“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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Posted in Improvisation, Jazz

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