Saturday, December 1, 2007

Questions from a Young Bassist - Part I

by MF

Q: What qualities do you listen for when hearing a young bass 
 player for 
 the first time?

A: The qualities that I listen for in a young bass player are: Time feel, Sound, Ears, Good technical foundation, Desire and Enthusiasm (Yes, you can hear that!), and a Sense of listening history, Jazz vocabulary, and context. I’m less concerned about whether the student executes everything flawlessly, but more whether or not the student has more than a superficial understanding of what it means to be a jazz bassist. I’d rather hear a solid “no-frills” approach to playing, especially in more functional playing or “comping”. Too many specific stylistic nuances which may seem hip often times alert me of things that I will need to help the student to “unlearn” before we can begin building a solid foundation as a jazz bassist. This includes various devices such as slides, pull-offs, very wide vibratos, excessive triplet fills, etc. Not that you shouldn’t use them, but be conscious not to overuse them to the extent that they obscure whatever content is being displayed. These are 
very personal preferences and I should also say that some other bass teachers may want to hear everything in your “trick bag”. It helps to know something about the people you’re auditioning for.

Q: Could you provide a short list of tunes that I should 
learning to play?

A: Short list of tunes- Well, here’s a very short list: Blues-Major and Minor (all keys), I Got Rhythm (all keys), All the Things You Are, Stella By Starlight, Four, Just Friends, Honeysuckle Rose (Scrapple from the Apple), Confirmation, So What, Like Someone in Love, What is This Thing Called Love, Body and Soul, Out of Nowhere, I’ll Remember April.

Q: What do you ask potential students to do in an audition?

A: In an audition I would most likely ask a potential student to play: 2 or 3 tunes, melody, bass line, comping (walking), solo on song form. I might ask the student to do various specific things on the tunes like: play in “2” for the 1st chorus, walk the 2nd chorus, solo the 3rd chorus, walk the first half or the 4th chorus, and go back into “2” for the bridge and last “A” of the 4th chorus, for example. That might be an extreme example, but I would be looking for how well the student can follow musical directions and execute them. Besides that I’d ask for some scales (Major, modes of the major scale, Minor scales (Melodic minor, we use the jazz form, which is the ascending form in both directions, Harmonic Minor, Pure Minor), I might ask to hear a technical study, such as one from Simandl book 1, or similar if you had something prepared along those lines. Then I would ask you to sight read some various excerpts: some basic chord charts or lead sheets, and something with writ
ten lines, solo parts, or a combination of all of these. If the student is also auditioning on the electric bass I’d also ask to hear some examples of the student’s abilities on that instrument. I would generally ask to hear something more “groove” oriented, or something more commonly related to the electric bass. If the student was auditioning only on electric bass I would ask for all of the above examples in addition to the more “typical” electric bass ones.

Q: Who do you feel are the best bass players to listen to and 

A: The best bass players to listen to and emulate: too long to list here, but a starting place would be: Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Scott Lafaro, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Miroslav Vitous, Dave Holland, Jaco Pastorius, James Jamerson,

Q: Who do you feel are the best NON-bass players to listen to?

A: The best Non-Bass players to listen to: Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, Red Garland, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson, Paul Bley, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jim Hall, Max Roach, Lennie Tristano, Lee Morgan, Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey, Thelonius Monk.

Q: Could you list your "desert island recordings"?

A: “Desert Island” recordings: Miles Davis Quintet Live at the Plugged Nickel (Box set), Bill Evans- Sunday at the Village Vanguard, and Portrait in Jazz with Scott Lafaro and Paul Motian, Miles Davis- Kind of Blue, Chick Corea-Now he Sings, Now he Sobs, Ornette Coleman-The Shape of Jazz to Come, Charles Mingus- Mingus Ah Um, John Coltrane- Crescent, Ballads, and A Love Supreme, Duke Ellington’s Blanton-Webster Band recordings, and the Far East Suite, Miles Davis/Gil Evans Complete box set, Miles Davis the Complete Quintet recordings, Miles Davis-Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Sonny Rollins-The Bridge, and Live at the Village Vanguard volumes 1 and 2, Ornette Coleman- the Complete Science Fiction sessions, Don Cherry-Complete Communion, Albert Ayler- Spiritual Unity, Cecil Taylor-Unit Structures, Tony Williams- Spring, Dave Holland-Conference of the Birds, Tim Berne-Fractured Fairy Tales, and Science Friction, Louis Armstrong Hot 5’s and Hot 7’s, I guess that’
s kind of big for a “desert island” list, but that’s what comes to mind.

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