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Jazz Bass Lessons: History of the Electric Bass in Jazz

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I'm John Patitucci and
welcome to the electric bass curriculum on
the Jazz Bass School here at ArtistWorks.
I wanna give a little history background
on first of all the electric bass in jazz.
We play an instrument here that is really
pretty young by comparison to the violin,
the acoustic base, or other instruments.
The first really mass produced instrument,
that many people could encounter,
was around 1951, the P bass.
And I would like to let you know a little
bit about the history of that because,
in fact, Monk Montgomery was Montgomery's
brother who was a jazz bass player who
played acoustic bass and then moved to
this new Electric bass, which they used to
call the Fender bass in those days
because Fender became very popular.
He was the first to really tour with an
electric bass, around, and people saw him.
So the P bass around 1951 and
around 1960 the jazz bass,
the Fender jazz bass was marketed.
So early on you had
people like Montgomery.
Then you had the great bassist
on all those Motown records,
James Jameson, who was also
originally an acoustic bass player.
And people like Bob Crenshaw who
wound up playing with Sonny Rollins,
and what a great bassist, and who also for
years played on Sesame Street in New York.
So it's interesting because
I was born in 1959.
And that was just really
eight years later.
So I'm sort of in the second generation of
the guys that encountered the instrument.
Sort of.
Around in there.
So, I was growing up in
Brooklyn in the 60s and,
I guess, I encountered, I first
started on guitar a little bit more,
my brother Tom was my first teacher and
he put an electric bass in my hands,
after I tried the guitar and
didn't like it.
And I couldn't play with a pick very well,
and the neck was too small for me.
And so he put an electric
bass in my hand around 1969.
Course, I had a Sears Telstar
electric bass, it was pretty funny.
And I loved it cuz it buzzed on every
fret, and I thought it was sort of
distorting like some of the rock and
roll records I heard so I loved it.
So that's how I encountered
this instrument.
And very quickly I heard James Jamison,
not knowing who he was.
I heard,
on those Stevie Wonder records, and
all these Motown records, and then I also
heard later on Chuck Rainey
on Aretha Franklin's records.
And I heard Monte Montgomery later
too actually playing some records.
So it's an interesting
beginning I had because
I started hearing blues and
R&B and pop music.
And then very soon after that I,
I heard jazz and
in fact I started playing jazz on
the electric bass first because it wasn't
until later that I was even big
enough to hold an acoustic bass.
So from the time I was 15,
five years later, you
know after I started playing the electric,
I added the acoustic bass to my world.
And since then, there's been sort of
a cross-pollinating that goes on between
the instruments,
technical things between the two basses.
And this is where this comes into
play heavily in this curriculum.
Because having to learn how to swing and
make the electric bass
feel like an acoustic bass
before I had an acoustic bass.
I was used to listening to these great
players like Ron Carter, Ray Brown,
Paul Chambers, and guys like that and
try to emulate the way they played so,
it influenced the technique that I would
have to find on the electric bass.
Having to try to get a dark sound to
pull a thick sound to have it be,
and learn the articulations and
the little skips and
the triplet things that they did on
the acoustic bass and transfer them, and
learn how to walk and get that
tripletly feeling on the electric bass.
So it's interesting,
the technical things that happen.
And later on, my knowledge of R&B and
funk would also kind of come back and
help me play, sometimes,
that music on the acoustic bass.
And of course, later on, and then some
decades later, when hip-hop came in,
they actually use some acoustic bass
on some of the hip hop records.
I remember doing a session for somebody,
a producer and I remember also hearing
Ron Carter on a record by The Tribe Called
Quest, which was a great hip hop group.
So, there are instances where
the technique goes back and
forth and also just with fingering,
having then studied acoustic bass,
I found that sometimes the acoustic
bass fingering down low on the electric
bass of having a whole step fingered
one and four, the first finger and
fourth finger, that really helped me.
So, these are some of the things that
are pertinent, I think, and important,
learning how to articulate and
produce sound and
how to play expressively,
how to use the portamento and slide on an
electric bass like you do on an acoustic.
Even though you have frets,
you can make it a liquid sound.
Hammering on and pulling off like
sometimes they do on acoustic bass.
All these things can really enrich
your electric bass playing and
make you a more authentic sounding
electric bassist in a jazz ensemble.
So I'm really excited about this.
Glad that you're coming along
with me on this journey, and
hope you really enjoy it.