Archive for the ‘Bass’ Category

The Importance of Routine

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Hey look, it hasn’t even been a full year! I’m getting better at this!*

So I joined a new band this fall. I’ve been musically pretty stagnant; with the Infidels essentially in cryostorage after our CD release show, and Waits Dreaming officially over, I was in the weird and all too common state where was constantly refreshing musician want ads looking for something that’s a good fit for me.** Conveniently, one of the Waits Dreaming guys who I had always gotten along really well with and is a great guitar player lost the bass player for one of his other projects. He gave me a call, and I started working with him and his drummer to finish up the album they had put together with the other bassist, to be released under a new name. We picked up another guitar player, and have been putting the finishing touches on pre-production for this album, to be recorded this spring/summer.

Now, basically every single band I have been in has done things in a different way, and every time I’ve been in the studio things have gone a little differently. Because I’m a “trained jazz musician”,*** I have a tendency to not actually write bass parts. I absolutely know the songs, and have a rough idea of what I’m going to play 60% of the time, but leave some things up to chance. For the most recent Infidels album, I recorded different bass parts during different takes and annoyed the shit out of the rest of the band. For Waits Dreaming, I spent an afternoon recording bass parts, but after listening to them I didn’t like my performance or the ideas. So, I asked for the Logic files, and rewrote all of my bass lines and recorded them at home. And apparently, this is my process now.

When I was young lad, I watched Metallica’s “A Year and a Half in the Life Of” video, and one of the many things in it that stuck with me was how Lars recorded his drum parts at like 11pm, after walking into the studio in a bathrobe with a fresh drink in his hand. That was his “game face”, that was his “zone”. And for me, I think to write the parts I want to record, I need to sit and write during the recording process. That’s my zone. Which, thankfully in the day of home recording, is super easy.

On the other hand, maybe i’m just totes lazy.

*And yet, he knows in his heart of hearts that he lies…
**Talented musicians who are serious about their music but also have families/jobs/responsibilities. Oh, and aren’t assholes.
***”Pretentious asshole”

The plight of the electric bassist.

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

As I’ve matured as a bassist, I’ve found that I have distanced myself from many of the classic arguments that surround bassists. What’s the best bass? The best amp? Who is the greatest player alive? Who is the greatest bassist of all time? These arguments will always exist, and the longer I play the less I seem to care. I imagine that shows maturity.

One thing that I can’t seem to escape is the need to defend my instrument of choice as being valid. It’s a ridiculous concept, and one I’d largely forgotten about since my early 20’s. A conversation over Memorial Day weekend, however, brought it all back to the surface.

When I first started playing bass (back in 1990!), I received a lot of grief from family and friends about my choice. Drums and guitar seemed far more exciting when watching videos on MTV, but something about bass just seemed…. right. Besides, I already knew two guitar players and a drummer. If I played bass, I would be IN A BAND. There was never an attraction to playing string bass back then; I was in concert band on a hand me down trumpet in elementary school. Orchestra just seemed dorky, really.*

Thanks to the increasing prominence of electric bass in the popular music of the time, the implications of it being a “lesser instrument” faded pretty fast. This wasn’t an issue for college either, as we didn’t have a very strong orchestra program. Later on in my college years, though, something became apparent. While the electric bass is the undisputed king of the “rock” world, it is definitely thought of as a lesser instrument in two circles: classical music and jazz.

I can understand the lack of respect in the classical world, as you don’t often see electric instruments in the orchestra. What really grinds my gears about this is the view that the electric bass is simply a smaller, easier to play string bass. While the first mass production electric bass (The Fender Precision, so named because the frets allowed for precise intonation) was originally intended to fit that purpose, it quickly grew into its own as an instrument – extended fretboard range, five and six string basses, active electronics… the list goes on. I certainly wouldn’t expect to replace the sonic footprint of 19th century double bass with my Stingray, but why would I? I certainly wouldn’t expect a classical string bassist to hold their own on “Master of Puppets”. You could also think of it this way; a string bass is a handsaw, and an electric bass is a chainsaw. Each have their uses.

On the other side of the same coin, you have jazz bass. Even though the electric bass has been a part of jazz since the sixties (if not earlier), there is a STILL a stigma surrounding its use in many circles. The very first time I played the Artists Quarter, I had an amusing experience. When I was leaving the gig (an opening slot), the bassist for the headliner walked past me (a well known metro area bassist). When he saw my electric case, he actually grimaced.

I view basses as tools; some work better in some situations than others. A properly setup jazz upright sounds different than a concert upright, and obviously both sound different than an electric. Individual instruments sound completely different, for that matter. I won’t deny that certain instrument tones are more conducive to certain styles of music; a warm, deep upright tone does sound very nice with a jazz trio. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean it’s the only instrument that can be played with that style of music, or that a bassist wielding an electric is any less of a player. The best way to describe it is bassism.

In the end, we’re all bassists (Well, those of us that play bass, anyway). The last thing we need to do is fight amongst ourselves. Leave that to the guitar players of the world.

* What it all boils down to is that orchestra kids are nerds.


Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I realize, while looking over my past few months of entries, that as a website with “bassist” in the title, I spend very little time talking about bass.

This is something of a recurring theme in my adult life; I have cycles of intense involvement followed by relative lulls.This is bound to happen, as I’ve been playing bass for damn near TWENTY YEARS. I never really had a “playing bass as a hobby” phase in my life, I went directly from purchasing my first bass to a rehearsal for a paid gig, all at the tender age of 13. Being a bassist has always been the major driving force in my life.

After college, I spent a couple of years being a professional musician. Which means, of course, that I played a handful of paying gigs, taught lessons, and worked a crappy day job. I realized early on that the musicians I ran into who made a living at it were busy. Four shows a week, plus lessons, plus rehearsals – and those were just the jazz musicians. All the rock bassists I knew had steady full time jobs, and played in bands for “the love of the game”.

So, I decided that finding a decent full time job would be a decent idea. And for a few years, I did both; worked 40 hours a week in a cube, taught lessons after work and on weekends, and played show. Eventually, I got burnt out from teaching, and walked away from it. I still play the same frequency of live shows and have the same amount of rehearsals I used to, but since I don’t teach, my actual “practice” time has dropped to virtually nil.

That’s not to say that the time I have available to practice has actually changed; it’s just that my interest to spend that time practicing has. I used to have what I realize now was a ridiculous practice regimen; four hours a day at the very least, with a peak of eight while I was in college. That dropped down to one or two after I graduated, and in the last few years, maybe an hour a week.

Part of this is the natural plateau of practice time; I don’t really need to work on scales for two hours a day (well, technically speaking, I should). Required practice time scales down with experience, and so most of my time now is spent on working on new material, rather than learning the instrument.

What it boils down to, really, is that I don’t really want to practice anymore. Part of this is my own inherent slacker tendencies. More of it, however, is that I recall a quote I learned in my formative years studying jazz: “Don’t practice anything you don’t intend to play onstage”. I can appreciate the efficiency in this methodology. While I certainly understand that spending hours working on the modes of the melodic minor scale will improve my playing, I’d be far better served in spending that time playing a long with old Motown records.

A few years back, the rut with my bass playing caused me to seek out the advice of a local professional bassist, Erik Fratzke*, who shares a very similar musical background as myself. He mentioned that instead of focusing my studies on bassists, I could listen to some drummers or saxophone players. Or, alternately, I should spend more time focusing on writing music.

What I’ve wound up doing since that lesson, I’ve realized, is spent more time recording music. Mainly covers, but quite a few original tunes. I’ve spent quite a bit of that time playing guitar, programming drums, and oddly enough singing. This, overall, is a good thing.

While I certainly could spend some more time keeping proficient with my instrument,** my overall branching out in music is probably serving me better than just playing the same scales over and over again.

* who you may remember from such bands as Happy Apple and Zebulon Pike.
** if you know what I mean.