Gil Evans / Miles Davis at the Hollywood Bowl

I’ve been on travels, so the actual concert happened two weeks ago.

The Gil Evans / Miles Davis: Still Ahead concert at the Hollywood Bowl was a performance of music collaborated between the late Gil Evans and the late Miles Davis. This was performed by some of the current heavies of jazz: Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Jimmy Cobb, Peter Erskine and several other musicians of very high caliber.

This concert was one of the best that I have ever attended in my lifetime. This statement may sound like the commonly 6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a5254c7c970c-800wioverused description of every pop concert a teenager attends, but it’s the simpliest way to summarize the concert. No, I wasn’t screaming like a teenage girl from the addrenaline of seeing my favorite star strutting on stage and lip syncing to a vocal track. No, I wasn’t repeatedly texting my friend next to me OMG! OMG. This concert was a soul digging, synapse charging, audio marathon. I’ve actively listened to Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess countless times, but listening to it live and performed by world renowned jazz musicians makes for an incredible experience. Great concerts remind you why you make the effort and spend the money to make it to these events. This just in time for me after attending a string of uninspired concerts performed by orchestras and ensembles around Los Angeles this summer, I was getting losing much enthusiasm for going to concerts. Don’t get me wrong on that statement, I’m not referring to the lack of musical perfection, but the lack of soul in the music performances.

I wished I had something to write about Christian McBride’s performance. He was phenomenal as to be expected, but I didn’t pay singular attention to him. To only focus on one part of the of the complex tonal pallet created by Gil Evans is to miss the forest for the trees. What they created together was a once in a lifetime experience for people who can appreciate and enjoy tonally complex music performed at the highest level.


Page Change

The format of the upright bassists list has been changed. It is now labeled Notable Upright Bassists

This is a growing list which will be updated frequently and I anticipate that dozens will be added to the list weekly. Since there are so many genres, I could use some suggestions for genres outside of jazz.

Don Hermann’s Accompanied Rudiments Course

Some beginners to the upright bass have been playing using tuners to check their pitch. While this is not a bad method, it can lead to frustration and discouragement sometimes. There is a practice aid that’s great for any upright bassists that are intermediate beginners and above. I’ve been using the Accompanied Rudiments Course for many years now, first as a method of practicing intonation and later as part of a B157scheduled routine of practice.

The Accompanied Rudiments Course is a set of CD’s that comes with a book that goes through major and minor scales and intervals in every key at various speeds. The CD is essentially a piano recorded, playing scales up two octaves in every single key so that you can hear a reference pitch while you are playing simultaneously on the upright bass. For beginners, you will also get to develop your shifting, rhythm and notation reading while playing along.

The intended level of skill for the Accompanied Rudiments Course is what I would consider an intermediate beginner; You should be at the point where you are attempting to play two octave scales.

The reason that I recommend this, is because versus a tuner that is correcting you visually, listening to the piano allows you to correct yourself through listening. In the real world, you will need this skill of pitch matching to adjust your intonation on the fly. When you are playing with other instruments, you will not have a visual reference to correct your pitch, you will have to adjust according to what you hear.

This is a efficient way to practice because it works not only on intonation, but other necessary skills simultaneously.

Accompanied Rudiments Course can be purchased through Lemur Music

Re: My Support of Bass Central

Some of you have emailed me mentioning a couple of other places that sell the Acoustic Image amps at the same price and are wondering why I chose Bass Central, which is more of a bass guitar store. They are the same price on the Acoustic Image as the lowest priced places out there, because Acoustic Image has a dealership agreement that forbids any dealer from selling below a certain price. For other products, such as the NS Design Basses they were the best in price (period). I highly recommend purchasing from Bass Central for your Acoustic Image amp and NS Design Bass. For anything else that’s upright bass related, check out the Where to Go For… section using the tab above for places that I have had good experiences with.

I like good people. When good people have the best prices, I fully support and recommend them. There’s Steve Koscica of The String Emporium who is a phenomenal full-time performing bassist, has excellent prices, wide selection of basses and invaluable insight. He knows a good bass because he knows how to play them to their limits, all the while still being a great guy.

Then on the other end of the spectrum there’s Beaver Felton, who’s also a great person, and a renowned bass guitar performer and instructor. He came from the 80’s rock era and had a life changing car accident; he was paralyzed from the chest down. I’m not supporting him because of pity, but I support him because through his adversity, he’s still such a great guy. I have to respect someone who can overcome obstacles life his dealt him, lose way on his lifelong dream, and still come out on top. It’s just wonderful to be associated with inspirational people like this.

There’s also the simple fact that I like to direct people to ethical, highly skilled bassists, since it boils down to a single question I have for retailers: How can you tell people that something is good, if you can’t play that well? Aren’t you more impressed when you hear a store owner who can play at a high level and not just talk the talk? Factor in that these two have the most competitive prices, and it’s a no-brainer to me.

Steve Koscica runs The String Emporium and can be seen/heard at the Phoenix Symphony

Beaver Felton runs Bass Center and can be seen/heard in the Superchops instructional videos for bass guitar (and on YouTube).

On Order Acoustic Image Coda+

I have just put in my order for the new Acoustic Image Coda+ through Bass Central. They anticipate that these will start shipping in a few weeks. I’ve known about Acoustic Image since they started, but until seeing this model, I was hesitant to change my decades old SWR/Bag End setup. Quite frankly, the first couple of Acoustic Image models always looked like they were works in progress . They have finally evolved to the point where I couldn’t resist this amp: It’s even lighter weight, more compact, very refined in construction and now they’ve added a head that you can undock (called the Cabrio System) that allows for the ultimate in flexibility. Most high end PA speaker manufacturers have already moved away from wood construction and have proven that material obsolete. Class D amps and sound chamber shaping abilities of molded polymer cabinetry has made the birch cabinets and class AB amps that I had seem so dated and unnecessarily heavy. I went ahead and ordered it. I sold off my amps and some cabinets, and then used that money to get this combo.

I’ve become a minimalist and my setup is now down to:

  • Old German Bass w/ Realist
  • NS Design CR4T (still waiting, it’s a special order)
  • Acoustic Image Coda+ (on order)

That list of gear pretty much does it for me. Maybe if I get the urge to be a coda_plus-design-lggearhead someday, I’ll buy the Acoustic Image Ten2 Ex to add to the Coda+ to get more volume if needed.

I’ll do a writeup on it when I get it in. It does seem a bit odd that all 100+ lbs of gear that I sold off is consolidated into this 20 lbs combo amp, but I’m sure my back will appreciate it. With the added AI Mooradian Soft Case, I’ll be able to roll my bass and tote the combo over my shoulder. It’ll be nice to be able to get everything in one trip, and still have 450 watts of quality sound. (Yes, I know that the specs say 800 watts; that’s only if you add another speaker and get the impedance down to 4 ohms.)

Turn My Amp Down? I Can Barely Hear Myself


Bigger is not necessarily better

A little technical talk here. Why are 10″ speakers preferable these days over 15″?  I’ve frequently been asked turn my bass amp down and/or roll off the lows by the people mixing, yet if I turned myself down anymore I wouldn’t be able to hear myself and rolling off the lows sound awful. I’m just trying to get a good sound at a reasonable level. The reason? I was using a 15″. Here’s a reprint of an Electronic Musician article by Glenn Letsche titled Speaker of the House for you gearheads who need to know why you’re better off sticking with 10″ speaker(s). Use multiples if you need to increase your stage volume. I wouldn’t buy an SVT for the upright bass, but the principle is the same overall for bass speaker selection.

Are you irritated with your stage rig because the low end sounds muddy, boomy, or thin? Did the sound person bounce you from the main mix at the last gig because your bass was too loud out front-and the real kicker was that you couldn’t even hear yourself on stage? Well, it may be time to investigate a new speaker cabinet. However, don’t go blindly into the forest of speaker sizes and configurations.

This may be hard to accept, but big, sexy, 18-inch speakers and biamped systems do not necessarily deliver the hippest bass sound. If you lust for a truly fabulous bass cabinet-one that will help you tear the roof off most clubs and compel those sweaty bodies out in the audience to move and groove-you must forget the technobabble about SPL, dB output, and frequency response. In fact, you can also rip up all those spec sheets, gang, because now it’s time for some good, old-fashioned common sense about 10, 15, and 18-inch speakers. Let’s check out which speaker configurations are really the best for producing slammin’ bass using the only measuring device we can trust: our ears.

The 18-inch colossus. Eighteen-inch speakers are great-if they’re part of a triamped concert sound system. For that application, they pump out tons of low end to help produce a full-range sound spectrum by anchoring the mid and high frequencies. But, for the bass player, an 18-inch speaker will sound too “woofy.” In addition, these giants project your sound too far beyond the stage. Typically, the sound waves do not develop until they reach the middle of the room. This means that on stage and in front of your amp you can barely hear yourself, while out front, the sound person is pulling down your fader to avoid getting clobbered by bass! In these cases, front-loaded cabinets (in which the speaker faces out) are bad enough, but folded-horn cabinets with the speaker facing the rear are a nightmare. So do yourself (and your audience) a favor and resist the machismo-fueled temptation to go with big, bad speaker cabinets.

The 15-inch giant. Fifteen-inch speakers suffer from the same sound dispersion problem as 18-inchers: the farther you move from the speakers, the louder they get, and the better they sound. This can be a drag, because most bassists stand close to their rigs. And who is out front, getting pummeled once again by bass frequencies? Right-the soundman. You can bet that your bass is no longer being suitably mixed into the main house speakers. Fifteen-inch speakers are typically front loaded in pairs. Although this configuration was the “standard” for years, I have never known a bass player who was content with this setup. Small wonder. In an effort to improve the sound of these cabinets, some bassists would upgrade the system with expensive speakers. That move would improve the timbre somewhat-especially at low volumes-but once the level was cranked up, that awful “woof tone” would reappear. Obviously, this is not the optimum system for a bassist who is serious about his or her sound.

The biamp boondoggle. Frustrated with their tone, confused bassists often run to the nearest music store, where a salesperson may suggest biamping a rig for true “audiophile” bass. (The term sounds good-whatever it means!) Various speaker combinations are auditioned-an 18 and a 15, an 18 and a 10, and so on. Everything looks great on paper. The rig even sounds wonderful when tested at home. But at the gig, once again, the bass frequencies simply disappear. There are lots of highs and lows being produced, but the low-end punch is gone. What happened? Well, when you biamp a bass guitar rig, you delegate the low frequencies to one cabinet (loaded with an 18- or 15-inch speaker) and the upper frequencies to another cabinet (typically loaded with a 15- or 10-inch speaker). As I stated earlier, on paper this looks like a great idea. But in practice, the midrange thrust of the overall bass sound is a whisper, and your ears are screaming, “Something is wrong here!” No, you’re not going crazy: a couple of bad things are definitely happening. First, the sound at the crossover point of the two speaker cabinets tends to disappear, creating an obvious vacancy in the tonal spectrum. Second-and more important-for a true, punchy bass sound, any note plucked on the bass guitar must saturate one size of speaker. The biamp system is robbing you of monster tone! It’s one thing to biamp or triamp a P.A. system to accurately reproduce each and every instrument in the band, but a bass guitar doesn’t require that level of signal manipulation. In this instance, more tonal options only serve to dissipate the aggressive wallop of the bass. The subwoofer system. A biamp configuration that can work-if used with extreme caution-is the subwoofer system. The massive low frequencies these systems generate are often unwieldy, although under rare circumstances, a subwoofer can produce incredible results. For example, when I played bass with Robin Trower, he wanted to feel a “blanket” of bass under his (very loud) solos. In that situation, my subwoofer system supplied a huge low-end floor to the sound of the power trio, and Trower was happy. Of course, in another performance situation, the added bass might have been too much, making the music mix sound muddy and flabby. Again, incorporate subs with caution. To set up a subwoofer system, your bass preamp must have separate subwoofer and full-range outputs. You must also have a separate stereo power amp. Send the subwoofer output of the preamp to one channel of the power amp, and connect a 15- or 18-inch speaker cabinet. Then send the full-range output of the preamp to the other channel of the power amp and connect that channel to a full-range speaker cabinet (preferably a 4 x 10 configuration). Bring up the volume of the full-range channel first, and set it to the desired volume. Now, set the crossover point for the subwoofer output between 100 Hz and 200 Hz (or wherever it sounds good), and crank up the volume until you achieve maximum thrust. If you’re using this setup for an appropriate application, it should work like a champ! The power of ten.

Okay, here’s the secret of a bass player’s success-the speaker system that works consistently in 95 percent of all live performance situations. It’s simple: tens, tens, and more tens. Ten-inch speaker cabinets (2 x 10, 4 x 10, or 8 x 10-you can’t lose!) supply tons of lows, mids, and highs. These cabinets will keep your bass sound tight and muscular. Trust me, your notes will sound big, round, and articulate. And if you still believe that an 18-inch speaker cabinet should kick butt on a “puny” 10-inch system, line up the two configurations side by side and compare the sound. Your ears will not lie to you. The tens will convert the most skeptical player. I guarantee it. After all, twenty-something years ago, Ampeg unleashed its SVT amp with 300 watts and two 8 x 10 cabinets (sixteen speakers!). This rig produced the first bass body massage and became the unofficial standard of stadium and club stages. Each of those 10-inch speakers acted like ten strong Swedish fingers, working and kneading every muscle in your back. Your body tingled with every pluck of the strings. Passing time has brought numerous refinements to speaker technology, but the functional concept of 10-inch speaker systems for the bassist rocks on. In fact, that old SVT sound continues to be a much lusted-after tone.

Why reinvent the wheel? Savvy players stick with what works best, and 10-inch speakers are the prime choice for raging bass sound. Now get down and go deep!

How to Make a Living (Part 3): Music Merchants

This is a continuation of the series on career choices for bassists. The Music Business that I’m referring to today is the merchant side of the business.

Aside from gearheads, sometimes aspiring musicians end up working in the music merchant business for reasons unknown to them. They usually assumed working because of their perception that the music merchant industry is closely related to the music making field. The fact is that these are two separate industries.

namm_floor1When I was in college, I worked a couple of summers at a bass amp manufacturer. Later on, I ran a modest online music products mail order retail, while simultaneously running a separate bass specific online music store to help pay for tuition. I’ve spent enough time in the music merchandising business to share some insights with you. Many musicians work in the music business to make ends meet, since it’s hard to make a living solely being a performing musician. If you enjoy selling musical instruments and working in a music store, then more power to you, but here’s some alternate practical ideas about how to juggle paying the mortgage while working on your career as a performing musician.

The music performance business is a completely different industry than the music merchandising business. Many people in the music merchandising business do have a music background, but the only real connection between the two is the word “music”. I’ve been in meetings with key people in music merchant companies and they never talked about music, they talked about what all other business people in any industry do; profits, efficiency, market-share, and manufacturing. They’re more likely to discuss their golf swing than music. Most workers are about the same, most of them don’t even know much about music, there is no musical background advantage or requirement when the companies are doing job interviews. Whether you work for them or Intel, there’s about the same amount of involvement with music: zero.

One of the common misconceptions is that working at a music store makes you more of a musician than working at a regular business. Whether you work at a music store or at Radio Shack, your tasks aren’t really much different. You are there to sell and provide customer service. There’s no benefit to you as a musician for working at a music store vs a general retailer, except maybe the discounts that you might get. When I worked at the amp manufacturer, it was a business. We might talk about something related to music every blue moon, but for the most part, we were focused on doing our job: manufacturing and getting the product out in time. Music merchant businesses are just as much of a dead end career-wise for performing musicians. Again, if you enjoy the music merchant business, then more power to you. There is nothing wrong with this business, it’s just that some aspiring performing musicians have a misconception that opportunities exist for them there.

Let’s get down to the bottom line. On average, a music store pays much less than a good retail business. From the management end, I made 2x more money as a general manager of a industrial equipment rental dealer versus an offer for an identical position at a corporate run music store. As a far as commissioned sales people, my salespeople were pulling in also 3x more than their counterparts at a well known corporate music store. If you are indifferent to working in a business that deals with guitars, violins, and drums versus a business that pays you better, it’s something to really consider. The bassist at the amp manufacturer didn’t do anything more musical than me during the day, just because he was in the music (merchandising) biz.

This perspective is not to discourage you from working in the music merchant industry if that’s what you enjoy. Some people run these businesses because they enjoy it. When I ran my music retail business, the margins were good, but the volume wasn’t there compared to other types of retail businesses. In other words, you’d better like doing it, because you could do better financially elsewhere. At the end of the day of working at a non-music business, I still aspired to do the same thing as any employee in the music merchant industry; I wanted to perform and make music. The difference is that I could pay the mortgage, have savings, support our family and we still had a decent living while I was pursuing my music career goals.