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Bass Notes: Jazz In American Culture, A Personal View


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Let’s face it—we all want to read about Bill Evans. I know I did. The book does not disappoint. Chuck played with him over six years and made some classic recordings that I studied when I was starting out.
Bass Notes: Bass Notes: Jazz In American Culture, A Personal View
Chuck Israels
240 Pages
ISBN: 1493074849
Backbeat Books

Chuck Israels developed musically in what many would say was an extremely fertile time in Jazz. I'm talking about the 1960s. Of course, his stint with Bill Evans during those years does stand out, but there is so much more.

In Bass Notes, Israels has written a book that is aimed at anyone interested in music, as experienced by someone who played and recorded with many of the jazz greats, folk greats, and Broadway stars of their time. Yes, he has done all of that.

Starting with his childhood, he seemed to always be surrounded by the arts in one way or another due to his parents. They presented concerts, and Chuck talks of so many great musicians rehearsing and being in his house. Imagine, Pete Seeger and Lead Belly in your living room. Like so many bassists, he started out on another instrument and ended up on the bass by some kind of fate. He first played guitar and cello, until the day when he found the instrument that was meant to shape his future.

After high school he was accepted to MIT, but by now we know that wasn't going to stick. It is an interesting narrative though. He tells a lot of stories about recordings and gigs and is brutally honest. His early recording with Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane was something I heard in high school and I always felt it to be a strange pairing. Chuck tells the whole story and is not afraid to talk about the effect Cecil had on the session. Later he moved to Paris and played with Bud Powell, who by then was at the end of his career, and truthfully talks about the experience, which was not as great as one might think.

Chuck talks a lot about the musicians he worked with, and sometimes he's negative and sometimes positive. I know and have played with many of the same musicians he speaks about and I have to agree with his assessments. I also have to applaud him for talking the same about himself. He admits when he did the wrong thing and praises himself when he came through.

Let's face it—we all want to read about Bill Evans. I know I did. The book does not disappoint. Chuck played with him over six years and made some classic recordings that I studied when I was starting out.

In this book he goes into great detail about how he got the gig, Bill's addiction, recordings, concerts, and even some unflattering sides to Mr. Evans. He talks about the interaction of the trio, and the effect on the group's sound and feel of the different drummers who came and went during his tenure. You will also learn how much Mr. Israels loved Bill Evans, how much he had wanted to play with him after he first met him and played for him while still in college. Playing with Bill Evans, replacing deceased bass prodigy Scott LaFaro, killed at age 25 in a car crash, was a pairing that was one of the most important events in Israel's life. He and Evans made great music together for six years. And then again towards the end of Evans' career in the late 1970s. There is no doubt Bill Evans was one of the most influential pianists in Jazz and his imprint will always be there.

Chuck says, "Bill's playing was extraordinarily rhythmic—forceful and precise—swinging like crazy and, at the same time, colored with dynamic gradations and nuances of touch, tone and articulation.

Later in the book he talks of his national Jazz Ensemble which he led from 1973-1981.

This book is also a soap box for his opinions on jazz education, "free" music and what is lacking as well as what is working. He goes into great detail and he's thoroughly prepared to make his case. When he talks about an important, but overlooked bassist: Tommy Williams, he showed me that he had done his homework and understood the true meaning of jazz bass and its development.

This is an important book and I've learned from it, and if you read it with an open mind and an open heart, so will you.

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