“Getting Off The Root” . . . : Digging Deeper With Jeff Antoniuk

As I’m doing my own deep dive into jazz bass playing, I’ve been working on my bass soloing. As the material has a much faster harmonic rhythm than the rock/blues/funk tunes that I usually play, I’ve noticed that many of my lines are centered on the chord root. As bassists, so much of our playing is focused on that root note when we function in our usual role of supporting others. When we change roles and become soloists, it’s hard to think differently and we unconsciously play our solos the same way: focused on the root.

Jeff Antoniuk, a jazz musician and educator, has been putting out some great videos on jazz improvisation. In particular, I’ve been getting into his Digging Deeper video series. What I like about them is they provide very specific exercises in the context of existing jazz repertoire. These videos are not for beginners who are just dipping their toes into jazz improvisation. As he stats in the videos, these are tailored to adults amateurs and semi-pro jazz musician.

The video below addresses that “bad” habit and singles out us bassists (am I feeling a “little” bit persecuted . . . fuck yeah!) but addresses all instrumentalists.

Digging Deeper #70 – “Get Off The Root!” & All Of Me –

You should definitely check out Jeff Antoniuk’s You Tube channel (see link below). There are so many helpful tips offered that it might get overwhelming. Just the one video above has enough things for me to work on to keep me busy for awhile.

Jeff Antoniuk – Educator –

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC3oUqWa3fuURU3WbOWY3UA

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Posted in Improvisation, Jazz, Music Theory

“That Which Does Not Kill You”. . : Recent Adventures In Jazz Bass Playing

I have written about my returning to playing bass after a prolonged period of playing the Chapman Stick Guitar. One of my immediate challenges in actually find people to play with. I hate going to jam sessions. You wait for hours to play 3 short songs (if you’re lucky) with a grab bag of other players. The idea of going through Craig’s List is about as appealing as unanesthetized root canal surgery. Then I came across a video for JazzLab NY. Basically it’s a program for adult jazz students to get together in on-going bands for playing on a regular basis. It’s organized to put players of comparable skill together.  I also liked that it be an on-going band instead of ending after a month so you can really develop a group chemistry. So I signed up and had the first session a week ago.

Just a little background on my jazz bass playing experience . . . It’s not that much. While I have played bass for over thirty years, the vast majority of it has been in rock, blues and funk bands. Some of them have been bands that I refer to as Grateful Dead adjacent (what is now referred to as jam bands) so I’m no stranger to improvisation. I am a life long fan of jazz so I’m familiar with the repertoire and the genre’s stylistic elements. And having studied jazz guitar, I’m no stranger to the music theory that provides the basis for jazz. That being said, I realized that my actual straight ahead jazz experience was pretty meager. Yes I played an occasional jazz tune but the material was not the most complex (usually a simple blues, Miles Davis’s So What, Autumn Leaves, etc.). Russ Nolan, the man who runs JazzLabNY placed me in one of the advanced groups and I knew I was in for something different when he sent me the list of tunes that we would be working on (the initial set list is for everyone get on the same page with the plan to introduce our own choices and original material as we progress). There’s a blues by Monk, a rhythm changes tune, tunes by Jobim, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea as well as jazz standards I was familiar with and those I wasn’t.

When I got to the session I thought I was well prepared. Russ introduced us to each other and briefly discussed what he hoped to accomplish with us: to make us better musicians by making us a better band. Then he called the first tune, Monk’s Straight No Chaser, a song I was familiar with. He counts it off and I hold on for dear life. The tempo is way faster than I ever played at in my previous “jazz” sessions. I managed to make it through the session and Russ said that I played okay but I knew that I had my work cut for me. The other musicians have way more experience as jazz players. I’m not used to be the weakest player in a band but I definitely felt that to be the case this time.  So what do I do now,

What I do is practice my ass off. I entered the changes to the tunes into Band In A Box, a music software program that generate backing play along tracks and I have been going through the tunes ever since. It made me realize that I needed to internalize chord sequences so I can play something over the sequence with minimal thought. Many of these songs have sections where there are two chords a measure and the tempo is fast. The fraction of time you have to think about what you want to play will cause you to often fumble and lose your place. I’m really looking forward to the next session.

The video below explains the idea behind JazzLabNY. Check it out.

Welcome to JazzLabNY – 

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“He is poetry, he is innocence, he is energy, he is Flea!” – Flea at the Pathway to Paris, 09/14/2018

With that great introduction from none other than Patti Smith, the bassist extraordinaire Flea (born Michael Peter Balzary) proceeds to give a short but beautiful solo set playing bass and trumpet. The performance is loosely divided into three sections with Flea using echo effects and a looping pedal to create a soundscape over which he alternately plays some sparse, atmospheric trumpet and rocked out fuzz tone “lead” bass lines. The final section features a slap bass groove reminiscent of his Red Hot Chili Peppers playing before he finishes with a dance carrying both instruments, stopping the loops and leaving the stage. So cool.

This was part of an event recently held in San Francisco by climate change organization Pathway to Paris which aims to unite “musicians, artists, activists, climate change experts, academics, politicians and innovators to participate in a series of events, dialogues and leading initiatives to help turn the Paris Agreement into reality.”

Flea performing for Pathway to Paris 09/14/2018 –

 

Like most great musicians, Flea took in sounds from different (sometimes disparate) sources, synthesizing them into something uniquely his own. The video below, from You Tube essayist Polyphonic, talks about how Flea combines Funk’s slap bass style with Punk’s aggression to create his signature style.

How Flea Plays Bass – 

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Posted in Bass, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Give the drummer some” . . . : What Makes John Bonham Such a Good Drummer?

Forgive me for I have sinned. I will admit that that I got in Led Zeppelin relatively late. I partially blame high school tribalism for it. You see my group of friends were the freaks. We were into the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, etc. Then there were the greasers. They were into Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. You get the picture. High school being high school, it would have been a major betrayal of the tribe if you were caught listening to their music. Lucky for me I eventually grew out of that parochialism and grew to appreciate them for the absolute amazing band that they were. And as fantastic as Plant, Page and Jones are, the key to it all was drummer John Bonham.

I am not a drummer but as a bassist I think I can appreciate a good drummer. I’ve also come to realize that it would benefit all musicians if they took at least a little time studying drummers. When John McLaughlin asked Miles Davis for advise when he was starting a band, Miles said, “Make sure you have a bitchin’ drummer” (McLaughlin went on to form The Mahavishnu Orchestra with Billy Cobham on drums, nuff said). From my own personal experience with bands, I’ve found that it’s hard for an otherwise good band to overcome a mediocre drummer and likewise, a mediocre band can be elevated by a good drummer.

The video below is from a You Tuber that I’ve highlighted previously, Polyphonic, with a fascinating breakdown of John Bonham’s drum style. He talks about Bonham’s triplet feel and his use of syncopation which he got from jazz and funk respectively. It speaks to my contention that when you take in artistic input from varied sources, your own art will benefit.

What Makes John Bonham Such a Good Drummer? – 

Below is a link to a drum tutorial that deals with the use of triplets that was a key point to the previous video.

John Bonham Triplet Exercisehttp://johnbonham.co.uk/tutorials/triplets/john-bonham-triplets-tutorial.html

Finally a video from Rick Beato that really gets into the nitty gritty of Bonham’s drum setups. It goes way over my head into the minutiae of drum hardware but I found it fascinating on how it reminded me of how guitarists (and bassists) can go all a gaga over gear.

John Bonham: Achieving The Bonham Drum Sound –

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“Hey Bulldog” . . . : From Forgotten Orphan To Cult Favorite

I remember when the Beatles movie “Yellow Submarine” came out. I went to see it with my older brother and a couple of his friends when I was about eleven years old. I watched and liked the Saturday morning Beatles cartoons so I thought the movie would be just like the t.v. show. Needless to say if you have ever seen Yellow Submarine and the t.v. show, you could imagine how wrong I was. I liked the story and the jokes (remember I was eleven) and I liked the bright colorful animation but some of it was just too weird for my young mind to get around. Then my brother’s friend Jordon bought the album and came over and played it for us. The big problem was that it was only half a Beatles album. Side One of the record (I’m dating myself big time by referring to records and sides) had six songs by the Beatles with two of them were already available (“Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love”). Side two was the film’s orchestral score by the band’s producer, George Martin. If my memory serves me correctly, my reaction was “What’s this crap, I remember there being more Beatles songs that this in the movie. Where are the Beatles songs?”). Of the four new songs, I remember liking Harrison’s “It’s Only A Northern Song” and Lennon’s “Hey Bulldog”. Over time, Harrison’s song has not aged particularly well but the stature of “Hey Bulldog” has increased.

“Hey Bulldog” was recorded on 11 February 1968, evolving from what was supposed to be a promotional film shoot for the single “Lady Madonna”. Indeed, the footage was later edited together for that very purpose. When Yellow Submarine was re-released in 1999, Apple went back to the original footage shot for the “Lady Madonna” promo film and restructured it for use as a promotional clip for “Hey Bulldog” (as it is possible to identify what they were playing, and therefore possible to synchronize the music with the original footage).

The Beatles – Hey Bulldog (Promo video) –

The video below gives us the interesting history of the song, from it’s inception as a John Lennon sketch of an idea (very possibly as an “answer” to McCartney’s “Lady Madonna”) to it’s orphaned status as a deep cut on the Yellow Submarine album to it’s subsequent re-evaluation in the Beatles cannon.

The Story Behind The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” –

Finally, the video below goes deep into the music theory of “Hey Bulldog”, from the use of the blues scale in the main piano riff, to McCartney’s bass line in the verse, to the harmonic framework of the song. Serious music theory geek stuff here (god help me but I love it so).

Understanding Hey Bulldog –

 

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Music Theory

“My Bass Space” . . . : The Fender Precision Bass

For the last several years I have been focusing my musical energies on mastering the Chapman Stick, an endeavor that I have written about previously. Recently I decided to take a break from that instrument and return to my primary performing instrument, the bass guitar. So I put the Chapman Stick back in it’s case and brought back out my main bass, a reissue 1958 Fender Precision Bass.

I bought my P-bass about 25 years ago. A band I was in was contributing a couple of songs to a charity CD and we were going to record them at the Power Station, the legendary recording studio (The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and many others have recorded there). At the time I was using an Ibanez bass and I figured this was a good time to upgrade my equipment. I went into the Sam Ash guitar store on West 48th street (long gone) but I didn’t have a specific preference for what I was looking for. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of Fender basses. I thought they were too old fashioned. I tried out a bunch of basses but nothing was getting me excited. The salesperson suggested I try some of the Fender Vintage reissues basses that had just come out. I tried a vintage reissue J-bass but still no cigar. Then I tried the reissue P-bass and suddenly I found what I was looking for. It gave the old school sound that I hadn’t realized I was looking for until then.

My baby –

The Precision Bass, designed by Leo Fender in 1950 and brought to market in 1951, was a response to the volume limitations of the upright bass which were becoming hard to hear in large bands or those that used amplified instruments. The upright bass was also regarded as cumbersome and a pain to bring to gigs as well as requiring different skills to play that are distinct from those of the guitar. The Precision Bass was designed to overcome these problems. The name “Precision” came from the use of frets to play in tune more easily than with fretless fingerboard of the upright bass. This made it much easier for a guitarist to double on bass. I think the importance of this cannot be emphasized enough since it made it possible for many a guitarist to switch over to bass, including myself (another guitarist who became a bassist was Paul McCartney, just imagine if he never picked up the bass). With the additional volume and presence of the P-bass and it’s many offspring. The sound of popular music itself was transformed. Without the Precision Bass, music as we know it today would not exist.

Since 1952, the Precision Bass has gone through a myriad of modifications and the video below (courtesy of Chicago Music Exchange) give a brief overview of the many face of Precision Bass.

History of the Fender Precision Bass –

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“What Makes This Song Great?” : Rick Beato Videos Look Under The Hood of Classic Songs

I have written previously on how hearing individual instrument parts of a favorite tune can give you a whole new perspective and appreciation of the song (https://roymusicusa.com/2018/04/12/and-now-for-something-completely-different-listening-to-music-before-and-after-isolated-tracks/). Along those lines I want to let everyone know about a great series of videos by musician and producer Rick Beato called What Makes This Song Great?. In each video, Rick breaks down the song, calling your attention to parts that you were probably aware of on a subliminal level (and no, I’m not talking about satanic messages and besides, if I was going to put in a subliminal message, it would not be to worship Satan, it would be to buy twenty more copies of the record). After listening to these videos, you are more aware of the awesome sound of that kick drum or that the bass part switched from electric bass to synth bass in the chorus. I’m not a fan of every song he analyzes but if you’re into music, you can certainly learn something from every song he examines, even ones you don’t like.

Below, I cherry picked my favorites videos or rather my favorite songs that he covered.


What Makes This Song Great? Ep. 2 THE POLICE –

 

What Makes This Song Great? Ep. 3 Steely Dan –

 

What Makes This Song Great? Ep. 7 TOM PETTY – 

 

What Makes This Song Great? Ep.28 DAVID BOWIE – 

 

What Makes This Song Great? Ep.36 YES – 

 

Rick Beato is a You Tube educator par excellence. He has put out videos on music theory, composition film scoring, guitar and a host of other music geek friendly topics. You should definetly check out his website (https://rickbeato.com/) and his You Tube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/pegzch/featured).

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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