Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let Me Introduce Myself...

by MF

Before I start posting a lot of specific things about the bass, and spewing forth all of my opinions and philosophies, I thought that I should first introduce myself to this blog community. My name is Michael Formanek, and I am the jazz bass teacher at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve been here since 2001, and a full-time member of the faculty since 2003. One of the main reasons for being here is for the opportunities to interact and collaborate with members of other departments at Peabody. From the time I started here the members of the Double Bass faculty have been extremely welcoming, and enthusiastic about the possibilities open to us and to our students. For that I am very grateful, because this is not always the case.

I am honored to be in the company of great bassists and educators like Paul Johnson, John Hood, and Jeffrey Weisner at Peabody, and in this blog. Let me make one thing very clear, though. I am not a “classical” musician, and I don’t pretend to be. I am a jazz musician and an improviser, which as I hope that I will help you to discover, are not necessarily the same thing. Having said that I will add that I have studied the bass “classically”, and I have a great love for much of the composed music of the past 300 or so years. I’ve even tried to play some of it, with varying degrees of success. I also play music that at times is very closely related to classical music, and in some cases even utilizes the themes and the harmonies of composers such as Mahler, Bach, or Mozart, such as in performance with the pianist, Uri Caine. I will discuss these situations at length in later posts. Other musical settings that I sometimes find myself in might be closer to contemporary chamber music, than to what you may think of as jazz. Here it is only the definitions that get in the way of the music. If we use the labels only as a general point of reference, rather than a way of defining what it is we do, we keep all possibilities open to us at all times.

In the past thirty-three, or so, years I’ve played jazz of pretty much every era, or style, in many cases with some of the very best musicians that represent them. If you want to find out which musicians I’ve played with there are various bios around the web that will tell you that, but suffice it to say that I’ve been extremely fortunate, and very lucky to have had so many great opportunities to perform, create, and record music at a very high level.

No matter how much the specifics of each situation may vary, the constants are always the same: time, sound, pitch, function, rhythm, and feel, not necessarily in that order. In fact, as far as I’m concerned they all hold equal value, and at various times one may, and sometimes must be sacrificed for another depending on the perceived needs of the music. Notice that I mention time, rhythm and feel. To a jazz musician these are three different but related things, not to be reduced to something as simple as just rhythm. This is, of course, a very subjective thing, but it’s something that all musicians have to come to terms with a one point or another. In other words, your musical priorities may not be the same as the people you’re playing with, the composer, or the listener. Deciding which elements to be completely inflexible about, and which may be compromised if necessary is an important step to becoming a good bass player, period – in jazz, classical, bluegrass, hip-hop, klezmer, or whatever. Everyone has their own idea about what a bass player should sound like, and what they should play like. The art is to balance that information with how you want to sound and play.

I’m going to leave off here for now, but I plan to elaborate much more about specific aspects of jazz bass playing in my subsequent posts. Please feel free to respond and let me know what kinds of things might be interesting to hear about.

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