Q: In your opinion, who is the best bassist?
A: Oh man. This has the potential to create a longer and more heated debate than the “Picks vs. Fingers” column!
Seriously, though, this question can’t be answered. Or, more accurately, the answer is going to be different for every person you ask. I don’t even have a favorite.
If you asked me instead, who I would most like to play like, if I could choose, I could come up with a half dozen or so names that would all work for me: Munir Hossn, Rich Brown, Bobby Vega, Jimmy Johnson or Sharay Reed, off the top of my head.
The problem of “best” is that it is so subjective. The best bassist? For which band? For which style? The answer still could never be narrowed down to one person. Flea is perfect for the Chili Peppers, but I bet he’d be a bit less stellar in Michel Camilo’s trio (although he did sound pretty good on a Joshua Redman track).
I propose that you focus on who speaks to you on a deeper level. Who can bring your heart into your throat with just a few notes? Who can make your heart beat faster when you hear them play live? Who leaves you speechless?
I would explore those artists and also explore their musical influences. Dig deep into the musical and stylistic history. Try to discover the confluence of influences which created that voice that you love so much. When you asked that question, maybe you were looking for the entrance to that rabbit hole, in which case I would start with the names I mentioned above and add Jaco Pastorius, Oteil Burbridge, Steve Swallow, Victor Wooten, Dave Holland and Marc Johnson to the mix… and those are just the bass players!
I draw inspiration from way more than just bassists. In fact, bassists are often nearer the middle of my lists of who to check out. John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Dennis Chambers, Bill Stewart, Avishai Cohen’s compositional style, Dafnis Prieto, John Scofield… the list is endless. And those are just the musicians! We draw inspiration and are informed by most everything around us.
The more sources you draw from, the broader the lens through which you will view and observe everything life has to offer, leading to more depth and connection with your craft. Listen to everything and don’t bother trying to organize things hierarchically. Just accept every voice that resonates with you as valid and explore it as fully as you can. I’m glad you are seeking guidance, but be careful how you frame the search internally.
Don’t look for the “best” so you can focus on that, just look for what inspires and pursue everything you find.