Dwayne Burno: Tradition
After the take was completed, the band other than myself was listening to the playback in the engineer's booth. I remained in the bass booth, fully aware of what was coming. I rarely listen to playbacks since I'm fully aware of what I played and if it hit or missed the mark. In my headphones came the voice of the saxophonist, asking me to do a punch of about four bars of walking bass over the section of the tune where he didn't improvise. I asked him "Why?" He answered "Well, you played a note and it caught me off guard. I didn't know what to play or how to react to it. It threw me off so I didn't play anything for a couple of bars." I replied, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with the note I played. It is a correct note, played in the musical moment with good intonation and intent and is a perfectly sound harmonic choice. He then says, "Well, I didn't know what note you played and couldn't react, so it made me stop playing for some bars." I said "What's wrong with that? You're not a typewriter. We're playing music here. You're not supposed to know how to react to every note." Then, he asked the unthinkable. He asked me if I could alter, ruin, and ultimately destroy a moment in music to clear up and mask his musical deficiencies for appearances sake. I refused. I held out for about ten minutes in silent protest before I voiced my opinion again. I said, "I can't believe what you're asking me to do. This is so against the spirit of jazz music and what I stand for." I begrudgingly played a kosher
few bars with no musical surprise or spice. The saxophonist failed the litmus test for me. I've never looked at or listened to him the same since. He's a dear friend and plays the saxophone very well. I've never considered him an improviser after that. I have one more similar incident to share. About twenty years ago when I moved to New York, there was a venue in SoHo named Greene Street, located on (duh?) Greene Street between Spring and Prince Streets. I used to make duo and trio gigs with a certain pianist. I believe this time the gig was a duo. The pianist was very rigid in her programming and intent with regard to what she covered in her tune selections and improvisations. It's like she planned her sets of the night around what she had been practicing and even played her solos like she was covering ground she had unearthed while practicing at home and wanted to test out her shovel on the gig. This pianist called Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." It is one of my favorite compositions but can become boring and monotonous if you don't do something to make it interesting, especially if you play the same descending, chromatic dominant chords in bars two and four of the tune's three A sections. So, we play the tune. A few choruses in, I begin to play different bass notes as chord roots, which suggest substitute chord changes. Nothing off the wall, pretty standard formulaic substitution Patterns like fourths, tritones chromatic lead ups, chromatic step downs. The pianist became undone while we were playing and admonished me. On the set break, the pianist walks over to me and begins to ask me what exactly I was playing on "Sophisticated Lady." I've always been able to explain the musical choices I make because my choices are based in knowledge and understanding of harmony. These are the things I think of while you are watching television and I'm walking around with headphones on my ears. I fully explained the bass notes and changes implied in what I played. The pianist begins to tell me that she needs me to just play the changes. I then said I thought we were here to make music together. If you want a music minus robot, then I'm not the person to call. She continued to tell me how inappropriate what I played was so then I said If I played those notes or implied those substitutions with Cedar Walton
, Hank Jones
, or Kenny Barron
, they wouldn't have had a problem because they would be listening. I think that was one of my last gigs with this pianist. I believe the best way is for a bassist to be capable of having and using the flexibility to capture and portray the entire scope and gamut of the music he or she encounters in every musical situation. That statement in itself implies that your knowledge of many different facets of music must be vast and all encompassing. You can't just be about swinging if someone wants an ECM feel. You must know the difference between a pure Latin beat and a bossa nova or samba.
Some reading this, especially bass players may understand what I'm about to write. As a bassist, I field calls from everyone "looking for a good bassist" or simply, "a bass player." The truth is, most people don't know what a good
bassist is or does. Anyone that play four notes in a bar and moves sound out of the bass is not necessarily a decent, good, or competent bassist. A couple of points.