     
  14. Tbeers

    Tbeers

    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Wow, I have to pick that up. Christian McBride's playing is matched only by... Christian McBride. There's no substitute.
     
  15. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    +1

    There is a lot more to being a professional musician than musical skill.
     
  16. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Tony was an eb player at NT and I remember that he picked up the URB in maybe his 3rd yr or so. I believe he taught himself to play it. I remember not seeing him for a while and then he emerged playing the URB and playing it well (technique aside). Like I said, he always had this big grin on when he was playing.
     
  17. abaguer

    abaguer

    Nov 27, 2001
    Milford, NJ
    I saw Martin with John and Harry Allen, I think it was at Mohegan Sun. He just layed it down but handled all the tempos, some of them frighteningly fast, with a really good feel that was definitely more old timey like the Nat King Cole Trio. His solo was in the fast walking style that Jimmy miller used to play.
     
  18. Steve Bassman

    Steve Bassman Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    This is from the liner notes of Martin Pizzarelli's CD "Triple Play" written by his brother John:

    "I have heard the sound of Martin's bass in my sleep. When I play a ballad, a jump number or a swinger, the beat he supplies informs the groove. Without him in my trio, there is no trio. The bass playing you'll hear on this record may not be the flashy, above the 12th fret type of bass playing you might be acustomed to, but it the reason you'll be tapping your foot after you press play. It is the very center of any group I've heard Martin play in and why shouldn't it be? He's grown up with people like Major Holley, Slam Stewart, Ray Brown and Bob Haggart in his house. He's listened and he's learned. He's returned 'time playing' back to the art it should have always stayed AND he's refused to lower his action or put a pickup on his bass. Wow! Think of it...two and four live!! As our friend drummer Tony Tedesco has said, 'You have to protect the quarter note.' With my brother, Martin, it's safe and sound and in great hands" - John Pizzarelli

    Well said, IMO, although I doubt Martin's bass has a "12th fret";)

    The CD itself is worth checking out if you like John Pizzarelli/Nat King Cole Trio recordings. No vocals of course, but Martin's bass is often up front playing melodies and solos, the latter frequently in the "walking solo" style reminiscent of Leroy Vinnegar, John Kirby, Walter Page and Johnny Miller.

    - Steve

    My web page
     
  19. ctxbass

    ctxbass Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    Central Texas
    It's nice to know that that kind of approach is still appreciated.
     
  20. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio