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Jerome Harris: Guitar and Bass Doubler

George Colligan By

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JH: Well I'll tell how I think of it and things that I would say to a student grow out of how I think of this stuff. I think about a lot of stuff in continuums. So we're talking about this kind of thing, a funk groove—maybe towards one end of the continuum you've got some bass figure that repeats (sings repetitive bass line) and other things are happening but it's pretty much a static phrase that's repeated. Towards the other end of the continuum, you could say it's a melody, just a stream of ideas and a lot of change. I try to choose—and this, again, is partially conscious and partially unconscious— to pick where I think the music needs to be along that continuum. How much to repeat, what to repeat, and how much to not repeat? So instead of playing some figure, like a 2 bar long figure that's repeating, maybe think in terms of like a four bar or an eight bar thing. That might be just enough repetition just to give a sense of the bass part supporting the groove and establishing some cycle feeling but to not be stuck in that "every bar must be the same" thing. And it could be different pitches but a similar number of notes. If I repeat it, you could hear that it's a cycle, but it's this four bar thing. And you can take that principle and say, "Okay, instead of the repetition being at the one bar level, it could be at the two, four, or eight bar," and you could have all kinds of variation in the elements that do repeat so you're approaching more [of] the melody type structure of having less repetition and more new material or variation happening. On that tune "Miles," I definitely try to find what feels good right now. I'll play something, and if what everyone else is doing is such that I feel like it needs some anchor, then I'll repeat something. It might be the rhythmic figure, it might be pitches, it might be register, because the bass functions differently in its lowest octave than it does two octaves above that. So I might drop down and play some root stuff down low, and then go back up high and then come back down— that kind of repetition can set up enough feeling of anchoredness and rootedness that it feels like a groove in the way that we normally think of groove. And so that's a lot of what I do and choosing to do some interacting, jumping into the conversation, and then throwing some gravy in the mashed potatoes—something to give some anchor to it. And it's really how much I do the anchor thing versus the melody thing really varies from moment to moment over the course of the tune, what section of the tune. Certainly when we're playing the melody, that's kind of a composed thing so I reel it in there because that's the way that section functions in the whole span of the tune, it's a refrain. So I make that refrain feel like I refrain. Sometimes I'll come up with some other little figure but I do keep it more typically supportive for that section because it seems like that's part of what that section is about, is laying that signature figure down.

GC: You are known as a bassist and a guitarist, it's a rare double. It's almost like if you had someone who ran the 200 meters and also did the mile. It's so different. How do you separate the two, or how do you see yourself in that sense? When you're a bassist, do you just play the bass? How do you negotiate that?

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