Tag Archives: Fretless

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 30

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018

This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.

I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.

Jazz Blues Lick

The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.

If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.

The Lick

Jazz Blues Lick
Bb7 Jazz Blues Lick

The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.

From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).

Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.

It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.

For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.

Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar

How to Use Outside Notes In Your Basslines

The Blues Scale

The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.

If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.

Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.

From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.

In Conclusion

The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.

I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!

 

Playing Jazz on Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 20

In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018

I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.

In a Sentimental Mood

In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.

The Basses

The video features two of my favourite basses. The acoustic bass is an Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. If you’d like to learn more about this bass you can check out my solo arrangement of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves. Or you can check out this demo that I made a few years ago when I first owned the bass.

The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.

 

Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies – Bass Practice Diary 12

Jazz Solos and Melodies on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th July 2018

This week I’m featuring an excerpt from Miles Davis’ solo on the tune So What from the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. I’m playing it on my Warwick Thumb SC fretless bass.

Why Play Jazz Solos on Bass Guitar

The purpose of this video practice diary is not to copy Miles Davis or any other jazz soloist. Firstly, it’s to try to show how well the fretless bass works as an instrument for playing jazz solos. Especially solos with the type of lyrical phrasing demonstrated by Miles Davis. Secondly, it’s because I believe that anybody that wants to learn how to solo and improvise, should try and work out solos and melodies by as many great musicians and improvisers as they can. Not because you should try to copy other musicians, but simply in order to learn from them.

Jaco Pastorius is the most influential jazz bassist in history and he overwhelmingly favoured playing fretless. He also stated that the first thing he would do when learning any new piece, was learn the melody. He felt that learning melodies was essential to playing bass lines. I strongly agree with him. I’ve stated in a previous post that one of the principle functions of bass lines, is harmony. And in order to really understand a composition and how to harmonise, you must understand the melody.

What is “Lyrical” Soloing

When I use the adjective “lyrical” to describe a solo, it might seem like an odd choice of word. The word seems to imply lyrics which is strange to attach to an instrumental solo.

A dictionary definition of lyrical is “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way”. Which more or less sums up what I mean. But there is a bit more. The word lyrical to me implies being like a human voice. Miles Davis was quite open about this with his soloing, he was trying to use his trumpet to phrase like a singer would. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my fretless bass. And it can work well because you can slide in and out of notes and use vibrato in a way that you can’t on a fretted bass. However, you do have to be careful to not over use any of these things.

Intonation is also a key consideration when playing fretless. Meaning; are the notes in tune? If you put your fingers in even slightly the wrong place on the fret board, the notes will be out of tune. You don’t need to be nearly so accurate on a fretted bass.

Learning How to Play Jazz Solos on Bass

This Bass Practice Diary entry leads on from what I was doing last week, when I was playing Charlie Parker melodies on fretless bass. I believe that the best way to learn how to play jazz solos, is to learn to play as many jazz solos and melodies as you can.

Technical information about chords and scales is useful theory, but it doesn’t teach you how to improvise a jazz solo. Soloing is about creating melody, and melody is about creating musical phrases. The best way to do this is by listening to as much music as you can and working out how to play the melodic phrases.

Preferably, do it by ear. If you find it difficult to work out music by ear, I would recommend starting very simply, by using folk or pop melodies before moving onto jazz. It can be a slow process at first because it takes a lot of trial and error to begin with. So don’t be put off if you’re only starting out. You will get faster with experience.

Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 11

Playing Charlie Parker Melodies on Solo Fretless Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd July 2018

This week I’m playing Charlie Parker melodies on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6 string bass guitar.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is a pioneer of modern jazz and one of the greatest saxophonists in history. Alongside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie he pioneered the genre called Bebop. His compositions provide a musical and technical challenge to perform on bass, especially fretless bass. But doing so will improve your technique as well as help you learn the language and phrasing of modern jazz.

The Influence of Jaco Pastorius

I first started learning Charlie Parker melodies on bass when I was in my teens after I discovered Jaco Pastorius’ debut, self titled album. Track 1 on the album was Donna Lee. The melody was played by Jaco on a fretless electric bass. Like many other bass players, hearing this was a revelation to me. He took the bass out of it’s traditional role and elevated it to the level of a jazz solo instrument. I immediately decided that I needed to try doing the same thing.

So I used a Jazz Real Book to start working out jazz bebop melodies on my bass. I didn’t start with Donna Lee. It was the concept of playing jazz melodies on bass that I wanted to emulate, not necessarily that particular tune. Although I did get around to learning Donna Lee soon enough.

The first bebop tune I learned was called Tricotism, by the legendary double bass player Ray Brown. I figured I should start with a piece that was created for bass. Having done that I then learned the tune Confirmation by Charlie Parker. You hear me play an excerpt at the end of the video.

Why Play Charlie Parker Tunes on Bass?

I suppose the simplest answer is, because I think they sound really cool. Especially on fretless bass. But there are plenty of other great reasons to try this out. First, it is fantastic for improving your left hand technique. To play these tunes on bass you need to organise your left hand extremely well. Each tune forces you to practise spreading out your fingers, playing one finger per fret positions and shifting quickly and smoothly between these positions.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my free video lesson on Left Hand Techniques. The video begins with me playing another Charlie Parker tune called Anthropology on a 4 string bass.

How do You Start Playing Charlie Parker Tunes on the Bass?

Slowly, is always good advice. Take it one phrase at a time and work out good left hand fingerings for each phrase. It’s so important to have a well organised left hand in order to play these melodies.

If you can read music, you can start with a jazz Real Book. That’s how I started, and as I understand it, that’s how Jaco started as well. I don’t know if they had Real Books back in the 70’s but I understand that he had a book with the melodies in. You can get bass clef versions of most of the Real Books now, which is a big advantage. As a teenager I only had a treble clef Real Book and it took me a while to work out the melodies because at that time my treble clef reading was nowhere near as good as the bass clef.

Other books available include the Charlie Parker Omnibook which also comes in a bass clef version. It goes into each tune in a lot more detail than the Real Books because it includes transcriptions of both the melodies and solos. However, it’s not my favourite book because it doesn’t use key signatures. So each transcription contains hundreds of accidentals (sharps and flats) written throughout the music.

If you’re not a reader then the book to get is called Charlie Parker for Bass. It includes TAB and also features solo transcriptions, arranged for 4 string bass.

 

 

Warwick Thumb SC Fretless 6-String

Warwick Thumb SC Fretless

In this video, I’m jamming with myself at home using my fretless Warwick Thumb Single Cut 6-string bass guitar. I’m improvising on the spot and the bass is being played through my Warwick Hellborg Amplifier rig, including the Hellborg preamp.

Here’s a video I made with my Warwick Thumb SC Fretless, it’s such a beautiful sounding bass and I just love to play it.

Why Fretless?

I’m a jazz musician at heart, so I love fretless bass guitars. My Warwick Thumb SC is now the only fretless bass I own, for the simple reason that it’s so good there was no point in keeping any of the others I’d owned previously. I owned two fretless basses before I purchased my Thumb SC and I sold them both on eBay within months of it arriving.

The tone of the bass is absolutely beautiful and the build quality and the quality of the wood are second to none. The body is made from Swamp Ash with a one inch Bubinga Pommele top. The neck is Flamed Maple and the fingerboard is Tigerstripe Ebony, which is a very hard wood, so even round wound strings won’t chew up the fingerboard.

It features full line inlays on the fretboard which is a custom shop option. All Warwick’s custom shop basses have their own page on their website. You can see mine by clicking on this link.

Johnny Cox’s Warwick Thumb SC 6

Why Fret Lines?

In my opinion, all fretless bass guitars should come with fret lines. I’ve never met anyone who has perfect intonation  without them. Really no one, and I’ve met many of the worlds best bassists. So, choosing not to have lines is just macho nonsense, there is no benefit to not having the lines. Jaco Pastorius had fret lines on his bass.

I’ve heard many people say, “double bass players don’t need lines on their fingerboards”. I know, and it’s not relevant because bass guitar necks are nothing like double bass necks. There are much more notes in a smaller space on a bass guitar neck which makes them almost impossible to hit accurately at high speed without markers. Also, double bass necks start narrow and get wider, so it’s much easier to feel where you are on the neck than it is on bass guitar.

In Conclusion

The Warwick Thumb SC is quite simply the best fretless bass I’ve ever played. In fact it’s the best bass I’ve ever played and that includes Fodera’s. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Don’t forget, if you want to go fretless, get the full line inlays.

Warwick Thumb SC fretless
Johnny Cox’s Warwick Thumb SC fretless

 

Johnny Cox and Arun Maheswaran Jazz and Carnatic Music

Arun Maheswaran with Johnny Cox Mixing Jazz and Carnatic Music

In this video, Carnatic musician Arun Maheswaran is playing Mridangam and jazz musician Johnny Cox is playing his fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6-string bass guitar. Carnatic music is South Indian classical music. We’re playing a composition called Chasing Shadows by Anoushka Shankar.

Can You Mix Jazz and Carnatic Music?

Arun Maheswaran thinks you can. Arun studied Mridangam under his guru Shri K Anandandesan from the age of 10. In addition to performing and teaching the Mridangam, Arun also played the Ghatam and Udu Utar.

Recently Arun invited me to join his band Cosmic Rhythms. Which beautifully mixes Carnatic and jazz music. So, we took some time at a rehearsal to shoot this video together.

It’s been quite an education for me learning about Carnatic music. I’ve had to learn Korvai’s. A Korvai is a rhythmic phrase repeated three times in unison, each time the sub-divisions get smaller giving the impression of getting faster. Therefore, the Thalam or rhythmic structure doesn’t change. Also, Korvai’s are usually played at the end of solos or the final end of a piece.

A Koraipu is a call and response section, and as the Koraipu continues the phrases get shorter. Koraipu literally means reducing.

Why a fretless bass

The fretless bass is essential for combining Jazz and Carnatic music. The ability to bend pitches and slide between notes is essential to the phrasing in both jazz and Carnatic music. I’ve posted plenty of times about my fretless Warwick Thumb SC. I honestly believe that there isn’t a better fretless bass on the planet.

 

Johnny Cox and Siemy Di – Fretless Bass Improvisation

Jamming at Home with Siemy Di

This is a video I shot at my house with my good friend Siemy Di. We didn’t prepare anything, we just turned on the camera and jammed. I’m using my fretless Warwick Thumb SC and a loop pedal.

Siemy Di and I have worked together since 2006 and we have a fantastic musical relationship. We were introduced when I was in my early twenties by a mentor, Lucky Ranku, leader of the African Jazz All-stars.

In the video I’m using my 6-string Warwick Thumb SC and I’m playing it through a loop pedal. The piece is entirely improvised on the spot.

Around the time this was filmed, Siemy Di and I were performing live regularly around East London at venues such as The Servant Jazz Quarters, The Vortex, Open The Gate and The Passing Clouds. The gigs were almost entirely improvised and we deliberately did very little preparation for each gig. Some performances were better than others but it was always great fun to play with a great musician like Siemy. This video captures a little taste of what those performances were like. Not perfect but always interesting.

Siemy Di and I are still close friends but we don’t do those gigs anymore. We both have young children now, so spending our evenings at jazz clubs is out of the question these days. Maybe one day in the future we’ll do something similar, although I imagine it will be quite different. This video captures a moment in time that was an important time for both musicians.

Check out Siemy Di’s Drumeo video here. I recorded all the bass and guitar parts for both the first and last pieces.