Ray Brown Masterclass

Ray Brown’s contributions to the music and bass are innumerable. As a performer and composer he advanced music. But what we also appreciate about him was his dedication to education and teaching.

Thank you to the person who recorded this back then and the person who posted this, making it available for us to continue to treasure.

In this video gives a history of technique and then he brings it all together into how to get a great tone. For those of you that haven’t seen his classes, he always emphasized tone over a type of what I would describe as quasi-virtuosity (lot of notes). Technique to get tone and tone to play incredible sounding notes. Playing lots of notes for the sake of playing a lot of notes was something that he often taught detracted from THE music. Similar to rambling. Kinda of like my posts sometimes I suppose. Make those notes sing and make them meaningful!

If you are skimming the video (though I encourage you to spend the time to watch it through, several times), be sure to watch the section starting at 16:30. It’s just as true today as it was back then and a common affliction that creeps up on all of us.

Mary Ann McSweeney

I’ve been going through all of my music collection and I come across one that I don’t even remember buying. Sadly Mary Ann McSweeney’s “Thoughts of You” was purchased then buried within the collection. An excellent album not just as one with a bassist as leader, but overall in musicality. Working musician and doing a fine job at it indeed.

Wished that there were better videos to be shared. There was one of better video quality, but I think that this group performance overall (albeit short) was better than that.

She also has a site: http://maryannmcsweeney.com/

NextBop Artist: Ben Williams

I’ve been busy juggling all of the aspects of life and music just like most of you. Still seeking and appreciating new music, I have been enthusiastic about NextBop.com, which titles itself as”The Next Generation of Jazz”. It’s refreshing to hear new ideas that are still true to the form. Some music personally connect with, some I don’t, but that is music. Beside the more recognized names such as Christian Scott and Brad Mehldau, here’s bassist Ben Williams (and Band Leader) that I’ve chosen to showcase this time. Some of you may remember him as a past International Society Of Bassist award recipient.

A young players out of D.C. with a funny story of how he got into playing the bass.


Edited Promo:

Sitting vs Standing to Play the Bass

I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I was a strong proponent for sitting in my early years as a bassist up through college, but then later switched to standing. Most orchestral bassists sit, while most jazz bassists stand, but convention shouldn’t be the determining factor.  Setting aside convention, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages to each. It doesn’t hurt to try both, but here are some things to consider

Henry Franklin plays sitting


  • No balancing required. Since the bass is held up mostly by your legs and at the bout, there’s no balancing involved. Balancing while playing standing becomes less of a conscious effort as you get used to it, but many years later as a bassist I still notice how taking balancing out of the equation is noticeable.
  • Easier to play in pitch. The pitch location relative to your body stays constant. Because the bass doesn’t move or twist, it’s easier to play in tune than standing. Using the same stool, same length endpin, and anchoring the endpin tip at the same distance, the location of each pitch is virtually the same. This is even more true when playing in thumb position.
  • Puts you at a better angle when bowing. When sitting on the stool, you’re behind the bass rather than to the side of the bass. This makes for a more natural angle for bowing
  • Less Fatigue. I can sit for far longer than I can stand for. This is obvious. Also, there is less fatigue on your arm. When you stand, your hand holds up the bass.

Dave Holland plays standing


  • Volume and sound. Less of the mass of the bass is against your body, your bass will resonate more, which results in a louder and more open sound. You can minimize this when sitting to some degree, depending on the angle of the bass and how much weight your body is supporting, but a bass usually sounds better and louder to the listener when you stand.
  • No need for a stool. It’s more of a practical and convenience consideration, but toting around a stool is another thing that you have to carry or go back for. I never assumed that a venue has a stool available, because often they didn’t. When I switched to playing standing, not carrying around a stool was liberating. I tried every type of portable stool in existence. Even the most portable stool is a lot more effort than no stool at all.
  • Freedom to move. When standing, you can boogie if you feel compelled to. Behind a stool, you’re limited to head nodding. That sounds silly, but what/how we play is influenced by how much we get into the music. If moving gets you into it, it will affect your playing.

Rufus Reid with Laborie outfitted bass

Trying to Make Standing Work

I’ve never been able to play with complete comfort on a conventional bass endpin while standing. I like the advantages, especially the improvement in the bass’ response so I looked at ways of making the bass more comfortable standing.

When I switched to standing, I had the basses converted/setup for the Laborie endpin. That made balancing the bass far easier and reduced the amount of weight on my hand. Not too many bassists outside of the orchestral/solo circuit use the Laborie setup. Rufus Reid is likely the most notable. The most basic setup will run about $250 to buy the endpin and have a luthier properly drill a hole to install it. Do NOT do this yourself without proper guidance, tools, and knowledge! If you don’t want to drill, you can spend a lot more and have the KC Strings block installed as I did on the German bass. Part of the logic for me is that I could convert the bass back if some day, I just didn’t want to stay with the Laborie. However to this day, I absolutely have to have it and have a similar setup for my other bass.

I’ve never tried an angled endpin (an endpin bent at an angle), but I’ve known some people who swear by it as a low cost alternative. This is another way to try it, but some people say that you lose some tone and the endpin tends make the bass feel like a pogo stick. It’s more of a transitional solution for those saving up for a Laborie or those just trying to get a feel without committing to it.

Angled Endpin (courtesy of Slava Music)


Never say never. I can’t say with absolute certainty that I’ll never go back to sitting while playing. Right now, I like the Laborie setup a lot which makes standing while playing a lot easier. It’s closest to the best of both worlds for me.

For some beginners that have been having difficulties with intonation and coordination, I actually have recommended that they start off sitting just to take a few variables out of the equation. It actually helped. Some stayed with sitting, while others moved to standing. It’s a personal preference call.

Whichever way you currently play, sitting or standing, I encourage you to experiment with both to see which works best for you.

Kristen Korb, Vocalist and Bassist

By now, you’ve likely have heard a lot about the highly talented bassist and vocalist Esparanza Spalding. Several years ago, I caught an interview and some tunes of Kristen Korb on KKJZ. Both being incredible vocalists and (in a positive freak of nature way) simultaneously being able to play an upright bass, seeing Esparanza Spalding reminds me of her.

Bass Neck Breaks During Performance

What Gives? It was the neck joint this time.

This video was shared to me by a reader. Don’t worry kids, this does not happen frequently enough to worry about.  However if you abuse the bass or buy a cheap bass/poorly constructed bass, the chances are far greater. (Not that we can assume this time that this bass was abused or was cheap)

Notable Female Bassists

Lm, said:

What about notable female bassists? Did I miss something? Certainly there have to be at least some….

  • Lawrence, said:

    I’m open to suggestions on female bassists.

    I believe that there are many currently emerging that will become notable within our community in the near future.  Talent should be recognized regardless of gender or race. Rather it should be because of an individual’s accomplishments and deserved recognition. For example, creating the category “Female Bassists” implies unequal footing with male bassists. Adding a female name for the sake of adding a female name diminishes the recognition of accomplishments of female bassists in the future, thus is counterproductive. A bassist should be recognized regardless of their gender or race, likewise they should not be recognized primarily because of their gender or race.

    I’m not a big proponent of the Grammy’s, but they did two things that I applaud this year: The first was awarding Esperanza Spalding, and the second was  the announcement  that they are going to do away with separate male and female awards (i.e. Best Female Album). If we believe that women are not inferior to men, then we should not create a handicapping system that recognizes their accomplishments separate from men.

    I have no doubt that there were women in that past whose enormous bass talents never reached their potential due to social inequity and lack of opportunities. Tragic as it is, they never became influential or notable in our community. Looking forward, it’s promising that we are seeing bassists (who happen to be female), emerging and accomplishing much today. They will influence the future the way our predecessors did in the past.

Don’t Shop at Jack’s Music

There are great shops out there, but there are ones at the opposite end of the spectrum. Some businesses are so bad at what they do, I’d hate for others to experience the same thing. Jack’s Music Store (also known as River Rock Music) at jacksmusicstore.com is one of those that you should avoid.

I was in need of a new cello endpin socket for a custom Laborie project that I was putting together. Fortunately I received a $20 VISA gift card from AT&T to pay for that part, so I did a search on Google to see if I could find an endpin socket for that price. I stumbled across Jack’s Music’s website which had the part advertised within the balance that I have on that card.

I placed the order on Jan 25th and they charged me the money immediately. A week goes by and I hadn’t seen any updates to the order status so I email them to see what’s going on. I receive a email stating:

“Customer inquired about status; will contact Engelhardt for shipping information.”

Okay, that’s fair, sounds like a problem with the distributor. Okay you didn’t actually carry the part that you advertise, perhaps you should state that the item is a special order item, and perhaps shouldn’t charge me until the item ships. Perhaps you should inform a customer to expect delays and that it could take weeks to get the part in.

So I wait a week and hear nothing. I email again and hear nothing for a week. Then several days later I receive the message

“Have not received status from Engelhardt. Refunding order and canceling. Have discontinued selling Engelhardt parts.”

Even ATM machines are more polite these days. Say what you will about call centers in India, but at least they’re more polite than a music shop in Michigan.

Several days later, I still have not receive the credit and the Visa gift card is now expiring. I called up the credit card company and they said credits take up to 7 business days at most. It’s been 9 business days and no credit. Since the card now has expired, there’s nothing that Visa can do for me.

Just out of curiosity, I called up Engelhardt to see if they have the endpin sockets in stock. There was no difficulty in reaching Engelhardt and getting an answer and they were polite and helpful. They said that they did, and that I would have to order through a music store. I asked them how long it would take to get one to the store, they said it takes a few days to process, but they can definitely get it out since it is in stock.

So looks like now I’m paying out of pocket for the endpin socket.


In all fairness, I emailed them a copy of my post and they once again got back to me only after I emailed them. I guess I didn’t get the credit after all, they once again didn’t inform me of what’s going on:

Lawrence – thank you for your input.
Your frustration is a mirror of ours and we apologize for your experience with us. We had not credited your card yet – because we were awaiting the confirmation of the cancellation from Engelhardt. It appears that they have now, indeed, sent your part as we have received notification via regular mail from Engelhardt.
We have discontinued selling parts as of this time, due to this type of lack of response time. It was requested by the manufacturer that we offer them, and as a convenience to our customer we agreed. But, as you can see, it is decidedly an inconvenience if we cannot fulfill the orders in a timely manner.
Again, your parts have been shipped – we have been billed by Engelhardt.
Thank you for your time in forwarding this to our Customer Service Department.

Grammy Winner: Esperanza Spalding!

Wow. Wow. This took me by surprise too. Jazz Artist, Upright Bassist, and phenom Esperanza Spalding took the award for best new artist. Great recognition of talent, promotion of jazz, women bassists and awareness of our type of bass.

Very heart warming. I’m less cynical of the Grammies which has actually recognized talent over popularity….this time. I’ll be straightforward and admit that I didn’t watch most of the Grammies; getting some sleep was needed, but none the less, what I did see was entertaining and made me a bit more open-minded about The Industry.

Interestingly enough as a side note, I saw a spike in page visits in the last 24 hour period. I’m speculating that between Esperanza and the appearance of our beloved bass even among performing acts, interest was generated and people Googled to find out more about the upright bass.

On a side note, a bunch of (presumably female, teenage) fans had edited Esperanza Spalding’s Wikipedia page in their hormone driven, pubescent angst filled disappointment that Justin Bieber didn’t clinch this award. It’s actually really funny after you’re done shaking your head. Some of the vandals wrote such comments as: “SHE IS F****** REATARD,”(SIC) and “JUSTIN BIEBER DESERVED IT GO DIE IN A HOLE.” (lack of punctuation is correctly quoted). After which the vandals slammed their bedroom doors a few times, texted their friends with morbid thoughts about how to exit this cruel world(OMG), and cried their eyes all night about about how life’s not fair and that Esperanza ruined their lives (accompanied with flying objects). Okay, I added that last part.

Reader’s comments, overwhelmingly siding with Esperanza, are entertaining too.

Marc Johnson

Not a household name (how many bassists are?), but a highly respected bassist.

Bassist with Eliane Elias (wife), Lyle Mays as well as recorded with Stan Getz, Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, Gary Burton