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.

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