Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Bass Bow-Masters"

Since the 1960's, it's become common for bass players to keep a bow handy, and many became adept users-Jimmy Garrison, Ray Brown, Eddie Gomez, George Mraz, Christian McBride, Michael Moore, and others. BUT-99% of the time, they use it only for long tones that are meant to add dramatic underpinning to an intro, in interlude or an ending. Actual bowed (known as "arco") solos are rare.


The recent birthday of Leroy Elliot "Slam" Stewart (b. 9/21/14) reminded me what a virtuoso bass player can do with a bow and how few such players there have been. In fact, I can count them on three fingers, Slam Stewart, Major Holley and Paul Chambers.



Slam may be most well-known as half of "Slim and Slam," with singer/pianist/guitarist Slim Gaillard, a popular musical act that straddled swing/bop and early R&B. Here's "Tutti-Frutti," a 1938 example of their style, and of Slam's throwaway bowing virtuosity:





In that tune, Slam does just a bowed solo, but in this well-known 1945 version of "I Got Rhythm" with tenor Don Byas, he's in full voice, singing both in unison and in harmony with his complicated bass lines:





The Major
Major Holley was a decade younger than Slam (7/10/24). Stylistically, he was a swing and "mainstream" player who, like Slam, also knew how to work a crowd. His soloing is very similar to Slam's, but his voice is distinguishable by the fact that it's both more nasal and also commands the deepest registers. The guy can basically go as low as the bass can:





Finally, here are Slam and Major together, with a parodic version of "Close Your Eyes." After this primer, you should be able to tell who goes first and who goes second:





Paul Chambers
The third member of this triumvirate was Paul Lawrence Dunbar Chambers (known as P.C.). He could "walk" the bass as well as anyone ever has in jazz, but he also moved the bowed solo into the rarified harmony and velocity realms of Bop. Chambers was, appropriately, about a decade younger than Holley (4/22/35). He takes the last solo here, but I don't think you'll suffer too much listening to the other guys blow:





The chronological pattern established by these 3 guys says that someone born in 1944 or 45 should have been the next link in the chain, but I don't think any bass player has arisen to advance the art of arco playing since Chambers, who died in 1969. I welcome further elucidation on the topic by my erudite readership.

8 comments:

Ronan Guilfoyle said...

Nice post! Great to hear all those marvellous arco players.....

I think Miroslav Vitous has to be added to the list - he's not jazz-jazz the way these guys are, but he's an extraordinary arco player in the later idioms

Steve Provizer said...

Thanks, Ronan. I know some of Vitous' music and he's certainly a virtuoso. Can you refer us to some of his arco stuff? Thanks.

oliebrice said...

The three players you mention are all giants of the music, but to suggest that jazz arco soloing ends with Paul Chambers is way off. If you want to limit your list to fairly straight ahead players then check out Red Mitchell, Michael Moore, John Goldsby, Ari Roland...
But to hear improvised arco playing really develop, check out Barry Guy, Barre Phillips, Joelle Leandre, Paul Rogers, William Parker, Bruno Chevillon, I could go on and on...

Ronan Guilfoyle said...

'First Meeting' on ECM has some pretty impressive arco playing ........

Steve Provizer said...

Ollebrice-Thanks for checking in. As a bass player, you know the current landscape better than I and you really opened my eyes to some other people whose arco work I didn't know. In fact, I will work on a follow-up piece that talks about newer extensions of bass technique.

Ronan-Thanks. I'll check out First Meeting.

Anonymous said...

The great jazz bassist Henry Grimes learned his bowing technique at Juilliard from Fred Zimmermann, principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic, back in the '50s, and Henry can draw voices from his bass playing arco that others use all sorts of devices on their basses to approximate. Just listen to any of Henry's recent CDs. They are listed on his web site, henrygrimes.com.

Steve Provizer said...

Excellent suggestion. Grimes would certainly be among those who have moved arco into new areas-especially using harmonics.

Paul B. Sarangi said...

WAKE UP! You never heard of Msestro Charlie (Charles) Burrell?

Just 'google' him.....he's a master boweer, and could play withthe best of him.

And, Richard Davis...need I Say more.....how about 'Out to Lunch" ? Heavy Sounds w/ Elvin.

A True virtuoso bower.