Marriage counselors love a jazz bass solo because it’s the best way to get people to start talking to each other.
Seriously, jazz bass playing is tantamount to things like the art of butlery or homemaking. When you are at your most effective you are barely seen or heard, yet the people you serve receive great accolades for doing what they do. When the audience goes bonkers over the drummer even before he takes a solo, I know that I have done my job and freed him from the numbingly perfunctory role of keeping time. Now, he will feel encouraged to take flashy liberties on the tom-toms and hi-hats and all the wonderful instruments set in an array around him.
The drummer is the spirit’s personal physician. The drum kit is a physical representation of the four corners of the soul. A good drummer can exploit this idea to lift you up on the wings of passion—so much so that people with pre-existing mobility issues can become inspired to jump around and dance.
As a matter of tactic, all informed jazz musicians approach their instruments as though they are de facto drummers.
There is a network of rhythms—from whole notes to sixteenth notes to cross rhythms—that exist outside of the traditional Eurocentric lexicon that are always present at any given moment in a jazz performance. Even here the bassist has a responsibility to steward the quarter note in a left-foot-right-foot manner to represent walking. This gives the music a more human sensibility.
A jazz bassist sonically paints the clearest mental image of the chord shapes and progressions of a song in the collective heads of the members of the band. When the band members don’t have to struggle to remember how the song goes, they play more capriciously to explore things that are not within the boundaries of the song. When they return to the song’s chord changes and the house is still in order, I’ve done my job.
Looking around outside of the music world and off the bandstand, I see the same functional dynamics in everyday life. A great restaurant has a star chef, a sous chef, a great wait staff and great kitchen staff. The bass player is the manager. In a home there are ideally two parents, some kids and some pets. Usually there is a main breadwinner and someone to spend more time at home. In the past the homemaker was the mom. (Nowadays that idea has gone the route of the Walkman). In a traditional home set-up, the bass player is the mom.
Modern jazz bands—like modern families—feature lots of role-changing and switching. In fact the band can sound boring when everyone is limited to their traditional roles. Bassists are often required to take the lead now—sort of like Steve Jobs did with Apple computer. Steve Jobs wasn’t actually the original designer of the Apple computer prototype. He was more a facilitator, marketing strategist and steward of the brand.
Jazz music has always been a reflection of the times and culture in which we live. I invite you to come and find yourself in us today.