Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cats Swing Band, Full Recital, 11/13/2015

We had a recital for our jazz/swing band last night.  You can listen to the entire recital at the link below.

My bass playing, IMHO, has improved greatly since I joined this band.  I have turned a corner.  I am not where I want to be just yet, but I am happy with my progress.

If you want to be a successful bass player:

  • Learn music theory
  • Learn bass techniques
  • Learn SONGS.  The more songs you learn, the easier it is to learn new ones.  
Here's the link:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Moondance: the Best Jazz Version Ever (#PlayingBass)

My jazz/swing band is practicing "Moondance," the great Van Morrison rock tune, which is also suitable for jazz versions.  I used to play this song often with a rock band, but how do you transfer it to jazz?  So I have  been viewing jazz versions on YouTube to learn just that.

I came across this version by the New York Jazz Quartet.  In my opinion, this is the best jazz version ever of "Moondance."  See if you agree.  Watch the video below.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Now That I Read Notes, a Lot of Practice Manuals Become Useful (#PlayingBass)

Five or so years ago, after I got a carved string bass, I set about trying to learn to play it.  I went on, and bought several books on constructing bass lines and other bass topics.  The books came, and soon went into my bookshelf unread.  The books relied on note reading as a means of teaching, and I didn't read notes.

Now, however, I do read notes.  Suddenly all of these manuals I bought several years ago, become useful.  I chose one and started playing the exercises.

There's no way around it.  If you want to learn bass, you must learn to read notes.  Forget those god-awful charts, they do not compare.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gaining Stamina for Stand-up Bass: It's Working

For less than a week now, I have been exercising my shoulders, arms, sides and back with 2 pound, hand-held weights.  That seems to be working, as I am tiring less quickly than before.

Today my practice consisted of playing my bass along to my music app, iRealPro.  This part of the practice is most important, as it (1) exercises my hands and arms, (2) develops my ear and improves my intonation and feel for the neck, and (3) allows me to practice making basslines on the fly.

I also spent some time sight reading notes to a couple of songs.  You should practice sight reading notes every day.

When I finished practicing, I noticed that my hands, arms and back weren't tired or painful.  Further, my sound production was good -- clear tones, produced by strong left hand fingering and correct right hand plucking (using the side of your plucking fingers rather than the tips).

I feel encouraged.  It indeed seems possible that I will gain the strength and skill to play the one to two hours I will face in a typical gig.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Playing Stand-Up Bass is Not for Sissies: How to Build Stamina? (#playingbass)

It has become clear to me that playing stand-up bass is very demanding physically.  You get tired playing string bass.  Your arms, your hands just poop out.

Obviously, if you want to be a double bassist, you need to build stamina and strength in arms, hands, back and shoulders.  I found a thread over at TalkBass forums about this issue.  One double bassist said he thought it would take a year for him to build the needed stamina in his hands.  Another said that it is more than hands that need stamina, but arms, shoulders, back and even butt.

In order to build stamina, it seems to me, that I need to play my bass vigorously for a few minutes a day.  I would say 15 minutes of playing fast and demanding songs.  Be careful not to injure yourself.  I started this regimen yesterday.

Besides playing the bass line to fast songs (recorded), I intend to use two pound weights to exercise my arms and shoulders.  With light weights, it is the repetitions that supply the needed exercise.  I will start with ten repetitions of various exercises, and add more over time.

Of course, your bass needs to be properly set up so that a poor bridge adjustment, too heavy gauge strings, etc, are not issues.

Adopt this regimen at your own risk.  You can injure yourself if you are not careful.

Currently, I am relying on my bass guitar somewhat until I build stamina for my double bass.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Jazz Band: Two Great Tunes, Live Performance #jazz #swing

Here's a couple of songs my band is studying right now.  These recordings were made at our regular weekly practice.

All Right, Okay, You Win


If possible, listen with earphones, otherwise you can't hear the bass and get the full effect.

Update for Georgette:

I added some more songs.

Dreamsville (Practice Sesson)

Cute (Recital)

Corcovado (Practice Session)

Satin Doll (Recital)

Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Recital)

Embraceable You (Recital)

In a Mellow Tone (Recital)

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Daily Bass Practice Routine

My jazz band class ended last night, but resumes again in two weeks for a new semester.
Everything about playing bass gets easier and easier for me.  Playing and practicing regularly is the key, of course.  You don't become a bass player by thinking about it, reading about it, or even writing about it.  You learn bass by doing:  playing, practicing and listening.

I never volunteer to solo with my band, but last night the band leader asked me to do a bass solo for the song "All of Me."  I said okay; I wasn't at all afraid to try it.  The bass solo went quite well and I was glad I did it.  From now on I will practice a bass solo with each new song I learn.

The band leader suggested a daily practice routine for all musicians in my band.  He practices this way, and recommends we all do the same:

1.  Spend 15 minutes of warming up.  This is "noodling." Trying things, experimenting.  Playing snippets of songs, arpeggios, and a blues routine or two.  Get those fingers warmed up.

2.  Spend 15 minutes playing a scale -- one scale per day, but with firsts and thirds and/or first and fifths, forward and backwards.  By playing a scale in firsts and thirds, you play not only the root for each note in the scale, but its third as well.  For example, C scale in firsts and thirds would be C-E, D-F#, E-G#, F-A, G-B, A-C#, B-D#. 

3.  Spend 15 minutes sight reading sheet music or exercises.  The more you practice reading notes, the easier it becomes.  I need to increase my sight reading ability for notes in the high part of the staff, the high E, E and F.  I also need to improve my fingering skill while playing these notes.  I also need practice in reading and playing notes that are sharped or flatted, particularly in eighth notes, to improve my speed and accuracy.

4.  Spend 15 minutes practicing a song.  Use recordings or apps to do this, and use sheet music if possible.  Steps 3 and 4 can be linked, for example, practice sight reading of the song you want to learn, then practice playing the song along to a recording of same.  Note:  I use an iPhone/iPad app called iReal Pro.  This app gives you the chords and plays the song for you to accompany.  You can change the key to any song so that the app's version matches your sheet music.

If you cannot practice daily due to work, school or other commitments, practice 4 or 5 times a week.  The more practice you get in, the faster you will achieve your goal.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Playing Bass and Reading Notes: One Year Later

I began reading notes in bass clef one year ago in June.  This was after I began taking a "big band" class, an adult education class offered locally.  The band reads music, and I was obligated to learn.  So I began reading notes during my private practice sessions.  It was slow and tedious and not much fun.  However, after several weeks the note reading was getting easier.

Last Thursday, in my band class, I noticed that I was sight reading the notes with about 90% accuracy.  I have come a long way in a year.  The secret is PATIENCE.  There are no shortcuts to learning to read notes.

I  am not where I want to be yet, but I am much closer than I was a year ago.  Where will I be in a year from now?  I smile to think of it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Swingin' Safari -- Great Jazz from 1962

When I was in high school, I lived in San Jose, California with my parents. They ran a music school for guitar in Salinas, California, and on Saturdays would drive there to teach. One Saturday in 1962, I tagged along. There is a stretch of highway there that is lined with tall Acacia trees, and which was featured in Alfred Hitchcock's movie "Vertigo." As we were cruising through these trees in my father's 1961 Cadillac, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before. It was called "A Swingin' Safari." I loved it immediately and was thoroughly enchanted by it. Now, all these years later, I still hear it playing in my head whenever I drive that tree-lined highway.

 Thanks to YouTube, there are several good versions of this song in video, but I like this one best. Cute early 1960's girls don't detract a bit. See and hear for yourself.

If you can hear this song and not feel happy, there is something seriously wrong with you.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Vince Guaraldi's Sacred Concert at Grace Cathedral to be Celebrated August 15, 2015

As a Vince Guaraldi fan, I have met and made contacts with other fans through articles on another blog. I received an invitation from jazz pianist Jim Martinez to attend the 50th anniversary sacred concert of 1965. Jim's jazz quartet will be substituting for the Vince Guaraldi trio/quartet, as alas, the great Guaraldi is no longer with us. Vince Guaraldi was the jazz pianist whose jazz trio provided much of the theme music for Charles Schultz's "Peanuts" television specials. Some of Vince's most famous hits include Oh Good Grief, Linus and Lucy, and Christmas Time Is Here.   His biggest hit, not related to "Peanuts," was undoubtedly Cast Your Fate to the Wind, a jazz piece that in 1963 became a cross-over hit in popular music.  I still love that song, and it remains one of my favorites of all time.

Vince Guaraldi died of an aortic aneurism (not a heart attack, as is so often wrongly reported) during a gig in Menlo Park, California, on February 6, 1976. He was only 47, and could have given so much more to American music. Every Christmas, the hits on this blog linking to Guaraldi increase dramatically. "Peanuts" Christmas themes are played on television, and many folks note that the music is attributed to someone named Vince Guaraldi. They google the name, and begin a search for who he was and how he died.

Among Vince's accomplishments is playing for a sacred concert in Grace Cathedral Church in San Francisco. His sacred concert took place on May 21, 1965.  A couple of years ago I drove by Grace Cathedral while doing some accounting work near it.  I thought about Vince's sacred concert, and felt sorrow that I had not been there and did not hear it.  Now, however, I can experience a worthy facsimile of it, by attending this celebratory concert on August 15, 2015.  So can you.

You can read more about it at the website All About Jazz.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come and hear this musical tribute to a very great musician.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lessons Learned: My Progress on Playing String Bass

Listen to the Band Here.

Last night my Big Band, now called "the Cats Swing Band," gave a recital to mark the end of the semester. The Apostolic Church on Parr Avenue in Campbell, CA were kind enough to make their church available for our performance, and the pews were filled with friends and family. 

I played my acoustic string bass, and all the band members loved it more than my bass guitar.  My friend and attorney, who plays alto sax in our band, said that there is "no comparison" between the sound of my stand-up bass and my bass guitar, and he favors the former.  I agree.

However, a string bass requires a lot more stamina, and I need to improve mine. I was pooped by the end of the performance.  Playing a stand-up bass is much more physically demanding than playing a bass guitar.  This means I need to do my practices on my double bass (string bass) rather than my bass guitar.  I need to run several fast plucking exercises each day, perhaps by playing a few stanzas of a fast jazz song, like the jazz piece "Cute" or "The Blues Walk."  Do it until I get tired.  Learning to play bass is more than just reading notes and learning chord patterns; it also involves study of technique and gaining the physicality needed for long and loud performances. 

Everyone told me I played quite well, but being my best critic, I am far from satisfied. I was, however, blown away by the enthusiastic audience, who broke into raucous applause when our lead tenor sax player soloed.  They broke into applause several more times before the performance ended.  This was thrilling for me, as I have played in many bands, but have never experienced this before. 

Everyone in the audience was grinning, open-mouthed, from ear to ear, including my always grouchy little wife. Afterwards we had a pot luck dinner. The band was ecstatic over the successful performance.

Some important milestones for me:
My new Acoustic Image Contra 4 bass amp performed very well:  I could hear my string bass above the orchestra!  The tone was great -- it sounded acoustic rather than electrified.  Some performances are known as "noisy gigs," and a band our size (15 members, mostly horns) creates a lot of volume.  However, my new amp has solved the problem of being heard, without feedback.  This was the best $900 bucks I have spent recently on my musical pursuits.

My Tuff Bag protected my bass:  I learned that my Calin Wultur Panormo bass is actually 7/8 size, not 3/4 as I thought.  So I ordered a Tuff Bag (gig bag) from a source in Arizona, and it protected by bass quite well, transporting it to and from the gig. No scratches or damage.

My note reading skills continue to grow.  A year ago, I couldn't read notes.  I have come a long way since then.  I am now reading much better in the keys requiring 3 or 4 flats, i.e. Eb and Db.  Learning to read music is a gradual process, a skill gained over time by repetitive exercises.  I can sight read slow songs in the easier keys, but not in more demanding pieces.  I will keep at it, and eventually will be able to sight read even difficult pieces.  Patience and practice are the keys.