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Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by ZonGuy, Apr 12, 2009.
I have the same experience. I just discovered the joy of playing with no amp. My tone is getting much better (I think). It's a funny thing that I play an acoustic instrument and I did not played with anyone acoustically before. And it helps to develop a good sound with an amp. As Ray Brown said: play the amplifier, do not let the amplifier play you.
In my last few gigs I have been using an amp but with only (or mostly) a mic. Even that will make you concentrate more on making a great acoustic sound with your bass.
There is a whole different set of sound nuances you get if you 'play a pickup' and it influences your approach.
I love these gigs where you can play acoustically, to my ears it is the best sound, and I can use the bow without worrying about it morphing into scraping noises through the pickup/amp circuit. In terms of volume and tone production, I usually find that the first five or so songs are very hard work, but after that everything seems to settle down, when with good musicians. It is just about always this way, and I've no idea why; I'm convinced that at least part of it is the other players reacting sympathetically to the acoustic sound - which they are perhaps not used to - and finding a natural balance.
I learned to play with no amp, playing a bad school bass. I gigged all through high school with no amp, learned to get a sound from the bass (and blisters!!) long before I ever plugged in. My favorite gig is still acoustic bass and a REAL piano!! No electricity needed or wanted.
Me too. Good luck finding one though.
Most recently, my Jazz work (studying) has been in a Bi-Weekly Hard Bop Master Class.
The first session, the Facilitator told me to "unplug". While he encourages me to really dig in, he also made it clear to the other folks that it will force them to listen and play with more sensitivity and dynamics.
I do find that I am pumping fours like crazy without a lot of those triplet skips and such that are far more nuanced in lower volume settings.
I am rather inexperienced, but I haven't really found an amplified sound I am satisfied with on DB yet.
I really think that pickups make us change our approach. That's why I like the Realist. I'm not sure it is the 'best' tone wise but it lets me play my bass the way I do acoustically and I don't have to change a thing.
I've also been using a mic with my setup and using as much of that as possible. I blend in a little pickup to add a little umpf if need be. I'm not crazy about the extra hassle but using mostly mic signal makes you play the bass instead of the amp.
I did a hit with a big band that I play with regularly a couple of weeks ago and didn't get a chance to connect my rig up before the count...I could still hear myself and I could also hear myself on the recording I made as well.
A big part of playing acoustically is the volume. That is, once you amplify yourself in relation to the other instruments, everyone plays differently. It doesn't matter if the sound you get is "your bass but louder" or not. That sound the guys in the 50's and 60's got was because everyone played at a really low volume compared to today. The horns didn't have to overblow everything and the drums had to play to the volume of the band and be musical. Once you change the volume of the bass in relation to the other instruments that feel doesn't happen anymore. You get a more modern, less relaxed sound, where the bass sits in a different place in the band, more pushing through the band instead sitting on the bottom.
Of course, not all of the change is for the worse. Volume gives the bassist a whole world of opportunities that were denied the guys in the 50's.
you're saying the Elvin Jones and Tony Williams were quiet?
Tons of bop guys and later were hard blowers. Coltrane is famous for overblowing.
Good post, Mark. I was just thinking.... it would be interesting to hear what Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, or Scott LaFaro would have to say about this thread, or even the title.
I've toyed with the idea of guts and mics over the years.... but unless I owned a second bass on which to try it (I don't), it would make me fundamentally unemployable in today's market. I do play unamped whenever it's possible.
Granted, the statements are taken out of context, but here are a couple of morsels about bass amplification from Wynton Marsalis' new book, Moving to Higher Ground:
"When bass players started using electric amplifiers to defend themselves against loud drummers, one of the most fundamental checks and balances in jazz was altered. The softest instrument became one of the loudest instruments - if not the loudest- and was set free to wreak havoc."
He also talks about how the "swing" was lost when, "Drummers started happily drowning out bass players. Bass players fought back with their amps..." he then picks on a few other instruments.
Despite how potentially polarizing his above statements are, to Wynton Marsalis' credit he does make the statement, "In jazz, we should probably give the bass more melodic passages."
His brother feels similarly. But their bassists both use mics when they need to. Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with that!
I started playing BG in 1973 and DB in 1978. The players I dug were guys like Ron Carter, Stafford James, Michael Moore, Stan Clarke, Clint Houston, Mchezaji Buster Williams, Eddie Gomez . . . all guys who knew how to pull a sound without an amp and all guys who were delving into the benefits that an amp offered.
As a result, I played for a DAMN long time before I learned to pull a sound without an amp. But thanks to The Fellas 'round here it finally did come and it has been a joy.
Amp and no-amp both have great things to offer. More dynamics is good, with or without the amp. More tools is good. More triplets is good . . . yeah, I still dig Staff and RC!
Watch the old videos, they aren't blowing nearly as hard as you think. Elvin played on a tiny drum kit with small sticks. Tony was famous for drowning Ron out at times but, again, watch what video is available. He played way quieter in the '60's than the average club drummer does now. The video is really revealing because there are usually very few mics around so you get a sense of the volume of the band but, even more interestingly, you get to see the players. They don't struggle or strain to be heard. They are all very relaxed and not pushing.
I should have also given credit where credit is due. In my last post, most of those ideas either came from stuff Ben Wolfe told me or were developed from them.
And they both use or used Tain.
I think there is a difference between using a mic and playing acoustically. Branford's group depends heavily on pa support. If there weren't a pa Revis would be lost. Tain is one of the loudest jazz drummers I've heard.
Listen to some of Tranes live recordings, you cant even hear Jimmy. I just finished reading 2 different books on Trane, and there were times when Jimmy and Tyner left the stage, and it was a Trane and Elvin duet.
I have often wondered listening to Sunday At Village Vangaurd, and Waltz For Debby, just how much of Scotty's wonderful tone did Bill and Paul hear?
Once again, go to the video. Elvin didn't hit that hard. And Jimmy Garrison had such a thick sound that you don't hear him that well on the studio recordings either. Go to Youtube and type in Coltrane, Miles, Art Blakey or anybody you want from the 50's and 60's. Watch Elvin, Tony and Art. They didn't hit that hard. There was a subtlety to what they did that is entirely lost nowadays with everyone playing louder.
Hey, I'm not going to stop using an amp. Everyone plays louder now. It is just expected that you can keep up. I'm just pointing out something that most people don't seem to know. I didn't either until Ben Wolfe pointed it out to me.
If they had lived, they probably would have been on the front edge of amplifiers and steel strings. Certainly Pettiford and Lafaro were all about soloing.
Don't count gut out. I just made the leap to gut. I still amplify it and, in fact, it was an order of magnitude easier to amplify than steel strings. I keep the action relatively low (still higher than with Spiros though) and get a really cool sound. I just pulled my steel string bass out to mess around with after 4 weeks solid of nothing but gut and had to put it away after about 5 minutes. It just sounded puny. I miss the singing tone in the upper register and soloing was a bit of a paradigm shift but I'm pretty committed to it now. The sound while walking a line is just a thing of beauty.