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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!