Archive for the ‘All’ Category

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 http://www.jeffharshbarger.com

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Sound

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.”

Taste/Musicality

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

lesson-with-jeff-harshbarger

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)

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Lesson with Ken Walker

January 6, 2017

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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: http://www.du.edu/ahss/lamont/faculty-staff/faculty/walker-ken.html

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:

lesson-with-ken-walker

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 http://jazzheaven.com/
    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.”

Transcription

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.”

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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.

Sabbatical!

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…
M

The Orchestral Audition Repertoire List for Double Bass

December 31, 2008

This is the list. THE list.

It was published in an International Society of Bassists Journal about 30 years ago (Sorry, I don’t know the exact year for this citation).When I went to study with James Clute he gave me a xerox of it, and it became the syllabus for his class.

The article was written by Jack Wellbaum, former Personnel Manager of the Cincinatti Symphony. He polled thirty-two symphony orchestras in North America for their bass audition repertoire and compiled the results as follows:

Repertoire asked two or more times (Ranked according to the number of times they appeared on the list):

Beethoven Symphony No. 9

Beethoven Symphony No. 5

Mozart Symphony No. 40

Strauss Don Juan

Mahler Symphony No. 1

Strauss Ein Heldenleben

Brahms Symphony No. 1

Mozart Symphony No. 39

Tschaikovsky Symphony No. 4

Brahms Symphony No. 2

Britten Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Verdi Othello

Bach Suite No. 2 in B Minor

Beethoven Symphony No. 3

Beethoven Symphony No. 7

Ginastera Variaciones Concertantes

Haydn Symphony No. 88

Mahler Symphony No. 2

Mozart Marriage of Figaro Overture

Mozart Symphony No. 35

Mozart Symphony No. 41

Prokofiev Lieutenant Kije

Schubert “Great” C Major Symphony

Smetana Bartered Bride Overture

Strauss Till Eulenspiegel

Stravinsky Pulcinella

Beethoven Symphony No. 2

Brahms Symphony No. 4

Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals

Wagner Die Meistersinger

Repertoire asked only once:

Bach Violin Concerto in E Major

Beethoven Symphony No. 4

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

Brahms Symphony No. 3

Bruckner Symphony No. 7

Dragonetti Concerto in G Major

Frank Symphony in D Minor

Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4

Schoenberg Variations for Orchestra

Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra

Strauss Death and Transfiguration

Stravinsky L’Histoire du Soldat

Stravinsky Rite of Spring

Verdi La Forza del Destino

Verdi Rigoletto

Weber Euryanthe

Weber Der Freischutz

Every audition rep list I’ve seen lately has followed this pattern. When you know all these pieces, a concerto and a few movements of unaccompanied Bach, you’ll have 95% of all the rep you need to win an audition.

My Bass Blog

November 27, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

I’m Mark Foley, bass professor at Wichita State U., and principal bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. I also play jazz, rock and bluegrass. The purpose of this blog is to inspire students and to keep an archive of cool bass stuff that would appeal only to bass nerds. Please post comments! I want to learn from you, too! I promise not to be too verbose or opinionated – you shouldn’t be reading rants by me anyway, you should be practicing!