Bassically Speaking

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We be talking bass again this month. I mean the stringed instrument not the fish. You know, the doghouse, bull fiddle, bass fiddle or just plain bass (but not base). The one where you can never find more than one in a jam or band unless the band name has a city and the words symphony orchestra in it like “The Jalapeno Springs Symphony Orchestra”. Then you can have two or three of the suckers but they don’t call them doghouses and some of them are even bigger in size. Also these are rather formal gatherings (invitation only jams) not your regular jams.

This two or more basses (not haddocks) in one jam thing came up again while camping in Grass Valley this year. My next-door neighbor in the campground was a good bass player from Oregon named Gary. I first met him at Walker Creek this spring when we were both in Paul Knight’s bass session. At Grass Valley, we were camped at a corner and had fairly easy access to a lot of jammers close by. On my first night there we both ended up with our “upright fish” at the same jam. With us both being friendly kinda guys we decided we should have a playoff to see who could play in the local jam. Winner takes all. The bass player with the better runs, passing tones, leading tones, etc. would do the bass playing while the other would sit and noodle on an instrument they hardly knew. Nah, we didn’t do that but we did make a pact that as we traversed the campgrounds looking for jams that if either of us “got lucky” and snared a bass spot, we would share, trading off and taking turns playing. That worked out for us as we did trade off in a couple of jams we ran into over the weekend including our close by jams with our neighbors. It is my humble opinion that contrary to popular belief, good bass spots in jams are a premium. You know it’s not like we’re carrying around mandolins or fiddles until we find a good jam. Travelling ain’t easy with these guys.

As an aside, Gary, who took the bass class at the CBA Music Camp told me a story almost to hard to fathom. Apparently during the student concert at the end of camp, his class, with a dozen basses took the stage with a class of the same number of dobros for a performance. I am hoping the proper authorities were notified and all the appropriate permits obtained. As far as I know, no serious injuries were reported.

In my recent 10 year revival of bass playing I have taken classes sessions and workshops from a number of very good pros. The list, just so I can try to keep track is: Todd Phillips, Dean Knight, Bill Amatneek, Paul Knight, Mark Schatz, Trish Gagnon, Missy Raines. Most of these were full three day 4 hour sessions and the rest a couple of 1 hour workshops. Add to that my more (usually) regular lessons with Lisa Burns and you have to wonder why I am not playing a “big fish” in the Jalapeno Springs Symphony Orchestra. Must be about my woodshedding.

All kidding aside, we are extremely fortunate to have this quality of instructors in our camps. The list of instructors in these camps, for all the instruments including voice, is equally impressive.

Outside of tempo, timing and technique that I have studied in the camp sessions, I have also learned some other important skills by osmosis from watching bass players at concerts, shows and gigs. Without drummers, the bass players are the first on the stage setting up. Even in our acoustic music most of the bass pros (I’m not talking about fishing) use amps to control their sound. Amps mean pick-ups too. There is a lot to know here. Pre-amps etc. It’s not just hefting your ax to the stage and begin playing. Which amp, which pick-up, all of this is part of learning to play bass if you plan on playing out.

What I didn’t pick up from my bass sessions or observations was how to get over this “no two” at once deal. I’m not complaining mind you but I live, perpetually, on the sub bass list for about 3 jams. You get a call you better drop and run or they just move you down the list. Recently, I’ve been lucky to get “promoted” to principal bassist at two jams both on Wednesday fortunately at different times. I don’t know who does the promoting except that I’m the one there. Heck if another bass shows up I’ll share. Goodness forbid I have to miss one of the Wednesday sessions as the position as “1st fish” is certainly tenuous.

There are other tricks in my arsenal for getting around the “no two” scenario. Say like at the monthly SCVFA Jam in San Jose, there are typically 3 or 4 bass players hanging around. You can see the predatory jammers looking for the better ones but if you hang by the open mic stage you can get called up to the stage to back up a folky or a singer songwriter very quickly and then you don’t let go. This is also a good way to get in the monthly newsletter pictures as well.

I’m sure you know that I’m being facetious and just kidding around with all this. I play in two bands that both rehearse regularly and I jam at least a couple of times a week on top of that. The real problem with all the rehearsals and jamming is that I use it as an excuse to stay out of the woodshed but I’ll save that for another time.

Getting back to SCVFA, don’t forget their monthly jam this Sunday in the Rose Garden Park on Naglee in San Jose. There will be lots of jamming and you can make book that there will be only one bass per jam.

Catch you next month.

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