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Solo Bass - Is it truly viable "music" or just the equivalent of a "how-to" manual?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by The Bass Clef, Apr 3, 2014.

  1. The Bass Clef

    The Bass Clef Formerly "thebrian" Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2010
    Yeah, I'm talking about solo bass music.. I'm not talking about a bass solo in the context of a Jazz band (which is another topic), I'm talking about music that is centered and focused on bass - an instrument, that from it's conception all the way until the 20th Century, was never seen (or heard) as a "solo" instrument, but rather an accompanying instrument.. and for good reason, since the majority of people (most being non-musicians) have a harder time hearing the bass, than they do hearing a higher register instrument such as a sax, or an instrument that has a broad range like the piano (which typically is soloed on in the middle and upper registers). So it makes logical sense that instruments that are in the higher range, that most people can really distinguish the easiest, have traditionally became known to be "solo" instruments.

    I think there's reason why there have been hundreds or even thousands of famous violin soloists, but only a handful of famous tuba soloists - and I believe it's because the tuba (and any other instrument that reads from the bass clef) just doesn't appeal to the masses on its own, because it was designed to be a supportive instrument. We all know that bass instruments play a vital role in the music as a whole, and even non-musicians, although they may not know exactly what the bass is doing at any given time, they would sure notice if it just stopped! But I think there's a reason people don't normally perceive bass as a solo instrument. Just about everyone has heard of "The Four Tenors". But I couldn't tell you the name of a single famous bass opera singer.. partly because opera isn't my thing, but yet I can still name all four famous tenors, so that says something.

    Back to bass soloists.. If 98% of Victor Wooten's listeners are other bass players (which is pretty undeniable I think), doesn't that sort of make what he's doing a more of a "how-to manual" on the technique to play bass, and less than actual "music" - if it only appeals to people who are trying to gain that skill. Don't get me wrong, VW is a better technical bass player than I would be if I lived to be 1000 years old. And I'm NOT saying what he does isn't music. However, I don't personally think what he does is very "musical". I think I'm a pretty open-minded musician (some of you may not agree at this point, lol). I believe if something speaks to you, then who am I to tell you anything. So please don't be offended at my personal musical taste.

    However, I feel like I need to make the point that when I have showed Wooten to others who do not play music, they all, universally, have absolutely zero interest in it whatsoever. I think to non-musicians and especially non-bassists, that all his chops just come across as self-indulgent noodling, on an "unfamiliar" sounding instrument. Even being a bass player, I have never gone away singing anything I heard from him, and I think that's a big part of why it isn't very appealing to most people as what they consider "music" to be. I think most people need to relate to it before they really consider it (their definition of) music. How many times have you heard someone say, "Rap isn't real music."? Sure it's music, and so is VW and all the other solo bassists out there, to those who perceive it as such. But the people who that stuff doesn't appeal to, hardly see it even as music. So if you only appeal to other bassists, then isn't it at least worth mentioning that maybe your a better teacher than an artist. You don't need to be a painter to appreciate the Sistine Chapel, or an architect to appreciate Notre Dame. But it sure seems that you pretty much have to be a bass player to appreciate solo bass. So does it stand on its own as music/art, or just a series of weak compositions full of great technique?

    I see so many bassists nowadays doing the solo bass thing. And just because I don't get it, that does NOT mean that I think you're "wrong" or anything like that if that's what you do or like to listen to. But I've always wanted to ask a solo bassist, "Did you pick the wrong instrument and now it's too late to change?".. because the opportunities for solo bassists are so limited compared to basically all other instruments. I'll be honest and say that it seems to me like most solo bassists are more concerned with showing every trick they've ever learned (usually in just one piece too), than playing something that is truly composed well. I have no doubt ego plays a big role to some people carrying the flag for this genre. And I also realize that some people just appreciate the chops and don't care about ego. I'll even say that I'm glad that guys like VW exist, because variety is the spice of life. But I guess I just have a hard time understanding the personal motivation behind wanting to take an instrument that historically and socially, doesn't appeal to the majority of people as a solo instrument, and "forcing" it to play that role. Ok go.
  2. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Indeed, it's a terrible thing for people to experiment, push the envelope or use instruments in different roles than they''ve always been used. Especially if it isn't popular.

    Seriously, i've taken my wife to see Wooten twice and she loved it both times. She plays a little guitar but doesn't think of herself as a musician. Took two of my kids to see manring and they were mesmerized. Actually it IS good music.
  3. Dredmahawkus


    Nov 4, 2012
    I honestly dont see how anyone other then bassists would want to listen to his music.
  4. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Most non musicians respond to music with lyrics.
    They need to hear words and melody to connect.
    All the current solo bassists are creating great music
    but just not appreciated by the masses.
    I take friends to see Mike Manring and they are all floored
    by what he does alone.
  5. Alex J

    Alex J

    Jul 5, 2011
    Please let us never live in a world where art, in whatever form, is created solely to appeal to the 'majority of people'.
  6. An utterly, utterly silly premise. Of course solo bass is music, as much as solo guitar or violin. If someone doesn't like it, then they can listen to something that pleases them instead.
  7. Dredmahawkus


    Nov 4, 2012
    definitely not like guitar and violin....is solo drums like solo guitar and violin? same thing right?

    I was watching this concert on palladia...I dont remember what it was but this bass player just put down the hardest solo I have seen....I was like WOW that was amazing....then the gui**** stepped in and played one note really really really fast for like 3 minutes....and the crowd went crazy! so how are they the same?
  8. Eric_71

    Eric_71 Supporting Member

    Jul 22, 2011
    Interesting premise. I tend to agree with the OP and while I imagine many will cite exceptions as to why it is wrong, pointing out outliers never seemed like a very convincing tactic to me.
  9. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Suit yourself. My non-bassist wife thinks he's great. She came to the first concert to humor me; she came to the second (for an anniversary date, no less) because she knew she'd have a great time.
  10. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I get your point, though I think the way you presented it is going to ignite a lot of emotion.

    Certainly, solo bass is music. Some of it is wonderful music.

    But, it is music with a small...no, micro...no, nano-segment appeal.

    Michael Manring, for example, is a profoundly musical bass player who plays mainly for an audience of bass players, and tweaky, wanky ones to boot. I have to believe that he lives an extremely unprivileged existence in return for the art he creates.

    Doug Johns is probably picking up decent clinic and endorsement money these days, but I think he has generally made a living as a mechanic.

    This, by the way, is one of the reasons I always liked Mark King. Back in the day, he managed to be one of the coolest, awesomest, funkiest bass players ever, and somehow played in a band with radio appeal who toured with Madonna.
  11. While I sort of agree with your premise in general I disagree with Vic being an example of it. I personally think what he does is extremely musical, all of it. He has a feel and harmonic sense that is undeniable.
    Is solo bass 'viable music?' I would answer that that's up to the audience. And the audience exists, however small.
  12. tbz


    Jun 28, 2013
    I think there's two ways to answer this; from the business standpoint and from the "holy **** I love music and that dude just redefined what that is to me" standpoint.

    From a business standpoint I'd agree that solo bass is mostly pointless.

    Most folks listen to vocals first, music second, so you lose that market entirely from the "will I buy this sight unseen online" perspective. Almost all radio is vocal oriented, so you lose that as a potential market ingress point.

    You could still work the personality angle if you were able to cultivate a Lady Gaga type persona, and get attention. That being said being "just a bassist" doesn't have the best social connotation for non-musicians so it's kinda tough to make it in that vein (unless you're Lemmy, but he's god.)

    Therefore, simply from a business standpoint, yeah...it's pretty limiting. More so than a solo vocalist by far; but also more limiting than a solo pianist, or guitarist. To that part of me, yes Manring and Wooten are really just teachers showing the rest of us what's possible.

    From a "holy **** I love music and that dude just redefined what that is to me" standpoint I have a hard time seeing anything as pointless.

    Folks like Manring play stuff you wouldn't expect, in a manner than is unconventional, but achieve an effect with it (e.g. audience immersion) similar to what folks achieve with the human voice, etc.

    People in that category don't fit into our tastes, they expand them.
    They don't do what we expect, they re-train us to expect more.

    From that standpoint I'd have to look at it as being something much more than just "instruction", despite it being instructional to a degree.

  13. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    BTW, on Wooten - there's a whole other thread about liking/not liking him, but one thing I'd point out is that he's NOT a "solo bassist." He SOMETIMES plays solo bass, but he has lots of others playing and singing on his albums and tours. His most recent tour, he played with his brothers (the Wooten Brothers Band tried to make it big back in the 80s), who were on guitar, keys, and drums. The tour before that, the "Victor Wooten Band" had a female singer, two drummers, and three bassists besides Wooten, ALL of whom also played other instruments (keys, cello, trumpet, guitar, and trombone, if memory serves) for much of the concert. Victor Wooten solo-time was about a fifteen-minute segment out of a two-hour concert. Originally, he caught attention as a member of Bela Fleck's band, playing very much as part of the ensemble (though, as in all jazz groups, he got his solos).

    I swear, sometimes people look up a couple of youtube videos and then act like they know all about everything the guy does.

    Manring, on the other hand, is a genuine solo bassist. He can play very smoothly in an ensemble (yes, I've heard it in concert), but solo playing is his forte. It's not an ego trip - very hard to even imagine that phrase in association with the guy - but just the love he has of experimentation and pushing the envelope and finding out all the things his instrument can do. It's not music designed for radio play, to be sure. A lot of that, though, is that he really falls into the "New Age" Windham-Hill kind of sensibility about music and, well, it's not the 80s any more. Even there, there's nothing inaccessible or unmusical about his work. Like I said, I brought my teens to see him, and my wife on another occasion, and they loved it.
  14. The Bass Clef

    The Bass Clef Formerly "thebrian" Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2010
    Great comments! I want to ignite emotion (just not anger). I appreciate the musicianship in bass solo music and like I said, I'm glad people like Wooten exist.. whether I listen to him or not. However, I can't put his work at the same level as The Beatles, Bob Marley, Beethoven etc.. because most bass solo music just leaves a lot to be desired (to me) beyond the technical chops. Hendrix had crazy chops on the guitar for the time, but somehow he managed to appeal to more than just guitar players and not just write "guitar how-to manuals" - as I see the majority of Vai's and Satriani's musical bodies of work. Even when Jimi wasn't singing people still loved the music (and Wooten does sing on some of his songs, although I don't like it). That puts Jimi in a different "class" of musicianship to me than Vai or Wooten or anyone that is primarily focused on technique. All art is ultimately "judged" by the people. When I hear people put guys like Wooten in that "elite" class, based on his chops alone, I have to disagree because I see it clearly lacking in areas that other "elite" musicians are not (whio also have equal skills).

    Is bass solo music by definition? Yes. But that's not what I mean. I mean, is it music to my (and most people's) ears? Certainly not. So that's why I wish people would stop calling Wooten the "Bach of bass". He is so far from Bach's genius that it's kind of insulting to Bach's legacy. Because Bach had the chops AND the ability to transcend all boundaries with his music, because he understood musical composition on a supremely higher level. Bach could entertain mucisians and non-musicians alike.
  15. Jarobi


    Dec 10, 2013
    Lyon, France
    I saw footage of Victor Wooten in a bass clinic holding his bass close to a mic, saying "this is what a bass sounds like", and then not touching it. Naturally all that could be heard was silence. His point : music comes from the musician, not the instrument.

    If you asked a solo bassist "did you pick the wrong instrument ?", I'd say you picked the wrong question.

    We spend our time defining boundaries in music : genres, "good" and "bad" notes, instruments and their roles, etc. But in the end, music is music, and as a musician your first goal should be to let the music you hear inside come out. That's Victor Wooten does, and if you approach it from this perspective the bass has little to do with it.

    That's one way to see it.

    IMHO :
    I learned all I know about music myself. As a teenager I just listened to whatever was on the radio or on the tv at that time, and then music piqued my curiosity. When I started listening to a genre I was not used to, it was always the same thing : at first I disliked it, found it weird-sounding. Then as I listened to it more I began to like it. That exact thing happened with solo bass and Victor Wooten specifically.

    I think if most people don't like solo bass it's not solely because they're used to hear the instrument in the background but also because they don't listen to enough music in general.
    If you turn on the radio you'll hear songs that use nearly all the same instruments, chord progressions, rhythms, structures, etc. with little to no creativity, and that's what most people are used to. Stuff like solo bass is way out of their comfort zone and they simply don't have enough interest in it to listen to it again and again, until they "get" it.
    And I'm not saying that it's a question of intelligence or culture, it's just a human thing to stay away from what you're not comfortable with.

    To get back on track : if you do not consider the economic aspect of the question, I think there is no such thing as a "non-viable" music. If the social aspect (most people not liking solo bass) bothers you so much, you gotta remember that things change, not by some divine intervention, but because hard working artists try to open up people's minds.
    Furthermore, don't you think wanting to share the music you love with the world is enough personal motivation ?

    (Sorry if there are some mistakes, my english is not perfect. :p)

    EDIT : also saying that Wooten is primarily focused on technique is wrong. I used to think that at first. Listen to him being interviewed or read his book, you will understand him and what he does much better.
  16. The Bass Clef

    The Bass Clef Formerly "thebrian" Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2010
    I am aware of Wooten's other endeavors, I just used him as the example because he is probably the most well-known solo bassist. I'm glad he isn't just a solo bassist. But most people that are solo bassists, tend to be solo bassists even in a group I think. Chops chops chops chops chops chops are the focus.
  17. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Some people don't have closed minded, inflexible preconceived notions that all music has to fit in to. Some people can listen to music and take it or leave it based on its own merits.
  18. The Bass Clef

    The Bass Clef Formerly "thebrian" Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2010
    I guess that's where I differ. That statement is not profound to me. I get what he was saying, but the medium that the artist uses does make a huge difference in the music. If Wooten truly believes that it's all him and not the instrument, then why is he all over the world spreading the gospel of bass? and not piano? or his voice? It's all about bass.

    But people don't need to read a book or have it explained to them to like Jimi Hendrix.
  19. BobaFret

    BobaFret Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2008
    I think picking Wooten as an "only bass players know him" kinda guy was a bit of a fail. I'm not getting into the musical aspect but when I talk to non musicians and mention playing bass, his name is usually one to come up. He's known by many more than just bass players.
  20. FretNoMore

    FretNoMore * Cooking with GAS *

    Jan 25, 2002
    The frozen north
    Strange question ... of course it's music, and I don't see why it matters how many like it whether it is "viable".

    Not your cup of tea? Listen to something else. ;)