Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Hail the Bass Player!

 A man in a West African village checked into the hospital with a bad case of malaria.

There was a celebration in the village and the sound of the drums was everywhere. In a delirious fever, the man pleaded with the doctor to stop them from playing the drums.

“Oh, no,” said the doctor. “You don’t want them to stop. It’s very bad when the drums stop.”


The next day the drums were even louder and the man even more distraught, but the doctor assured him that he did not want the drums to stop. 


By the third day, the man was yet worse and when the doctor came in, the drums suddenly stopped. A look of terror was on the doctor’s face and the man asked, “What’s going to happen? Why do you look so terrified? What happens when the drums stop?”


The doctor replied, trembling with fear: “Bass solo.”


(This joke told to me by a bass player, so it has passed the “appropriate” test.)


With a concert coming up and the bass player in my band traveling around the world, I’m in search of a bass player. One hasn’t called me back, another was busy and I’m getting a bit worried about finding someone fit for the job who’s available. For though I’ve played a lot of solo piano and learned to make my own walking bass, the bass player is truly essential to the jazz group. 


I suspect like many listeners, I’m often not wholly conscious about what they’re playing, but when they’re absent, I feel it. We tend to focus on the person in the spotlight— the sax soloist is like the quarterback on the football team, the bass player like one of the mostly invisible lineman making it possible for him or her to do their job. The bass player is like the Mom taking the kids to their dentist appointment while the sax player Dad takes them to Disneyland. Often unsung, unnoticed and unappreciated, but oh, so essential to making the whole show work. 

The trade-off for being somewhat in the background on stage is that there’s always work. Piano players, horn players, drummers, are a dime a dozen, but a bass player is gold and in high demand. And starting with Charles Mingus (and before) and on through Ray Brown, Scott La Faro, Ron Carter, Gary Peacock, Christian McBride and many, many others, there are plenty of opportunities to come to the center with a bass solo — and despite the joke above, often to great acclaim. 


So hail to bass players! And wish me luck in finding one!


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