10 oct. 2006

Here are my top bass players:

1. Paul Chambers. You've heard him on the Miles Quintet records of the 1950s and on the greatest album of all time, "Kind of Blue." On Coltrane's first recordings like "Soul Trane." For me, the contours of his bass lines are unsurpassed. His note placement in relation to the beat. The way he creates tension by moving from "two" to "four" and and back again. His soloing both with arco and pizzicato.

2. Mingus. He really belongs on a different list. The composer/bandleader/all around force in jazz list. But his playing is so rich and deep he gets on this list too. Check out his duet with Dolphy on bass clarinet on "What Love."

3. Scott LaFaro. With Ornette and with Bill Evans. I just like the way he uses the full range of the instrument.

4. Haden. Also with Ornette. I'm not crazy about all his projects as bandleader, but I like the sweet soulfulness of his playing. The way he makes it look so easy.

5. Ron Carter. His work with Miles and Hancock and Shorter in the 60s is another high-water mark. Second only to Paul Chambers with Miles.

6. Walter Page. How can he be number 6? He really defined the walking bass line with Count Basie Orchestra with unmatched feel. If he is so low on my list it must be because I identify him more with a feel than with a sound.

7. Wilbur Ware. What can I say? He's one of the key players of that era (early 60s). Listen to him with Rollins.

8. Jimmy Garrison. He is part of the classic Coltrane quartet. Need I say more. He really defines a style of playing for that period.

9. Ray Brown. I know others would have him a lot higher on the list than I do. All other things being equal, though, I'd rather have Chambers on any given record from a comparable artist.

10. Christian MacBride. He's the best of his generation. I heard him play recently and was impressed.

11. Eddie Gómez. How great the players are even so deep into the list. I've seen him play and he is wonderfully subtle.

12. Percy Heath. A really tasty player from the bebop era.

I could go on, but past this point I would be faking it, just mentioning names I couldn't really identify by sound, or those who I actively dislike. Blanton? Slam Stewart? Potter? I love bass players for their anonymity, in part. You don't always keep track of who you are listening too. A swinging walking bass line is a thing of beauty, a joy forever. In fact, such bass lines are on my list of favorite things, along with Mark Rothko, Spain, and poetry itself.

8 comentarios:

Bob dijo...

I always really liked Steve Swallow -- that airy Berklee scene, the work with Gary Burton and Carla Bley (actually got to see him play with the former in a Boston bar back when I was in high school).

Since you didn't title your list JAZZ bassists, I would have to add two players who were virtuosos, innovators, and composer/arrangers:

John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin),
Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), and
Paul McCartney (Wings) *smiles*

Bob dijo...

Two bass jokes:

An anthropologist was conducting research in the Lower Congo when, to his delight, he managed to find an obscure, previously unrecorded tribe. One exciting aspect of the tribe's culture was its musical traditions, which included constant drumming from a nearby hilltop.

On his first night in his makeshift camp, he thrilled to the sound of the drums, but didn't manage to sleep a wink. The next evening he went to the tribe's chief and asked when the drumming would stop. "You don't want to hear drums stop," the chief informed him in his click dialect. "After drums stop, something terrible happens."

One week later, crazed by lack of sleep, the anthropologist returned, offering gifts he'd kept for emergencies: a top hat, coloured beads, and a set of cigarette cards. Once again the chief said, "After drums stop, something terrible happens."

Over the next four weeks, the haggard, twitching, anthropologist returned to the chief, offering his Amex gold card, his sister, and his family home if only the drums would stop. Each offer received the same reply.

Finally, convinced that the termination of the drumming must involve a human sacrifice, the anthropologist gave away his possessions, penned his farewell letters, and approached the chief once more. Breaking into tears, he offered his life to the chief, and asked once more what would happen when the drums stopped.

The chief frowned. "When drums stop, bass solo starts."


A couple, who's relationship was on the rocks, went to a marriage counselor who could not get them to discuss anything. They simply would not speak to each other. The communication block was so heavy that nothing he suggested could make them open up and talk.

Finally after several sessions of non-communication, the counselor stands up, walks to the corner of the room and produces a bass and begins to play fervently. Shortly the couple begins to glance at each other and gradually their barriers break down and they begin to discuss their problems and little things that always bothered them that they never felt encouraged to bring up before.

At the end of the session, they were smiling and laughing just like old times. They paid their bill and before leaving, the couple asked the counselor, "What did you do? How did that music help make everything work out?"

He answered simply, "I've never known anyone who wouldn't talk during a bass solo."


Jonathan dijo...

I think the instrument that Sir Paul McCartney plays is not the same instrument that Paul Chambers played. A bass fiddle is not a bass guitar, though some players double on the two instruments.

I did forget Steve Swallow and Reggie Workman, Dave Holland and a few others.

Bob dijo...

I listened to Abbey Road last night just to make sure I wasn't being silly. (Lost about two hours of sleep!)

Swallow played an electric bass not a lot bigger than Sir Paul's. Same with Jaco Pastorius.

John dijo...

Bass fiddle and bass guitar are different instruments -- I agree.

You mean Percy Heath, Jimmy's brother. Jimmy plays sax. Percy is fantastic.

I sometimes think Walter Page was the most influential musician of the 20th century. By codifying the walking bass, he made bass central to dance-oriented musical styles, and all sorts of music that never had pizzicato bass before (from bluegrass to Egyptian pop) now has it, usually, nowadays, electrically, and often from "bass keyboards."

I once did the math. On the "Mingus at Carnegie Hall," which consists of two LP-side-length pieces from the Ellington book, Mingus plays more than 10,000 quarter notes. In addition to everything else, the man knew how to Walk it!

Loving LaFaro while disliking Blanton for showiness mystifies me, but sensibility is like that. (LaFaro is great too, but he is showy.)

The Invisible Man's lower frequencies . . .

John dijo...

ah -- you corrected Mr. Heath.

He might be my favorite "walker". It's an exquisite thing.

Jonathan dijo...

I never said I disliked Blanton for showiness. I just am not enough of an Ellington scholar to know when I am hearing Blanton with the band. If I put Blanton on my list it would be presuming to a knowledge I don't really have.

John dijo...

My misunderstanding.

Any compilation from '39 to '41 is worth it worth it worth it. A number of Ellington classics from the period feature the bass -- a rare thing.

Thanks for your thoughts -- bass is the place!