I believe you have a sound that has many components and many things that challenge it's production every time you play your instrument. You have your own physically manufactured components of your sound like consistency, attack, nuance, inflection, the inherent instrumental sound qualities and nuances, theoretical and intellectual qualities, and properties that govern the mental aspects of your sonic production. If you tie them all together and you can only play that what projects from the instrument feels and sounds good, clean, clear, intelligent, logical, meaningful, and emotionally relevant. If your physical, mental stamina, focus or clarity are not up to par while your instrument is in hand, what you produce likely will not feel and sound good to you so the chances are just as certain that to an educated listener, your flaws will be noticeable. The regular layperson with nothing more than a slight sense of musicality or artistic taste or appreciation might not discern anything.
The one true teacher I've hadRon Carter
made a statement that I've lived by from the moment he uttered or rather screamed it at me during a lesson. "You are the one with the bass in your hands. If you sound like shit, it doesn't reflect on me. It reflects on you! You're the one who'll be identified by and with that sound! You have to be able to accept and live with every note that comes out of your instrument. I can live with my notes!" I developed my philosophy of the bassists' role after reading a few interviews of Ron Carter. I've been familiar with Ron since I met him during Philadelphia's Mellon Jazz Festival in 1987. The festival would have a day where they hired the masters on each instrument and they held a few hours of a master class and question and answer session before that master chose one or more persons to participate in the assembled student big band which would rehearse then play a concert on the festival a few evenings later. What he said has always made the most sense and is what I've patterned my musical interaction and conceptualization after. Basically, I feel the bassist in any group has to be the strongest musician. Your time has to be more solid that everyone, your understanding, knowledge, usage, and placement of harmonic choices has to be solid but equally as flexible. It's like being able to use a big word in a sentence. You had better full well know what that $20 word means and how to correctly and smoothly inject it into your conversational usage or you'll sound like a true idiot. You have to know what you're playing at all times and why you're playing it and consequently how it affects the music and how those making music with you react as a result of what you've played. Everything you think, play and feel will somehow alter the musical proceedings.
One characteristic of my playing has always been to play bass notes that differ from the accepted norm. I've been able to make this practice work as a result of research, analysis, trial and error, and experimentation. It is educated and informed experimentation. I don't just look up to the heavens and pick an abstract or random note. I've done the homework in harmony to completely understand the effect of my chosen note in relation to the harmony of the moment. This challenge doesn't always work or make the others you play with feel good. My greatest example of this occurred while participating in the debut recording of a young tenor player. This saxophonist composed a tune and one of his chords in the harmonic structure of the tune was Dmaj7#11. I chose a few choruses into his solo to play Ab as my underpinning bass note when we reached the Dmaj7#11 chord. The saxophonist froze because he didn't know how to react to or process the musical information that passed his ears. He eventually regained his musical composure and jumped back into the changes and finished his choruses of solo.