Archive for January, 2017

Lesson With Anthony Cox

January 31, 2017

I can’t believe I got to meet one of my all-time bass heroes! Anthony Cox is the real deal – he has played with all the New York heavies; his solo project are beautiful, too – check out his Dark Metals album. His musical ideas are deep and profound. I couldn’t wait to pick his brain!



Anthony in a very interactive and conversational teacher. “What I would always do with people is say ‘come with a list of questions’ so we can get to the point.”


From the very beginning, Cox would not allow himself to be pigeonholed in any particular style. He was shaped by his undergrad experience at Eau Claire, Wisc., playing chamber orchestra, full orchestra, going at it full bore. His teacher, James Clute, was fundamental for his technique. “He really changed my life.” But he made the decision to also go into jazz. He listed his influences: “Ron Carter, Richard Davis, Scott LaFaro, Jimmy Garrison, Mingus, Dave Holland, Steve Swallow… and I really liked Dave Holland because I saw how versatile he was… That’s the kind of player I wanted to be.” There was a jazz band, but no jazz program. He had to figure things out on his own, putting together his own combos, etc. Another pivotal experience was being accepted as a student by Dave Holland after his move to New York.

Anthony continues to evolve his playing style. “The bow interests me the most at this point on upright… I’ve moved into, as a gradual thing, playing electric bass, too. I treat it like somebody who plays tenor and soprano. I don’t have this bias (toward one or the other).”

Right Hand

One thing he learned from Holland is a “Mingus-type thing”: the “bouncing ball’ or “complete circle.”

He turned on the metronome and demonstrated repeated open strings using just the side of the right index finger and had me mimic him. His plucking is part of a big, counterclockwise (from the player’s perspective) circular motion – the right hand starts returning to the string right after the note is struck. The motion is constant; there’s no hesitation. There’s a lot of forearm – “but I’m not forcing it.” He talked about how some players can get a “hitch” or hesitation in the stroke. He want’s to hear the front edge of the sound happen right with the click. There’s “more propulsion when you play time.” “I did this religiously.” “When you play, you don’t drag. (Play) like when you hear Ron Carter with Tony Williams.”

“Then, to build up stamina, if you go faster, you’ll find your breaking point” (he kept playing open strings, increasing speed until he found how fast he could play). He made sure that, instead of just using the finger, I would keep activating the whole arm at faster tempos. I noticed his elbow doing the circle just as much as his hand. Though he usually plays with two and three fingers, he practices this with just the side of the index finger to get the “complete circle” going.  He recommends doing this 10 minutes a day.

Then he got into the Zimmerman book. Anthony wanted to develop a fluid right hand, so Holland got him working right away on the Contemporary Concept etudes, pizzicato, alternating first and second fingers. ”I did that religiously” (refer to Chris Bates’ handout). “It’s good to work on patterns… like a drummer. Rudiments, you know.”

Some of his right hand ideas come from electric bass – he studied classical guitar PIMA technique. As an example, Anthony had me do a Zimmerman pattern with three fingers, index, middle, and ring, resulting in a 3:4 polyrhythm, going both 1,2,3 and 3,2,1 (ex. 1). It made my brain hurt, to say the least. He said these patterns don’t have to be followed consistently, but that they give you the ability to use different fingers to, say, accommodate a wide string crossing. He improvised a bit, showing how he can incorporate the three fingers for really fast embellishments, mentioning how Niels Henning Orsted Pederson and Cecil McBee used this technique.


You can download these here: lesson-with-anthony-cox

Working on Changes

He would invent a random sequence of, say, seventh chords and practice them. “I found I was creating my own exercises within exercises; I would do it in 4/4 swing, then I would put it into different time signatures, like 5/4 or something.” He wrote an example for me (ex. 2). “It’s not your usual progression, but I’ve found that when you get away from stuff written in the popular songbook… What this does is make the ear create resolutions.”

He had me walk the chart; it was interesting trying to find a path through the changes without the help of 2-5-1’s. “You create your own leading tones… I found out that certain people write that way, like Steve Swallow, ‘Hotel Hello.’ They “write, like, color, color color, instead of the normal 2-5”

‘Then the next thing is to solo, swing or whatever feel you want to work on.” He demonstrated a beautiful improvisation in even-eighths, ECM style. He had me try it – alone; “I’m not going to play behind you because you need to keep it going yourself.”

“”When I did it with Dave he really messed me up because he would use three-bar phrases and other (rhythmic) things. Nowadays you run into that – different time signatures and stuff; people write this way now, not writing so square, like 2, 8, 16, 32 bars.” Then he started improvising on the same changes using different phrase lengths and time signatures: 5/4, 6/8, 7/4.

He emphasized practicing this alone so that you feel responsible for filling up the space you need to as a bass player. Anthony mentioned playing in a lot of groups that had no chordal instrument, like a quartet he played in with Joe Lovano (e.g. Lovano, disc one), and demonstrating how he would comp using lots of arpeggiated embellishments to really outline the harmony and keep the rhythm interesting.

Playing Well With Others

“I like playing more conversational; one of my favorite bassists is Scott LaFaro, in all the contexts he played in – Ornette, Bill Evans… I liked Charlie Haden a lot, but with Ornette I just dug Scott LaFaro, I just love it.” “He was atonal – pantonal. And I think that’s what I am, too.” He proceeded to play a few LaFaro licks from Ornette and Evans records. The licks were totally unique and abstract – the opposite of cliche.

Then he proposed we improvise together conversationally; wow, that was fun. He listened; figuring out when to accompany, when to take the lead, whether the time should be regular or free. “The same principle of what we were doing is the way I like to play with somebody, no matter if it’s in time, with changes, no changes, it’s the same – I like to be conversational. If I’m playing within a structure it’s there”


We improvised again; Anthony clearly enjoyed the interplay. He talked about learning how to converse in duo and trio settings in small rooms, for example, gigs with Larry Willis at Bradley’s, where it was mostly duos and “you have the people’s attention, they come there to listen.” He thinks really hard about the quality of the interplay, not just playing notes but listening hard to what was going on. And he carries that experience to all his playing situations. “The more you can play with different people, different instruments, like guitar, all of a sudden you find you think different. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned. With piano I play one way, if I’m with, say, trumpet and set, that’s a whole other thing I’ve got to do.“

The Bass Player as Composer

“Another thing I do with students is, I would encourage them to write and have them bring something and then we would work through it… I feel like what you hear is what you play and then you kinda write what you hear and vice-versa… I found it would be very helpful for them to get closer to what they were doing, find their own vibration, you know?”

He doesn’t assign a lot of transcriptions, because he would rather the student develop his or her own voice. “ “To me it’s like, you can get obsessed on that and it’s like, that was that solo at that time… I’m not a big fan of that. I listened a lot… Instead I would, and this is another thing, I studied etude books and practiced. I found that more liberating than playing out of all these jazz books… it’s more like that – scales, etudes, solo repertoire… That other stuff (meaning a lot of books that take historical jazz playing as gospel), I think it’s too derivative, you know?” We talked about how the Next Mozart wouldn’t be academic or book-driven. “Hendrix, man. You know, I mean, he understood the electricity.”

That got us into a deep conversation about how we need to keep moving things forward. Anthony likes to think compositionally, how great music is connected to social change, how styles change organically, and how hip-hop now speaks to American culture. “Did you see Saturday Night Live with Dave Chapell? A Tribe Called Quest!” Musicians can get really boxed in, just doing what their teachers tell them to do. “People don’t challenge themselves.”



Works cited:

Anthony Cox, “Conclusion Beginning,” Dark Metals, Polygram 1991. Compact disc.

Joe Lovano, Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard, Blue Note, 1995. Compact disc.

Fred Zimmerman, A Contemporary Concept of Bowing Technique for the Double BassHal
Leonard, 1999. Print.


Lesson With Chris Bates

January 27, 2017

A fellow Minneapolitan, I’ve been able to follow Chris Bates’ career ever since he was in Middle School. His track record as a Swiss Army knife of jazz bass and effective teacher doesn’t negate his intense work on some amazing original projects. Check him out here:


I wanted to start with the basics, so Chris began by talking about how much classical pedagogy he works into his jazz teaching. He specifically mentioned the “Vitamins” section of Orin O’Brien’s book (O’Brien, 16-19) for warmup and technique.

His approach to teaching jazz starts with The Blues or Rhythm Changes (“Those are the two staples”) and he does this in conjunction with Rufus Reid’s chapter on building bass lines –  “the one that starts in two… roots only, roots and fifths, roots and thirds.” “That’s my gut-level start.” (Reid, 67-71). Chord theory starts right away, with an emphasis on “recognizing 1, 3, 5, 7 in whatever chord they’re using.” Chris is cognizant of learning styles: “Kids who play by ear get the number thing way faster than the kid who’s a reader.” He will have his students play the chords for him on the piano, too.

Right Hand Development

One of his teachers, Anthony Cox (stay tuned for more from him), had studied with Dave Holland, who uses etudes from the Fred Zimmerman bowing book for pizzicato study. Chris gave me a handout he had made (Ex. 1) that beautifully distills this idea. Out came


You can download this here: batesstringcrossings

the metronome. He starts very slow – about eighth-note = 60 (“or 50, or 40, depending on how zen you want to be about it”)” because here you are really going for sustain and the similarity of attack between the two digits, because you’re naturally going to favor one or the other, right?” Going below 60 is very useful because it calms the mind and gives you a chance to listen. “That is a concept: getting them to quiet their mind… The whole idea is to sustain until the next click. So, sometimes I use metaphors like, ‘that prep thing is like your hand on a basketball, and when the basketball hits the floor, that’s the note.”

Then he doubles the speed; quarter = 60. Then half-note = 60. Then back to quarter = 60, then he repeats the whole sequence. He told me this exercise is all about sound, connection between the notes, and synching with the metronome. There is preparation that has to happen in the right hand “because you want the attack, the sounding of the note, to be on the click.” “This is my warm-up, almost daily, like 10 minutes. And a lot of times it’s just open strings.” He stresses playing on all strings “because you’ve got different diameters; this feels different on the E string.”  When Chris demonstrates this, he used a lot of anticipation getting to the next string. He practices starting on both the first and second fingers.

When asked about sound, Chris says he tries to use as much of the flesh past the last knuckle as possible. “Not Ray Brown-style, which is the whole side of the finger.” When using two fingers, he teaches angling the hand away from perpendicular “so it’s not so finger-tippy.” He involves a lot of his right arm when he plays, even if the motion isn’t big. He’s adamant about not playing too far from the bridge.

“Target Practice”

A lot of teachers use variations of the concept of approach tones for building lines. Chris Bates’ “Target Practice” method is one of the most cogent I’ve seen (See Ex. 2):


You can download this here: chrisbatestargetpracticeexample

  • On a sheet of blank staff paper, map out the bar lines and chord changes.
  • Write chord tones at each change (the “targets”).
  • Write approach notes before each target note. Start by teaching chord tones and diatonic steps, introduce chromatic half-step approaches later.
  • Fill in the remaining quarter notes, using chord tones. Later, start adding scalar passages, being aware of the “avoid” note (i.e. scale degree 4 in major seventh and dominant chords). If you do a lot of scales, counter that with strings of chord tones. This leads to talk about the contour of the line: up, down, smooth, angular.

Basically he gives the students downbeats and has the students fill in the rest as homework. “Line building is more important than soloing.” He ties this in with the corresponding pages in Reid (66-99). If a student seems to be happy a line they’ve constructed Chris will say, “you like that one, so that’s yours now.” (ex. 1, 5. b7, 1) “Inspire them to own it.” He teaches soloing as an extension of the same “target practice” approach, only now with eighth notes.

Other Ideas

Singing: he will have students sing, especially for intonation.

Chris likes to relate everything to string crossings – keeping articulation even and clean.

We talked about how arpeggios are more important than scales.

He has them play scales up the D string to introduce alternative fingering possibilities.

Chris also likes to challenge students to explore note-shapes, e.g. Ron Carter’s idea of being able to play changes in one position, no shifts. E.g. play a chorus of the blues in half-position only.



Works Cited:

Orin O’Brien, Double Bass Notebook, Carl Fischer, 2016. Print.

Rufus Reid, The Evolving Bassist, Alfred, 2000. Print.

Fred Zimmerman, A Contemporary Concept of Bowing Technique for the Double BassHal Leonard, 1999. Print.


Lesson With Scott Mason

January 18, 2017


Scott Mason agreed to meet me on a Friday afternoon at his Roosevelt University office, just across the street from Grant Park in downtown Chicago. It turns out, though, that our appointment was the exact time two million Cubs’ fans would be going to the World Series victory rally at Grant Park. The streets were jammed – I was stuck in my car for hours. Scott was more than gracious on my frantic phone calls; we were finally able to meet on our third rescheduling.

Like me, Scott was schooled in classical bass. Even though jazz eventually lured him away from Beethoven, his approach is rooted in solid pedagogical principles. And like all good teachers, he is clear about organization and expectations. Here’s Scott’s Roosevelt U. bio:



After some brief hellos he grabbed his metronome and we got to work.


Scott teaches entirely from the keyboard. “I realized two basses in a room, even if I was in tune, was an intonation struggle. And it became much better when I switched  to piano in a much more realistic playing situation.” He asked me to pull out my bow. “I start with technique… trying to leave the stress of whatever you’ve been thinking about, and I often stress the idea of breathing.” “I set the metronome somewhere between 60 and 80, and we work on durations.” (Ex. 1)


You can download a pdf version here: lesson-with-scott-mason

He asked me to play a scale with the bow; “Many jazz players don’t have the bow control… Even if you’re not interested in the bow you’re going to have to play some simple arco parts along the line, or maybe not so simple.” My key for the day happened to be the treacherous A-flat melodic minor. Scott doubled me on the piano as I played “because the hardest thing to do is to play in unison.” He specified half-notes at a slow tempo. “I emphasize slow playing; you can’t go any faster than you can sound good.” As we reached the top of the third octave and started going back down, he doubled me a third away. This proceeded to quarter-notes.

When I asked about tone, he said the “biggest sound you’re going to get is side of the finger, end of the board, using the thumb as a fulcrum and playing into the board.” When playing faster and having to use two fingers, use the ear to try to match the sound to the one-finger approach.


Here is Scott’s scale sequence:
Freshman year:
First semester:
Two-octave major and traditional minor.
Second semester:
Major scale modes
Sophomore year:
First Semester:
Harmonic minor and phrygian dominant
Symmetrical scales:
Chromatic scale: on one string, across strings, and thumb position
Whole tone, vertically and horizontally
Diminished, both forms
Second semester:
Melodic minor and it’s modes
Junior year and beyond:
“We do the whole thing again and expand it to three octaves.”

His fingering system comes from Lawrence Hurst, which I believe was also taught by Roger Scott at Curtiss. Hurst called this the “Universal System,” where the second octave ends on 4th (or 3rd) finger and the third octave proceeds in pairs until the highest three notes, which are in one position. This works for most scale types with a few exceptions (e.g. phrygian and locrian). “This relates your melodic minor to major.“

Scott asked me to play a minor-major ninth arpeggio on Bb (because that key has no open strings)(Ex. 2). He then had me play the same pattern on Ab minor in thumb position starting on the A string, so we could discuss the different possibilities for fingerings, including the Eddie Gomez “crawling thumb” technique. (Ex.3).

He set up a 3/4 groove in that key and then had me walk and solo. His comments: “On bass we often tend to play things that move around in little scale patterns. That’s the curse of bass playing because that’s what we do all the time when we’re walking.  So I encourage them to take some things that are triad patterns, or fourth patterns, anything that’s not idiomatic to the bass that is going to, like Eddie Gomez or Gary Peacock, expand your range of possibilities. Scott had me expand the Ab Minor arpeggio into triplets (Ex. 4). Then he set up a groove for me to “force feed” (Scott’s term) that technique into a solo. He likes to hit both idiomatic and non-idiomatic keys. After Ab minor we would maybe switch to A minor.


Scott then moved to repertoire. He teaches this in conjunction with the Michael Moore book, Melodic Playing in the Thumb Position, which has a nice collection of etudes based on standard chord changes. He likes the book; “it’s melodic; some of it is idiomatic, some is not, and really makes you do bigger leaps than you care to do… it’s great for measuring your shifts in thumb position and staying in tune.”

Scott introduced me to Moore’s triad and seventh chord fingering system (Example 5: Moore, 12). He called “I Can’t Get Started,” having me fake the melody in thumb position. Then, as a way of applying the ideas from the book, he had me sight-read Moore’s etude on this tune, a contrafact called Gettin’ Started (Moore, 22).

We played “It Could Happen To You,” metronome on two and four, Scott on the piano, pretending that we were accompanying a horn player with me walking. We talked about different ways to reharmonize, using common tones, etc.  (Ex. 6)

All of his students are required to learn a certain number of tunes per semester. By the last semester the student will have a list of 60 tunes that you bring into the jury for the panel to choose from.

He requires his students to do transcriptions. Juniors and Seniors have to do two. He asks “8 bars a week, written out.” By the last couple of lessons “I ask, ‘is this ready for the jury?” They have to provide a clean copy for the jury. As an example, he talked about assigning a solo from a song by John Patitucci on his album with Joe Lovano and Brian Blade, a contrafact on “Sunny Side of the Street.” (Patitucci, “Sonny Side,” Remembrance). We pulled up the song and he put me on the spot, playing a phrase once and having me play it back.

Another resource he uses is Patitucci’s book of etudes. I’m glad he mentioned it – I’ll be putting this in heavy rotation in my own teaching.

On Teaching

“A lot of what I teach is stolen from Joe Guastafeste and Rufus Reid – steal from the best.”

I told Scott I admired how organized his teaching is, and how it seems he doesn’t waste time. “No, because that hour flies by.”

Scott’s piano playing really helped him get his points across quickly, putting me in a real-time performing head-space and generally moving the lesson along. Knowing this would help my teaching, he gave me a brief piano lesson, drawing from his studies with Frank Mantooth. This was great because he played my bass as I accompanied.
A couple takeaways:
     •Play rhythmically clear
     •Use eighth-note anticipations.
     •Try playing octaves in the right hand.

“I used to think, when I was younger, it has to the the ‘faster, higher, louder thing, And then I realized how difficult it is just to be clear… eliminating the clutter and playing great notes.”


Works cited:

Michael Moore, Melodic Playing in the Thumb Position: A Method for the String Bass, Advance Music, 1998 2015. Print and CD.

John Patitucci, 60 Melodic Etudes, Carl Fischer, 2005.

John Patitucci Trio (Brian Blade, Joe Lovano, John Patitucci), Remembrance, Concord Jazz, 2009. CD.

Lesson With Dennis Carroll

January 7, 2017

Dennis Carroll is a man of refined tastes. This is the immediate impression when visiting Dennis Carroll at his apartment. The walls covered in striking reproductions of chiaroscuro paintings, mostly Goya – “I’ve always wanted to live in an art gallery.” He also serves the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. The lesson spilled over into a lunch, where he had to hip me to the best italian beef sandwich in Chicago (I’m going to keep it’s identity a secret). His discerning palate applies to his music, too; his teaching reflects a lifetime of careful listening. Dennis is on faculty at DePaul University; you can find his bio here:


Rhythm Changes: Chord Substitutions and Lines

I wanted to know how he would approach teaching a new student. “The first thing I would ask is, ‘could you just walk some rhythm changes?’” He counted off a moderate tempo and had me play many choruses so that he could listen for the redundancies in my line (there were many). He pointed out my line on the bridge. “Any time you see a dominant, especially if you have a dominant for two bars or longer in a row, say, like “Dig” or “Sweet Georgia Brown” or a myriad other examples, you can always think of those as – what? (he was using the Socratic method here) – what always precedes the dominant?” Once I had finally realized he wanted me to figure out that you could substitute  ii-V or II-V for V, he played an example for me, at the same time demonstrating his amazing tone and rock-solid time (e.g. playing Am7-D7 instead of just two bars of D7. Example 1 is a transcription of what he played).


You can download a pdf file here: lesson-with-dennis-carroll

“The master of developing the line in modern language, of course, is Ray Brown… He constantly did that.” He proceeded to play another Rhythm Changes line (example 2), this time at a blistering tempo, proving how the substitutions can make the line more clear and interesting. “As (students) advance a little bit and get the concept of how to get to the fifth; how the fifth can be used as a starting point… The main thing there is that we’re on the hook for every quarter note – every beat. And horn players could be in front of us for a while and the tempos could really be up there. It’ll have to be real muscle memory, right? So count it off fast “ “I’m thinking always how can I get (the students) to understand that by opening up like that you’re not just surviving at those tempos, but you’re also not letting yourself get bored. You can almost think of yourself as playing a solo within the solo by having a creative bass line. Frame it not as another arduous task, but that you’re playing a solo within the solo.  

On Teaching

He explained the idea of “framing” – “the way you phrase things as a glass half empty or glass half full scenario. People are always risk averse, but you can put things another way where they’re gaining something out of it. And they can hear it.”

As we continued talking about teaching methods, his enthusiasm became obvious. In fact, Dennis got so excited about our conversation that he insisted I meet one of his students at DePaul right away and put these ideas into practice.


We talked about how the most important part of the process is listening. This means learning without using books or charts. He stressed being able to pick up tunes on the fly. “As bass players we are on the hook. The people on the front line – they just want to play, and they are expecting us to get it – that’s just the gig. My point with that with my students is that it makes them more competitive… that is an attractive thing in the marketplace.

He sits at the piano and started playing a tune without naming it, expecting me to jump in. Dennis is a beautiful piano player, by the way – lots of refined voicing and chord substitution ideas. He explains that he’ll accompany students on the piano, making them play by ear and stopping at different places to see if they can identify the harmony. “If they can’t do that, then how are they going to walk? After you get the right root note, then what are you going to do?”

Here’s his method for developing chord recognition skills: He’ll have them turn their back and he’ll play chords on the piano for them to identify. Then he’ll have them record themselves playing the chords, with their own voice announcing what the chord type is.

He had me play a dominant pedal while he played some chromatic harmonies above. That got us into “the next level of harmony, which is slash chords.” “By the time you get into the sixties with Herbie and Miles you’ve got to be able to know that stuff, otherwise you’ve got a problem.” These things are also important because, not only are you learning to be a bass player, but also a budding composer.


Lesson With Jeff Harshbarger

January 7, 2017

Jeff Harshbarger is my kind of bass player. His amazing playing reflects a lifelong study of the great masters. Jeff talks fondly of the opportunity to have lessons with heavyweights like Ray Brown and Francois Rabbath. But as a composer, bandleader and collaborator of some of the freshest new jazz around, he refuses to live in the past. The way he’s pushing music forward, it’s obvious how much thought and commitment goes into what he does. What can I say? I’m a fan. Check him out at



Jeff immediately latched onto my sound, like my nervous habit of going into classical-vibrato mode. “Your vibrato – how purposeful is it?” (i.e. do you use it consciously or unconsciously?). He suggested that I not use it because it doesn’t serve my ideas and that it’s not traditionally done in jazz.

He used some great imagery to get me to involve my whole body in sound production. “Use the full (right) arm – don’t just ‘reach’ with the fingers.” “What’s the strongest thing in your arm? Your bones.” “Weight equals sound… it’s the difference of 3 oz. vs. 20 lbs”

Jeff talked about pulling “all the way from your feet.” “When I’m activating my legs, when I’m thinking about the earth pushing back, up against my feet, I know my sound is bigger… I can feel it happen…” “I know Mingus did this, you see it in his hips, and Ray (Brown) clearly, did it. And Francois (Rabbath) does it. Even though he’s playing a small bass with thin strings and action half of mine, his tone is massive – earth-shattering.” To prove his point, Jeff and I played a duet, and, yes, he gets a monstrously huge sound.

“Rabbath’s strings are very low, same w/ Edgar Meyer, those strings are laying on the fingerboard. But his sound is massive because he’s doing the same thing with his hips. Especially when he pulls down on the low strings. (demonstrates – pushes forward from the R foot through the hip as he pulls the string.)”

He recommends the old-school approach, using the side of the RH index finger, with the 2nd finger supporting the first – even in fast walking, if possible. Ray Brown told him “first finger only.” But it “wasn’t just fingers – every muscle in his body was involved.”

But the left hand is also important for Jeff’s concept of sound: “‘Tone’ comes from your left hand – how you ‘seat’ the string into the fingerboard. That’s why Paul Chambers and Ray Brown sound different from Scott LaFaro and George Duvivier.“ Jeff recommends practicing with the bow to improve the left hand.

Bass Setup

Jeff keeps his string height between 6mm-9mm and 7mm-10mm – much higher than that of Rabbath.  We talked a lot about sounds that are too “electronic”, especially on recordings from the ‘70s by players who set their string height too low and rely on the amp – “there’s no ‘wood!’”

He suggested a different mic’ing technique: using a hypercardioid mic mirroring the soundpost an inch off the top. “I saw Patitucci do it – the best sound I’ve ever seen.”


Jeff stays mindful of his role in the ensemble. “I try to never walk above a (written) middle C … It’s called a ‘bass’ for a reason.”

He stays conscious of breathing to help phrasing. We discussed singing along with what you are playing. He likes it because it helps you play less and more tasty. Since we can’t play as fast as other instruments, “we have try to out-taste them.” One way is by being more literate: “Refer to the melody when you start your solo. Or refer to the previous solo.”

Practice Techniques

He recommends trying to make practice the first thing of the day. Whether he’s doing 30 minutes or three hours, Jeff splits his practice time into four equal parts,:

  1. Long tones, especially open “A.” This puts him in the frame of mind to concentrate; it “gets my brain quiet.”
  2. Technique – scales, arpeggios, etc. (see below)
  3. Repertoire – E.g. he assigns his student groups to learn an entire record (Sonny Rollins, e.g.). “The reason Sonny Rollins is so good is that he learned 10,000 melodies.”
  4. Goofing around” – Jeff says this is the most important part. He just plays what he feels like playing. It’s when “I remind myself why I play the bass, even if it’s 45 minutes on a Beatles tune”

Scales and Arpeggios


You can download this here: lesson-with-jeff-harshbarger

  • Scales and Thirds – do them ascending (Ex. 1) and descending (Ex. 2). Repeat the last note when you change directions .
  • “Twisties” (sequences of thirds with alternating directions) – do them in all keys, ascending (Ex. 3) and descending (Ex. 4). “These are great in the different minors” (e.g. Melodic, Harmonic, etc.) (Ex. 5). Do them modally as well (e.g. second mode of E harmonic minor). We talked about how a lot of cool soloing ideas can come from twisties: “Carol Kaye said that all great bebop solos were based on thirds.”
  • Modes – do them “hierarchically,” playing the same root and progressing through key signatures by taking away sharps or adding flats one at a time:  Lydian, Ionian, mixolydian, etc., to locrian. These are especially good to do on electric bass (Ex. 6).

He practices these using the “Metronome game.” e.g. put MM = 40 and displace the notes so that the click is on the “and” of 2 (Ex. 7)


Lesson with Ken Walker

January 6, 2017


I’ve wanted to have a lesson with Ken Walker for years, ever since a friend called him “the Ray Brown of Denver.” Ken has played with so many top jazz players that I hesitate to name some, because I don’t want to exclude the others. He teaches at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver; his bio can be found on their site:

We began by talking about how he got into the business. He proudly talked about his on-the-job training in supper clubs in Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas, backing up traveling artists six nights a week. He stressed being able to learn tunes on the gig – being expected to play after hearing it once through.

Sound/Right Hand Technique

Ken wanted to hear me walk the blues – then he quickly borrowed my bass to show me how it’s done. He got twice as much sound and drive as I had. “I try to get as much sound out as possible.” “Pull down toward the fingerboard at a 45 degree angle.” “Your fingers end up on the next string.” “I want to hear the attack… that’s the edge of the knife of your sound… it helps your sound cut through.” (in contrast, I was often just brushing over the top of the string rather than digging in.)

He uses the index and middle fingers together on medium tempo, alternating them when it’s faster. If the tempo allows, he pulls from the right elbow, using the whole arm, not just his fingers. I could see his whole body involved. “If I’m using my whole arm, I’m not really moving my fingers.” “The faster it goes, then it becomes more in the fingers and the wrist.” “I think of it like bouncing a basketball.”

“Another thing is: I like to keep my hand within a couple inches (from the end of the fingerboard).” (I had committed the sin of allowing my right hand to creep up away from the bridge). “You make yourself work harder up here (away from the bridge).”

Ken stressed how the sound comes from the instrument and not the amp. “The amp is not your sound, it just makes you louder.”

His string height was lower than what you might expect for how much sound he got. Ken once had the opportunity to play Ray Brown’s bass; he told me that Brown’s action was similarly not high. He uses Rufus Reid’s specifications for string height –  G string – 1/4 inch, D string – 3/8 inch, A string, 3/8 inch, E string – 7/16. (Reid, 3)

Groove and Style

He recommends legato playing – “one note doesn’t end until the next one starts.” This means being aware of how long you are holding notes, as well as the shifts between them.  “It doesn’t matter the tempo, always move the left hand fast.” (I.e. don’t have lazy shifts on ballads.)

Ken talked about the importance of adapting to musicians who play on different parts of the beat, and finding solutions that work. E.g., he mentioned listening to Woody Shaw play “Misterioso” (Shaw, “Misterioso”) – Stafford James is playing way behind the beat. When he tried to imitate that, it didn’t work. “I always listen to the ride cymbal.”

Concepts and Practice for Building Bass Lines and Solos

I was struck by how there was a rhythmic context for everything he wants his students to practice. Here’s what he showed me:


You can download this as a .pdf here: lesson-with-ken-walker

  1. Arpeggio practice, starting on each chord member (See example 1).
  2. Targeting/approaches. Ken teaches practicing simple, rhythmic licks that end on a chord tone (he uses the third as an example) on the “and” of 4 (Ex. 2). It doesn’t matter whether the approaching notes are in the key or not, since “the last note justifies what you played, whether it’s inside or outside.” To prove this, he played some examples of “outside” playing that ended beautifully on a chord tone.
  3. Using limitations to spur creativity:
    1. Soloing in a limited range, e.g. play a solo using only notes within a span of a perfect fifth. “You start playing in a more melodic way… and more rhythmically.” ‘It’s about finding a way to get students to stop thinking about notes.” On this point, Ken cited the etudes throughout Michael Moore’s Method (Moore, passim) that are limited to one position, and also Jerry Bergonzi’s material on
    2. •Rhythmic limitations. This is an idea he got from an IAJE Clinic: improvise a solo using only dotted quarter notes, or dotted half-notes, “forcing yourself into a box and seeing if you can be creative with that.”


Ken assigns two transcriptions per academic quarter. He usually has beginning students transcribe selections from the album Leroy Walks! by Leroy Vinnegar. Students then progress to Ray Brown and Paul Chambers and beyond.

On Taste

I’ll never forget what Ken told me about rhythm in solos when he quoted Dizzy Gillespie: “I hear rhythms, mostly, and then I put notes to them.” When he solos, Ken will start with a rhythmic motive and develop it: “I like to develop ideas. It’s not about a lot of notes, it’s about what you’re trying to say. Playing a lot of notes is like somebody who just talks and talks and they don’t really say anything. Make a statement and embellish that statement.” “A rest is just as valid an idea as a note.”

This all ties in with his advice about keeping your musical priorities straight. “Fundamentals are what get a bass player hired.”



Works cited:

Bergonzi, Jerry. “Saxophone Mastery.” How to Play Jazz Lessons & Jazz Improvisation Videos with the Greats. Fawi, Inc., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

Michael Moore, The Michael Moore bass Method, Rottenburg: Advance Music, 2007. Print.

Reid, Rufus. Evolving upward: an aid in developing thumb position technique for the double bass. Teaneck, NJ: Myriad Ltd., 1977. Print.

Shaw, Woody, Steve Turre, Mulgrew Miller, Stafford James, Tony Reedus, and Bobby Hutcherson. Master of the Art. Wounded Bird Records, 2009. CD.

Leroy Vinnegar, Leroy Walks!, Contemporary, 1992, CD.

Daily Jazz Scales and Arpeggios

January 5, 2017

I knew that if I was going to take lessons, I would have to be in shape. That means scales and arpeggios. So I made a rule that I would practice them an hour every day. Here’s how I did them:

I concentrated on one key a day, going around the circle of fifths, first with major, then with it’s relative minor: i.e. C major, A minor, F major, D minor, B flat major, G minor, etc. A metronome or drum machine was usually going – varied tempos – and I often used a reference tone for intonation.

Arpeggios – I did fifteen minutes each of tonic triads and dominant sevenths with straight (example 1) and mixed (examples 2 – 4) rhythms. Examples 3 and 4 are especially good to do with the bow. I also did progressions of diatonic triads and sevenths (examples 5 and 6).

Scales – fifteen minutes each of tonic and dominant.

To make it relevant to jazz soloing, I decided to concentrate on eighth-note bebop scales, (examples 7 and 8). But instead of starting and ending on beats (square), I added notes – a chromatic leading note at the beginning and an extra chord tone at the end – so that each phrase starts and ends on off-beats (hip). I did these beginning on each chord tone (examples 9 and 10).

Yes, I did this every day, going between upright (bowed and pizz) and electric, starting slowly (for tone and intonation) and not getting really fast until the end of the session.

Since we’re on the topic of daily practice, I’m also continuing the rule of recording myself every day without fail. This has been the most helpful feedback ever! Do this!



You can download this as a .pdf here: jazz-scales-and-arps-for-blog


January 5, 2017

Hi, all.

I’m embarking on a new series of posts based on my sabbatical project to travel the midwest and take lessons from great jazz bass teachers. It’s been an awesome experience. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to study with everybody. To all the other great teachers: sorry I wasn’t able to get to you.

My aim was to get as many perspectives on jazz bass teaching as possible. I wanted to focus mainly on fundamentals (isn’t it always about fundamentals?), but things often spun off into pretty advanced stuff. These lessons forced me to confront my musical shortcomings – this was not always a painless process – but every teacher was incredibly welcoming and kind. Lessons often spilled over into sharing meals and/or beers. Unifying all of the encounters was the unchecked passion these teachers projected. It was always more than just scales and arpeggios; these players pour their souls into their work. It would be impossible to tell you all the things I’ve learned, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. Read on…