De Bass

De Bass
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

When a pianist and bassist argue over chord changes, who's usually right?

—Believing Either Bass Or Piano


Does it matter? It's purely ritualistic behavior, as inborn and inescapable as bucks tangling antlers in the spring.

But the feuding still establishes dominance, and that has far-reaching effects: When the rhythm section gets lost, the submissive will take the blame even if it's clearly the dominant's fault. The submissive will repeatedly compliment the dominant's playing, despite being met each time with stony silence. In extreme cases a submissive—bowing, scraping and clutching—may even ask a dominant for theory lessons.

It's not unheard of for bucks to become fatally locked together as their antlers get tangled. Similarly, there are pianist and bassists who are constantly at one another's throats over chord changes, completely unwilling to compromise or admit defeat. It's best to let them fight to the finish, knowing that in the end such thinning of the species hastens our evolution, both musically and as a society.

Dear Mr. P. C.:

I occasionally work with a young bassist who makes A LOT of "bass faces" while playing. My question is: should the band also make these faces to show empathy? Or is it better to play stoically for contrast?

—Sunny Tutu

Dear Sunny:

A lot of so-called "bass faces" are actually cries for help. They're made when the music is so loud the musician's speaking voice can't be heard over the music, so a look of anguish is their only means of communication. And what they're trying to convey—reacting to the loud and disturbing sounds around them on the bandstand—is musical helplessness and despair.

If you don't contort your own face when they contort theirs, it just tells them you aren't listening.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

The bassist in my piano/bass duo, talented as he is, fails to communicate properly that he would like a chorus to solo over, but rather feels I should be able to "pick up" on the intention. Who does he think he is?

—Lost In Translation

Dear LIT:

It's really not so hard to notice the start of his solo—his usual look of boredom will suddenly be replaced by signs of passion. Then you'll feel the bottom drop out of the music as he plays faster and faster, ascending higher and higher, all at the direct expense of intonation and taste.

The real question is how you should comp for his solo. Since the bottom is missing, the best thing you can do is to fill it in with lots of dense low chords and deep counter-melodies. This will take him to even greater emotional heights: his face will redden and he'll grunt sharply before he stops, overcome by the moment.

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