218

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


Bob,

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
vs.
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


comments powered by Disqus

Shop

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 "Shirlee Temper At The Empress Theatre" Live Reviews Shirlee Temper At The Empress Theatre
by Walter Atkins
Published: April 30, 2017
Read "BRIC JazzFest 2016" New York @ Night BRIC JazzFest 2016
by Peter Jurew
Published: October 28, 2016
Read "European Jazz Conference 2016" Live Reviews European Jazz Conference 2016
by Ian Patterson
Published: October 6, 2016
Read "The Cookers at Nighttown" Live Reviews The Cookers at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: February 16, 2017
Read "Rudy Van Gelder" Interview Rudy Van Gelder
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: August 26, 2016
Read "Jazz Popularity and You" What is Jazz? Jazz Popularity and You
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: August 26, 2016

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, hide slide-outs, and provide read access to our future articles.

Buy it!