Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jazz Bass Technique Evolution

Watching Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten led me to ask whether the technique used to play any instrument in jazz has evolved farther from its beginnings than the bass:
The role of the bass in early jazz was to keep time and harmony, a more limiting role than that taken by horn players, who were free to create and embellish melodies and counter-lines. So, you had Bechet, Armstrong, Morton, Hawkins, Dodds, etc., able to take all the technique they'd acquired and put it in service to the music. It's also relevant that until the early 1930's, in order to make a living, players had to learn to play both string bass and tuba, instruments requiring very different techniques.

Early bass and tuba players in jazz occasionally stepped out beyond their usual role, but going too far, too often, in a polyphonic and/or horn-dominated environment would have meant straying too far from the anchoring role the bass was expected to play. One does get a whiff of an untapped reservoir of technique from the occasional startling solo and the overall assurance of the playing.

Here's Bill Johnson, slapping and bowing. Interesting that it's in the "primitive" musical context of jug and comb-kazoo:

Here's Steve Brown, making sure he's audible by bowing his way through the tune and playing a tricky bowed-plucked solo:

Here's Pops Foster on tuba. He plays a nice Latin-tinge line halfway through the tune.

Wellman Braud, long associated with Ellington, plays mostly quarter notes and about 3/4's of the way in, plays some "parts."

Walter Page, Kansas City stalwart, plays several different kinds of bass lines here:

Milt Hinton takes the slap bass technique to its logical conclusion with Cab Calloway:

Next Time:

We'll pick it up from Jimmy Blanton and go from there.

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