Past

Possible

kbsitegraphicexc01One of those astonishing conversations I would have with folkies, back when I was working that side of the street, was when one of them would tell me that the casual bigotry that is behind some humour is essential for those jokes to work.  Oh they would do backflips and handsprings in order to get that little piece of nonsense to be true.  I specifically remember the banjo-god telling me that racially bigoted humour could only work without being offensive if you took out the specific people insulted and put in an imaginary race.  I didn’t have the heart to suggest to him that the very idea of race is considered an imaginary concept in science, but such was my time wandering around the peoples of social significance.

One odd little backwater of humour is musician jokes.  Which is only really funny to my ear when it’s a musician telling a joke about players of their own instrument.  And of course, because viola players will have heard every viola joke there is, the one they remember will be scathingly funny.  I’ve probably told you about being in a shuttle van full of musicians who each told their favourite joke about their own kind.  Shortest bus ride I’ve ever taken, laughing hard the whole way.

But there’s a better, kinder class of musician joke.  Somehow telling it at our own expense, and yet riffing off both our experience and our pre-conceived notions around that instrument.  An example?  Well, okay.  So I walk into a session the other day, typical assortment of lots of guitars and one or two mando-things, I haul my upright bass around the corner to see what’s up, and there at the other end of the room is another upright bassist, already in progress.  Most excellent, although it’s a little like showing up to a party wearing the same outfit.  Only louder.  The other player sees me, I see them, our eyes meet, and without thinking, surrounded as we are by umpteen guitars, I say, “Oh good, there’s two of us, now we have them outnumbered.”

No vulgar slams, no rehearsing bigotry in gentler guise.  Just a touch of self-deprecation, and a slightly skewed world-view.  And I am no expert on these things.  So how hard can it be?

But first, the job is to believe it is possible.

Plural

kbsitepicscene050I don’t know why this confuses some people.  It’s really quite simple.

Question: What is the plural of bass?

Answer: More bass.

What’s confusing in that?

Swing

kbsitepicgig027Hey friend, how’s your day?  I’m still recuperating from the drive and the gig this past week.  I’m managing to get a few chores done so I don’t feel the day is a total loss, but mostly it’s about resting.  Y’know, it used to be that a drive across the province followed by playing for a few hours was no problem.  Frankly it’s still my idea of a good time.  But apparently my body has a different response.  Oh, I still think it was nice to do, but it’s going to take a few days before I’m up for much.  Remind me to be gentle with myself in the meantime, eh?

It really was nice to do, though.  I’ve been lucky enough to play more than a few weddings in my time.  The whole day was just right–the weather stayed fine, the setting was lovely, people were nice, heck even the speeches were just right.  And it’s always particularly nice to be asked to be part of the ceremony.  Good to be reminded too, in plain words, that real and meaningful support of friends is considered an essential part of a healthy marriage.  Was good to see that support in evidence.  Yeah, I think these guys’ll do okay.

Mostly I was there to play the bass, and to help out musically with the various folks who offered a tune or two in honour of the event.  I think it all turned out pretty well.  And I had the pleasure of playing with a tenor sax player who really knew the repertoire.  At one point the sax player and the pianist were pulling out things from the book of infinite wisdom (usually called ‘the fake book’) and asking me if I knew this one or that one.  My response, of course, was ‘No, but that’s never stopped me before.’  So I had the pleasure of reading a whole bunch of tunes cold.  Was huge fun.  Didn’t do too badly, neither.  Although I had to laugh at one point.  See, the sax player names a tune, calls out for ‘a medium swing’, then counts it out and we’re away.  There wasn’t enough time for me to explain that I couldn’t swing ‘medium’ if my life depended on it.  No, when it comes to the bass I’m afraid that when I swing, I swing hard.  The guys didn’t seem to mind, though.

But the whole thing really was a gas for me on a personal level.  See, when I was a kid I fell in love with Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman…  Heck, that Carnegie Hall version of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ is still one of my favourite recorded performances ever.  At one point I could sing the whole thing, like some people can do ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, y’know?  And that lovely rolling rhythm that makes swing sound the way it does, that was the first rhythm I could internalize.  And because I could feel the rhythm inside of me without anyone actually playing it, I would keep that swing rhythm going while I sub-vocalized endless solos.  I couldn’t play a one of them, of course.  But I could sure hear ‘em.  I guess that’s where that ‘having music in my head’ thing all got rolling, really.  And even though my playing’s improved, to this day I’m still writing things that I can’t play.

And all else being equal I still have a tendency to swing.  Hard.  Now you know why.

So, yeah, it was a good night.

Conditioning

Well, it’s Tuesday, so I need to decide whether I’m going to the session.  I think so… mind you I’m feeling like I don’t know any songs.  I mean apart from the 14 in the show.  But aside from that, I guess I need to make a bit of a decision some time soon.  If I’m going to continue playing the bass I really need to get in more conditioning time.  The upright takes a lot of muscle, and I’m just not built like a bass player, so it’s too easy for me to overplay and develop an injury.  In a past life I managed to spend time on the instrument every day, even when I wasn’t gigging on it, just to stay in shape.  And I had a couple of friends I could call on to come over and work a few tunes with me, kind of like a pair of runners putting in miles.  But being of no fixed address kind of put a stop to that.  And life’s taken over for a while now, as sometimes happens.  Fair enough.  But if it’s going to continue to be part of my life I need to make that room somehow.  And if not then maybe it’s time to put the instrument into someone else’s hands.  I’m not in any particular hurry to drop it.  But that conditioning is going to make a decision for me sooner rather than later.  In the meantime I think I’ll go play some tunes with some nice people.  See if I know any songs.

Something About the Bass

kbsitepicsession009Well, my friends continue to be good for me.  In particular they continue to find reasons for me to get out.  I think I’ve told you about going to a session on Tuesday nights.  Nice place in Fergus, pretty normal as far as these things go, and pretty special too in its way.  Folks are nice enough to let me thump along on the bass for much of the night, but they cut me no slack and play in all the challenging keys.  Then comes the moment when I’m trying to figure out the bass part to that song I know, except I don’t know it in C-sharp minor, and someone takes that as a cue to begin a conversation with me.  I don’t know what it is about me trying to figure out something on the bass that makes a nice, normal person think I’ll have a brain cell left to put together any kind of response to whatever it is they’re saying.

Or maybe you’re right, maybe it’s just that at that particular moment it doesn’t really sound like I’m actually trying to play.  So they take it as an invitation.  I suppose that’s fair enough.  You couldn’t really say, “Careful!  He has a bass in his hands, he might be trying to play it.  You never know.”  That somehow wouldn’t be fair.

Although this whole thing might be giving weight to my personal theory that no one actually hears the bass, they just notice when it stops.

But somehow I am reminded of how the duck swims–on top all serene while underwater paddling like mad.

A really large, flightless duck.

That never particularly learned how to swim.

Downbeats and Other Expectations

kbsitepicinstrument005It was nice to get together with a fellow musician the other day.  We weren’t rehearsing, we weren’t figuring out a project, we weren’t working on anything in particular.  We were just having a visit, and we got to talking about playing.  Was particularly good because we were two bass players talking.  Well, okay, I had my guitar with me as well, but that was just for when we got bored, or if one of us wanted to try something we’d been talking about groovewise while the guitar kept the pace.  I was reminded of how much personal interaction was part of where I started with music.  It was also nice just to sit and share thoughts with a fellow bassist.  I’m an unusual player on the bass, for many reasons, I’ve been told it remind some folks of Snoopy.  But with all my quirks there’s still a lot of the function of bass that I have to serve up when I’m playing.  And it’s always good for me to hear that other players are rassling with some of the same things as me.  Even after all these years sometimes I’m still convinced that I’m totally out to lunch basswise.  That’s why it was good for me to hear that more than one really good, even famous, bass part was done with one finger of the right hand.  I’m just not built like a bass player, so I’ve had to make up a lot of it as I went along.  When I stand back and listen to it from the outside it feels okay.  But from the inside it’s not quite the same.  That’s where I start to have to trust what other players say about my playing–the good stuff anyway–more than what I may be feeling about my playing in that moment. And too I can trust when people are grooving to what I’m laying down, whether they’re listeners, dancers, or fellow musicians.  If it’s working I know.  Fair enough.

Still, it’s nice to share experiences with a fellow bass player, to talk about drummers who know that it’s about the lock between the bass and drums and those who don’t, to talk about following someone you’ve never played with and having to show up on the down beat where the bass is expected to be while everyone else gets to wait that little bit longer so they can hear what the chord really is.

There are things that only bass players experience in that special way.

And sometimes it’s nice to feel like you’re not the only one.