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Friday, December 04, 2015

Roly Veitch was right!

(By Dave Brownlow)
Responding to your recent re-blog of Roly Veitch’s conclusion that “the bass player is the most important member of the band” as a one-time bassist myself I can wholeheartedly agree! Roly’s comment set me thinking about some of the “greats” in jazz history and their bassists.
Tommy Potter was Charlie Parker’s first-choice bass player from 1947 – 51 for good reason. He had a light, bouncy, rhythmic tone - perfect for the Bebop Quintet Bird was developing then. Tommy’s sure-footed choice of notes helps listeners to know exactly ‘where you are’ in the chord sequence which must have given Charlie great confidence to launch into his Bird-Flights-Of-Fancy.
Ray Brown was a stalwart of Oscar Peterson’s Duos and Trios from 1949 – 1966 which provided a musical association of great benefit to both men. Ray had a formidable attack, a huge, rounded, sustained sound emanating from the centre or lower reaches of the bass soaring up into the cello registers in solos. His ‘time’ was rock solid – it needed to be to hold together Oscar’s at times break-neck playing within the group!
The great Bill Evans chose his bassists with care because he was looking for a musician who could be an “equal” in his conception of the piano trio in jazz. At the forefront was Scott La Faro whose association with Bill was tragically short. Scott’s sound was huge throughout all the bass range, his drive powerful and he took technique up to a new level. With the drummer, he was able to challenge the leader, and raise the tension in pieces, building up to resolution in dramatic ways.
Miles Davis’ long-time bass player was Paul Chambers who worked with the trumpeter through several of his career phases – namely The Quintets, The Gil Evans Projects and The Kind Of Blue Sextet. Paul’s playing was light toned, ‘springy’ and swinging and his note choice was more unusual because his bass-lines did not contain so many ‘root’ notes. As a result, the bass part was more free-flowing which made Paul one of the first players who could play competently within Miles’ idea of  using tunes based on modes, scales or one or two chords (i.e. So What).
Finally in this brief review of some of the “greats” and their bassists is Gary Peacock within the “Standards Trio” of Keith Jarrett. Gary had (and has) the most extravagant technical ability on the bass moving from strong ‘root’ notes into cello-like sorties into the upper reaches of harmony and indeed harmonics, taking risks even when just accompanying ! This constantly imaginative playing undoubtedly spurred on Jarrett to reach his more outrageous moments.
I believe these few examples from the history of jazz fully support Roly’s wise assertion!
Dave Brownlow

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