No doubt about it, Jon Leftwich definitely has great chops. Speaking of which, last night I had the pleasure of attending Ron Carter's bass clinic at David Gage's shop. After all of the years I've seen him perform with luminaries of every description, this was a special treat for the 60 or so attendees who were spellbound for over two hours as Ron spoke of his views on playing the bass, and music theory in general. I'm sure some of the bassists beside me were TBDB members, too, come to think of it. Here's a not-so-brief rundown of the evening: All of us were give a handout where our assignment was to delineate walking lines in F using only chord tones, then non-harmonic tones, and finally we were to add in varied rhythms. His exercise required each measure to (ideally) have different rhythmic notation. All of the possible tones were pre-printed on the sheet, so we only needed to "connect the dots". I'm certain that my solutions to the challenge were quite bizarre, what with double dotted notes and ties all over the place. (I'm not used to this stuff!). As I recall Ron's views on things in general: On practicing - Practice your lines in the half position. The method books usually tell you to practice your scales, etc., in all keys. This is not good, he feels, since beginners will usually become frustrated with intonation problems, and other positional/technique issues. Master the half-position....all the notes you need are there, after all." On lessons with his students - "You're going to practice and practice. You WILL do your homework. There is NO EXCUSE at all, or its over. The bass requires constant commitment, all the time. That's the nature of the instrument." "Besides, I don't have the time for you if you are not fully prepared when you show up." On stamina - Only practice will give you stamina. "We (with Miles) played 3 sets, Mondays thru Thursdays, and 4 sets on Fridays and Saturdays for years. That helped my stamina". "I can play, and play. There's no way a horn player is going to outplay me. No way." I believe he's right. On playing without an amp - "This makes no sense. This is going backwards". Without an amp, you have to work harder, dig in deeper, keep your action higher, all of which chokes the tone and causes player fatigue. Microphones won't help much since they are not focused enough and feed back. Use a pickup and concentrate on getting the proper technique. You should only need to play just loud enough to get the subtleties across. "We played without amps years ago and it was torture. I wouldn't want to go back to that ever again. Use your amp." On recording - "The technology has gotten so much better. Now engineers know how to record the bass. I the old days, I'd hear the playback in the studio and I'd be satisfied. But when the record came out, my bass didn't sound at all like what I played. I was crushed." "These days, sometimes I'll use a microphone in the studio, sometimes just my pickup (a Realist, BTW). It all depends on the equipment the studio has, and the engineers. You'd be surprised how they can vary." On strings - "My Labella's give me the tone I need, but each player is different, you have to find what works for you. I've been using the Labella's for fifteen years." On his bass - Ron uses a tapered snake wood "end pin" which is custom made to his preferred length. "In my mind, it makes the bass sound better. In my mind, at least." "It's quicker to setup up, since I just need to pop it in place. I don't need to worry about the hardware (screws, etc., getting lost). Going from studio to show, there's no time to mess around." As for his sound post, Ron has it tapered on both ends, making the post have narrower contact points. He feels this allows the top and bottom plates to move better independently, resulting in better resonance. To manage the humidity issue, Ron keeps his bass in a closet in his apartment. To absorb excess moisture, he hangs a potato in the closet next to the bass. In dry weather, he keeps a bucket of water there instead. "No Dampits. Too difficult to control. Ron's been using the same bass on all recordings since 1959 (that's over 2500 sessions). The C extension (just one capo to bring the string back to E) was custom made and added in 1971. I played Ron's bass, and found his action to be higher than I expected. The Labellas "look" like they'd have low tension, but with the steel core, they felt kind of like Spirocores to me. On the role of the bassist in a band - "The bassist leads the band. Maybe not necessarily in choosing song selection, but they chart the direction during performance." "As a leader, the musicians playing with me follow my vision, but are free to express themselves, musically." On Rap and Hip-Hop - "Maybe because of my age group, this music doesn't really appeal to me. Too much cursing. But these guys really know how to do loops! The things they do with computers are unbelievable! Not a music stand in sight and they come out with all this stuff!" All in all, this was an extremely enjoyable and enlightening evening. Ron is very personable, affable. He took his time with all the questions that were asked and looked like he could go on and on all night. Part of his work ethic, I guess. In speaking with some of the bassists near me, I found that some came up from as far as D.C., and down from Boston to attend. Working my day job in Manhattan means that I am fortunate to be close to opportunities like this, but I understand that Ron does clinics all over. If you have the chance to spend some time with him, it will be time well spent.