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Andrew1953

Info on learning gypsy-style bass

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  • CampusfiveCampusfive Los Angeles, CA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 98
    Overtly modern jazz bass playing is the ruin of 90% of the traditional jazz / swing / gypsy jazz that I hear. I am very glad to see a forum for this.

    A couple things:
    1) Staccato playing is essential! Think about a modern jazz quartet, playing in lounge somewhere. The bass sounds like "doo-doo-doo-da-doo". Very legato. Does that capture the exciting, driving feel of (traditional) gypsy jazz? No. The bass player should be driving and pushing - "dunk-dunk-dunk-dunk". Think about what every rhythm guitar player does... do they let every chord ring out? No. Match the feel of the guitar players.
    2) Gut Strings. Traditional jazz bass of the original era was played on gut strings, and I'll be damned if that is not the best sounding way to do it. They naturally have the staccato sound we are talking about. The modern, legato, straight-ahead jazz bass style came about along with the playing of metal strings, and it is harder to play the old style on metal strings. No - it is not impossible; but boy does it make it easier. Its the same idea that Bireli can play an ovation and sound like him, but the rest of us like to use selmacs to get our sound because its easier! The best players (in the style) I know use gut strings and play them very, very loud. If any one has heard of Big Sandy - his old bass player Wally is amazing. He uses gut strings and thumps like mad. Western Swing guys, rockabilly, and bluegrass players often play the style better because they don't have that awful modern style.
    3) Minimal, sensible amplification. I know several bass players, who I consequently don't hire very often, who use WAY too much amplification, and moreover its amplification that fundamentally ruins the staccato style. Don't be that guy.
    4) Weird Leaps vs. Simple movement. I hired this bass player once who though of Ron Carter as "old school" and consequently played lots of weird leaps and lots of-rhythm things. I didn't hire him again. Simple movement is key. Root-fifth is nice start and going a lot farther than isn't really necessary. Walking from a F to a Bb can be really simple: F-F-G-G-G#-G#-A-A-Bb. Hitting the same note twice in a row is fine. There is a temptation to keep from playing "vanilla" changes, and make things "interesting." DON'T. Worry about really grooving and driving, overly interesting note choices will probably distract from the groove.

    Now, this is just for traditional-style. I know gypsies have continued evolving the music and were playing bebop in the 50's, etc. I'm just talking about playing the classic, pre-bop, swing style of bass playing.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,813
    Thanks for the great post! I noticed the staccato style of the old school bass players. Simon Planting, bass player for Fapy and Robin Nolan, plays this way. It sounds great inconjunction with a good pompeing rhythm guitar.

    I didn't know about the gut strings...thanks for the info!

    'm
  • trumbologytrumbology San FranciscoNew
    Posts: 124
    Jonathan,

    Once again you have dissected a particular aspect of swing for me and set off a lightbulb in my head.

    I do love the fact that you pull no punches when addressing the lameness of the average straightahead combo.

    Now, there are examples of straightahead playing that I find to be sublime. Forgive me, hardcore Pompeurs, but I think, for instance, "Jim Hall Live" is better than herion. Uh, that is, if I'd ever tried herion.

    And I know a lot of restaurant, wedding, and hotel combos are either pickup groups or semi-regular formations, and they aren't being paid necessarily to be noticed. But, people have almost divorced the idea of jazz from the idea of a music than makes you want to shake your rump, and that's too bad. If Colrane had thrown in one or two rumpshakers into each set, maybe we wouldn't be at this impasse today 8)
  • CampusfiveCampusfive Los Angeles, CA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 98
    The aesthetic of bebop is not driving and pushing. Its tragically unhip to be anything but behind the beat. There is nothing wrong with that aesthetic - it just doesn't work the gypsy jazz and swing styles.

    My real problem is not that bass players default to the modern style; the real problem is that they don't know the difference, or if they do, they don't care. A lot of jazz musicians I know think that the old style is beneath them (which is why I won't hire those guys - bad attitudes need not apply in my organization).
  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator
    Posts: 319
    Jonathan

    Great posts. You're so right about percussive playing being key.

    I wonder whether too much staccato can be a bad thing too, though. I like bass players that don't drag tempo (obviously) but that lift their fingers on triplet values, so that their lines aren't choppy. Hold on too long, you get boring legato. Hold on too little, and you get popcorn. What we're looking forward is a driving GROOVE, locked in with swinging rhythm guitar. I agree the good stuff is closer to staccato than legato, but groove magic is a function of these micro time differences that are all in sync with the rhythm guitar.

    A bass player can kill the pompe by both extremes of legato and staccato, don't you think?

    Any advice on playing valses? I hear more of them die hideous deaths than anything else, both by too much legato and too much swoony, ersatz Viennese flavor.

    Ando
  • wolftonewolftone New
    Posts: 14
    Amplification can play a big part in destroying a good bass groove. La Pompe, just for example, is hard enough on guitar without an acoustic bass ruining the groove with not only the wrong feel, but by having a thumpy, mid-rangey, nasal snag on his signal. Next worst thing is the indistinctive muddy drone. Either condition will bury that sonic detail needed to inform that precision timing.
  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator
    Posts: 319
    Hey trumbology, you wrote:

    <i>But, people have almost divorced the idea of jazz from the idea of a music than makes you want to shake your rump, and that's too bad.</i>

    That is too bad, but it's an interesting thing. In the US, we have this popular TV show called "Dancing with the Stars," and whatever you think of the dancing and music there, what is obvious is that club dancing nowadays has been profoundly influenced by the hip-hop style. Sure, it's a lot like pole dancing, and yes, it encourages a person more than anything else to get the freak on, but it *is* in duple meter, and that means it might be receptive to pompe and even early swing.

    I say this because when I play pompe-style for my colleagues here at work who mostly listen to hip-hop, they think it's dainty and frilly. They imitate can-can moves to it, or some ersatz Charleston hand-waving (I'm winging the terminology here), and it just doesn't move them. They want something sexier. Then I play them the theme to "Triplets of Belleville" with the club-style bass drum, and they instantly click with it. They love it.

    In sum, they see the gypsy guitar essentially as spice on a fundamentally simple and effective groove. They don't want "doo-whackey doo" style rhythm. They want to keep their freak, but also want some real instruments and "class."

    I think the next decade is going to be very interesting.
    Jim Gallaher
  • you may visit this site for more information http://wn.com/Gypsy_style
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