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Ron Carter - Don Ellis

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


  1. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I picked up a Don Ellis album called "New Ideas". Ron Carter plays on it and sounds very different than Ron Carter sounds on other records. The recording is from 1961 or 1962. It really sounds to me like he was playing gut strings and recorded with a mic.

    I associate Ron Carter's recorded tone with metal strings, a bridge wing pickup and often going straight to the board. I have some Dexter Gordon records from the 70's with him and it sounds almost like a Fender bass.

    On this Don Ellis record, he sounds more like Sam Jones, tone wise. I like it. Any clues as to what that's about? Was he playing someone's else's bass on that recording or did he used to sound like that?

    Troy
     
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I don't think he ever used gut, but he sure used to sound like what you're talking about. Check him out on MODE FOR JOE, big warm bouncy happening sound and feel.
     
  3. mister_k

    mister_k

    Jul 27, 2004
    Los Angeles
    Does anybody have that Gabort Szabo record that Ron played on? I think it was 65 or 66. It's my favorite Ron record, but nobody ever knows what I'm talking about. Spellbinder I think it's called. All guitar, bass and percussion.

    kind of a highjack, but you guys got me thinking about it.

    K.
     
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    You know. I don't own that record, but I sucessfully blindfold tested him on that one once. Someone played it and I said "Ron Carter or someone like Reggie Workman". I don't remember exactly what drew me to that, but I releated it to how he sounds. I'll take a listen to it again when I get a chance. He did sound bigger and warmer on some of those records than others. The 70's were just kind of a mistake for most people, I guess. We could use a do-over on that decade. :) (noted exceptions, of course)

    This Don Ellis record is pretty free and sort of sound-scapey, so it doesn't surprise me that his playing is different, but tonally it's just really a different sound for him. It's good, though. I like it. Maybe I'll get a chance to ask him some day. It's nice to have specific questions like that in reserve for the greats, just so you don't come off like a jackass when you meet them.

    Not that it would assure that I wouldn't come off as a jackass, but it tips the odds slightly in my favor.

    Troy
     
  5. dfp

    dfp Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2004
    USA
    i thought i read around here about someone sitting in on RC's bass during the Miles years and he had Golden Spirals and wrapped gut A/E... were the Golden Spirals synthetic or gut?




    Joe Henderson "Tetragon" from '67 or '68 has some great old school RC sound...
     
  6. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    No, that's not right. Mr. Carter used gut for years. I've spoken to him about it. He switched maybe around 1969 or 70ish. Almost all the Miles records-gut. Just listen to it. Same bass all the time though, through the present day. I don't like to speak on someone else's behalf, but he said he switched because he couldn't get strings that were any good anymore. He got several sets of strings ordered from Germany, that were false from the get go. So he started to look for a new string, and that's how he got involved with Labella. Of course, now, like most of us, he has no plans/interest to go back. For what it's worth, there are lots of photos of this period showing Mr. Carter with gut strings, for anyone who won't trust their ears.

    There's a nice, well-recorded record early in his career with Bobby Timmons that folks who enjoy his sound from that period would dig, I think.

    I, for one, dig all his various variations on his tone over the years. Some of those tones took me longer to get to understand than others, but I think they're all great.

    Brent
     
  7. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    gut... that was what they had at the time. There was no perlon, etc.
     
  8. teleharmonium

    teleharmonium

    Dec 2, 2003
    FWIW I'm pretty sure RC also plays on another Don Ellis album on Candid called "...As Time Passes..." with Jaki Byard and Charles Persip. It's another adventurous one, not like Ellis' better known later big group and soundtrack stuff.
     
  9. That Bobby Timmon's record is a live trio date from The Village Vangaurd in 1960 or 61. Great album w.Tootie Heath on drums and Ron is using guts.Nice picture of Ron and his bass on the back.Riverside records...Highly recommended...
     
  10. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    The only recordings of him that I really hate the sound of were, I believe the fault of the recording technique rather than his actual tone. I can't put my hands on the Dex record that I'm thinking of, but it sounded like maybe an underwood pickup straight into the board or something. I remember liking what he was playing and thinking I should transcribe it because it was so easy to hear, but it didn't sound acoustic or natural at all. Probably a lesser label and a period when acoustic purity was not a major focus.


    I'll have to check out some of his early 60's recordings.

    Thanks for the info.

    Troy
     
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Live and loin.
     
  12. anonymous8547j7d7b

    anonymous8547j7d7b Guest

    Jul 1, 2005
    I'd heard Ron Carter had switched from the black LaBellas to Velvets :confused:
     
  13. bass_means_LOW

    bass_means_LOW

    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    Ron's sound is great and working along side Cedar and Joe C. didn't hurt either. Both Joe H. and I agreed -Joe Chambers has a 'million dollar ride' on that album!
     
  14. bass_means_LOW

    bass_means_LOW

    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    Yes, I transcribed Ron's solo on the blues track on that album if it's the same one I'm thinking of-Ron sounds like Sam Jones. That was pretty early on.
     
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Not to CFTCOAEQ, but I was checking out one of the Francis Wolff BLUE NOTE books, and the photo he has of Ron at the MODE FOR JOE session well, that would be the smallest gauge gut G I've seen in my life. And that's from '66...
     
  16. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    Sorry to respond so late, I just couldn’t sit down to write until after New Year’s Eve.

    Well first off, I’m not going to unequivocally state that you can’t find pictures of Mr. Carter with metal strings on his bass during this period. It’s my understanding that even today, he spends time trying out all the new pickups, strings etc to get the best sound he can. Since he has said that he “resisted making the change to steel for a long time” (ISB magazine), I will guess that he may have tried steel strings out, maybe several times, before finally permanently switching over, somewhere around the time I mentioned. I don’t know the photo you’re talking about, but I’ve never been able to tell gut vs. metal from looking at the diameter of the strings. The only way I can tell in a black and white photo is that usually the G&D have a different shininess(?) than the E&A. And this gets harder to notice as you get further from the subject. If you can see the pegbox, that’s usually the giveaway.

    As to the Mode for Joe session, I guess the real question is: what do you hear? Does it sound like gut, or like metal? IME, you can’t judge by how “dark” or “bright” the sound is, recording techniques have too much effect. The way I usually can tell is the shape of the pitch. When you pull a string, the top flexes, and all the other strings get pulled, too. When you release, everything releases. So this results in the pitch sort of starting sharp, and then “dipping” after the initial attack, ultimately resolving to a stable point. Gut strings are much lower tension, strechier, and flexible, so the effect is greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, it’s kind of subtle, and I’m not sure whether a bassist who hasn’t played gut for a while would recognize it (I did 5 years on gut early in my playing life). The other thing is, the unwound strings, especially when new, have a sort of sound coming off the fingerboard that I can only describe as “kinda plasticky.” I could always really hear it as a player, but not so much from 20 feet away. Anyway, you can kind of hear it on a lot of close miced recordings, especially on the G string in the middle to upper registers. Anyway, it’s pretty easy to hear on ESP, maybe worth a listen.

    What I’d really recommend is to compare a session we know Mr. Carter played gut on to Mode for Joe, and you can decide for yourself. I have a photo of Mr. Carter from the Sam Rivers “Contours” session, and it’s no doubt he’s playing gut strings. I can send you the picture if you like. Then compare the sound of that record to Mode for Joe. Then compare to any record we know he played metal on. I think it will provide the answers.

    In this period, Mr. Carter recorded a lot for CTI, so I looked at their web site for a few pictures. Here’s one from Wes Montgomery’s A Day in the Life:
    http://ctijazz.com/photogallery/roncarter/pages/roncarter2.php?sc=set
    Look in the pegbox. The color of the d string, and it’s relative size to the A. Those are gut strings. Session date: June 1967

    This one, I unfortunately couldn’t find the session it’s from, but he has his C extension installed, and still using gut strings:
    http://ctijazz.com/photogallery/roncarter/pages/roncarter1.php
    The clothing looks to be 1970ish, doesn’t it? I believe he’s stated publicly that he had the extension done around 1970.

    Here’s one from a milt Jackson record of 1972, and he looks to be playing metal:
    http://ctijazz.com/photogallery/roncarter/pages/roncarter.php?sc=set
    Listen to the first 2 notes of the record and you’ll hear that it is.

    But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. I mean, it matters a little from a historical perspective, but that’s all. I was listening the other day to NY Slick, and what always amazes me is that through all the changes of pickups, strings, amps, whatever, Ron Carter just sounds like Ron Carter. What amazes me is not so much the changes, but the constants. The shape of his attack, where he puts the beat, the notes he chooses…. His essence as a musician is just so powerful. I know there are some bassists who don’t like his sound in the last 20 years or so. I wish they could get past that, because the amount of music coming out of this bassist during that period is astonishing. I love all the stuff with Miles, but I’ve been way more influenced, I’ve found way more stuff to develop in my own playing, from the stuff in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I see his playing as a steady progression from the early years to the present, and what strings he used and when he changed etc, is really no more than a footnote. A non-issue, really. I only even piped up because I would feel bad if someone spent years trying to get that sound, only to discover that it was gut strings after all….

    Which brings me to one other thing. If you (the general “you” here…) can’t hear the difference between these recordings on gut and metal, I’d say it’s a good reason to play on metal. Metal strings offer longer life, more consistent intonation, a lot less maintenance, and so you can spend more time thinking about the music rather than dealing with the strings. I have precious little time for those who say you should play on gut for “philosophical reasons,” ie “it’s the true sound of the bass” etc. On the other hand, there are a few guys who instantly hear the difference in sound, and who really care about it. To paraphrase Chris Rock: I’m not saying they should play gut, but I understand. If that’s what you need to be happy, then that’s what you gotta do. Just realize that you’re mostly doing it for yourself. I’m actually really glad those guys are playing gut, so that people have a chance to hear what it really sounds like, and I’d never trade the years I spent on gut, I learned so much. But it’s definitely a limited, niche sound. I’m digressing now…..

    Anyway, if you really need to have a final answer, I’d suggest emailing Mr. Carter and asking him. As long as you do it in a sincere way, I’m sure he’d answer as best he remembers. In my (very limited) experiences with him, he’s always been a tremendous gentleman, and so generous. I don’t think he would bite your head off just for asking.

    Brent

    PS – Ed, CFTCOAEQ, what’s that? I tried to guess, but the second letter always came out a curse word.
     
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Continue Flogging The Corpse Of An Equine Quadruped.

    well, that's what I mean. To me, MODE FOR JOE sounds like a nice bouncy steel string sound. Which is why it's a little disappointing to hear Ron NOT get that sound on other recordings. Because, to me, his playing/sound/feel is so happening on these records. And the change in sound, to my way of thinking, generally happens cause you are hearing stuff differently. Ron CAN'T be going for the same thing on the duo recordings with Jim Hall that he was on MODE, otherwise the sound and feel would be more similar.

    "I’m not sure whether a bassist who hasn’t played gut for a while would recognize it (I did 5 years on gut early in my playing life)." I played Golden Spirals from about 1985 through about 1992 ish, I currently play Animas. I'm pretty on top of that. See above.

    The photo I'm looking at is in the BLUE NOTE YEARS publiched by Rizzoli, it's a collection of photographs by Francis Wolff (the other founder of Blue Note Records). It's a close-up of Ron, about chest up to the top of the scroll, there's a few nice shots of Cecil McBee, PC, Gene Ramey, Sam Jones, Bob Cranshaw, Henry Grimes etc.
     
  18. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    OK, I get it.

    Well, basically I agree with that. Part of what I was trying to say by a steady progression of development through his career was that he was already headed in the direction he ended up later. Maybe that’s why his early recordings sound like metal to you. As to the change of sound being because you hear things differently, that’s true, but a little idealistic. Outside forces effect your sound to a degree. Think of the players who were “forced” to switch because good gut strings stopped being available. The holdouts were Sam Jones, Ron Carter, and Mingus, among others. To me, their essence remains the same after switching, but some things change. They were suddenly playing on strings that were more giving in some areas, less giving in others. So the change of strings itself influences what you hear and play. The same can be said for pickups and amps as well, incidentally.

    Of course, I think those guys were changing and hearing things differently, I don’t mean to discount that. Like I said, the string thing is mostly just a footnote. It was a time of great change in music and American history, and though Ron Carter chose not to participate in things like In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew etc, he must have been affected by everything going on around him. I mean, jazz doesn’t exist in a vacuum. (Did you know he played on an Aretha Franklin record in 1969?) I guess I’m glad we have him playing with that sound on a few dozen albums or whatever, and then we also have the stuff he moved on to. If he just stayed the same, then we’d just have a few more albums of the same sound, instead of the great palette of stuff he produced. So I don’t feel disappointed that he changed.


    OK. My comments weren’t meant as an insult to you or anything, BTW. I see now how they could be read that way. Not knowing your string history, I was just suggesting a possible reason why someone might hear his early recordings as being metal strung. I’m aware that other folks than just you and I might read this thread, and was really just trying to suggest ways to listen for the differences.

    Sounds interesting. I have the “cover art” books, but not this. Thanks, I’ll look for it.

    Brent
     
  19. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I received that book as a gift this year too. Nice book if you're into the Francis Wolfe photography, which I am.

    -tk