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Anthony Jackson - I Was Made To Love Him (Chaka Khan)

Anthony Jackson's bass line on this track is rooted in the legacy of Motown bassist James Jamerson, but is also highly innovative and groundbreaking. AJ was one of the first bassists to play extended fills starting on the "one" of the bar instead of playing fills that would end/resolve on beat one. He has had a major influence on the way bassists play contemporary gospel, funk, and R&B music today.

There are so many cool things in this track - be sure to watch all the way through!

As always, you can download the sheet music to this transcription here.

Karl Kohut - Bass Solo on "Moonglow" (Live at Dizzy's 11/29/2016)

Over the last few months, I've had the pleasure of performing a number of dates with Joe Doubleday & Felix Peikli's Showtime Band in support of their new CD, It's Showtime!. Below is a clip from their CD release at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, featuring my bass solo on the jazz standard Moonglow:

The musicians in the clip are: Joe Doubleday - vibraphone, Felix Peikli - clarinet, Rossano Sportiello - piano, and Dag Markhus - drums.

And for fun, I wrote out the solo so you can follow along/play along, if you're so inclined. Download here.

Thanks for reading!

Behind The Scenes: The Van Jones Video

It's been just under a week since I posted this video - thanks to everyone who liked and/or shared it on Facebook! In case you missed it, you can watch it again below:

A number of people have been curious about how I went about making this video, so I'll try to take you through the creative process as well as some of the more technical aspects that go into making a video like this.

First, the inspiration from this video came from the bassist Dywane "MonoNeon" Thomas, Jr., who is a genius at adding his bass sound to all sorts of unexpected sources.

To come up with my part, I first pulled the audio into one of my favorite iOS apps, AudioStretch. This is very similar to the Windows/Mac software called Transcribe!, in which you can view the audio waveform, slow down the speed, set A-B loop points, etc. It really makes transcribing a lot easier and faster, since you can easily isolate one section at a time to figure it out.

In the simplest form, I tried to figure out what pitches Van Jones's speaking voice was approximating, but his voice would often go through a range of pitches on a single note. This gives you the liberty to decide how you want to interpret it, giving you freedom make choices about pitches and their harmonic implications, register, etc. Often for faster or more emphatic passages, I would try to find a way to align the pitches with a pentatonic scale, or fragments of different pentatonic scales. This has the effect of feeling more idiomatic to the bass - some of the faster pentatonic runs feel like something that a gospel bassist such as Andrew Gouche might play, for example. I also used some double and triple stops to give emphasis to certain words or phrases. Although there are certain sections that convey a feeling of being a particular key, it can have an undesired effect to stay in a particular key for too long since our brains are used to associating common tonal motions with certain emotions. Sometimes the juxtaposition works, but for a lot of it, the atonal/chromatic approach is actually more supportive to the spoken text as it is less distracting.

Since I wanted to do the video in one take, the bulk of the work in this project was really nailing the synchronization of my bass with the spoken words. Internalizing something that is largely atonal and in free time is undoubtedly a more challenging task than your typical piece of music. While I was always conscious of the underlying harmony that the pitches had the effect of creating, the harmonic foundation changes so quickly that it only helped a small amount in helping to mentally organize the piece as a whole.

I recorded the piece using my Fodera Imperial Elite 5-string bass, tuned B-G (see below). It's an older Fodera bass and has Bartolini pickups as well as the first-generation Fodera/Pope preamp. For recording, I used the bass in passive mode since the onboard preamp contributes a little bit of undesired noise (I will add that the newest Fodera/Pope preamp is much quieter, and I wouldn't hesitate to record with it engaged). The Bartolini pickups are a custom OEM wind for Fodera, and they are quite transparent sounding as well as having a fairly low output. 

My 2000 Fodera Imperial Elite

I ran the bass through a Focusrite Scarlett interface connected to my MacBook pro running Logic Pro X. The tone you hear on the video is largely unprocessed, there is some compression and a subtle delay, but no EQ other than to roll off the bottom end to clean up the sound slightly. The bass itself has a strong midrange voice due to the mahogany body, which is great for a contemporary dark, bridge-pickup oriented solo tone. I usually wear my Shure SE215 in-ear monitors, which sound great and stay in my ears really well. I also have a pair of Audio-Technical M50x headphones which I use on occasion, since they are a industry-standard headphone and will often reveal trouble spots in your mixes, but for long practice sessions the in-ear monitors are more comfortable.

I shot the video on my iPhone 6S using an iOS app called FiLMiC Pro. It gives you more control over the video than the built-in video app, allowing you to manually change and lock parameters such as focus, exposure, etc. These manual controls were probably overkill for this project, but I find them useful nonetheless. Once the audio was mixed in Logic, I did the final video editing and synchronization of the audio tracks in iMovie.

One thing that was humorous to me was how many people seemed to really enjoy the stutter sound around 0:36-0:37. It's just a matter of getting dead/ghost notes on the bass by muting the strings with your left hand, but when it's perfectly aligned with Van Jones, it sounds like the bass is stuttering.

I hope this explanation shed some light on the creative and technical aspects that went into making this video. Thanks for reading!

 

Larry Grenadier - Solo on "Bright Size Life" (Pat Metheny: Trio → Live)

Much like last week's transcription, this solo from bassist Larry Grenadier is one that falls into the "concise, but perfect" category. Although the original studio recording (released in 1976) featured a brilliant solo by a young Jaco Pastorius, Larry simply tries to sound like himself and lays down this great, one-chorus solo. To me, Larry is instantly recognizable by the consistency of his attack and his nearly flawless intonation - qualities that are evident not only on this recording, but on all of the recordings of him that I can think of. Because this solo is so clear, it's a great solo to study and a fun one to play along with.

And here's a link to download a PDF transcription of the solo.

Enjoy!

Christian McBride: Solo on "Last Summer" (Jimmy Greene - Beautiful Life)

This solo comes from an album by someone who I've had the great fortune to study with — saxophonist Jimmy Greene. The album is called Beautiful Life (dedicated to his daughter, Ana Grace Márquez-Greene) and it was released on Mack Avenue Records in 2014.

On this particular track, Christian McBride lays down one of my favorite solos of all time: it's only 15 bars long, but it's full of great melodic content that unfolds in a seemingly effortless way. There are a lot of ideas here that I've heard Christian play in other solos, but the way the ideas connect is truly masterful — and his execution of it is so clean.

Here's a video clip of me playing Christian's solo along with the recording:

And here's a link to download a PDF transcription of the solo.

Until next time!

Jaco, Learning to Play, and Transcribing

When I was around 13 or 14 years old, I had been playing electric bass for about a year. One of the very first albums that I really got into was Weather Report's Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977), featuring the great bassist Jaco Pastorius. I can distinctly remember sitting down to learn the iconic bass anthem from the album, Teen Town  a rite of passage for any aspiring young bassist.

I played the recording over and over, but when I tried to hear the rapid 16th-note passages, I couldn't discern the notes, no matter how hard I tried — it just went by too quickly. Being self-taught at that point, I didn't have a bass teacher to show me the notes or to even advise me on techniques to help me through the process (such as identifying the rhythms first, and later filling in the notes). Frustrated, I put my Sony Discman (!) away, feeling no closer to being able to replicate this song that I loved listening to.

A few days later, I went online and discovered that someone had written out this bass line and posted it on their personal website (this was in the pre-YouTube era). Because I had a classical piano background, reading standard notation was no problem! Excited, I printed it out, and worked through it, phrase-by-phrase. It took me a long time, because I had no idea what fingerings to use, but eventually I worked out a way to play it that seemed the most logical and efficient. Most importantly, after learning it on the bass, I could finally listen to the recording and really hear each note as it went by. I even was able to pick out a few inaccuracies in the sheet music upon scrutinizing the recording more closely.

Now, most jazz musicians and educators will tell you that transcribing is best done by using your ears and a recording, and not by looking off sheet music. I agree with this statement 100%! However, I must use a qualifier this method is best for people who already know how to transcribe! They can already hear the notes and rhythms, and understand how they relate to the chords and form. A beginning student may be able to identify pitches or rhythms, but the logic behind them may evade them (at least they did to me, at first). Seeing the sheet music, with chords, was really helpful to me to understand why people played the notes that they did, especially since I didn't have a teacher.

All this to say: I'm grateful that someone wrote out some bass lines and put them on the Internet, because that's how I began learning how to play.

On this website, I'm going to be posting transcriptions of some of my favorite bass lines and solos, with sheet music and video so you can see how they're played. I make every effort to be extremely accurate, but if you think there's a mistake, send me a message and let me know.

Furthermore, I intend to help you discover solos and recordings of great musical value. It can be hard to know what to check out (especially when so many things are available), so I intend to act as a curator and hip you to things that have been meaningful in my musical journey. I hope they will resonate with you as well.

Enjoy, and happy practicing!