Bass and Bitter Rivals

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Dear BigJazzNerd:

Given the fact that there have been many publicized rivalries among musicians over the years, which do you consider to be the most bitter?

Bob Peterson
Cleveland, Ohio


Try as they might, some musicians just don't get along. Pat Metheny and Kenny G don't exactly see eye-to-eye. Charles Mingus could be a royal pain in the ass to work with. The guys who played in Buddy Rich's band could tell you some stories. The press, one can argue, encouraged controversy among top musicians, promoting concert dates as musical prizefights. Lester Young vs. Coleman Hawkins for the "Tenor Saxophone Title. Ellington vs. Basie in the "Ultimate Battle of the Bands. And while competition and cutting contests have always had their place in jazz's evolution, pitting musician against musician was mostly journalistic hype. Hey, it sold tickets.

Nevertheless, some ugly musician rivalries are known to have existed, and perhaps the oldest and most bizarre occurred over 400 years ago. I'm referring, of course, to a notorious feud between two bull-headed virtuosi double-bass players: Domenico Dragonetti and Giovanni Bottesini.

Domenico Dragonetti
Giovanni Bottesini

Dragonetti was born in Venice in 1763. Until he came along the double-bass was a cumbersome instrument. It was full-sized, considerably larger than the ¾ size that is common today. It had three strings, and was virtually impossible to keep in tune. In fact no one, including Mozart, who complained about the instrument's capricious intonation, quite knew what to do with this cello-on-steroids tucked away in the back of the orchestra. Hardly any music was written for the double-bass until Dragonetti revolutionized the sound with his virtuoso performances. He composed for the instrument and actually got so good that he became a featured soloist and a crowd favorite. Legend has it that his dog Carlo even got into the act. During opera performances, Dragonetti's loyal canine slept under his master's chair in the orchestra pit and was known to howl during tenor solos.

The rivalry for the title of World's Best Double-bassist began when Bottesini came on the scene rather late in Dragonetti's career. Born in 1821 in the Lombardy region of Italy, Bottesini used a French bow (Dragonetti used the German-style bow) and played a bass designed with four strings instead of three. Written accounts of Bottesini's amazing musicianship are numerous. It seems almost everyone who heard him was knocked out by his virtuosity, including Giuseppe Verdi, who befriended the bassist. Everyone, that is, except diehard Dragonetti fans, who irked fellow concertgoers by chanting DRA-GO-NET-TI during Bottesini's solos. Certainly, it was a bitter rivalry, although, strangely enough, no evidence can be found confirming the two players ever met.

Strange, too, is the epilogue to their rivalry. After Dragonetti died in 1846, his cherished 14th century double-bass was tucked away in an upper room of San Marco with the strict instructions that no one should ever be allowed to touch it. This rule applied even to Bottesini who once asked to play the prized instrument and was turned away. His look of bitter disgust, it seems, followed him to his grave.

WikiPedia Bios
Domenico Dragonetti
Giovanni Bottesini


More Articles

Read Real Jazz at The Real School Big Jazz Nerd Real Jazz at The Real School
by AAJ Staff
Published: December 13, 2007
Read The Adorable Mr. Jarrett Big Jazz Nerd The Adorable Mr. Jarrett
by AAJ Staff
Published: August 29, 2006
Read Who Was Duke's Sophisticated Lady? Big Jazz Nerd Who Was Duke's Sophisticated Lady?
by AAJ Staff
Published: May 31, 2006
Read Bass and Bitter Rivals Big Jazz Nerd Bass and Bitter Rivals
by AAJ Staff
Published: February 11, 2006
Read Who was Spider Martin? Big Jazz Nerd Who was Spider Martin?
by AAJ Staff
Published: December 9, 2005
Read George's Braithophone Big Jazz Nerd George's Braithophone
by AAJ Staff
Published: November 8, 2005
Read "What would Plato have thought about jazz music?" Philosophisticated Lady What would Plato have thought about jazz music?
by Marithe Van der Aa
Published: January 23, 2017
Read "SFJAZZ Collective At SFJAZZ" Live Reviews SFJAZZ Collective At SFJAZZ
by David Becker
Published: October 24, 2016
Read "Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago" Multiple Reviews Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "London Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews London Jazz Festival 2016
by Duncan Heining
Published: November 25, 2016
Read "Hiromi: The Trio Project at the Annenberg Center Live" Live From Philadelphia Hiromi: The Trio Project at the Annenberg Center Live
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 4, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!