Rocker wants to play jazz

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Peter McFerrin, Oct 25, 2001.

  1. I started playing bass because of Geddy Lee, and in my current situation (prog-metal) he and Chris Squire are probably the two biggest influences on my approach. I'm extremely happy in this band, because I'm playing material I love with excellent musicians who are committed to technical and compositional growth.

    However, there's another side of my musical personality: I am a closet jazz-monkey. Ever since I got into King Crimson and Jaco Pastorius, I've wanted to play jazz. I have a decent-sized collection of jazz albums and MP3s, so I'm not hurting for ideas of what to play. I know who the great players are and have studied their styles. I've spent many long nights studying and practicing scales and arpeggios, learning what scales go over what chords, etc. I know a few of the standard tricks--playing an altered scale over a V7, tritone substitutions, switching to parallel minors, etc.--but nothing special.

    My problem is, I just can't get it together. I've been humiliated at jam sessions by players not much more experienced than I who have nevertheless developed some very competent jazz chops. Like many players in an ostensibly competitive scene (although there are hardly any bassists at Cornell to begin with), they are rather loath to reveal any details of their learning.

    Where does a rock guy who knows a bit of theory (but not nearly as much as guys like Jazzbo or Chris guys blow me away) start to learn how to play jazz? Should I get a teacher? Are there any books I should read? Any jumping-off points?
  2. beermonkey


    Sep 26, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    Best thing for you at this point is finding a good jazz bass instructor and learning as much as possible from them. You can be a theory-ninja, but if you don't have someone telling you the basics of how to connect the dots (or the chords in the case of jazz :) ) you will have problems.

    Some people can learn this from books, which is cool if you're that kind of person... I personally liked having a teacher I could interact with instead of reading a book.
  3. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    BREWPROSIMIAN has a point - and it's this. You can know all the theory in the world, but if you don't know how to use it, you're screwed. (trust me on this - welcome to my life). Get a teacher, and find a group of like minded learners like yourself. Jazz is like the old storytelling traditions. You can learn about them in a book, classroom, etc...but you don't learn them untill you put it into practice.

    good luck, and welcome to the path.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    In addition to the number one thing I would make a priority of if I were you - finding a teacher whose playing inspires you and who knows how to communicate what he or she knows - I have three magic words which, if properly understood and applied, will get you started out on the right track:

    1) Transcription

    2) Transcription

    3) Transcription

    Oh, and like POCKMARK said, welcome to the path.
  5. I'd absolutely never thought of that, but for every picosecond that I think about it it makes ten times as much sense. Which players' stuff would you recommend for a newbie to start learning?
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    My best suggestion would be to pick a jazzer whose playing moves you when you hear them play. You know, the kind of player that makes you feel like, "Holy sh*t! I wanna be able to do that!" Once you've found such a player, get a copy of the changes to the tune you want to transcribe. When you've done the transcription and learned to play it, analyze what's there in front of you with an eye (and ear) toward figuring out the method behind the madness. For instance, ask questions like: How often does ____X___ play a chord tone on the down beat? Which chord tone does ____X____ usually play in that situation? etc....

    That has always seemed like a good start whenever I've done it. Good luck.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I was in the same situation (and still am!) in that I cam from rock to Jazz four or five years ago and found it a big learning curve.

    The only thing that improved my situation was playing with other people as much as possible. The biggest difference I noticed was that in rock/pop the drums are given the responsibility for the time, but in Jazz it's everybody's but especially the bass player - and as well as defining the pulse of the music, you are also usually the one looked to for outlining the changes and keeping the form!!

    Jazz drummers and to an extent pianists/guitarists "lay out" more than rock players - sometimes for whole choruses - but as the bass player you are expected to keep going and give forward impetus. Some pianist just comment occasionally and so do some drummers! ;)

    The only way to get over this differnce for me was to play a lot with other people - the theory was useful, but in no way helped with the idea of the bass player's role in Jazz. The structures are more complicated and when I first started there was no way I could get my head around a 32 bar sequence with 2 different chords every bar, but now it seesm like second nature; but as Pacman says - it's how you use what you know and my view is that this only comes with playing a lot with other people
    - you will get "shown up" and make huge mistakes, but you just have to accept these as learning experiences and concentrate as intently as you can so it doesn't happen again. ;)

    I suppose this to me is what it boils down to in a way - in Jazz the level of concentration required is so much higher and whereas in Pop/Rock - the drummer would be taking care of the beat and I could always hear the singer and a loud guitarist, so you could relax and groove - in Jazz it's all down to you all the time and there's no chance to take a break!
  8. beermonkey


    Sep 26, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    When I was doing transcriptions for my lessons, the first 4-5 tunes I did had Ray Brown on bass. They were mid-tempo tunes, so it was relatively easy to pick out notes and I can't tell you how much I learned from it. Ray Brown is the man when it comes to walking a taste-EE bassline (they're so good, "tasty" has a hyphen in it).