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Playing mainstream jazz on BG

Discussion in 'Ask Michael Dimin' started by Dan Relhby, Apr 26, 2002.

  1. Hello, Mike! I hope it would be interesting to discuss though it is not about theory..
    I'm playing mainstream stuff on my Fender Jazz Bass for 8 months (played some funk/rock before) and all this time I used to listen, learn, transcribe generally DB players, because I simply couldn't find any BG players on this side.. And now, when I take my bass I always try to imitate DB sound (and always fail). Certainly I understand that I can't reach DB sound unless I play DB.. but, to my regret, I listen to some Scott LaFaro's, Ron Carter's or anyone else's cool tasty walking groove and realize that my bass line on BG will never sound the same..
    Of course I can just buy DB and become happy with it, but in fact I don't want it. I want to continue playing mainstream jazz on BG, but I'm depressed by the contrast of sound.
    Did you ever have the same problem and what would you recommend? Are there some well-known mainstream bass guitar players to listen to? I like Steve Swallow (not actually a mainstream player), Tom Warrington.
  2. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    I think what you feeling is normal. It relates, I think, to that long time held belief that the BG is just a poor cousin to the DB. That somehow the BG is a convenient substitute for the DB due it's size and the fact that it is easier to play. We listen to LaFaro, Ray Brown, Ron Carter and we feel inadequate.

    The fact is, I don't think the inadequcies come from the instrument. I think they come from ourselves. We have yet to find our own voice on the instrument. Regardless of whether you play DB, BG or Tuba when you can find your own, original voice the choice of instrument disappears. Steve Swallow has done it.

    DB and BG are VERY different instruments. I would dare say the role of the bass has changed due the BG (not better, just different). We have to realize this and then move to find our own voice, on our own instrument within the music.

    There is also a movment afoot to disregard BG players playing mainstream jazz (The Winton Marsalis effect, I call it).

    This is a really great question and I hope some others here at TB voice there opinion.

  3. Thanks a lot for your valuable words! It is undoubtedly reasonable, though it needs some efforts to adopt. When I asked my teacher(he is a guitar player) the same question he answered: "If you can provide a good deep swing the sound doesn't matter".. Wise words too.

    BTW, the similar thread was started by jazzbo:


    DB players have slightly different opinion ;-/
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Bob Cranshaw has played BG on straight ahead Jazz recordings with Horace Silver and many others.

    I have also heard Laurence Cottle do this very successfully in the UK - I think some people say - if you "hear" DB then you might as well play it, as this is the only way you will get that sound.

    But other Jazz tutors have said similar things to me as your teacher - that if you pay attention to making it swing, then there's no reason you can't do it. There is this thing about the envelope of the two instruments being different - so on DB the notes swells and decays quickly, whereas on BG it sustains evenly - I find this means you have to be more precise and especially on ballads it's hard to get a Jazz feel right with BG.

    I also tend to find that with BG I feel chromatic lines don't work so well as the pitch "shows up" more on BG and is less ambiguous than DB, so you have to be careful about these and I often avoid them and play more chord tones in walking lines on BG.

    In the end though it's about confidence and taking an audience with you - if you are feeling it and can convince an audience that what you're playing fits into the Jazz idiom then it should be fine!

    Havings said that - I just bought an EUB electric Double Bass and I find I play different things on it and think about walking lines very differently .....
  5. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire
    My main axe is electric bass. However I have studied and performed on the Bass Violin for 27 years now.

    I was taught that "there is no bad music just, just bad palyers". I believe this concept also applies to which bass you play.

    Obviously because of history (recordings of classic groups) it would seem out of place to play the electric bass in a particular setting. As well the electric bass "seems" more appropriate in some surroundings.

    For me the instruments are two different animals completely. I echo the statement about each instrument presenting an opportunity to discovery a different voice.

    Just have some fun while knowing that some folks will have prejudiced ears.

    Jim Stinnett
  6. Unfortunately I didn't hear much of Cranshaw's recordings.. Bruce, I think that the main problem of BG in straight ahead jazz is not the sound but how musicians play the instrument. It's not creative to play BG like you're playing DB. DB has its advantages and BG has it's own. May be speed, harmonics or something else.. I'm seeking for these peculiarities to make it swing its own way.
  7. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    I just picked up Sonny Rollins' "G-Man" album last week. It's the soundtrack to Robert Mugge's excellent "Saxophone Colossus" film and features Bob Cranshaw swingin' his butt off on a Yamaha electric.

    I think you're right on with the comment about how it's a player's approach to the BG that determines whether or not it will work in a jazz context. I've studied DB sporadically over the years but I don't own one (my main instruments are BG and Chapman Stick).

    One thing I kept coming across in my DB studies was authors/teachers talking about the importance of having a "concept" of what you want to do in order to be a successful student of the instrument.
    Rufus Reid's books emphasize the "concept"--figuring out whether you want a fat or bright tone, whether you're after thumb-position solo expertise or low register support, etc.--as essential to developing facility.

    I take this to mean that you've really got to intend what you play ('mean what you play and play what you mean') on the DB because it requires significantly more physicality to play properly and tonefully. On the occasions when I've been lent a DB to play in the past few years I've found myself more careful about note choice and placement than I am on BG.

    I think it's helpful (but not essential) to be familiar with the basics of DB playing (ie, using large muscle groups, "grabbing" and releasing the string as opposed to striking it, etc.) to play BG well in jazz. At the same time, the playability and versatility of the BG offer so many possibilities-chords, harmonics, tapping, etc.-that can extend the vocabulary if used tastefully.

    Jim Stinnett-are you Mike Gordon's bass teacher? If so, I've got to give you a big thanks for whatever part you played in helping him become one of the world's grooviest bassists.
  8. jasonbraatz


    Oct 18, 2000
    Oakland, CA
    i play lots of jazz gigs, and i haven't broken out the doghouse in almost a year. and i still get called.

    heres why:

    cant fit my upright and my amp in my car at the same time
    everyone i play with knows me as a jazz electric player
    can't really play the upright in tune well (i'd say about 70% accuracy :( ) and i like to spare people the trouble of hearing out of tune notes
    and everyone comes up to me after a gig and says "man you have such a great sound - if i closed my eyes i would have swore you were playing upright." while i'm playing my ss2 with everything flat - so what's the point ;)

    if i had a fretless, i'd take it to ALL my jazz gigs though...and for big band stuff i like playing upright, but that's about it.

    but i will say that it's nice that people know i at least play upright too - so if they ask i bring it. but not after begging to bring my electric instead ;)
  9. superphat


    Sep 30, 2001
    i guess this thread is a little old, but still, i felt moved to put in my 2 cents...

    Anthony Jackson (with Michel Camilo) is a great player to listen to. He plays in a straight-ahead type of setting (actually a lot of latin type jazz too) and his approach to playing the electric bass blows me away. His tone and playing style as well as sensitivity to the acoustic piano is an inspiration to me, as an electric bassist who loves to play straight-ahead jazz.

    also, check out anything by sonny rollins (later stuff) because he has an electric bassist (bob cranshaw i think) in his band too.

    both michel camilo and sonny rollins are OK in my book because of their commitment to using electric bass even when it's Not Politically Correct in jazz~ !!!
  10. nivagues


    Jan 18, 2002
    Went to an inner city hotel the other night for daughter's formal. Close by in the bar area I could hear a 3 piece band playing cool background music. To me it sounded like piano, drums and upright bass. Eventually I went in to take a closer look. Nearly fell over when I checked out the Bass player...MusicMan Sabre being played with fingers over the last couple of frets of the neck. Would have bet anything he was playing a DB!

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