Bass Lines

The following was published in Downbeat magazine in January 27, 1977. The other musicians interviewed were Rufus Reid, George Duvivier, Richard Davis, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Alphonso Johnson, Eddie Gomez, Dave Holland, Stanley Clarke, Monk Montgomery, Stafford James, Ray Brown, Rick Petrone, Larry Ridley, George Mraz, Miroslav Vitous, Chris White etc.

Bass Lines

Crystal Gazing With A Bonanza Of Experts

Compiled by Arnold Jay Smith with assistance from Bob Henschen.

Has the bass been liberated? Traditionally, the bass has been part of the rhythm section, but recently, with the advent and improvement of the electric bass, traditional notions of the function of the bass have come under examination. What do you see the role of the bass being in the future? Will it continue to be supplemental and supportive, or will it take on a new, more dominant role?

Charles Mingus: Jimmy Blanton was doing everything that they are doing on electric bass now. That has been done in 1937. Gil Hadnot, Blanton, Adolphus Albrook. You never heard of them because you never heard jazz. A question like that... electricity has made a difference in the playing of somebody? Electricity has put music back.

You can't bow electric bass. The acoustic kind with a pickup is another story, but you can't bend it because once you put in that amplifier you can't bend your notes. A real bass player will tell you. They had amplifiers way back in the 40's. Joe Comfort with Nat Cole had one; in fact I think he invented it. Oh, you can hear it better, but on one level, one volume. There's no dee-ah, dee-ah; it's all ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. I don't know if it will ever be able to happen. I'm not an electrician, man. Once a microphone touches that wood, the wood is no longer wood. It's something beyond human control. The wood and the strings make it happen. Get rid of the steel strings if you want to hear straight music, good music. You must go back to gut. Ask that little kid who was with Ornette Coleman, what's his name? Bass players are not particular anymore. They know that nobody really listens so they go out and bullshit.

I don't want to take the bass anywhere. I'm just playing it. I always play the same, probably less now than I used to. Your question went out with high-button shoes. When I came in there were already soloists? As a leader? I don't think myself as a leader. I don't know if my instrument can be a lead instrument. I don't understand. I understand what you are saying, but I don't understand the reason why ask. I never pay any attention to where my sidemen go from me. I'm too busy playing. When I'm playing I don't pay attention to who's listening. When I was listening I listened to symphony orchestras, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Stravinsky. You don't listen to one instrument; you listen to music. String quartets, whatever there is. How can I cut off something else because I'm a bass player? I'll see you later. Call me some other time!