The upright bass is the Rodney Dangerfield of jazz: it can’t get no respect. The old joke goes this way:
A couple trying to save their marriage goes to a therapist. Their chief complaint: they don’t talk to each other anymore. The therapist suggests going to a jazz club. When the bass player starts his or her solo toward the end of one number, guess what? They start talking again!
Bass is the foundation of rhythm; it is the heartbeat of music. When Beethoven was going deaf, he added more contrabasses to the orchestras playing his music so he could feel the music coming through the concert hall floor and into his seat.
Upright bass players in New York City had a hard time getting around after the Checker Cabs stopped production…they’d now have to wait for station wagons; regular cabs never had enough space in the back seat for both the bass and the bassist like the commodious Checkers.
We’ve seen great bass players who also produce records. Jaco Pastorius changed the sound of Weather Report, then produced brilliant albums with his solo career such as Word of Mouth. Adrian Sherwood produced On-U Sound Records‘ African Head Charge, a band way ahead of its time. Marcus Miller was Miles Davis’ right-hand man on his later albums, and Bill Laswell have produced countless records.
So why are bassists so disrespected?
One reason is that audiences have a hard time listening. It’s kind of ADD. I’ve had to tell people to shut up in jazz clubs when this happens. It messes my mind up trying to enjoy the music while being angry with the jerks behind me who are oblivious.
Here are 2 bassists with fairly recent albums I really like. Both guys are good composers and have impeccable technique and intonation, the latter a thorny issue with the big upright bass. I recommend both albums heartily.
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