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Jazz Bass Lessons: Playing With Expression

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I'd like to speak
a little bit more to the idea
of sound and style.
And how your development
as a personality on your
instrument occurs, how does that happen?
One of the things about the weight
distribution that I was talking about
before, is the idea of relaxed weight and
using the gravity and how, when
you're relaxed and you let your arm drop
like this, there's a velocity and a power,
and weight and a mass that happens
that you don't get if you're tense.
If you're really tight,
it kinda impedes that natural arc
of the weight dropping naturally.
It's a tremendous different in the way,
if you go like this
it's different if you're tight and
you go
it just doesn't go down the same way
cuz you're not letting the full laws
of physics work in your favor
where you have that relaxed.
There's a lot of weight dropping here,
I can feel it in my arm.
It feels totally different
than when I go like this,
when it's tight cuz I'm actually
impeding the flow of the motion.
Just like I noticed when
I had my daughters,
if I was holding one of them and
they were tense and
they were squirmy, they never seemed as
heavy as when they were dead asleep and
I was transferring them from a car and
having to walk up a flight of steps.
They just felt like a ton because
they were just relaxed and
the weight was just there.
I can't explain that but
I can sure explain this.
When you drop your arm like that,
you're just relaxed.
You can feel that it's so, try doing
that right now, just let it drop and
then do it where you're tensing, and drop.
You don't feel almost any weight being
transferred when you have that tension
there, so that's a big thing.
When you're drawing a sound
it has to be a default thing where you're
always letting that arm drop.
You're just feeling it, just relaxed and
just maximizing the weight into
the string, this is a huge deal.
This is something that the more I
discovered it and developed it,
it made me a better and
more flexible bassist where I can pick up
another person's bass and still get more
of my sound even on their instrument.
This is part of the personality thing,
there's a great line of about that.
I think one time, somebody went
up to Chad Atkins and said boy,
that's a great sounding guitar and
he said really?
Here, you try it,
in other words it's not in the guitar.
It's not in the bass, it's in your hands,
it's in your head, it's in your heart.
These things you have to think about,
the development of sound is
something that you carry with you.
Don't make the mistake a lot of people
like well if I just have that bass or
if I just had this.
Well, no actually, cuz you're gonna sound
like you on whatever bass you pick up and
you wanna develop your sounding to be
the best version of you that you can.
There's another topic related to this,
and this is becoming a vocal and
expressive player on the bass.
There are many aspects to this, and
I learned a lot from listening to
singers and other instrumentalists,
in the vocal department.
And hearing great cellists do
the vibrato,issue the rotation of a note.
You know, having your arm rotate, and have
your finger caress the note like this,
with a very, and the speed of it,
certain singers.
The speed, you should be able to make
a fast vibrato when you need it.
And a slow one.
And when you're higher up on the bass,
you can use a faster vibrato
as you go up higher.
And a wider one down here.
See how I'm just rotating,
letting the arm, again, the relaxation
of the weight of the arm too,
has a lot to do with this.
You can't vibrato if you're too tight.
It's like it won't go.
So, I learned that from listening
to people like Pavarotti,
the great tenor from Italy, Caruso, and
also soul singers like Aretha Franklin,
Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder.
The idea about, making a note sing; this
is a huge thing to me in my playing.
And also when I'm playing
bass accompaniment parts,
being able to use like different
techniques like sliding.
And you hear, that I learned from
the great Ron Carter, things like.
I'm sliding into the root.
There's something expressive about that.
It's really emotional kinda thing.
So I'm sorta
smearing into the note.
I'm blurring the picture a little bit, but
then I'm arriving at
the pitch I need to get to.
So controlling, being able to
land to where you want to go.
That's one way of being expressive.
The great blues players,
they use things like a smear, or whatever.
It's hard to, different terminologies for
different people.
But when you go.
There's a smear and a hammer-on and
a pull-off all in one little lick.
How about that?
So I'm smearing, pulling off, twice.
And then maybe I can hammer after that.
I'm only touching
the note once.
The thing to do is practice that one.
But you can isolate
a little lick like that and
play it with the metronome and go.
Let's put the metronome on 60.
And we're just gonna
practice that little lick.
Just an expressive lick like that,
just to demonstrate
little ideas that can really make
a big difference in your playing.
If you can control and be expressive,
instead of hitting the same note the same
way, articulating every note
with a staccato attack.
That's a criticism that many
people have of us bass players,
that we're not very expressive.
We don't have as many articulations.
You hear a great singer, guitarist,
cellist, violinist, a great flutist,
a great trumpet player, saxophone player.
They have eight million
ways to touch a note.
We need to have more.
Way more.
So here, let's listen to that click.
So it's fairly slow and we go.
See what I'm doing?
Smearing, hammer off.
Pull off, I should say.
And then you could add a hammer on too.
See, I'm not even.
I'm hitting the two hits here.
Two right hands.
There's a little trill there too.
Little trill.
And do slow.
that's a whole lot of
stuff in a little lick.
How about a hammer on?
A hammer, and a pull off.
So, we're also building the idea of,
I took a little phrase and I'm already
telling a story with that little phrase.
I start with the phrase,
I add a little thing to it.
It's almost like I'm saying to you look,
the other day, I went down the street and
I bumped into Joe and then we went and
had some pizza together.
And I'm trying to build something,
a story, I'm taking one little motif and
I'm building it into something.
So this is just one way to be expressive.
You notice that the control of the rhythm
that I need to have when I do that is key.
I have to be able to do it in time so
it has that ebb and
flow of a story happening.
It's the same thing when
somebody tells you a good joke.
If the rhythm and the timing isn't
correct, it throws the whole thing off.
The whole communication,
the whole punch line gets destroyed if
you don't do it at the right rhythm.
So these are just some
ways to be expressive.
I mean, be able to play short notes.
Cuz that kind of thing where it sounds
a little mechanical now maybe
if you're playing some blues.
Or even reggae.
I mean that's an attack that
useful in music, short notes,
long notes if you're playing a melody.
Like say we play a little melody and
we go.
That's where the vibrato,
I'm touching the note.
Notice I'm always
doing it in rhythm though.
I'm speaking the rhythm
to you the whole time.
Four, you feel
the quarter note, right?
I'm willfully and in a very focused way,
trying to show you the quarter note.
We talk about that sometimes when
we're rehearsing with people.
The control of rhythm and expression,
sometimes a player will say, well yeah,
I'm gonna do a little intro and I'm gonna
give you one bar and show you the tempo.
It's called showing the tempo.
So maybe they play something out of time,
and then all of the sudden, they go.
Boom, and everybody knows,
that's the downbeat.
So, expression takes a lot of forms.
And we can expand on this and
we'll do lots more talking about it.
But I want you to really think about that.
What do you want to say
when you play the bass?
Are you just playing notes strung
together, or do you have a story to tell?
Being a vocal and expressive
player is very important in this.
I like to give you a little homework
related to being an expressive player.
You know, when I was coming up as
a player, I did a lot of listening and
some transcribing and
learning informally and formally.
I didn't always write it down but
I learned a lot of things from records.
From Ray Brown, Ron Carter.
I listened to all kinds of people,
also Dave Holland,
Scotty Lafaro, Eddie Gomez,
Albert Stinson.
These are names you should look into.
Israel Crosby.
With, I tell you, for to be playing like
we talked about before, there's a very
expressive style that Israel Crosby had,
who even influenced Ron Carter.
And that's on, if you get a record
with Ahmad Jamal Live at the Pershing.
There are bass recordings
that are seminal.
If you listen to Ron Carter with Bobby
Timmons, Live at the Village Vanguard, or
those great recordings of
him with Miles Davis, or
Ron Carter also on Wes Montgomery records,
you're gonna learn expressive things.
I learned all the things
that bass players do,
those little signature things,
like when they play those triple licks,
when they go
Like, I heard Ray and Ron do that kind
of stuff, and where they hammer and
pull off all those little things
that make it sound like a bass.
Those are bass player expressive devices.
Or Eddie Gomez when I heard,
and Scotty Lafaro,
when I heard them playing
the thumb position.
And they were able to
like get around.
Just fly around thumb position
really expressively, and
sing up high on the bass.
Charlie Hayden in his soulful
playing down in the bottom.
The melodies that he creates,
and the very steep and
pathos, and also the beautiful
things he did with Ornette Coleman.
The beginnings of what
they called free jazz.
There are a lot of bass players, I mean,
there's some incredible records with
Paul Chambers with Miles Davis.
I can go on and on.
Go back to Oscar Pettiford and
Jimmy Blanton,
they both played with Duke Ellington.
Oscar Pettiford,
get the record with Thelonious Monk.
Plays Duke Ellington's music with
Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke.
You need to do some historical,
cultural digging around.
There's transcription.
You can listen and write some stuff down,
or you learn it by ear and
play along with records,
practice your rhythm along with records.
Learn what the sound that they're
making from the records and
see if you can copy it and
try to get that sound.
What is it about the sound
that's appealing to you?
Is it dark, is it bright,
is it pointed, are they slurring,
are they hammering, are they pulling?
All these little things become
really big in the development of
an expressive player, and
the development of your ears, too.
And how you can translate what
you hear onto your instrument and
then personalize it, make it part
of your style and interpret it.
All those players I just mentioned were
influenced by players before them, and
then they took the influence and
developed it in their own way, and
it came out sounding very personal.
In truth,
you don't have to wake up every day and
say I'm gonna be original, because
you're going to be, you're different.
Your physicality's different,
you have a different set of parents,
you have a different set of
circumstances than the next person.
And that's great, and
those are to be developed and
they're to be, actually, cherished.
And take stock of what
you have that's you.
Don't get stuck in trying
to be someone else.
I think that happens a lot in music,
we idolize a certain player, and go,
wow, I wanna be just like them.
There's a point where the learning
by mimicry should stop,
I mean, the mimicry's important,
you have to learn the language, like I
talk about bebop language, jazz language,
jazz bass language, you have to
learn the language of these masters.
But then, just like when you
learned English from your parents,
you don't walk around just repeating
what your parents say all the time.
Although, some kids do that to their
parents to drive them crazy, but
you learn how to have
your own thoughts and
expressions using the same
language that they use.
Exactly like that with bass.