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What is a bassist?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Al Caldwell, Aug 16, 2004.

  1. Al Caldwell

    Al Caldwell

    Mar 18, 2003
    St.Louis , Mo
    I had a great weekend, recording the legendary bassist Chuck Rainey.
    We went to dinner after the session and he talked about some of the records he's played on. I saw him use elements of diffrent styles in his
    playing that i've never seen before. He played my 9 sting bass for a while,
    and apprieciated where the bass is headed. I've been teased by insecure
    musicians for sounding like a guitarist. I took offense to that for years, but when the most recorded bassist of our time embraced the future as a challenge and not a threat, It all made sense. I'm a lucky man....because
    i'm in love with music. I'm a lucky man because I have much to learn.And
    I'm a lucky man because I know what I want the bass to sound like.
    I still do record dates with my 4 string Fender Jazz , because it's the right instrument for the song. I get up early in the morning and read some of the post, and I can tell that a lot of you love your instruments as well as the bass as the foundation instrument. I would love to know ,what is your definition of a bassist? Because of ERB's, will the definition change? Will bassist be expected to take on a greater harmonic responsibility? Should a bassist seeking greater melodic freedom learn to
    play another instrument? Does the bass have more than 1 role? I am hearing music ,that i've chased as a child , still eluding me in my head.
    My instrument grew because i've gotten closer to my melodic foe. I wonder still...................Am I still a bassist? Or am I just a musician?
  2. adrian garcia

    adrian garcia

    Apr 9, 2001
    las vegas. nevada
    Endorsing Artist: Nordy Basses, Schroeder Cabs, Gallien Krueger Amps
    Al, what an absolutely wonderful picture! Chuck Rainey is a true living legend and a real gentleman.
    As far as what defines a bassist, you will get many replies. My simple one regarding ERB is that we should be free to express ourselves how we feel. If that means playing a monster of a bass such as that Benavente, why not? I myself searched for my "home" - stopped playing 4 strings in '82 , played 6 for a long time , even a 7 very briefly, and have concluded that the 5 is best for me. I am most comfortable on a 5 , still i wish for extended range, so i sometimes use a V bass to achieve reaching those "heights".
    I believe you are a bassist, you certainly are one when you lay down that track on a 4 string - why would that stop when you play your ERB?
    Keep doing your thing, man. God bless.
  3. quallabone


    Aug 2, 2003
    I have a bunch of 4 bangers and a seven. I've found that I only play the 7 while practicing as it is a different method of expression. The bands that I play in require nothing more than a steady pulse which is exactly what I give them. I could be playing straight 32nd notes for entire sets but that's no more fun than pounding away 1/4 notes. I could play an ERB at a gig but it would be the biggest waste of 3 strings ever. I think a bassist is anyone who plays a bass. It doesn't matter if it's a bucket and string or a doubleneck 16 string. As long as you're doing your job you're a good bassist in my books.
  4. De Teng

    De Teng

    Oct 27, 2003
    Utrecht, Holland
    In my humble 24-year-old opinion I'm convinced that a bassline is a fusion of a certain melody and rythm. A lot of bassplayers and musicians say that playing bass isn't really about melodies and high notes. I just can't imagine that... if I play a bassline then it must have some charme of itself, otherwise I won't be playing it. If there isn't a bit of magic in the line itself, due to the melody/rythm thing it isn't functional for the music a lot of the time.

    I played guitar for about 11 years when I really got into a bit serious bassplaying. During that period (let's say the pre-bass period :smug: ) I learnt a lot about inventing melodies, improvising stuff and so on. My teacher didn't care a lot about too much theory, he emphasized it would be worth a lot more that you hop into a band listen to the music and start playing what you hear and feel. I will always be thankfull to that, perhaps the best lesson I ever got, as I look back.

    Every musician should have a lot of insight in the total harmonic picture instead of only bass and drums. Melody is an essential part of making music. Talking about it makes you wiser too, to me it's so important communicating with other people.

    Anyway.. I think a lot more things are important, but this just gives a start, doesn't it?
  5. willgroove2


    Aug 16, 2003
    chicago IL
    Endorsing Artist;Essential sound products,Dunlop, Ergo Instruments
    i think that there are two schools of thought on this matter,one is the "less is more" school,the other is the "know as much as you can" bunch.i,IMO think that sometime's less is just that;less, i hear band's and record's where im like where is the bass player?where is the pocket?where's the groove? staying out of the way is too often seen as a mask for poor musicianship.as a guy who get's to play on a fair amount of remix's these day's,it amazes me that i have to make up bass part so often,not remake but come up with because there's nothing on the original track.this comes from producer's who don't really understand what the bass can really do.i play four's and five's mostly but if i need to take thing's in a different direction i won't hesitate to grab a ERB or a frettless or a upright ect what ever it take's i think that the more tool's and training you have the more authority any groove you play will have.http://www.soundclick.com/willhoward
  6. One thing I've really begun to appreciate, more and more recently, is that it doesn't matter what sort of bass (or even instrument you play) it just matters whether you fully understand the music you are playing. Good equipment is merely a tool to get your ideas out - and having a great sound is extremly important for many obvious reasons, but mainly because that's the first thing the audience/listener will latch on to when hearing you play (or rather - hearing you play with a band).

    IMO Too much time is spent (here and othe places) GAS-ing over new or exotic gear and not enough about learning music in all its forms (harmony, theory, scales etc) and I admit I am as prone as the next guy to drooling over a Fodera or Nordstrand but that's mainly because of the sound they produce - but the same could be said of the player's fingers producing that beautiful sound - with a high-end/high spec bass merely being the best conduit for getting those creative, musical thoughts out of their brain, through their fingers and out into the world. A bad workman can blame his tools - but a great workman can do amazing things with bad tools - but hey you probably already know that.

    In short it doesn't matter what bass you play (as long as it's not truly awful and sounds crap) as long as it doesn't hinder either your creativity or your ability to communicate your music with and to other people.
  7. De Teng

    De Teng

    Oct 27, 2003
    Utrecht, Holland
    Good point man, I totally agree. I just get annoyed sometimes by people, who want the exact setup as their so-called idol does. Even exact the same strings, pedals, screwdrivers and washing machine, if you know what I mean. The point is, they'll never sound like their idol, because most of the time the people who do this have no personality (in musical terms speaking) of their own. In the end they only copy and don't think about developing their playing skills, instead of using that time to brag about which pick to choose. (I saw this guy last week at my local shop, he wanted a particular brand of picks and travelled half the country for it. Personally I think it's a bit stupid...)

    It's so important constantly being critical to yourself and not to accept things as they are. I don't see myself as particular being a bassplayer, but as a musician who wants to cope with the total picture. Changing and talking about an arrangement for another instrument in the band is as interesting to me as making changes and improvements at my own door.

    Very interesting topic!!!!!
  8. Adam Barkley

    Adam Barkley Mayday!

    Aug 26, 2003
    Jackson, MS
    I would think bassist would fall under being a musician, especially if you can play other instruments.

    Ex. John Paul Jones, great at bass guitar, string bass, keyboards, guitar, pedal steel, and many other instruments; I wouldn't just refer to him as the "bassist" from Led Zeppelin, even though that was mainly what his job was in that band.

    I actually prefer when I learn that a favorite musician of mine is actually a mutli-instrumentalist. Gives me the feeling that that person is dedicated to music, and not just one instrument.

    I have only heard one clip of your music and I thought it was very expressive with all of your instrument's range, not just bass, so I would say you would fall under musician
  9. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Mr. Caldwell, it is a small world. Yesterday i was at the local Guitarcenter where I met John King, he recognized me and I told him that he must have met me at a bass seminar that was held at University City back in 1996. If i remember correctly, you were there and you were playing an extended range instrument with very close string spacing. In my memory, you sounded like a good guitarist instead of a bassist because you spent most of the time on the upper range of your instrument. I'm not saying this out of insecurity, I know you are 100 times better than me. I just feel that bass should concentrate on the lower register with occasional moves into the upper register. Piccolo basses and extended range basses just don't move me. Personally, I have played six string basses, the high C is good for emulating guitar funk parts or higher end double stops among other things. Others play eight, nine or ten string basses, virtually all these people, like you, are fine musicians. If you like what you are doing, keep on doing it. It doesn't matter if people like me are more into the Marcus Miller or Anthony Jackson, Bernard Edwards aspect of bass. It is a small world, but in a way it big enough for all of us too. :bassist:
  10. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    heh, you're just jealous of my koRn fiEldy signature ibanEz :bassist:

    seriously, though, good post al.
  11. Al Caldwell

    Al Caldwell

    Mar 18, 2003
    St.Louis , Mo
    I remember that bass clinic. I think John was the host. I knew everyone else was into plucking the bass at that time. I've been slapping the bass silly since 1976. I played "All Blues " and did a solo.
    I talked about touring and and being a bass player. When doing a bass
    clinic without any back-up musicians or tracks, it's very boring to play the bass line to "My Girl" for 5 minutes and teach something new. If I'm
    playing by myself , I tend to play the bass part and the guitar part to fill out the song and to challenge my self. I've earned my living as a foundation bassist. For my amusment , I strive for a higher plain. I have a strong foundation in Marcus Miller, Anthony Jackson and James Jamerson. I just don't perform enough in St.Louis for the local musicians to hear. I have a few records on the radio that are local hits. They work because the foundation is solid. I'm sorry that all you heard was guitar at that clinic.
  12. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Awesome! That sounds like a great session, and a great experience. I've been playing 5's and 6's for about twenty years now, and whenever I pick up a 4 these days it feels like there's something missing. My index finger keeps wanting to move off the fingerboard, into thin air. :D

    Personally those wide necks on the 7's and 8's seem a little big for my hands, but I suppose it would be something along the same lines, once you got used to that it might be hard to go back. ERB's are a wonderful thing. I try not to live by anyone else's definition of bass playing, although granted there are certain styles where it's important to groove and lock in with the kick.

    I've done plenty of sessions laying down bass solos that sound pretty much like guitar solos, or doing "guitar-type" rhythmic stuff to supplement the tune. Like, Alembics are great for that, if you switch on the preamp and open up the tone controls, then cut out most of the low frequencies, you can get this great attacky strumming sound that's very noticeable and very cool sounding. There've been plenty of people who listened to that kind of thing and their heads went immediately to "guitar", till they heard some of the "plinks" and stuff like that. Half of 'em still say "wow, I wonder what kind of guitar that is".

    Heh heh. :D
  13. keb


    Mar 30, 2004
    It's a toughie. As more and more musicians blur the lines, and pioneering players bring extended range instruments and newer playing and compositional approaches into the mainstream, I think the definition of "bassist" can change (and is changing), though there will always be a "traditional" segment where the bassist is there to help provide the pulse with the rhythm section. The pioneering musicians are still bassists, I guess in the sense that their instrument of choice is called a "bass guitar."

    Which kind of leads to a tangent: what exactly is a "bass guitar"?
  14. mark beem

    mark beem I'm alive and well. Where am I? Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Al, you say "musician" as if it were a bad word.. I always try to be a musician first then a bassist.. In all things the music must come first..
  15. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    Very cool Al.
    Chuck is the man, what a great talent.
    Got to see him live a few times, what a treat.
    The number of string you play is like the number of crayons you use ths draw a picture it's just more or less color.
    Play what you like.
  16. willgroove2


    Aug 16, 2003
    chicago IL
    Endorsing Artist;Essential sound products,Dunlop, Ergo Instruments
    "It doesn't matter if people like me are more into the Marcus Miller or Anthony Jackson, Bernard Edwards aspect of bass. It is a small world, but in a way it big enough for all of us too." DR cheese,you are aware that anthony jackson play's and helped develope the six string contrabass as we know it right?and that marcus miller and bernard edwards RIP both made/make solo albums that showcase their solo skill's? marcus even has been known to play a six string :eek: frettless at that.so just because you saw al at a clinic and couldn't understand what he was doing dosn't make what he was doing wrong it, might mean you need to study music more, just a suggestion http://www.soundclick.com/willhoward
  17. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    How the heck do you know that i didn't understand what he was doing? I know that Al Caldwell was playing mainly in the upper register. He was mainly playing melodies and plenty of chords. It does not take a degree in music theory to recognize chords and melodies when a person hears them. I told Caldwell that my approach to the bass does not emphasize what he showed. I also said that he should play what he wants to play. I don't ask any one for permission when I play, and no one has to ask my approval. That said, we all are entitled to express our opinions.

    I have been an amateur player for almost thirty years and yes I know all about Anthony Jackson and his role in creating the six string bass. I have owned a couple of sixes. I currently own a five tuned BEADG. At the time of that clinic, I owned a Ken Smith bolt-on six. As an Anthony Jackson fan, I have listened to him extensively over the years and he plays the six the way i would if I had his ability. I am a fan of Marcus Miller, that does not mean that I love every thing that MM has ever played although generally I like his approach to soloing when he does it. As for Bernard Edwards solo album, it was mainly vocal oriented with no extended bass solo work.

    Although I am a bass hobbyist, I have nothing but respect for the level of dedication it takes to be a quality professional musician like Al Caldwell. I also understand his need to challenge himself and keep learning at a level that I'll never approach. All professionals should learn and study beyond what they need for their typical daily work. For example, I am a history professor by trade, the great majority of history buffs would be lost at a meeting of professional historians discussing historiography, research techniques, and theory. Most of that information is not used by us when teaching freshmen level western civ or modern world history. We do need it during graduate seminars or when we are engaged in research projects ourselves. No matter what level of training I have, however, it is meaningless if I can't relate it to whatever level of student I am teaching. I came out of that seminar with all the respect for Al Caldwell, I just am not very interested in the aspect of bass he demonstrated that day. That is not unlike students who take a class of mine and think that I am a decent teacher but who are not interested in studying post-colonial Africa for a living.

    As I said before, there is room in the world for all sorts of musicians. Folks like me who try to keep it simple and funky and also room for folks who want to stretch boundaries. No where in my earlier post did I mean disrespect to Mr. Caldwell, I hope neither he or you feels that i am trying to put him down for his interests.
  18. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Willgroove2, I checked out your site and it's nice. I'm sure that you were defending a fellow pro and I as I said, I have nothing but respect for pro musicians. I got a bit annoyed when you assumed that because I wasn't into what Al Caldwell was playing, I was ignorant about music or the development of the bass guitar. I have found that advanced musicians assume that non-pros are ignorant if they like less technically sophisticated music. I remember once when i was talking to a music student who played sax and I asked him if he played any Sanborn, he gave me a condescending look and started to talk about Charlie Parker. I simply told him that I knew something about the history of jazz saxophone and left it at that. The fact was that i hard heard Parker, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, etc. before he was born. I knew about fusion and the tacky aspects commercial jazz. I also know that I am a child of the funk era and I like funk based music. I also know that complexity does not always equal great music. For instance, you go to a big city like Chicago or New York, and every night there are number of clubs where trained musicians are playing jazz standards and soloing. All of these musicians are technically proficient, but they are not necessarily saying anything new. I think about Larry Graham, who music is harmonically much more simple than jazz, but he was innovative and thousands of players of all styles have emulated him. My point is that innovation and good playing is not always techincally great. Good music has an undefinable something extra whether it is complicated or simple. Once again, think about Jaco, he was an awesome techinician who sent bassists to the woodshed, but he also had soul and he was even a good showman, not unlike Victor Wooten, the current bass guitar hero. I'm rambling now. I hope this made sense.
  19. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    I like to think of the bass not as an instrument but as a function. In my opinion, the "harmonic responsibility" can be fulfilled by whichever instrument is playing the melody that best delineates the root movement of the chord progression at any given time. That can be the bass, but it sometimes can be another instrument, like a keyboard. The bass guitar is then not restricted by a music theory concept of what a bass should do and is allowed to fulfill its potential as another equal voice in a group's overall sonic image.

    The tradeoff is that if people regard the bass as just another voice they might be more likely to think it's not a necessary instrument, just like there are groups who have no guitar or no keyboards and the instruments are not really missed. Our ace in the hole is that unlike guitars and keys, the bass is more felt than heard and so it's missed more when it's not there. Also, there's more unexplored musical potential in bass guitar playing than in any other instrument, so much that the instrument itself is still evolving. The people who are dismissing these changes are simply cemented in their ways and think there's only one right way to play music. Oh well, people hated Bebop too. The trick is to convert them gradually and tastefully. People can't like something if they don't listen to it.;)

    Sorry I was a bit all over the place.
  20. willgroove2


    Aug 16, 2003
    chicago IL
    Endorsing Artist;Essential sound products,Dunlop, Ergo Instruments
    dr cheese,i re-read what i wrote and it came off a little harsh and condensending sorry about that,although al is a friend of mine and im proud to say he has also recorded me, i thought you were making another point and jumped on that.guy's like al,bill dickins ect take a lot of hit's as they push forward the limit's of the bass guitar,it 's hard enough making a living playing music much less spending time and money(lot's of money)to hear the music in your head.thing's that were crazy sounding a few years ago are common (fuzz and wah bass,octive dividers)so im all for someone pushing the ceiling of bass as it helps all of us,thank's for checking out my site the real website will be up soon.P.S.i have a japanes bernard edwards solo cd that' only has two vocal track's and the rest(9 song's) are instrumentel but it's very rare