Archive for the ‘Sabbatical Project’ Category

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