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Comping bass solos


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Today this quote from Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen is floating around FB:

 

"For some reason, when it's time for a bass solo, the drummer - with whom you may have just set up some incredible grooves - suddenly starts to play clickety-click on the closed hi-hat. Meanwhile, the pianist either stops playing, or he's reached the conclusion that he mustn't clutter up the lower register for you, so he plays some trebly clink-clinks. Clickety-click, clink-clink - who the heck can play a solo on top of that?"

 

So I offered my experience. I've never been formally taught how to comp for bass solos. And of course unamplified upright can be different than amplified upright which are different from electric. And then some players hit harder than others and project like crazy, and others don't. And then there's their personal timbre, and then there's the room itself. And then over the years I've been scolded, and even once yelled at by a bass player during his solo, "Get off of my one!!!". That guy was a real delight.

 

So nowadays I try to ask what dude prefers before the first set, if there's time.

 

How do you guys handle?

..
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I'm a bass player (electric), and it drives me INSANE when everybody drops down and gets all plinky plinky. I'm totally capable of being louder than everyone else, so there's no need to give me that much space. When that happens, there's no energy to play off of. I just watched Marcus, the documentary about Marcus Miller, and he mentions how the worst part of a bass solo is the fact that there's no bass player behind it. I also saw a related quote from him: :""I've always hated bass solos; that's the one point when the music isn't grooving any more""

 

I totally understand why this happens in a situation with an unamplified upright bass, but I think the piano and drummer could still provide a LOT more energy behind the bass player.

 

It would be very much appreciated if someone were to ask me, but it's never happened. I make a point of telling the piano player and drummer what I'd like. Sometimes they still don't listen.

 

I solo over the full range of the instrument, so I'll encourage the keyboardist to fill in the low end when appropriate.

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That NHOP quote floated onto my Facebook feed two days ago. I have a lot of experience playing with some great 6-string bass players so was moved to put in my .02. I'll admit to being lazy â this is a cut & paste from my reply on that thread:

 

I would sometimes switch on a bass patch to play with my left hand when a bass player soloed â being sure to listen that we we weren't in the same register, and using a patch that didn't have much high end, and playing a simple part with not much movement â at least, I *tried* to do all these things! ð I felt the same way as NHOP - why does the music's energy level have to drop when the bass solos? It also helped that I was playing with some monster bass players who didn't need too much "assistance" (as Buddy Rich might say)!

[edit - I just realized I wrote the above in the PAST tense, ha ha - well it's been a while since I backed up *any* instrument's solo!]

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Yes, everyone has been guilty of leaving the bass player mostly 'naked" on stage. However, I think this artistic norm developed because, in the days before bass amps, the audience wouldn"t have heard the bass solo with out all that space.

So between that and the need of the audience to get to the bar...

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I recently read in last couple of months, maybe here, a bass player writing about not liking piano players who didn't play time during their solos. It makes sense to me, now, if I'm in that situation, I would begin comping quietly on one, maybe +4 to one. Then add complexity based on they're musical input. (I do think, one timing slip can be bad, unless it's solo LOL) Before reading the comment from the bass player I might try to accentuate his ideas without enough implied time.

 

Another great quote I recently read (kind of related.) Either Horace Silver or Monk would tell the soloist to not listen or play off of what they were doing. No copying the notes of the phrases. Those two pianists were known for their phrase-based comping.

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Classic quote.

 

To be honest, I try to treat it like every solo, supporting and responding to what I hear. If they're tentative, yes, I likely will either be plinking around, or I'll be laying some solid, if not too thick, voicings and keeping the time pretty straight and unsyncopated. But hey, if they can play, there's no reason to shy away. Obviously, like in any case, you want to be mindful of range, dynamics, harmonic complexity, etc. And of course there are still slight differences, just the same as I wouldn't comp identically for a scat solo or a horn solo or a guitar solo, but hey, give em something to work with. Interact. Listen. Be in the moment. Play some dang music with some dang people! (Jeez, what I wouldn't give to comp for a bass solo right now! ð)

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I usually do barely there rhythmic stabs every couple of bars just to give the bass something to play off of and to show a little support. I'm still trying to get my head around the guy Tim mentioned who didn't want anyone on his one though.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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Great quote from NHOP. Thank you.

 

For me, it depends on the bass player. I used to do trio gigs with an acoustic bass player who had musically grown up with the blues piano trio style and was influenced by Ray Brown, Sam Jones, NHOP, etc. Lovely human being. He gave me permission to do whatever I liked on his solos as long I wasn't tentative. He would rather fight with me sonically than have me plink plink on him. He had a lot of confidence that he could cut through or that if I screwed up he could redeem my foolishness. He wanted me to play what I was feeling in his solo. I think it was his way of educating me to be more present in the moment.

 

But other bass players are quite comfortable with an absent piano or a plink plink piano.

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I comp in part to compensate for my own lame-brainedness, because it's not unusual for me to lose track of the form if I don't.

 

In my current jazz quartet I play as much organ as piano. I like using organ to comp with the bass solo because the swell pedal gives me a way to fade in and out with immediacy. Striking piano keys is a commitment to a set of notes at a certain volume. Swelling in and out allows me to change that commitment on a micro second basis. That's also a time when I'm likely to mess with the drawbars, sometimes using only higher harmonics.

 

It's definitely an in the moment sort of thing. I never know what's going to work, and much of what I do doesn't.

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I love the structure of that quote but am struggling with the content. I might need to know the context of it to really dive in. My general instinct is to say, well, of course, the gracious and traditional move would be to get out of the way of the soloist and keep the harmony holy with some connective tissue to provide a bed for him or her. Since you, bass-player-in-an-ensemble, know that, the easiest move would be to tell the drummer to "keep the groove going" and ask for whatever support you need from the rest of the band, as you go. I had a drummer give instructions on the fly to the whole band as he was soloing and I thought it resulted in some great moments. At the very least, it let him feel like he was getting what he needed to play his best.

 

But...is it me or is the whole idea of performance-preference starting to feel a bit quaint and theoretical? I have this uneasy feeling that we are the last dinosaurs on the rim of the crater.

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{Puts on bass-player hat}

 

From my perspective, I'd say it depends on the style of music and--importantly--whether the bass player plays acoustic or electric. An electric rock bass solo is going to be an entirely different animal than an acoustic jazz solo. Anyone playing electric has volume and tone options (more treble to cut through, for instance) and can comfortably dominate keys, guitar, etc. for the duration of the solo. Acoustic players have fewer options and may benefit from less competition, instrumentally and sonically. All their volume is supplied manually and they may reach their limit (unless mic'ed) if there's too much else going on. The worst case scenario being a big band--much better to have most...possibly everyone back off so the bass can be heard, as even light playing by a dozen people can bury an acoustic bass.

 

The bass player may have some things that work well with chords in the background giving structure and others that need more space...even from the same player...so it'll vary. There's not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution.

 

Something I was thinking about just this afternoon while I was listening to the radio in my shop (they played Rush--I think it was Tom Sawyer(?) that started my train of thought)--it's rare to hear a full-on bass solo where everyone else is still playing full-on, the way that you're accustomed to hearing a guitar solo while the rest of the band is still going. Even in rock, the rest of the band typically falls way back or quits playing entirely. Someone who plays with a trebley tone like Geddy Lee doesn't need that much space in order to get his solo across. His tone can cut through the guitar and drums easily. If he played acoustic, it would be an entirely different matter.

 

Grey

I'm not interested in someone's ability to program. I'm interested in their ability to compose and play.

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NHOP's quote was in the context of soloing as an acoustic bassist in an acoustic jazz group. That's the kind of player he was. What happens in a funk/r&b/rock/etc. context is not quite the same animal, imo. Those genres have more reliance on steady grooves that any of the rhythm section instruments can help lay down. Playing a "jazz solo" means you're improvising a melody â no matter the instrument. When a jazz bass player does that, a natural outcome is that job #1, providing a harmonic underpinning to the music, takes a temporary back seat. Another big deal in traditional straight-ahead jazz (the kind NHOP played) is that the "walking" bass line that's a big part of the "swing" of jazz â also tends to disappear during an acoustic bass solo. When both of those things happen, is it any wonder that a drummer may be inclined to chill? The yin to his yang is gone. And when the drummer chills, the entire energy level of the music tends to chill as well. That's exactly how a good jazz musician would react â we listen. I do understand how NHOP felt though â why should all the other instruments be able to solo with an unlimited dynamic range but not the bass? Well sorry, Charlie â that's the nature of the beast for that particular style of music. I wonder if he ever just told the other musicians playing with him "hey guys, when I solo please keep the volume and energy up"? With the right group of musicians, that might have been an interesting challenge that could have led to different and worthwhile-sounding music. But in general, for "traditional straight-ahead" jazz, you will almost always get the "tippy-toe" approach during bass solos.
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I love the structure of that quote but am struggling with the content. I might need to know the context of it to really dive in. My general instinct is to say, well, of course, the gracious and traditional move would be to get out of the way of the soloist and keep the harmony holy with some connective tissue to provide a bed for him or her. Since you, bass-player-in-an-ensemble, know that, the easiest move would be to tell the drummer to "keep the groove going" and ask for whatever support you need from the rest of the band, as you go. I had a drummer give instructions on the fly to the whole band as he was soloing and I thought it resulted in some great moments. At the very least, it let him feel like he was getting what he needed to play his best.

 

But...is it me or is the whole idea of performance-preference starting to feel a bit quaint and theoretical? I have this uneasy feeling that we are the last dinosaurs on the rim of the crater.

I'm pretty sure I get the "dinosaurs on the rim of the crater" bit, but what is "the whole idea of performance-preference?"

thx

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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Several bassists I have played with seemed to require the plink-plink. And there's the famous quote from Ron Carter - "Under the 'S' of 'Steinway', that's my zone".

 

I always ask the musicians I'm comping for, if they would like to hear something different: More or less dense, more or less rhythmically obvious, more or less harmonically free... a few of them just respond "Just do what you feel". While others give detailed instructions... :)

 

That said, I am all for a quick adjustment of volume/eq/compression by the bassist when switching from comping to soloing and viceversa. I love when the bassist has set a couple of different situations in advance with that purpose. And I love even more when he doesn't forget to switch back to the "comping" setting when he's done with the bass solo! :freak: This about both jazz and other genres.

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In my trio, which is more of a jazz-rock kind of thing, I"ll often play LH bass on a Hammond sound under bass solos, usually a simplified version of the bass groove, my bass player likes this approach, it gives him a foundation to play against. He uses effects like distortion and whammy pedal on his solos, And often solos way out of the traditional bass range.

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I'm another voice in the "it all depends on the musical context, the instrumentation and the player" camp. But one specific thing to add...

 

One of my semi-regular gigs is (or was, back in The Before Time) a piano-bass-vocals jazz gig. Straight-ahead vibe, upright bass, no drums. The first few times out were kinda rough as far as me comping behind the bass solos, because I hadn't figured him out. Specifically, I thought his time was, shall we say, questionable. But then I figured out that his time was fine, and he just liked to lay his phrasing way back while soloing. That meant my job was to relentlessly hold down the time and not let the tempo drag. Once I realized that by doing that, I wasn't fighting him (which is what it initially felt like), but simply giving him the support he needed, everything fell into place and it became a fun gig.

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I listen and try to complement what the bass player is saying during his solo. Bass players seem to enjoy when the drummer and I hear a similar comping concept and create a cohesive comp together. I"ve rarely had a discussion about what the bass player would like me to play.

 

I wonder who NHOP is referring to. He"s deservedly played with the greatest pianists - Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Mulgrew Miller, and Bill Evans quickly come to mind.

 

Dave, I love those tunes you posted! Nice comping and the bass player is awesome.

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Some bass solo humor:

 

A couple goes to see a marriage counselor. They say their marriage is on the rocks because they never speak to each other.

The counselor tries to get them to talk, but they just sit there with their arms folded and their mouths closed. He tries playing games. He tries tricking them. Nothing he can do can get them to talk to each other.

Finally, he pulls out an electric bass and starts playing a solo.

Instantly, the couple turns to each other and starts conversing for the first time in months.

'How on earth did you know that would work?' they ask.

'Simple,' he says, 'Everyone always talks during the bass solo.'

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I find that people ignore the bass player when they communicate. No matter how many times I tell people that I'd like at least an occasional hint of where we are in the arrangement -- unless they don't care if my solo goes totally free-form (as can happen when one has a deep melodic and rhythmic inspiration) -- rather than dropping out 100%, which is usually what happens (no matter which combo I'm playing in or subbing for). Maybe it's a west coast thing? I never had any trouble on the east coast with people doing appropriate comping during a bass solo.

 

When my direct communication doesn't work, I try again with a more subtle approach, reminding people that most audiences find unaccompanied bass solos boring. :-)

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The same thing happens when I solo on clarinet -- everyone drops out 100%. Sometimes that can work, but usually not so well. Especially on more complicated arrangements and chord progressions, where I still like to make sure that my inspiration relates at least a little bit to the chart. :-)

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The same thing happens when I solo on clarinet -- everyone drops out 100%.

 

Seriously? That seems incredibly odd to me. Like, I'm having a hard time picturing it happening ever, let alone repeatedly. Unless there was a planned break, the only time I've ever cued the entire band to spontaneously drop out behind a soloist was when said soloist was an uninvited stranger who decided to jump onstage and join us on harmonica. Then we all just sat there looking at him like "Okay, you wanted the spotlight, so whatcha gonna do with it?" I can only assume that in your situation it was done with less overt hostility.

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I'm pretty sure I get the "dinosaurs on the rim of the crater" bit, but what is "the whole idea of performance-preference?"

thx

 

I meant that conversations about what we do or like when we play live--or with other musicians at all--seem theoretical at best right now, whereas until now they've been very present-tense. It felt odd to weigh in on an element of performance, since that time feels distant and and so does any potential return to it.

Now out! "Mind the Gap," a 24-song album of new material.
www.joshweinstein.com

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Some bass solo humor:

 

A couple goes to see a marriage counselor. They say their marriage is on the rocks because they never speak to each other.

The counselor tries to get them to talk, but they just sit there with their arms folded and their mouths closed. He tries playing games. He tries tricking them. Nothing he can do can get them to talk to each other.

Finally, he pulls out an electric bass and starts playing a solo.

Instantly, the couple turns to each other and starts conversing for the first time in months.

'How on earth did you know that would work?' they ask.

'Simple,' he says, 'Everyone always talks during the bass solo.'

 

There are bunches of variations on this theme. My favorite is the one where the cops are leaning on a criminal, trying to get him to 'fess up. No luck. Then they bring in the bass player...and...you can guess the rest.

 

Naturally, the underlying theme to all the jokes (and they are legion) is that bass players are at the bottom of the heap, musically. <sigh> We're worse off than Rodney Dangerfield.

 

Grey

I'm not interested in someone's ability to program. I'm interested in their ability to compose and play.

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I'm pretty sure I get the "dinosaurs on the rim of the crater" bit, but what is "the whole idea of performance-preference?"

thx

 

I meant that conversations about what we do or like when we play live--or with other musicians at all--seem theoretical at best right now, whereas until now they've been very present-tense. It felt odd to weigh in on an element of performance, since that time feels distant and and so does any potential return to it.

Got it. I had the impression that, coupled with the doomed dinosaurs, it was more "what's the point since we're all becoming extinct anyway" which didn't sound like your usual tone.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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