Monday, December 28, 2009

Jeff Berlin-Impact and Thoughts

I was lucky enough to study with electric bass great, Jeff Berlin a couple of times throughout my life; while I was at Musicians Institute (although I was 18 and intimidated and mostly just sat and listened to his playing), privately at The Bass Centre, when it was near Laurel Canyon (now only in London), and lastly when he taught for a year at CalArts, right before he started his Players School in Clearwater, FL.

He is, without a doubt, one of the top-two, best pedagogical experiences I have ever had for tonal improvisation. (Gary Willis and him are tied as far as I'm concerned. Both an extreme wealth of information.) I still work on the material he gave me 15 years ago; partly from procrastination on my part and mostly because of the overwhelming amount of information to absorb!

Jeff's material is not always the best in my opinion, but his playing is undeniable. A true master. Forget what people think or say about him and listen to what he plays, it is of the highest caliber and unlike any other bass player out there. No licks, all idea-based improvisation, and all with a deep knowledge of harmonic thinking.

Listen: Bass Solo on "Manos de Piedra"
Listen: Bass Solo on "Water On The Brain Pt.2"
Listen: Unaccompanied Bass solo "Dixie"

As an extra: There is a lot of bullshit reactions on the internet about Jeff (from people who don't know Jeff, or have ever met him quite frankly) and some of his pedagogical beliefs: not using metronomes, fretless bass, 5 & 6 string basses, anti-tablature, and so on. The fact of the matter is that these are his truths and he is passionate about them. A lot of people thought Charles Mingus or Miles Davis were a dicks as well. Doesn't negate their genius, end of story.

I have to say when I studied with him, I was (and still am) a 5-string, fretless bass player and you know what? He called me on it and I explained that this is what I wanted to do (I had been playing fretless exclusively for 4 years in 1994, when I last studied with him. I didn't even own a fretted bass from 1990 to 1996). In the end, he told me, "To each his own" and talked about the extra work to get your ears developed and a couple of lessons later gave me my biggest compliment by saying that I "didn't sound like Jaco". I think that is THE highest compliment a fretless player can hear after so many were subjected to third-rate Jaco clones for so many years.

Also, on the matter of metronomes, even though Jeff doesn't advise using metronomes*, I have used metronomes all throughout my practice time, clicking only on 2&4, only on 1,2,3, or 4, etc. I think they can help a bit, but I also think that using a metronome hasn't been the major reason for success in my time feel. Over the last couple of years, I have become a bit ambivalent about them. I attribute "good time" more to the learning and thinking in subdivisions that studying Indian Tala has taught me, i.e.: What speed (subdivision) are we in? 2 speed (1/8th), 4-speed (1/16th), 3-speed (12/8)? I think that in thinking in this way, It has become easier to play with metronomes.

Let's be clear: That is the opposite effect of what is supposed to be the prescribed course of "playing w/ metronome=good time".

My observations.

*(He's hardly the only one. Tabla master, Swapan Chaudhuri also told his tala class on the first day not to use a metronome; as well, I heard West African drummer Alfred Ladzekpo tell his class to listen for speeding up and slowing down instead of using a metronome)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A List Of 21 Must Listen Fretless Bass Recordings

From the jazziness of Jaco to the wildness of Mick Karn, I've compiled a list of twenty-one recordings that have fretless bass featured, if not exclusively, at least prominently on them. This is in no way a comprehensive list, although I did try to include as many players as possible, I also tried to include many landmark albums of players like Jaco and Gary Willis, who are two of the more prominent players of the instrument.If you are serious about playing fretless, I feel these recordings are a great place to start and are basically required listening to get a sense of the wide variety of sounds and styles out there for the fretless bass. Also check out: Michael Manring, Baba Elefante, Bill Wyman, Sting, Mark Egan, Alphonso Johnson, Tony Franklin, Steve Bailey, Jeff Ament, Les Claypool

  1. Jaco Pastorius - Jaco Pastorius
  2. Masques - Brand X (Percy Jones)
  3. The Waking Hour - Dali's Car (Mick Karn)
  4. The Secret of Association - Paul Young (Pino Palladino)
  5. Us - Peter Gabriel (Tony Levin)
  6. Heavy Weather - Weather Report (Jaco Pastorius)
  7. Bright Size Life - Pat Metheny
  8. Nomad - Tribal Tech (Gary Willis)
  9. No Sweat - Gary Willis
  10. Slaughterhouse 3 - Slaughterhouse 3 (Gary Willis)
  11. Night Passage - Weather Report (Jaco Pastorius)
  12. Tin Drum - Japan (Mick Karn)
  13. Elegant Punk - Jonas Hellborg
  14. Hejira - Joni Mitchell (Jaco Pastorius)
  15. Bestial Cluster - Mick Karn
  16. Polytown - Torn/Karn/Bozzio
  17. Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band - Paul Motian (Stomu Takeishi)
  18. Actual Fiction - Gary Willis
  19. I, Assassin - Gary Numan (Pino Palladino)
  20. Antipodes - Steuart Liebig
  21. Have We Met? - 3 Squares (Daren Burns...hey it's my list!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Onibaba project

Working on a new project with Kio Griffith. It is going to include Onibaba, Kio's video art, and a butoh dancer. I'm going to set set the stage like a contemporary Noh play and have been working with some design thoughts.

Working on a proposal and I am going to actively pursue grants and other options of funding to get this work performed. Hope to perform the work a few times and maybe do a little tour. We'll see. I am pretty excited about it so far.

The project is going to be about America, its current status, past, and future. Kind of like an apocalyptic "A Christmas Carol". I think there are some good ideas present.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fretless Bass

This kind of goes with Jaco's birthday. I am really into fretless bass and I play it mostly because of his influence. I played it exclusively from 1991 to 1999 (meaning I didn't even own a fretted bass and didn't care about losing gigs because of it. I had a sink or swim attitude and played it exclusively) and still, it is the only bass I really practice. It is my default bass and passion.

Over my career, I have been lucky enough to study with Gary Willis when I was 18-20 and also Baba Elefante, both fantastic fretless players. In fact you probably know who Willis is....Baba, everybody should know, he is one of the hardest working, and the single most overlooked bass player in my opinion. Phenomenal.

Well, this article is about the fretless electric bass. most people think Jaco invented it and that it is used as a replacement for upright bass in jazz, which is somewhat accurate but not completely and actually not really at all. The first player I know of to play the instrument is Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones on "Paint It Black", I believe (Roberts, Jim (2001). 'How The Fender Bass Changed the World' or Jon Sievert interview with Bill Wyman, guitar player magazine December (1978)). Many people do not know this and Bill Wyman never really advertised it, he was just looking for a sound and just did it.

Over the years, there have also been many other players of this instrument that have nothing to do with jazz or the "Jaco" lineage. For instance Mick Karn, Jack Bruce, Percy Jones, Tony Levin, and Pino Palladino. Some developing right alongside without knowledge of Jaco and others after, but not really influenced by Jaco's sound. In fact, these guys are really known more for rock types of music and not jazz. That to me is extremely interesting. I also believe that Alphonso Johnson was playing fretless in Weather Report before Jaco joined than band.

This is ripe for research in a musicological area. I highly suggest you checkout some of these other players to give the fretless bass a new perspective.

John Francis Pastorius III

I just saw it is Jaco's birthday today. For those who don't know, he was the equivalent to electric bass guitar that Jimi Hendrix was to electric guitar. The way that the instrument is looked at was forever altered and it's possibilities dramatically increased by his contributions. He passed on in the late 80's. I was a youngster just starting on bass an was mostly into Def Leppard and Kiss, when my life was forever changed by two records I bought simultaneously: Stanley Clarkes first album and Jaco's first album.

Not only did Jaco bring fretless bass to the masses, he also possesed uncanny abilities; the use of harmonics in particular (guys really didn't know what he was doing it was esoteric and uncharted territory for the vast majority of players). His facility and fluidity were just about untouchable, light years beyond most bassists and the best part, his groove never suffered. His time feel is organic and never seems to falter.

Also, in the days of muddy bass his tone was crisp, punchy, and up front. Not always the ideal bass tone for working bassists, but you hear him play one note and you instantly know it is Jaco.


Listening List:

Jaco Pastorius- Jaco
Joni Mitchell - Shadows and Light
Joni Mitchell - Hejira
Jaco Pastorius - Word of Mouth
Jaco Pastorius - Twins I & II
Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life
Albert Mangelsdorff - Trilogue - Live!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Of all of the holidays, I think I like Thanksgiving best. To me it is the most real holiday and is about being with friends or family, not gifts and any other distractions. I give thanks to my wife for all of her support and to all of my friends and family. I am honored to know so many wonderful and beautiful musicians to share music and good times with. I can't imagine any other life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New CD being completed....release set for late Jan or early Feb

Mixing the last two tracks of my latest CD (and first entirely solo CD I might add), "Fear Is Not The Natural State Of Civilized People", the second release on Urban Nerds Records, tomorrow at the amazing Wayne Peets. We have to mix the tracks "Aung San Suu Kyi" and "Fela Kuti". I am going to track some bass on "Aung San..." as well, easier than fixing, I just want to tighten up the melody between me and Wadada and I want to follow his phrasing closer. Can't wait, CD is coming out very nicely and I am hoping to have a January or February release date. Fantastic playing by Sarah Phillips on piano, Scott Collins on guitar, Craig Bunch on drums, and of course Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet.

CD is a concept album about political prisoners and freedom fighters and includes tracks for Goyathlay (Geronimo), Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Fela Kuti. In these times, I think it is time that people look closely at human rights again, it seems that things are getting worse and most of the world seems to be okay with the idea of holding people prisoner without any real due cause and without due process as long as its not them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thoughts on a Los Angeles Creative Music Venue

Thinking of interview questions I would ask some of the musicians who are involved with the Creative Music scene in Los Angeles. I want to interview some of the bigger names, but I would also like to interview some up and coming musicians to get a well rounded view of improvised music in Southern California.

One big topic on my mind is the idea of live performance venues. Los Angeles, unlike New York doesn't have its The Stone to allow artists room to play and a source where people can go to hear this music seven nights a week. We have a rag tag collection of coffee houses, libraries, museums, clubs, and galleries that musicians utilize, but there isn't any one central place that can build an audience, not since Cryptonights series at Club Tropical shut down. People have tried and there were some successful series for a good amount of time like Line Space Line and Dangerous Curves and such, but it seems to me that the players need their own venue which is run seven nights a week, is a hub for presenting their music, and is not dependent on outside business for it success or failure.

I'm wondering how to get this done. A space and a sound system. What else do you need?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can Jazz Be Saved......

Every so often I read these posts about whether or not Jazz can be saved. The articles are mostly the same tired info recycled for the past year or two that I have read over and over. I think the question itself is erroneous. There are probably more people than ever creating "jazz" music and there are certainly more schools offering Jazz curriculum than ever before. I don't think that Jazz needs to be saved, it is alive and well. If you are talking about it's mainstream popularity and the musicians making a living, those are quite different questions altogether.

I don't think the world needs a "Neo Tin Pan Alley" songwriting movement to reinvigorate the music. When the jackasses involved in Lincoln Center decided they knew what Jazz was and everybody else was wrong, they killed their version of Jazz from ever growing and having a modern existence. It's museum music and a moldy fig indeed. It is not the 40's or 50's anymore.

There are plenty of players creating vibrant, cutting edge music: Wadada Leo Smith, Keith Jarrett, Joe Lovano, Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Dave Douglas, Benny Maupin, Larry Koonse, Ben Monder, Tim Berne and on, and on, and on....

Jazz doesn't need to be popular to survive, it just needs to be keep being created by the musicians to survive, and survive it does. The Jazz police just don't like what it has become and try to keep it locked in its retro time loop for all eternity. Anytime Jazz is mixed with Hip Hop or electronics or anything like this, and not kept in its predetermined role, they are the first to say thats not Jazz. Like the players are supposed to ignore any music created in the last 50 years. How can you be an honest musician and block out most of what you heard to concentrate on what something is supposed to be? That is when something is dead and cannot truly be saved.

My 2 cents

Music Competition, Inspirations, and Observations

My wife chaired the MTAC contemporary music Festival yesterday and had Michael Jon Fink, Ulrich Krieger, and Brian Pezzone judging the performances.(talk about overkill in the judging department!)

I helped out last year and saw the performances of these talented kids and they were good; last night, I saw some of the same kids perform almost one year later and I have to say, what an eye opener! Some of these kids were stunning! The improvement was 100%, almost across the board! I saw about 3-4 kids who were about as good as any performance I saw in college. Mind blowing and to have such improvement in 11 months was inspiring!

The one kid who stood out in my mind was a Japanese male (I have since learned that this kid was the first place winner) who played 'Serpents Kiss' by William Bolcom (I've never heard of the composer before but it looks like he has won the Pulitzer!). The music wasn't my cup of tea, but it definitely had some great moments, including extended percussive techniques of tapping on the piano body, rhythmic vocalization, and foot rhythm. The best part though was that this kid owned the music, 100% owned, like he wrote it. It was a fantastic display.

There was another little kid who was maybe 8 or 9 that had a heartbreaking evening. He had a memory slip after about 8 bars and couldn't continue and he sat on stage crying. It was too bad, the first 8 bars were some of the best music I heard yesterday evening. The judges are giving him a special award (I learned that they thought exactly as I did about his performance).

This brings up another subject to deal with at a later time. Are music competitions really worth having? There are some big Pro's and Con's to either side.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Ox and The Lunatic

I have always loved The Who, (InLink fact when someone asks the lame, 60's, mod or rocker, BS question, "Are you a Beatles fan, or a Rolling Stones fan?" I always give the answer "Neither, I'm a Who fan!" (Believe me I still hear this question from time to time!)) and I have been listening to them a lot recently. John Entwistle is one of my all-time favorite bassists and Keith Moon is one of my all-time favorite drummers, regardless of genre. Together they made one of the most amazing rhythm sections of all time. The only rhythm section I think that offers any similarity, in its scope of dynamic interaction and its ability to bring fresh ideas to a song over and over again, is that of Jimmy Garrison/Elvin Jones from John Coltrane's classic quartet.

A lot of bands play Rolling Stones songs and a lot of people perform Beatles songs, but hardly anyone covers The Who and if so, there are only 3-4 tunes people play. I think a lot of it has to do with th fact that it is a hard band to cover. The songs themselves are easily coverable; however, the way that the drums and bass are usually interacting is really an improvisatory and jazz-like, form of accompaniment. It is not easy to capture the same feel and energy; especially for musicians mostly steeped in rock idioms. I think this is why. There aren't, for the most part, easily graspable parts to learn in the drums or bass. It all feels very spontaneous and in the moment so you can really play what you feel and change it from night to night.

There will never be another rhythm section quite like this one.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Is it important to know whether or not the music you are listening too is composed or improvised? Does it change your listening criteria? Is the quality affected? Does the knowledge change your listening perception?

I remember a well known harpist telling me that she didn't like listening to composed music much anymore because she could almost always hear where the music was going and could second guess the musical outcome, but when listening to free improvisation, she was constantly surprised in the directions that the music would take and that it was always more fulfilling to her in the end.

Not the usual response from a music fact I almost always hear the exact opposite response from people. I hear people don't like improvisation because it is formless and sounds chaotic. They like the safe harbor of form and structures laid out before them.

Don't know exactly where I am going with this, but it is fascinating,.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tracy Caldwell/Daren Burns Quartet rehearsal...

Interesting how after not playing with someone for 12 years, the passage of time can be erased almost immediately by the simple act of making music. Tracy and I went to CalArts together in the mid to late 90's, she pursuing her MFA, me on the way to my BFA. we kept in touch over the years but we never got together to make music for whatever reasons that would rear their head; life, work, and whatnot.

We set up a gig at Redcat this coming Sunday, 11-15 and Tracy Caldwell and I wrote some new music for the quartet we decided on. It was kind of eerie how similar our music was, in flavor at least; not necessarily in its construct. Chalk it up to both being students of Wadada Leo Smith I suppose!

Rehearsal went well, with Josh Charney on keyboard and Craig Bunch on drums. I am looking forward to the performance this Sunday!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Onibaba one of Bricks Picks of the week

Just had a great show with my band Onibaba @ the Museum of Neon Art and I was fortunate enough to be included in the LA Weekly's Brick's Picks article (Jazz picks of the week) along with McCoy Tyner, Lanny Morgan, and Larry Goldings (yikes!). Thanks to those who came out. Special thanks to David Witham and Jeff Gauthier at Cryptonight and Kim Koga at Mona!

Brick's Picks Article

Band included:

Ulrich Krieger - Sax/bass clarinet
George Mcmullen - Trombone
Eric Klerks - Guitar
Me - Bass
Craig Bunch - Drumset
Kio Griffith - Live Video


This blog will about my thoughts on improvisation, composition, bass, and other various meanderings. I hope to touch on web 2.0, music business and whatever is on my mind.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"Real music is not for wealth, not for honours or even the joys of the mind... but as a path for realisation and salvation."-Ali Akbar Khan

“If you miss the sensual part of music, you risk becoming a gynecologist and not a lover”-Rabih Abou-Khalil

"Don't play whats there, play whats not there." -Miles Davis

"It was when I learned you can make mistakes that I knew I was on to something." -Ornette Coleman

About me:

Daren Howard Burns, fretted and fretless electric bass player, composer, and improviser has been playing and making music for more than half of his life. Much of his musical interest lies in the area of improvisation and how to make new systems for developing improvisation in new ways. In the past few years he has also become interested in classical Indian rhythmic and melodic systems.

Born in El Centro, California, but moving all around as child, to places like New Mexico, Texas, and the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Burn’s musical life began in Junior High School when he purchased his first bass with money from a paper route he had. At this time, he was immersed in the rock music of the time, but was quickly turned on to jazz by purchasing bassists, Jaco Pastorious and Stanley Clarke’s first albums and classical Indian music by listening to Ravi Shankar. He received his formal education from Fullerton junior College (1991-1994), California Institute of the Arts (1994-97, BFA; 2006-08, MFA). He also studied privately with Wadada Leo Smith, Ralph Rose, Baba Elephante, Gary Willis, Aloke Dutta, Aashish Khan, Vinny Golia, and Jeff Berlin.

As an Improviser/Composer Burns has studied, Western European music, the classical music of North and South India, Ghana music of Africa, Japanese, Eastern European/Arabic music, and American Blues, Rock, and Jazz. He is working on notation systems that incorporate world music and jazz and open structures that give the musician freedom while also giving the composer his realized ideas.

Daren has taught privately from his home and at Woodlowe Music in Woodland Hills, CA for over ten years. He is a member of the American Composers Forum and an ASCAP member. He was a winner of the Dan Radlauer composition competition in 1994.

As a composer he has written for soloists, various ensembles, and creative orchestras. As a performer he has played in every situation imaginable and has shared the stage with Wadada Leo Smith, Vinny Golia, John ‘Drumbo’ French, Neil Sadler, Butch Morris, Mike Keneally, Nels Cline, Jeff Kaiser, Motoko Honda, Ori Barel, Chris Opperman, Andre LaFosse, John Bergamo, Randy Gloss, Houman Pourmehdi, Miroslav Tadic, Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharp, George McMullen, Kurt McGettrick, Bruce Fowler, David Roitstein, Joe LaBarbera, Eleanor Academia, Frank Macchia, and many, many, many others.