Enjoying the site? Then please click the ad. Thanks!

School of Bass - Day 1

Written at 1:04 AM on October 20, 2006. 

Here are some random thoughts and observations from Day 1 of "School of Bass" here in Arizona.

The 40 or so attendees were assigned to one of four groups loosely based on experience and training. The groups are labeled A, B, C, and D. Of course, on the handouts class assignments are labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4 (who said bass players were smart?). Now, had they written it as i, ii, iii, iv, I would have given them credit for the joke.

Ray Riendeau

We only had one technical class today since it started in the afternoon. My group's class centered around triads and triad arpeggios in various positions and keys. The instructor, Ray Riendeau did a very good job of explaining and putting it to practical use. He gave us plenty of exercises based on the cycle of fourths that will force us to really learn the fretboard. This was good for me because only recently have I started forcing myself to again use a fourth-finger position. I found I had gotten lazy and stuck in first and second finger positions.

In an effort to involve everyone in our group (8 people), he started with C and asked each person in succession to name the next fourth (F, Bb, Eb, etc). A few folks stumbled and were a bit confused. That's not a criticism - we're all here to learn. One guy who had was in a working country band and who had been playing for 20 plus years couldn't name his. Another guy was playing some pretty impressive chops before the class. He got stuck on his.

This just goes to show you how varied our talents and experiences are. You can work in a band for years and not know even basic theory. This guy is probably in his 40s, yet he's making the effort to learn because he knows it will make him a better player. Same thing for the guy with the chops. There's always more to learn, and it's never too late to learn the basics.

When it was my turn, I got mine right! Yippee for me!

Before class one guy with an expensive bass was talking about the other expensive basses he owns. During the class he asked what I considered were some pretty basic questions. This caught me by surprise because I didn't expect someone who had invested thousands in gear to not have learned the basics. Again, it's not a criticism, it just caught me by surprise. The way I was brought up is you learn on the cheap stuff (bicycle, camera, bass, magic tricks, whatever). If you decide to stick with it, *then* you buy the good stuff. Hopefully after the conference he'll be a guy with expensive gear who also knows the basics. Good for him!

Mel Brown

Mel Brown gave the afternoon clinic. The session was entitled "From Zero to Sideman" which he is making into a book. If the book is half as good as his presentation, you gotta get it. It's all about how he decided he wanted to be a professional bassist and the steps he took to get there.

In a nutshell he said he realized that music is a service industry. He looked around town at every working band and learned their set lists. It was literally hundreds of songs. He charted them all by hand. He considered that the minimum functional requirements for the job. If you wanna work, learn to play what people are already getting paid to play. At first he offered to sub for free, which eventually led to some paying gigs. Check out the video on the "Mel Who" page to hear about how he got on Arsenio Hall.

Being a human resources major in college and coming from the corporate world, he applied those business techniques to landing gigs. He pointed out that people are wary of strangers - it's human nature. So he made an interactive CD (this was 1997, so kudos to him) that included video, music samples, and video/audio testimonials - basically everything that would come out in an interview. This way he wouldn't be a stranger to anybody looking to bring him in or recommend him. They could see him, hear him, and hear about him - something you don't get just a paper resume. He pressed 500 of them and started putting them out there. Within three weeks he got a gig with Gladys Knight. There's more to the story than that, so wait for the book.

Speaking of Gladys Knight, he said she wrote a lot of her own bass lines. In fact "Midnight Train to Georgia" uses her bass line. I didn't know that.

Mel endorses Fender, so take this with a grain of salt. He says he owns many different *great* basses. As a freelance guy doing gigs and sessions, he says he's had people say, "Hey, where's your Fender?" Not once has anybody said, "Hey, where's your Tobias Classic." Interesting perspective.

Carol Chaiken, Lynne Davis

In the evening there was the concert. First, Ed Friedland played his upright for some standard Jazz with Carol Chaikin playing sax, clarinet and flute. Ed's the shit. The next set had Lynne Davis on her Fender Jazz, again with Carol. I have to say, Carol is very talented and fun to watch. Lynne really understands groove. They played a bunch of R&B (no vocals). Lastly, Mel Brown played his 5-string Fender Jazz with a smooth Jazz band. This guy is super talented. Even though he learned zillions of tunes by other people, he has his own distinctive style.

Some folks here often talk about the tone being in the hands. Well, listening to Lynne and Mel play sometimes you'd swear they had switched basses, sometimes even to a fretless.

One of the attendees told me he had visited my website. He mentioned really enjoying the "Finding Tones in Your Bass" article. He said he already knew about how different each pickup sounds but had never really thought about where he plucked the strings. Watching both Lynne and Mel play, it was reassuring to see them changing their plucking position even with one song. There's more to it than just that and my article only scratches the surface, but it reinforces what you hear here all the time: There's more in our hands than we think is possible.

The best thing about the concert? Three hours of music and not *one* guitar to be seen. Yep. It was just drums, bass, keyboards and sax.

Mel gave props to Chuck Rainey, who was in the audience. He said that playing in front of someone as influential as Chuck Rainey was like standing in the sunshine.

All in all it was a great first day. I'm looking forward to tomorrow (well, later this morning). We get to go on a Fender factory tour for lunch!

Was my article worth
one click?

Please visit my sponsor -->
No malware.
No tricky stuff.

comments powered by Disqus