The Luther Vandross groove you SHOULD have been playing all these years: GOTW #24

You know that Luther Vandross song that has the great bassline by Marcus Miller on it?

No, not that one. This one:

‘Never Too Much’ is one of the most famous examples of bass deity Marcus Miller’s extensive session work, with heavily syncopated slap lines that jump out of the mix and demand our attention. But there’s another less famous Miller/Vandross collaboration that once again sees Marcus’ thumb in full flight, providing tight staccato slap grooves peppered with high register fills.

The verse groove of ‘She’s A Super Lady’ alternates between a sparse ascending figure (a contraction of the main chorus groove) and more active fills outlining E minor:

The flurry of notes half way through the verse is one of those fills that sounds harder than it actually is – pay close attention to the thumb/pop markings in the transcription and let your left hand do the bulk of the work. The real key to making fills like this work is having a strong thumb sound on the D string,which is a key component of Marcus’ sound and often overlooked.

A full transcription of ‘She’s A Super Lady’ can be downloaded HERE

Groove Of The Week #22 & #23: ‘Borrowing’ From The Best, Understanding Tradition and ‘Bass Player Maths’

It seems like there’s been a spate of cases in recent months concerning pop artists being accused of plagiarising existing songs:

The cliché goes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when does being influenced by an artist become ripping them off? And, more importantly, what does this have to do with this series of blog posts on bass grooves?

Take a listen to these two grooves – ‘Runaway’ by Jamiroquai and ‘Running Away’ by Roy Ayers:

Sound similar? I certainly think so. If the titles weren’t enough of a giveaway both lines sit at similar tempos and outline their first chord by using root – 10th – descending scale line:

Roy Ayers - Running Away copy

'Runaway' Main Groove

‘Runaway’ Main Groove

A full transcription of ‘Runaway’ is available here

So, it’s pretty clear that Paul Turner & co had been listening to a lot of 70s acid jazz, and this should come as no surprise to any of us. Just as nutritionists will tell us that you are what you eat, for musicians it’s a case of you are what you listen to (and what you practise).

If you’ve grown up listening to Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers and other similar artists then it’s no wonder that the music that you write sounds a certain way – what continues to amaze me is that many of the people that I teach have little or no awareness of ‘tradition’ (understanding who inspired the players that inspire them) and don’t make the connection between what they put in (listening and practise) and what they get out (their playing).

I’ll hold up my hand and admit to being ignorant of many musical things and having wasted lots of time ‘barking up the wrong tree’ in the practice room, but I DO make a concerted effort to understand where the music that means the most to me has come from. This act of delving deeper into the history of the music I love helps to broaden my horizons and provides me with a context in which to view all of the players that inspire me.

What do I mean by all of this? Simply put, you can’t know for certain if you’re being original if you don’t know what came before you. Having a deep knowledge of bass playing ‘traditions’ can help you to identify which traits in your own playing are stolen from external sources and highlight any areas of originality.

Here’s some food for thought which also doubles as a good exercise for anyone who’s asked “How Do I Sound?” or “How Do I Want To Sound?”. Think of it as ‘Bass Player Maths’:

  • I find it hard to hear Me’Shell N’degeocello without simultaneously hearing Paul Jackson and Jaco Pastorius
  • Listen to Laurence Cottle, then some Pat Metheny (preferably with Michael Brecker). Now listen to Janek Gwizdala. See what I’m getting at?
  • Two seemingly opposite influences can produce great results: combine James Jamerson’s chromaticism with Jack Cassidy’s tone and you’re on the way to understanding how Anthony Jackson arrived at some of his concepts.

So go forth and rejoice in becoming a total geek about the music and the bassists that inspire you – I’m willing to bet that your own personal detective work gives you inspiration and insight into what has gone before you and what lies ahead for you.

Groove Of The Week #21: Maxwell – ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’

This edition of Groove Of The Week focuses on the power of simplicity. The bassline that anchors Maxwell’s smooth soul ballad ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’ contains only 5 different pitches and is largely played on a single string, yet it still provides the song with a powerful hook.

Jonathan Maron has already been featured in the Groove Of The Week series, but his smooth groove on ‘Ascension’ stands in stark contrast to his busy 16th note line that propels Groove Collective’s ‘Everything Is Changing’:

GOTW Ascension Don t Ever Wonder copy

Playing the line on a single string rather than staying in one position keeps things sounding even, as we don’t encounter the tonal change that occurs when changing between strings. As always, pay close attention to the grace notes and staccato markings in the transcription as these will help to keep the line smooth and swinging.

Groove Of The Week #20: McFadden & Whitehead – ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’

Inspiration often strikes in the strangest of places. Earlier this year I had a rare Saturday night off from gigging and was at a friend’s wedding reception when I heard ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ for the first time in years. Jimmy Williams’ slick groove has to be one of the smoothest basslines in the history of disco:

GOTW Ain t No Stoppin Us Now copy

Groove Of The Week #19: Tool, pedal points and plectrum possibilities

Metal is one genre of music that most people don’t associate with the word ‘groove’, but this series of posts is designed to explore the low end from a variety of sources and expose readers to bassists, basslines and techniques that they might not have encountered before.

‘Forty Six & 2’ is anchored by Justin Chancellor’s hypnotic bassline, which is played with a plectrum and features a pedal point provided by the open D string combined with hammer-ons and pull-offs:

If you’re not used to playing with a pick (or simply reluctant to use one) then this a good introduction to plectrum technique.

The key to executing this line smoothly is strict alternation of down and upstrokes with the pick (every note on the D string is a downstroke, every picked note on the G string is an upstroke).

GOTW Forty Six 2 copy

It’s worth noting that plectrums are not solely reserved for metal, punk or rock playing – it’s entirely possible to play funk with a pick (as we’ve seen in a previous post featuring Anthony Jackson).

I’m still amazed by many bassists’ resistance to using a pick and the prevalence of ‘pick vs fingers’ discussions on bass forums – the choice of fingers or plectrum should be determined by the tone that you want from your bass rather than what your technique obligates you to do. Neither is superior, it purely depends on which is more appropriate for the music that you’re playing.

If you’re in the anti-plectrum camp then I strongly urge you to spend a week listening to Bobby Vega play and then see if your opinion hasn’t changed:

Groove Of The Week #18: Bruno Mars, backwards octaves and the ‘half-slap’ groove

On first listening, the main groove on ‘Treasure’ sounds as if it’s slapped throughout, but closer inspection reveals that it falls into the less common category of what I’d term ‘half-slap’, where the lower notes are played fingerstyle and any octaves are popped:

Bruno Mars - Treasure copy

The constant transition between fingerstyle and slap techniques can feel awkward at first, as the angle of the wrist needs to change in order to cleanly execute either technique. As with anything new, start slowly and let the technique come to you through practice rather than trying to force the tempo up before you’re ready.

Another great example of ‘half-slap’ is the main groove from Jocelyn Brown’s ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’, which requires similar alternation between fingerstyle and slap playing:

Thinking Outside The Box

It’s hard to see on the video, but the sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I play the first octave ‘backwards’, starting on the little finger and reaching across all 4 strings to reach the high Ab with the index finger. While this isn’t an everyday occurrence, certain lines sit better with this approach, as it reduces the amount of left hand position shifting and makes the part easier to execute at tempo (for me, at least).

All bass players are guilty of falling into pattern-based thinking from time to time, relying on familiar shapes rather than concentrating on the actual notes being played. When we’re required to play an octave, our muscle memory defaults to the standard ‘box’ pattern that works 90% of the time – in this instance it’s worth thinking ‘outside the box’ in order to achieve the best result for the music, not just the bass player.

Groove Of The Week #17: Omar – ‘There’s Nothing Like This’

Apologies for the serious time lag between posts – the last fortnight involved moving house and a series of gigs that included learning an entire set of Wayne Shorter tunes at short notice.

Anyway, time to clear the Groove Of The Week backlog. This one comes courtesy of British soul singer Omar (who also played most of the instruments on the track, including the standout bass line). ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ remains the best example that I’ve ever heard of how to convert something as mundane as a major 7 arpeggio into a musical idea that really grooves.

Omar - There's Nothing Like This

Omar recently re-recorded this classic track, and who played bass? None other than Pino Palladino: