Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song

Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song performed by Johnny Cox

It’s now been over a year since musicians in the UK were last able to play together with other musicians. So, I’ve recently decided to do something that I’ve never done before, record and mix an entire track on my own including vocals. It feels like a big step to put this out on my channel. I’m not a singer and I don’t ever practice singing. I’ve been using Bob Dylan’s back catalogue as a source of material. His lyrics are unbelievably good and I also have a fighting chance of being able to sing them. I’ve recorded four of his songs so far. You can find the other three on my other YouTube channel called Johnny Cox Guitar & Bass School.

Bob Dylan

I’ve featured many of my musical influences on this channel, but I’ve never played anything by Bob Dylan until now. I guess that’s mostly because I’m not a singer. And without anyone to sing the lyrics, there didn’t seem any possibility of featuring one of his songs. However, recently during lockdown I’ve decided to work on music production and editing vocals. Without any other musicians to work with I’ve been singing Bob Dylan songs myself.

I’ve been listening to Dylan for my entire life (literally, his albums were playing at home since I was too young to remember). So, by now I know a lot of the lyrics off by heart, and singing them is so much fun because he is a truly brilliant lyricist.

I can remember this song, Slow Train, and the album of the same name as being something of a soundtrack to my childhood. My mother was and still is a Bob Dylan fan. Slow Train was released four years before I was born and for some reason, as a small child, I took a particular shine to it. It seems odd to me that I still listen now to an album that I used to like when I was four years old, but I guess it shows consistency in my character if nothing else.

Slow Train Coming

The song and the album were both released in 1979. This was the first of his so-called “gospel” albums following his conversion to Christianity in the late 70’s. But this song is a classic Dylan protest song that could draw parallels with some of his early work from the 60’s. The song was partly written prior to his religious conversion and partly after. So, the lyrics are not overtly Christian but they do contain references. Like “fools trying to manipulate Satan”. But really it’s a song about the state of America at the time he was writing. And as with a lot of great art, much of the content still seems relevant over 40 years later.

The symbolism of the train is never explained or made clear in the lyrics. I think it’s intentionally left ambiguous for the listener to make their own interpretation. Is the train a religious metaphor, bring with it salvation and riding to some kind of promised land? Or is the train bringing something altogether more sinister. Such questions were probably lost on me as a child. At that point I think I just liked it because it had a funky bass line and some brilliant guitar playing from Mark Knopfler. But as the years have passed I’ve come to appreciate it as a brilliant example of Dylan’s lyric writing as well.

Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary 151

Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary – 23 March 2021

In this video, I’m improvising over the chord changes of the jazz standard Up Jumped Spring after recoding the chords into a looper. If you were wondering why you haven’t seen this beautiful bass on my channel for a few months. It’s because she’s been back with Chris May and the team at Overwater having a new bridge installed. However, she was returned to me this week and I’m so happy to have her back.

Overwater Hollowbody

She’s my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The first fretted version to be made and the first with a 34″ scale length. The bass features a wooden acoustic style bridge, but with adjustable saddles, like an electric bass bridge. The first bridge was made from ebony, and I was finding that the wood was slightly too soft to hold some of the saddles in place and the intonation was slipping. Chris very kindly fashioned this new bridge from a very hard wood from South Africa. So far it seems to be holding the intonation perfectly.

Practicing with a looper

In the video I’m demonstrating something that I’ve done regularly in my practice for well over a decade. I bought my first looper pedal about 15 years ago, and I’ve found loopers to be an amazing practice tool. One of my favourite techniques for practicing using a looper is to record the chord changes to a jazz standard into the looper and then improvise over the looped changes. In this video I’m using the chord changes of Freddie Hubbard’s jazz waltz Up Jumped Spring.

I’ve often been asked “what is a good looper to buy?” And it’s a question I always feel uncomfortable answering. Because I’ve used various loopers from cheap ones with just a single button to expensive ones laden with features. Which one you choose depends on what you’re planning to use it for. If you just want one for the kind of practice that I’m doing in this video, then buy a very cheap one. It will do the job. However if you want something to perform with, then it’s impossible to advise you. Because you will have to choose a looper that has features that correspond to how you’re planning to use it in performance.

I recently purchased a Headrush Looperboard, which is like a recording device/audio interface/live looper all rolled into one. So far I’m impressed by it, but I haven’t yet had the chance to use it in a live performance as the UK has been in COVID lockdown continuously since I first bought it.

However, if you’re interested in trying looping for the first time, I would suggest buying something very cheap to try it out at home. And then you can upgrade later on if and when you start to feel like you need to.

Learn a Linley Marthe Bass Groove – Bass Practice Diary 150

Learn a Linley Marthe Bass Groove with TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 16th March 2021

Recently I was going through this concert on YouTube. It’s a trio led by the amazing jazz pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique featuring one of my favourite bass players, Linley Marthe. I’ve been watching the video and stopping at various points to transcribe some of the bass parts and I thought I’d share one of these parts with you. This little groove that I’ve worked out only happens once, very quickly.

The Groove

Linley Marthe Bass Groove
Linley Marthe Bass Groove

He doesn’t play it repeatedly as I have in this video. You can find the moment that he plays it at 1 hour 39 minutes and 34 seconds. He plays it once, then he starts to play it again with a little variation before he goes elsewhere. There are so many great little moments like this in the concert. If I had the time I could probably spend a lot of hours going through this and practicing different parts.

There are a few things that you need to practice if you are going to get this groove right. First you need to get the triplet 16th note feel. Meaning that the notes written as 16th notes should be played with a shuffle feel. Then you need to look at the techniques that he uses to play the muted notes. As I mentioned in the video, he only plays three different notes in the groove, G, F & D. However, it’s the addition of all the muted notes that really brings the groove to life. The muted notes are played with a combination of raking the strings with your right hand index and middle fingers, and a percussive tap with the left hand. You can watch the video for my specific breakdown of these parts.

The fact that the groove contains relatively few different notes makes it potentially very versatile. Clearly the root note is G, but you could use this under a G7 chord, a G minor 7 chord or even some kind of G sus chord.

Linley Marthe

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen Linley Marthe perform live with Joe Zawinul. Zawinul was known to have impeccable taste in bass players. If you look back through his career, both with Weather Report and the Zawinul Syndicate, he seemed to always have his finger on the pulse of who was the next great young bass player to be coming through.

I vaguely remember before the gig hoping to recognise one of the famous Zawinul bass players that I knew. Richard Bona or Victor Bailey for example. I think I was slightly disappointed when someone I didn’t recognise came on stage. However, my brief disappointment was very quickly turned into amazement as the young bass player from Mauritius proceeded to absolutely blow me away.

Since that concert, I’ve seen him live a couple more times. Once in a duo with the drum legend Paco Sery and once in a band called Ozmosys featuring Omar Hakim, Rachel Z and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Each time I see him, he amazes me with the scale and breadth of his musicianship. He is incredibly inventive with his technique. He seems to have a hundred different ways of striking the strings with his right hand, each one creating a different sound. And it’s not just his techniques that make him brilliant. His timing and groove are just incredible, and if you listen to the concert linked at the top you will hear that he has an incredible ear for harmony, melody, improvisation and the jazz language as well.

I’m trying to find ways to feature the bass players that inspire me in my videos. And for me, Linley Marthe is right up there as one of the greatest bass players of all time.

If you’d like to check out a bass solo lick from another great bass player, Jimmy Johnson, then you can find it here.

Freedom Jazz Dance – Jazz Melody on 6-string Bass – Bass Practice Diary 149

Freedom Jazz Dance – Melody on 6-String Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 9th March 2021

Miles Smiles has been one of my favourite Miles Davis albums for a long time. The most famous composition on the album is probably Footprints by Wayne Shorter. Which is a minor blues that has become a staple of jazz jam sessions. Today, I’m looking at another track on that album Freedom Jazz Dance.

The Second Great Miles Davis Quintet

The Miles Davis band at that time (1966) contained four young musicians who would go on to become some of the most important figures in modern jazz. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams are all great composers as well as improvisors and band leaders. So, it was a little bit unusual for them to record a tune that was written by someone who wasn’t in the band.

Freedom Jazz Dance was written by a tenor saxophonist called Eddie Harris. He had recorded the tune himself a year earlier. When you listen to the Eddie Harris version of Freedom Jazz Dance, you quickly realise that the Miles Davis band has completely reconceptualised and recomposed the tune. Harris’ version is built on a funky groove between the bass and piano on a Bb7 chord. The melody is played in one continuous sequence with three phrases.

In Miles Davis’ version of the tune, the melody is broken down into the three phrases. They are separated by space to improvise for the rhythm section. Initially only by bass and drums. When the melody is repeated, Herbie Hancock begins to interject chord voicings. The Bb7 harmony from the original is retained, but the funky groove is gone and replaced by an altered dominant sound, and a much freer and more improvised approach to the groove.

Ron Carter

I think Ron Carter is one of the most important bass players in the history of jazz. He started his career as a classically trained cellist, who struggled to get work in touring orchestras at the time due to racist segregation laws in the Deep South. So, he made the switch to jazz double bass and became one of the most prolific musicians of the second half of the twentieth century. According to his wikipedia page, he has appeared on over 2,200 recording sessions, making him one of the most recorded musicians in history.

He still plays today at age 83 and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him perform live on a couple of occasions. The first time in 2003, when I was still a teenager, he was leading a quintet of much younger musicians. He had adopted the Miles Davis role as senior member mentoring the young talent. It was a truly memorable gig. I can still vividly remember the rendition of Flamenco Sketches that they played that night. It sent shivers down my spine. After that I saw him play one more time in a drummer-less jazz trio featuring guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Mulgrew Miller. It was musicianship of the highest caliber.

When I listen back to Miles Smiles, which I have been doing this week. It reminds me what an incredible musician he is. I think the partnership he shared with drummer Tony Williams was one of the most brilliant and innovative rhythm sections in jazz history. There are good reasons behind why the members of that band went on to become some of the biggest stars in modern jazz.

Why Learn a Jazz Tune on Bass?

I know some bass players might not agree, but I think it’s important to learn to play melodies. I think bass players are often guilty of only looking at the chords and not thinking much about the melody. This tune is a great demonstration of why that approach won’t always work. There is only one chord here, Bb7. If you only look at that, it doesn’t tell you anything about the composition. Only once you look at the melody will you understand the composition.

From a purely technical perspective, learning jazz melodies will also help to build your technique on bass. And it will also help you learn about jazz phrasing and vocabulary. I would suggest that anyone wanting to learn how to improvise in a jazz style, needs to learn as many jazz tunes as possible. Here is how I play the Freedom Jazz Dance melody on 6-string bass.

Freedom Jazz Dance on 6-String Bass
Freedom Jazz Dance on 6-String Bass

Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick – Bass Practice Diary 148

Learn a Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd March 2021

I’m always surprised that Jimmy Johnson isn’t talked about more among the bass community. Some great bass players achieve legendary status, like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller, while others aren’t heralded in the same way. I would argue that Jimmy Johnson belongs in the very top echelon of bass players, and most of the professionals that I know who are familiar with his work agree with me.

I’ve only been lucky enough to witness him play live once, about 10 years ago with Allan Holdsworth and Gary Husband. I’ve been to a lot of gigs in my life both before and after that night and I’ve seen most of the bassists that I consider to be the greatest in the business. But even so, that night sticks in my memory for being a particularly extraordinary night of musicianship from all three members of the band.

For me, what makes Jimmy Johnson so extraordinary is his execution. He seems to place every note perfectly even when playing highly complex music, such as the compositions of Allan Holdsworth. He never seems to make a mistake or misplace a note even when playing and improvising through lightening fast compositions with irregular meters and complex harmony.

Sadly, Allan Holdsworth is no longer with us, but Jimmy Johnson is, and I would recommend that every bass player try to see him play live at least once.

The Lick

Having talked a bit about highly complex music, I’ve actually picked a lick from a fairly simple composition, Rio Funk by Lee Ritenour. It’s a tune that is most famous in the bass community for Marcus Miller’s iconic bass line on the original version. Jimmy Johnson’s approach to playing and soloing on the tune is completely different to Marcus Miller. It’s interesting to listen to the two versions side by side, both contain a bass solo.

The lick that I’ve transcribed comes 2 minutes and 34 seconds into the YouTube video linked here. It’s an almost entirely diatonic line that he plays over Gm7 and C7. But what I like, is the way he effortlessly navigates virtually the entire fretboard from 24th fret down to 3rd fret. It’s a lesson in knowing the harmony over the entire fretboard and executing the techniques involved in moving through the positions while improvising.

Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick on Rio Funk
Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick on Rio Funk

I’ve TAB’d this for 5-string bass because Jimmy Johnson is playing a 5-string bass. However, I mentioned in the video that you don’t need a 5-string to play this. You do need 24 frets if you want to play the notes in the same positions that he plays them. It is possible to play the line on a 4-string bass with 22 frets by moving one note. You need to move the D on the 24th fret of the 2nd string to the 19th fret of the first string. However, the reason I transcribed the line from a video is because I wanted to see where he was placing the notes and how he made the shifts. So, the version that I’ve written is accurate in terms of where he plays the notes on the fretboard.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 147

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd February 2021

I recently introduced the concept of playing cascading arpeggios on bass with a video featuring some exercises. I mentioned in that video that this is a very versatile idea that gets used in a wide variety of different musical contexts. So, the obvious next step is to demonstrate a situation where I might use this idea. This video features a cascading arpeggio jazz lick which I’ve created to played on a jazz blues in Bb.

The Lick

Here is the Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb

The lick starts on the third beat of the third bar. It’s important to start in the right place if you want the line to resolve onto the Eb7 chord on beat one of bar five. I’ve written the line in straight 16th notes, which creates a polyrhythmic effect against a triplet swing feel. I’ve done a video about this in the past.

The first arpeggio in the lick is Bb7, starting on the third, D and coming down 3rd, root, 7th, 5th. Then I play an E7 arpeggio descending from the root note, E. E7 is the tritone substitute for Bb7. This is a common chord substitution in jazz. It works because the E7 chord shares two notes in common with the Bb7. The 3rd and the 7th, in this case D and Ab (G#). The third arpeggio which starts on beat one of bar four is a Dm7b5 or D half diminished arpeggio. However, this arpeggio is really functioning as a Bb9 chord.

The Diminished Arpeggios

Then follows two diminished 7th arpeggios, Eo7 and Do7. I edited the explanation of these out of the video because it was a bit too long and boring, but I’ll include it here for those who are interested. Diminished sounds, both scales and arpeggios, work really well on dominant 7th chords.

You can think of a D diminished 7th chord as being a Bb7b9 chord without the root note. You can also play a Bb half/whole diminished scale over a Bb7 chord. I’ve also done a video about this sound. The scale gives you an interesting mix of inside and outside notes, Root, b9, #9, 3rd, #11, 5th, 13th & 7th. You can divide this scale into two diminished 7th arpeggios. Do7 gives you 3rd, 5th, 7th & b9, the other arpeggio gives you root, #9, #11 & 13th. In the video I’ve called this arpeggio Eo7 although you could also think of it as Bbo7, Dbo7 or Go7. I’m only thinking of it as Eo7 because in the inversion that I’ve used, the lowest note is the E.

A rhythmic variation

The final arpeggio is the tritone substitute, E7 again. This time descending from the third, G# (Ab). It’s very common to play the tritone sub on beat four of bar four of a jazz blues because it drops chromatically onto the four chord, Eb7, at the beginning of bar five. My lick resolves onto the note Db which is the 7th of the Eb7 chord.

I’ve also included a rhythmic variation in the video, which is fun to play but difficult to execute even at relatively moderate tempos. It goes like this.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb - rhythmic variation
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb – rhythmic variation

I finished the video by improvising three choruses of a blues in Bb, and inserting the lick in the appropriate place each time. My plan had been to improvise three choruses and pick my favourite chorus and only include that one. But I’m increasingly becoming less interested in editing myself as time passes. All of the choruses are ok while being flawed in some way (thank God! Nothing bores me like perfect music). And if people don’t want to watch all three choruses they are free to stop watching whenever they want. So I included the whole thing.

I had intended to play the variation on one of the choruses to see if I could execute it. But as you can see, that didn’t happen. I clearly need to practice more!

Armando’s Rhumba – a tribute to Chick Corea – Bass Practice Diary 146

Armando’s Rhumba – a tribute to Chick Corea – Bass Practice Diary – 16th February 2021

Armando’s Rhumba wasn’t the first Chick Corea composition that I heard. But it was probably the tune that really got me listening to him in a big way. His real first name is Armando, but that’s also his father’s name. I have a feeling that the piece is named for his father, but I might be mis-remembering that.

We’ve lost many great musicians in the last 12 months, but none hit me harder than the news of Chick Corea’s passing this week. I have been an avid follower of his work for over 20 years and he has influenced me musically more than just about any other artist. The first time I saw him play live was in 2004. Since that day I’ve made a point of going to see him play whenever he came to London. I was fortunate enough to meet him once after a gig and I was more star struck than I’ve ever been. He was extremely nice to me. He made the effort to make conversation with me, even when I was struggling to put two words together.

Chick Corea 1941-2021

His death, from a rare form of cancer, came as a shock to me. I didn’t know he was ill. He may have been 79 years old, but anyone who has seen him recently will know that he seemed to have a lot of life in him. He did not look, talk, move or play music like an older man.

I woke up on Thursday morning, and as soon as I checked social media, my heart sank. I saw image after image of Chick Corea from posts from so many musicians that I follow. Tragically, that only usually means one thing, and my fears were realised.

I had a ticket to see him play live at the Barbican last year in March with a wonderful trio including bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. The concert was cancelled with less than 48 hours notice due to the first COVID lockdown.

I’ve been trying to bring to mind all of the times I’ve seen him live. I was trying to count them and I got into double figures, but I’m sure I’ve missed some. I’ve never paid to see any other musician play live that many times. I think the reason that I kept going back to watch him play again and again is because it was never the same twice. There are other wonderful artists that I have seen four or five times and thought “I don’t need to see them again, I’ve seen it”. I’ve never thought that about Chick Corea. Even when I’ve seen him with the same band twice, it was never the same. He truly was a musical genius.

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured a Chick Corea composition in my Bass Practice Diary. You can find my version of Spain here.

Cascading Arpeggios Exercises – Bass Practice Diary 145

Cascading Arpeggios Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 9th February 2021

You probably have an idea in your head of what cascading arpeggios sound like, even though it isn’t a particularly technical musical term. I think that music journalists and writers often use the term more than musicians do. It gets used as a descriptive term in any number of different musical contexts. From classical music to guitar solos.

What are cascading arpeggios?

Usually they are either fast or repetitive descending arpeggios. It’s a very popular melodic device. And they also get used as a way of playing chords under a melody. In theory you could apply this idea to any arpeggio. In this video I’ve only used diatonic 7th chord arpeggios as an example. So, here are the four different inversions of a descending C major 7th arpeggio.

Descending C major 7th arpeggio inversions

You can create an exercise by taking each of these inversions down through all of the diatonic arpeggios in the key of C major. I’ve done the first one of these in the video.

Cascading Arpeggios - Diatonic 7th Chords in the Key of C Major
Exercise 1 – Cascading Arpeggios – Diatonic 7th Chords in the Key of C Major

An alternative way of playing this is to move each arpeggio down the neck of the bass. Position shifting every time you start a new arpeggio. This is harder for the left hand.

Exercise 2 – Cascading Arpeggios in the Key of C Major with Position Shifts

I would strongly recommend practicing these both ways. Exercise 1 is easier to play, and it’s ok to play in one position like that. However, it also helps if you can shift positions smoothly. If you can’t, you’ll get stuck playing everything in just one place on the neck.

The final example that I featured in the video starts on an E7 chord and it uses the diatonic arpeggios in the key of A major. The inversion starts on the 5th, B in the case of the E7 chord.

Exercise 3 – Cascading Arpeggios – Diatonic 7th Chords in the Key of A Major

Chord Progression on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 144

Chord Progression on 6-String Bass with Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd February 2021

This week I’ve been coming up with chord progressions on my new Sandberg Superlight 6-string bass. I thought this chord progression was quite nice, so I made a video of it. It uses mostly simple chord voicings, triads and the occasional 7th chord. Simple chord voicings tend to work well on bass. Too many notes in the lower register can sound like a mess.

I started out trying to play something in C major, and as you can hear, I ended up in Bb major. I wasn’t necessarily planning that when I came up with this. But that was where my instinct took me, and when I listened back, I liked it. I did think about including bass tablature in the video. But in the end I decided that chord diagrams worked better.

However, if you’re looking for a note for note transcription, here it is with tablature for 6-string bass.

Chord Progression on 6-String Bass
Chord Progression on 6-String Bass

If you’d like to learn more chord progressions on 6-string bass then check out my YouTube channel, Johnny Cox Music. It features a playlist of 6-string bass videos including several videos on the subject of chords and chord progressions.

What are the Best P Bass Strings? Flats or Used Nickel Rounds – Bass Practice Diary 143

Flatwound vs Used Nickel Roundwound Strings on a P Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 26th January 2021

Recently I did a video comparing the sound of flatwound bass strings with used nickel roundwounds on a fretless bass. While I was doing that comparison, I took the opportunity to do the same comparison, with the same sets of strings on my P Bass. Or I should more accurately say, my “P style bass”. As many of you know, this bass isn’t a genuine Fender Precision. However, it does have a Fender custom shop P bass pickup installed on it. And in my opinion, this bass sounds more like a vintage P Bass than my genuine Fender Precision which has the more modern sounding Yosemite pickups on it.

The Results

As I listen back to this video, the thing that strikes me most is how similar used nickel roundwound strings sound to the flatwounds. Once the nickel rounds get old, they lose their initial brightness and take on a very similar characteristic to the flats. I don’t think there is a huge difference in the tone.

Both sets of strings are made by D’addario. I tested the strings four different ways. First with tone and volume up played fingerstyle. Then with the tone fully off. Then I added some sponge under the strings by the bridge for a slightly muted tone. This was a trick that the legendary Motown bass player James Jamerson used to do. Finally I tested the strings while playing with a pick (the tone was still off and the sponge under the strings).

You can hear a difference in the video, but it’s not massive. I would say that the choice of flats or used rounds on a P Bass comes down to what you prefer the feel of. I know that a lot of P Bass purists won’t agree. The prevailing opinion amongst P Bass specialists (of which I’m not one) is that you need flats to get an authentic vintage P Bass tone. Personally I’ve always preferred the feel of roundwound strings.

The bass line in the video comes from a transcription of James Jamerson’s bass line on the Jackson 5’s Darling Dear. I was reading it from the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown and the transcription was done by another great bass player, Gerald Veasley.

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