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 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.
Learn Basslines in 9/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24 July 2018
This week’s bass practice diary leads on directly from what I was doing last week. I’m writing and recording examples for an upcoming book. Last week I was exploring bass grooves in 6/8 time signature. This week I’m taking a logical next step and looking at bass grooves in 9/8 time signature.
9/8 Time Signature
While 9/8 is a logical next step from 6/8, it also enters a new world of odd meters. However you group the nine eighth notes in each bar you will inevitably end up with an odd number. The most obvious way to divide the bar is into three beats, each subdivided into three eighth notes. This creates the feel of a 3/4 shuffle as I’ve demonstrated in the video.
So, 6/8 and 9/8 can both be related to 3/4 time signature. 6/8 can be played as a straight 3/4, as I demonstrated in this video last week. And 9/8 is most commonly played as a 3/4 shuffle. You can also think of a jazz waltz as being 9/8.
Odd Meters and Time Signatures
I know that the subject of odd meters can divide opinion amongst musicians. Personally, I find odd meters fascinating and I love to play in odd meters. Technically, an odd meter is any time signature with an odd number of beats in a bar. So 3/4 and 9/8 are both odd meters, and technically 6/8 isn’t an odd meter. However, the term odd meters tends to get attached to any time signature that isn’t commonly used. We tend to not think of 3/4 as an odd meter because it’s fairly common. But an unusual meter like 10/4, for example, would usually be categorised as an odd meter, even though it technically isn’t one.
I’ve also come across an attitude from some musicians, that they think odd meters only belong in “prog rock” and “fusion”. Prog and fusion are considered dirty words by many musicians, and my own odd meter influences certainly don’t come from prog rock.
The term “fusion” is one that I don’t like to use. If you think about it, virtually all music is a fusion of different influences. Certainly jazz is a fusion of many different styles and musical cultures. Too often I hear the label “fusion” attached to music as a way of putting it down. Somehow implying that it’s not pure. Particularly within the jazz world.
9/8 in Jazz and Indian Music
My interest in odd meters comes mostly from having studied jazz and Indian music. A great example of 9/8 being used in jazz, is the Dave Brubeck composition Blue Rondo a La Turk. What sounds like a very complex rhythm when you first listen to it, is actually quite simple. The melody is based around a rhythmic phrase where the nine eighth notes are arranged into three 2’s and a 3. I would recite the rhythm Ta-ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta. After the theme, Blue Rondo a La Turk moves into a jazz swing feel, which highlights the connection between these types of rhythmic phrases and the jazz swing feel.
In Indian music, a Tala, which is a beat cycle can contain 3, 5, 7 and 9 beats or even 11 or 13. The Indian approach to odd meters has crossed over into Western music many times in the last fifty years. In jazz through musicians such as John McLaughlin and Trilok Guru and even in pop music. An example is All You Need is Love by the Beatles, who were heavily influenced by the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.
How to Groove in 9/8
I’m trying to find ways of grooving in 9/8 time signature, that move away from a straight forward 3/4 shuffle. I’ve included three examples in the video. The first two use the standard 3/4 shuffle feel. But in both examples the feel is slightly subverted by rhythmic variations.
This first example uses a 3/4 shuffle feel in bar 1. But the second bar has a rhythmic variation. The rhythm in bar 2 is the same rhythmic phrase as Blue Rondo a La Turk.
Example 2 stretches the shuffle feel even further.
In Example 3 I’ve moved away from the shuffle feel altogether. There’s no doubt that this example has much more of a feel of an odd meter, which some people will like and others won’t. I really like this bass groove, and I’ve combined it with some gospel style harmonies which I think makes a really interesting juxtaposition.
My Composition in 9/8 Time Signature
At the end of the video I’ve included a composition of my own. It is as yet un-named and un-released. It’s only a demo really. It’s one of many compositions I have compiled over the last ten years or more. Hopefully one day I’ll re-record it with a full band and release it. But for now I hope it can give you an idea of how these ideas can be applied to composing.
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 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.
Combine Bass and Melody for Solo Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 19th June 2018
This week I’ve been working on arranging jazz melodies for solo bass. I’m incorporating both bass and melody parts into my solo bass arrangements. To help me, I’ve been studying the great jazz guitarist Martin Taylor and specifically his book called Beyond Chord Melody.
Why arrange music for solo bass?
I’ve always felt that 6 string bass guitars are very well suited to being played solo. In many ways better suited than guitars, because there’s the potential to play bass lines in the lower register. I often get comments about being like a guitarist when I play my 6 string basses. And many people can’t understand why I don’t just play the guitar when I play in this style.
It’s not a comparison that I find in any way insulting. I do play the guitar and I love the guitar. But I prefer the bass. And I arrange music for solo bass because, in many musical situations, I prefer the sound of solo bass. It’s also a less common sound because fewer people do it. And there’s nothing more interesting to me than hearing music that I haven’t heard before.
All of my 6 string basses have a range that goes to at least a C above middle C. So there’s more than enough range to arrange melodies in the high male voice tenor voice. And there’s the mid range that is ideal for piano style chord voicing.
Martin Taylor is a supremely talented musician, best known for playing solo jazz arrangements on guitar. It would be hard to find a better expert for arranging solo jazz on any instrument. I think it’s so important to study great musicians of all instruments and styles if you want to become a really rounded musician.
The title of the book tells you exactly what to expect. There’s very little text in the book, only in the introduction. So, the main part of the book contains page after page of chromatic jazz lines and exercises all written out in the bass clef. There isn’t any bass TAB so it’s a book for readers or for anyone wanting to work on bass clef sight reading. There’s a lot of information and it would take a really long time to play through the entire book.
It was written by the jazz pianist Olegario Diaz. If you’re not familiar with him I would highly recommend checking out some of his albums such as The Skyline Session, Basquiat by Night/Day and Aleph in Chromatic. They’re all available on Spotify and they feature some heavy weights of modern jazz such as Randy Brecker, Bill Stewart, Jeff Tain Watts, James Genus, Nate Smith, Bob Franceschini and Alex Sipiagin.
As mentioned previously, the book has lots of musical examples and exercises and not very much in the way of text and description. What you get is a chord symbol with alterations, such as C-7b5+11, and a very brief description, such as, ARPEGGIOS ROOT, b3, b5,♮7. The rest you’re left to work out for yourself from the notated exercise.
At the end of the video I demonstrated five examples. I choose them more or less at random from a page I was working on in the book. The first two examples that I played were both altered scale patterns in the key of C. Then, the third one I played is probably my favourite of the five. It’s the one I referenced in the paragraph above. It involves playing five note arpeggios over a minor/major chord with a flattened fifth (minor third and a major seventh). The arpeggios start on the root, then on the minor third and then on the flattened fifth.
The fourth and fifth examples uses four note major and minor seventh arpeggios with chromatic approach notes. The fourth exercise is played over a major seventh chord, creating a lydian sound and then the fifth exercise is played over a minor seventh chord.
Warwick Thumb SC 6 string fretless
I’m playing all these examples on my Custom Shop Warwick Thumb SC 6 string fretless. I prefer to use fretless for jazz and melodic playing but I do have to be careful to get the intonation right. So, check out this post if you’re interested in learning more about the instrument.
The following post is written by the superb jazz guitarist and teacher Marc-Andre Seguin. Marc is the founder of the phenomenally successful jazz guitar website JazzGuitarLessons.net. I asked Marc if he could sum up what he feels are the essential things that he expects from a jazz bass player. In this post he gives a brilliant overview of time, swing feel, walking bass lines, harmony and chord progressions.
Marc has included so much great information here, much of which I’ll be following up very soon with some posts of my own. If you want to learn more about time, swing feel, triplets and locking in with the drums, check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove. It includes a chapter on triplets and swing feel and another chapter on grooving with drums. But most importantly check out Marc-Andre Seguin’s wonderful music and his website JazzGuitarLessons.net.
Essentials to Expect from a Jazz Bass Player
The essentials for a jazz bass player range from basic to just about wherever they wish to take it.
The jazz bass player does have a few essential tricks up their sleeve that other genres may not require.
Let’s take a look at these essentials starting with a couple of the basics.
An essential requirement is holding down the beat with the drummer.
As part of the rhythm section, you and the drummer are best friends.
Lock it in.
Listen, and be with that ride cymbal when swinging in the groove.
We’ll take a closer look at why and how further on in this post.
The entire band is looking to you to lead them into the next chord and provide the necessary bass notes to compliment the current chord of the song.
The leading tone is critical when heading to a chord change, so stay tuned (pun intended) for clarification.
Let’s get to it.
Walking Bass Lines
One of the staples of jazz is the walking bass line. It is also one of the more creative parts that a jazz bassist can play due to its’ improvisational characteristics. You hold the groove down but can improvise lines.
A walking bass line requires the bassist to play one note for every beat of the measure, so in 4/4 time you would play a quarter note on every beat. Play the root note of the chord on beat one for an easy line.
For the second beat, play any note in the scale of the chord, or a chord tone.
The third beat can be the same or different note of the scale or chord.
The fourth beat creates tension prior to resolving to the root, so play a dominant 5th or a leading tone a half step below the root of the next chord.
The leading tone into the next chord change is critical to nail as your band members are relying on it as a guide to the impending chord change.
Piano player asks, “Where’s the bass player?” Drummer, “He’s in the parking lot again.” Piano player, “We’re going to have to get him some walking bass line lessons.”
Don’t worry, with the information you learn in this post, you’ll be on stage the entire time, and if they announce that you have left the building, it will be a good thing! “Elvis has left the building!”
A little trick is to make sure you always have a lick or two to fall back on when improvising a line. It will help you find your way back if necessary.
See what you can come up with for your own walking bass lines using different variations of the scale notes or chord notes.
This is all about the triplet.
When you are emphasizing each beat of the measure you will create a swing feel when the drummer splits those beats into triplets by hitting between every beat you play.
Listen to the ride cymbal as your center of gravity and let your notes ring as the ride cymbal does. You and the drummer have it going, creating that musical space for the soloists and the rest of the band to play in, until it’s your turn to solo.
Know Your Progressions
There are some common chord progressions that jazz players of all stripes use. One of the most common is the 2-5-1 chord progression.
If you know the scale notes and the chord notes to the chord being played, you can hold down the low end by moving the same line into different keys, which makes for a good default lick.
A great way to practice lines for this progression is by playing through the cycle of fourths in all 12 keys.
Cycle of Fourths
They look intimidating when you see the sheet with the big circle of notes and names around it, but it is pretty easy to use once you understand it.
Here is a link if you wish to learn more about the cycle of fourths. The cycle of fifths is the same thing, just backwards.
How Does a Jazz Bass Player Acquire the Essentials?
As we progress in our playing more doors open presenting unique challenges and most of us usually have something that we are trying to improve upon.
One way to improve our musicianship is to listen to other musicians, be they our favourite artists or our new favourite artists. Listening to good music is not only inspiring but can really propel our learning as something to strive for.
There have been some absolutely great bass and drummer combinations over the years. A notable rhythm unit is Jaco Pastorius and the drummer Peter Erskine who held down the rhythm section for the jazz fusion band “Weather Report” during that band’s heyday. Check them out.
Sometimes deep listening is required, singling out the separate instruments in a band and how they interact with each other. This deep listening is also an essential quality for any musician that plays with others in a band.
There is absolutely no doubt that a good jazz bass player can really take a band to new places.
The bass player holds a lot of power in their hands and forms an essential part of the very foundation of any band.
I encourage you to keep on learning. Start working on some new lines and seek out like-minded players, as getting together and playing with other musicians will really give your playing a boost, and it’s a lot of fun.
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.
In this video, I play my own arrangement of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves on my Warwick Alien Deluxe 6-string acoustic bass guitar.
Why a 6-string acoustic bass guitar?
I wrote this arrangement specially to play on my Warwick Alien Deluxe acoustic bass guitar. I’ve tried playing it on my 6-string electric basses and it’s easier, but I don’t like the sound as much. There’s something about the sound of a 6-string acoustic bass guitar. It’s somewhere between a baritone acoustic guitar and a double bass.
How does it sound?
I’ve tried to demonstrate in the video that the Warwick Alien Deluxe has a very clear sound across it’s entire range. From the clear low B-string all the way up to soloing above the 12th fret. It has a very clear and pleasant acoustic sound.
How good is the build quality?
Very good. Surprisingly good in fact. So, all of Warwick’s acoustic basses are now made in China. Even the more expensive Warwick ALIEN. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 features all of the standard Warwick hardware including Warwick Machine heads and Just-a-Nut III. It also features Fishman electronics including a piezo pickup and a Fishman Prefix Plus T Electronic preamp.
However, the most important thing about the build quality, and the thing that makes Warwick instruments stand out in general is the quality of the woods used. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 boasts a mahogany neck, a wenge fingerboard, a laminated spruce top and, as you can see in the video, beautiful back and sides made of laminated Bubinga. It’s the quality of the look of these materials and the tones that they produce that really makes you feel like you’re playing a high quality professional instrument.
The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is an outstanding, high quality professional acoustic bass guitar. It is fairly expensive, but not considering the build quality of the instrument and the quality of the materials used.
If you are looking for a high quality, great looking acoustic bass with a clear sound across a wide range from low B-string and playable above the 12th fret then the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is the instrument for You.
In the video, I play the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 through my Warwick Hellborg rig. The Hellborg Preamp is quite simply the best preamp for bass on the market and I use it for virtually all my recording. It’s so good that I use it when recording other instruments and vocals as well.
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.