Author: Williams, Dave

Walking in Bb

What kind of mess have I gotten into this time?

Okay, Iím going to jump into some bass playing jibber jabber this month. Youíve been warned early. This subject doesnít bode well for reader demographics. How many bass players are out there reading this? Iím talking about real bass players not all the rest of you who think youíre bass players because you pick up a bass at a jam when your ďrealĒ bass player doesnít show up. Iíll bet not enough to keep the ratings up this week.

But what the heck, Iíll let it fly for a bit.

I have reported in this column of my assisted woodshedding endeavors in the winter months. My coach (since Iím not into that whole brevity thing, Iíll just call her the Northern California Bass Player of the Year) has me working on walking patterns in Bb from a jazz study book. For the record, this may or may not be the same Bb you are playing in when the guitar and banjo are capoíd at three. For instance if you sing Montana Cowboy in Bb it doesnít have any sax or trumpet in it, at least at most of the jams I play in. Also the piano and drums seem to be missing as well but on the other hand two flats is two flats whichever side of the Blue Ridge Mountains you come from.

Why would a bluegrass bass player be working on walking bass lines? Rest assured it is not to start playing jazz club gigs in San Jose or cocktail jazz for Palo Alto garden parties but rather just to improve musically and get better on my instrument. Truth be told, it was my idea to venture here (hear?). I have been wanting to improve my left hand technique and to find a way to add some range up the neck of my Kay bass. The jazz walking lines in Bb and (dare I mention it) Eb give me the exercises to make the off-season improvement Iím after this year.

This is getting to advanced ground for me. Tone and timing, have been, and still are my primary objectives in playing good bass but I am relishing the opportunity my retirement has given me to take on challenges like this.

Every chance I get I really enjoy watching bass players playing in context whether it is bluegrass, western swing, rockabilly or jazz. Recently, Iíve been focused on watching their left hand technique. IĎve had enough lessons and coaching to know what the correct ďclassicalĒ approach is but over my playing years I developed my own left hand style that has served me well enough to have a good time playing. My style is a hybrid of the conventional vise grip and a few loose fingers to get more than one finger involved if needed.

Iím currently in contract negotiations with Mel Bay regarding putting together my instruction book on the Vice Grip Bass Method. Mel is going to have to go a ways to beat the offer from Homespun. (If you believe that Iíd like to talk to you about some investment opportunities I have for you.)

Okay back to observing bass players. In the bay area in general and in Northern California we have a wealth of bass talent and in watching and listening to them, I noticed mostly they use a left hand technique that is more relaxed and they typically forego my vice grip method. This gives them more versatility (and notes) to make interesting bass lines. This is what I am after this winter. Iím doing okay with it too. Iíve heard it said that you donít hear the bass player until they make a mistake or they are not there. That is probably true for many, but Iím biased. Hearing a great bass player in any genre is always a treat for me. You should try it.

Now that I have chased away the reading audience, what else is up? Iíll tell you? San Francisco Beer Week is begins tomorrow Feb 7 and runs through Sunday Feb 16. I know thatís more than a week but whoís counting? Also the San Francisco part is very much a misnomer as well. There are over 500 events from Santa Rosa to San Jose and over into the East Bay as well. In fact, I know of a band playing at the Hermitage Brewery in San Jose on Feb 15 for a fundraiser for the Can Do Ms Foundation. The event is Meet The Brewers and features over 20 craft brewers sampling their wares. I believe the bass player in the band is a vice gripper.

Time to go now. I have to walk the dog and then get to my parking lot jam today. There will be some tunes in Bb and Eb, Iím sure.

Posted:  2/6/2014

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