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Memorizing Jamerson?! What's Goin On?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Kmrumedy, Feb 2, 2014.

  1. Kmrumedy


    May 12, 2004
    Montreal, Canada
    So I learned "What's Goin On" by ear from the original isolated track by James Jamerson.

    I have Standing in the Shadows of Motown but I kind of use it in reverse. I prefer to learn the bassline by ear then check my transcription againt the book. (Wonderful exercise by the way if you have never tried it. Great way to check your ear....also there are mistakes in the book and mistakes that some of the artists play).

    Anyway, for those of you that have played the original basslines you know that Jamerson rarely if ever plays 2 bars the same....it is pure feel and improvisation...and this goes on for 3 - 4 minutes. They are mini masterpieces.

    I am having a really hard time remembering the entire lines. I am strict when it comes to this, I want to play every dead note and rhythm perfectly for the whole 3 + minutes.

    I could easily read all the lines but I want to play it in one take with no mistakes without looking at the written page.

    I spent all this time working it out but it is bloody hard to remember every nuance. If you focus on one section it is near impossible to remember the previous one. Grrrrr!

    Any tips how to memorize this thing or Jamerson in general???
  2. TheGreatSealof

    TheGreatSealof Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2010
    Deptford, NJ
    I feel your pain. I have a road worn pbass with Jamerson flats and foam mute. When I am playing a Jamerson riff and I hit a string or note, it sounds just like him. But when I try to play through a riff in a song and memorize, he changes everything to the next and the next....

    Also, I agree when reading a measure from a song book, the book is wrong! Very frustrating. James was a one of kind. That's why he is so loved and emulated
  3. If you can play the whole thing just like Jamerson, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din. I used the tape to learn the basic framework, but I could never get all the nuances. I must say, though, I've never seen anybody play it just like Jamerson aside from on that tape, so I wouldn't feel too bad.
  4. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    You have to break the thing in small section and see that the a lot of the time, the rythm is different but not the notes.

    But still just take a block of 6 bars and learn that, then move to the next 6 bars, then play those 12 bars without a mistakes then move to the next 6 bars ... it isn't that hard.
  5. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Trying to memorize someone else's "pure feel and improvisation" is kind of missing the point, isn't it?
  6. spz8


    Jan 19, 2009
    Glen Cove, NY
    This is very true, although I can understand the OP's desire to master the line. Small bite-sized chunks, drilled over and over until they're second nature is the way to go.
  7. chris merrill

    chris merrill Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    Endorsing Artist for: GHS Strings, Lakland Basses
    I think it IS the point exactly. That way you can internalize the way he played, and start to improvise in the style of jamerson on your own!
  8. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    You can study, analyze, understand and internalize without memorizing.
  9. theory helps.
    and reading and memorizing away from the bass.
  10. chris merrill

    chris merrill Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    Endorsing Artist for: GHS Strings, Lakland Basses
  11. Robus


    Aug 25, 2013
    Chicago Area
    I've been learning some Jamerson lines from Standing in the Shadows of Motown and other transcriptions I've found here and there. It is fun and a challenge to try to nail it exactly as he played it. But realistically...a month or two from now, I'll be doing well just to remember the chords, much less which fills he played on the second or third chorus of "Nowhere to Run." So I'll play something that sounds right.

    I always figured there was a reason why players stand behind those music stands in genres like classical where note-for-note accuracy is expected.
  12. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    I'm relatively sure Jamerson would never have played it the same way twice. More important to capture the spirit and essence than every last thing, IMO.
  13. f.c.geil


    May 12, 2011
    It's my understanding that he did indeed play it the same way (or essentially the same, at any rate) every time.
  14. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    i don't this track varies all that much each time. either way the changes are certainly the same.. unless theres a key chance, but the roman-numberal relationships would remain the same anyway..

    there are some lengthy orchestral pieces that im sure i can play from memory. how? because i read the music and played it that way many, many times, eventually you know it. use the score to help you along- theres no shame in that. if you read the whole tune 3 times a day for a week i'm sure by the end you'll know it all.

    in reality, it's not that important to get every single detail. to figure them out, yes, but to recall them from memory? nah.. just learn the changes and get the idea..

    put you're own ideas into his notes. don't try and replicate him, put your own vibe into it. copying someone isin't art unless you do something new after using the old as inspiration.
  15. christoph h.

    christoph h.

    Mar 26, 2001
    no, it is very important, as it helps internalizing vocabulary that can be used in your own improvisation. it also teaches you how it "feels" to play like that.

    humans learn by imitation/emulation/memorization.
  16. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    Short cut: compare his lines to the underlying chords. They show why he used chord tones, passing notes, and leading notes. When you understand the chord theory, "memorizing" the line isn't quite the same chore.
  17. Kmrumedy


    May 12, 2004
    Montreal, Canada

    I should have mentioned I am using it as a " study piece" similarly to the way some people approach Jaco's Donna Lee.

    I am formally trained so I have taken it apart, learned it by ear, read both mine and the books transcription. I have memorized the first 66 bars! But that's all I can hold in the memory banks without turning to paper.

    I am going to transcribe 4 of his best works ( in my opinion) so hopefully it gets easier as I go through this. Really fun getting into a player. I am working on Rocco Prestia at the same time which is a whooooooole other world of hurt! Lol!

    I find it really interesting when I compare Jamerson's original lines to many of the artists renditions in the book/ cd. You can tell those artists who spent the time learning Jamerson and those that didn't and simply read the notes. James Jr. sense of time is very different than his fathers.

    Thanks all for the input.
  18. chris merrill

    chris merrill Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    Endorsing Artist for: GHS Strings, Lakland Basses
    66 bars!! That is impressive.

    I've listened to a lot of Motown/Jamerson. Enough to cop the feel and fake it while playing a Motown type thing. so I agree, that reading a chart of his lines, analyzing his notes in reference to the chord, and listening to a lot of the recorded music will get you in the ballpark or even very close.
    After taking this approach for a while, I sat down and learned/memorized 8 bars or so of "ain't no mountain" and things started clicking for me in a much more solid way. More work equals more payoff. So, memorization is the key to really get inside a heros playing and style. I still don't have the entire thing committed to memory, but learning it verbatim has gotten me way closer to be able to play like him, especially with note choice and articulation! YMMV