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Talking about Red Mitchell

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by jazzclump, Mar 10, 2011.

  1. Now, Olle is in India, opening a jazzclub, but back then some 35 years ago, we sat in his apartment in Örebro drinking beer, listening to music. He was a vibes and piano player, and very important to me, as for my introduction to jazz.
    We listened to an LP with Red Mitchell, One Long String,with Bob Stensson on piano and Rune Carlsson on drums.

    What struck me then, and the still strikes me, is the three dimensional quality of his sound, and the feeling that there was a human voice hidden in the strings of his bass.
    I knew instantly that I wanted to be able to play like that.

    When I first met with Red, my bass was tuned in fourth, as normal. We played a tune, Red on the piano, and after, he accepted me to study with him.
    I soon found that Red had a mission spreading the fifth tuning. Spreading it "around the world" would be an appropriate way to put ut, as he saw music with all its ingrediences was the substance that could save the world.

    I started to tune my bass in fifths and of course I discovered new ways to do things, some advantages and some disadvantages. I used the fifth tuning at the concert with Gerry Mulligan in 1980, but went back and forth between the systems for a couple of years. To me, the free floating quality of the fifth tuned bass vs the tension and gravity of the fourth tuned bass, was an issue. Red could make up for those differencies, and his playing had the both the freedom of the fifth tuning and the tension and gravity you associate with jazz.
    If you were to answer the question: What makes Red Red? , tuning in fifths would be the wrong answer.
    "Trying to save the world with each note" would be a better answer.

    In this mission, there were no coffee breaks. He was constantly working with musical ideas, and ideas of how to add meaning to his music. He loved the alto player, Johnny Hodges, and worked very hard to be able to portrait him in the way he played glissandos on the bass. He even used his dreams in his work, and he could take a musical phrase to bed, and try to dream the words behind the melody.

    In spite of his constant work, he kept an image of jazz improvisation as a way of spontanious communication, and never stressed the tons of work behind each and every expression.

    Listening to different bass players, I would say that the closest I have heard to Red's fantasy and elegance is the bass player Jim Fergusson, although he is using normal tuning. But also a musician that is working with words close to the melody. There are other bass players that have found their ways to really dig into each note, fantastic guys like Jeff Johnson in Seattle, but with another set of reference, another artistic aim, so to speak.
    At some point I had to face the fact that Chuck Israels' bass playing probably is closer to my emotional reference than Reds, but trying to learn from his playing, has also given me a clearer look at Reds playing. Isn't that funny :)

    "Trying to save the world with each note". I wonder if this concept can be seen as naive or out of touch with reality?
    For a social worker, a banker or even a psychologist, for sure.
    For a musician? Well, obviously that depends on the musician.
    For me, after many years, this concept makes more and more sense, and I cant see anything that could make it irrelevant.
    In any case, that was what Red was busy doing.

    Peter Axelsson
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
  3. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    Nice read Peter!
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Nice post and I was pleased to see Jeff Johnson's name in TB lights, well deserved.
  5. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    This is the most important line in the whole thing.... great to see people getting what Red was about.
  6. Honestly, I can't get over how great Red sounds. Listen to this with Joe Pass in Stockholm:

    BossaBruce likes this.
  7. One of the finest compliments i've had came from Diane Mitchell in a press release for some concerts I did with Roger Kellaway after Red passed: "I always recommend Paul because he sounds so much like my late husband, Red Mitchell."
    So yeah, guilty as charged and proud of it.

    Thanks for the good thread, Peter. It's nice that Red's getting the over-due recognition he deserves around here. I still run in to well seasoned jazz bassists who haven't even heard Red play. Pretty sad....
  8. Agreed, Jeff is a great player, and an old friend from back in Oklahoma days....
  9. this came up for me last night. I still take lessons on the upright once or twice a month. My current teacher is a good player, young guy, conservatory trained and helpful to me. But I found myself explaining Red Mitchell to him - not that I'm an expert like you guys. But Red's playing just blows me away. I'm going to convert one of my basses to tuning in fifths and fool around with it. (Although I realize that tuning in fifths is not what defines Red.)
  10. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    We are fortunate in Nashville to have Red's former student Jim Ferguson, who carries on the tradition of Red's lyricism. He is far and away my favorite Nashville Double Bassist.
    My wife Dee Dee and I attended the Jazz Educator's Network Conference this year in Louisville and are planning on attending the 2013 in Atlanta. Dee Dee has attended many a NAMM Show but she said, "I like the JEN Conference. NAMM is about stuff, but JEN is about Music." Somehow I think Red would approve.
  11. Dimmik


    Apr 16, 2012
    Have a CD he did with Putte Wickman "The Very Thought of You" which is great but the bass is hard to hear.
  12. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Great read, Peter!

    Clicking on chuck3's youtube link of course caused me to dig for even more of Red's stuff and I was fortunate enough to come up with this gem: "In A Sentimental Mood" - Red Mitchell, Tommy Flanagan, Jerry Dodgion. It's so tough to pull of playing a ballad so that it sounds like a ballad but Red handles things with such ease and beauty.
  13. In case you haven't.......be sure and check Red's performance at the ISB Convention.

  14. Very nice ...
  15. that's great too.

    I found this. The sound quality isn't great but it's good video of his hands at work. What a distinctive style. His right hand is so far up the neck and his left hand so far down.

  16. Joshua

    Joshua WJWJr Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 23, 2000
    I liked that a lot!
  17. I'm getting a malicious URL warning from my browser from that site.

    Any reason why? Or is it just nonsense?
  18. It worked fine for me.
  19. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Hmmm....the home page looks legit but all the linking pages (Bios, Downloads, Interviews etc.) go to ads for viagra. Bummer. I remember there being a lot of good stuff at that site.
  20. I just dropped an email to Diane Mitchell about this. Hopefully, it'll be fixed soon.

    EDIT: is a track from Red's second side as a leader, doing "Paul's pal" by Sonny Rollins. Some of my favorite Red stuff was done on four gut strings tuned in 4ths in the 50's and 60's.