Tag Archives: Music

Big Band Bass

Cats Swing Band

Cats Swing Band

I am now practicing regularly with the Cats Swing Band of Los Gatos, California.  The band is an adult education project, for older people who have retrieved their trombones, trumpets and saxophones from the Attic, dusted them off, and started to play again.  One of my best friends, Don Calvello, informed me of the band and I joined.  I play bass.

I play both bass guitar and standup, or string bass.  The latter is my principal instrument.  I love “American Songbook” tunes, great old American standards like those  you hear sung by Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra and others.

I’ve been with the band for a year now.  In that time period I have learned to read notes and my ear for jazz, swing and blues has improved considerably.  The band has improved steadily, too.

Our band leader is a young man, a senior at San Jose State and a music major, one Faris Jarah.  Faris has done a remarkable job whipping this cacophonous collection of cats into a credible band.

Currently, we have three trombone players, three trumpet players, two saxophone players (one alto, the other tenor), a piano player, two guitar players, a drummer and me on bass.  We could use a baritone sax player and another alto sax.

Currently we are practicing the following songs:  All of Me, L-O-V-E, Corcovado, All Right, Okay You Win, Embraceable You, and others.  I may publish links to some of our practice sessions later on.


Band Practice

ImageSundays are for band practice.  I play bass and it is my main passion in life now that I’m over the hill.  I want to play it well, at a professional level.  Here I am playing at the annual Beatles Tribute at the V.A. Hospital in Palo Alto, California, on September 18, 2013.

Other creative endeavors include writing (hence this journal) and Photoshopping, or digital art.  I love to create images, whether by drawing them outright or by combining and editing photos off the web.

A Path to Success: Robert Ringer’s “Chip Away” Method

As you can see from my prior two posts, I’m going after a deferred dream with a passion:  to become a proficient jazz bass player.   When facing a major challenge, it is easy to get discouraged and quit before you start.  There’s so much to do and so much to learn!  Where do you start?  What do you do first?

When I restarted my music project, I remembered some words of wisdom from Robert Ringer, one of my favorite pop philosophers.  Ringer says that he accomplishes projects using the “chip away” method.  Using this method you don’t worry about how much there is to do, you just make a start.  Then you just concentrate on one small facet at a time.  It’s like a sculptor sculpting a masterpiece in marble.  You just chip away a little at a time.  Eventually the statue begins to emerge from the big block of rock.  Chip away long enough and the project will be finished.

I find that the chip away method may start slowly, but it doesn’t continue that way.  Once you start making progress your enthusiasm grows and your speed increases.  The project takes on a life of its own. 

Three weeks ago I decided that one of the reasons I didn’t want to practice my bass was because of the strings.  They were too thick and hurt too much to press down.  So I made a deal with myself:  ordering new strings would be the official kickoff of my music project.  I ordered some medium gauge strings and a tool for turning the keys quickly so I could replace the strings with less effort and do it more quickly.   The strings arrived in less than a week and I installed them on my bass.

Once the new strings had stretched enough to stay in tune (it takes about three days), I committed to practicing 15 minutes a day.  That was about all I could take before my hands got tired and my fingertips got sore.   After a week, however, my strength had improved noticeably and my fingers had become hardened and calloused.  Now I am practicing about an hour a day, usually in two shifts, a half hour in the morning and a half hour before bedtime.  In two weeks of practice I have made noticeable strides.  I’m enthused now and music has become my greatest interest outside of work.

The chip away method works.  Don’t worry about how much you have to do, just focus on how much you can do right now and make a start.  A major goal can be divided into many smaller goals; let one of these be sufficient for the day and the rest can wait their turn.

You may surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

Playing String Bass (for Jazz)

p1000296edited1One of the loves of my life is the string bass.  Also called the upright bass, the double bass or the contra bass, it’s that giant fiddle thing you see in orchestras, jazz bands and other musical groups.  I’ve wanted to become proficient at playing the bass for years, but it was always a secondary priority to getting an education and then establishing a career.  

My number one New Year’s resolution is to finally become proficient enough on bass to join a small jazz group.  I’m not getting any younger:  it’s now or never.  I have a string bass, but it’s made of laminated wood.  Laminated wood basses are strong and resist cracking, but they don’t sound as good as a bass carved out of a solid blocks of wood (they use different pieces for the front, back and sides).  These are called “carved” basses for obvious reasons.  They have a warmer tone than laminated basses and are much more expensive.  You could easily pay $8,000 to $12,000 for a fine carved bass, and if you were part of the San Francisco Orchestra you probably should.  Alas, neither my checkbook nor my musical abilities have attained that stature.

Another resolution is to buy a carved bass in 2009.  I want one and by gum, I will have one.  However, it will probably be more in the $2,000 price range.  Countries like China, Rumania and South Korea are now making fully carved basses and orchestra musicians are using them more and more.  My own music supplier uses a South Korean carved bass in the San Matero Peninsula Orchestra; it’s a Hans Kroger bass.  I will either buy one of those or a similar brand.

So far I am living up to my resolution.  I have been practicing my bass steadily for the past week or so.  Playing a big stand-up bass is physically demanding, so right now I am concentrating on building up my shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.  All are a bit sore right now.  My plucking fingers on my right hand are calloused.  My endurance will grow.  When I have the strength to play a gig, that is playing  job of about four hours, I will consider myself sufficiently in shape.

I love the twangy resonance of a string bass.  I love the clicking sound of the strings on the fingerboard.  Listen to some Vince Guaraldi records or some recordings of the American Songbook, e.g. what they call “standards,” generally dance music and ballads.  I especially recommend Rod Stewart’s American Songbook collection — the orchestral bass player is excellent and the warm bass tones are amazing.

Turn up the bass tone and listen to the string bass.   You can hear it “walking” up and down the scale and the deep rhythms attune themselves with my soul.

My approach to finally becoming a bass player include the following:

1.  Practice playing my bass daily — start with half an hour and build up to an hour once my hands and fingers strengthen.

2. Listen to jazz and standards at every opportunity.  To play great music you must listen to great music.

3. Study music theory.  Practice arpeggios, scales and following chord symbols on sheet music.  I have some play-along CD’s by Jamey Aebersold Jazz for this purpose.  You can order them from Amazon.com.

4.  Eventually, find a group of other musicians to practice and play gigs with.

If there are any aspiring musicians in the South Bay area who might want a bass player, give me a shout.