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Interviews

Dominic Duval: Follow Your Melody

By Published: October 4, 2010
The Bass Story

AAJ: Comparing bass lines in classical music to jazz seem very restricted, unlike parts for violins.

DD: That's quite true. Beethoven wrote for basses, but most of classical, post-classical composers of the Romantic era wrote for cellos and bass in tandem. Bass would play pretty much whatever the cello played. Beethoven wrote for basses so they were a little more specified. One of his buddies, one of his friends was Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti [April 7, 1763—April 16, 1846. He was considered the greatest bassist alive of his time—the Paganini of the bass].

One of the reasons why they didn't write for basses in the early days was simply the lack of technique of the players. There weren't that many bassists who had developed the technique to play them as of yet. They did allow the bases to double-up on cello parts, though.

Now in jazz, a single bassist has a lot more freedom of interpretation than playing in a bass section. Sections are very specific. If you write for a bass section not only do you have to rehearse the entire orchestra, you also have section rehearsals as well. This is when several basses would come together and learn how to play these parts as one [in unison]. One reason they write for four, five, or even seven bassists. The composers would group several bass players together to duplicate their notes and amplify the sound. The true sound of the instrument, the clear tone and natural sound is and always will be preferred.

AAJ: In jazz, acoustic performances that include electronic devices and amplification are being used widely.

DD: Absolutely. Yes, because it puts the bass in front; gives it more visibility. In a group like Trio X, for instance, I do use an amplifier, mainly because there are only three voices. Without amplification, the notes I play would be lost. Nobody would ever have a chance to hear me, if it were not for amplification. There are many reasons—maybe the drums are too loud, or the sax. I enjoy making small sounds from time to time, which may be outside the realm of the natural range of the human ear, doing it in an orchestral manner. All these sounds are part of the fabric of my music.

It would be a shame if no one could hear them. If I hear these sounds in my head, I'd like the listener to be able to hear them the way I do. That's why I spend so much time working with sound people. My own sound—I am not speaking of my personal sound—but the best sound an instrument can make. When I am at home, I have a beautiful instrument with wonderful amplification. I am able to produce this music at a very high level, but when I am on the road I have to spend a lot of time getting the right sound out of the instrument I have to use. It's so difficult to travel with your own instrument these days, almost impossible. You have to learn to play on whatever bass is available, which presents a whole other set of problems.

AAJ: As we touched this subject, please elaborate on the history of bass, particularly in jazz; a sort of "crash course for dummies."

DD: Bass is a relatively new instrument to jazz in its traditional form. New Orleans Jazz—Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
, Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
—that generation had tuba for the rhythm section. And you can still see it in groups that perform traditional jazz in a true form. They still prefer a tuba player, as well as banjo. The string bass was a relatively new addition to the rhythm section. This addition took place most likely during the big band era. Tuba has more projection. I can imagine brass players who didn't have any classical training whatsoever, but could still play a bass line that would support the overall sound.

I think for the most part the bass came at a later period. It's interesting that in modern jazz string bass completely replaced tuba, and they dropped banjo, which played rhythm with the drummer.

The bass has become a mainstay in contemporary jazz ensembles. Its importance has lasted all the way through the bebop and post-bop era. Some of the bass stars throughout jazz have included: Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro
1936 - 1961
bass
—one of my favorite bass players, as was as the great Paul Chambers, who is a very big influence on many young musicians, even today; Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
was another fantastic bassist, with a heavy classical background. In the larger bands like Duke Ellington's there was Jimmy Blanton
Jimmy Blanton
Jimmy Blanton
1918 - 1942
bass, acoustic
, Jimmy Woode
Jimmy Woode
Jimmy Woode
b.1928
, Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
1922 - 1960
bass
, and many more.

But in terms of bassists having influences on music itself, the way it's made, that honor goes to Scott LaFaro. His ideas of harmony and rhythm—coupled with a developed sense of melodic counterpoint—were unheard of, before he became known to the music world. Most jazz fans know him from the Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
Vanguard recordings. He developed a new style of playing the bass. The Bill Evans Trio gave him the opportunity to do that. He died at a very young age [July 6, 1961]. Scott was a self-taught musician who started his musical education by studying the clarinet in high school. The total time LaFaro played bass in his life was, maybe, ten years; in that time, he was able to play with such jazz greats as Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
and, of course, Bill Evans. I saw Scott only once, in a small downtown club, can't remember the name. There were two basses on that particular date, and the other was Charlie Haden.

It was at this time Charles Mingus caught my attention. Charles led his own band from behind the bass, a not so easy task. He was a very important bassist as well. Not only he was a great soloist/composer, but also a great musical mind. The music he composed was very advanced. Just listen to the recording Pithecanthropus Erectus (Atlantic, 1956), that record says it all. Charlie was able to control the dynamic voices of the band, as well as having control over composition, while still playing the bass as a member of the ensemble. Not an easy task, as most bassists will tell you.

Paul Chambers was—and still is—important, because of all the records he was appeared on. A major voice in the bass world, for sure. He always found the right notes at the right time. Which if you're a bassist, you know how important that is: intonation; the right fingering; the right notes corresponding with a set of changes, chord-wise—many different variables that take up your thought process. Only string instruments present these problems, that don't really happen with other instruments because they are tempered, containing pitches/notes that are either played by pushing a button or by pressing a key. With the bass, everything has to be really well thought-out; and, of course, there's the volume and sound, [that are] personal to each bassist.

I remember when Jimmy Garrison
Jimmy Garrison
Jimmy Garrison
1934 - 1976
bass, acoustic
was playing with Coltrane. No matter how strong the music became, Jimmy could always be felt and heard. He had very powerful sound. Scott LaFaro had a more gentle approach. Jimmy, as well as Paul Chambers, had huge sounds' their sound was incredible.

So, to sum up this long answer, the bass has no sound of its own. This comes from a musician. If you stand a bass up in the corner of a room and put a mike in front of it, you will get nothing but silence.

Scott LaFaro, Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. My three favorites. I also like Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
, Richard Davis
Richard Davis
Richard Davis
b.1930
bass
...my list is endless. But to ask for only three musicians names, those are my top three, who led me to where I am today as a bassist, as a soloist, and as a musician. It would be incorrect to say only these three, of course; they have, however, been of great importance to my education as a bassist.

AAJ: Are all your inspirations in jazz?

DD: My main interest has always been the black American art form, which we called jazz. My main studies have been in that music, but my taste are varied, and eclectic. I include Russian composers, German composers, Italian, classical music as well as R&B musicians like Otis Redding
Otis Redding
Otis Redding
1941 - 1967
vocalist
, Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
—artists making music which will be remembered, not for some promo hype, but for its quality.

AAJ: How about the electric bass?

DD: Well it's a different instrument. I don't play one in public—well, maybe just for a laugh. They both make sounds that are in the bass range. So let me say this:"I compare the electric bass with a picture of a beautiful woman. The acoustic bass is a beautiful woman.




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