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Notes from the Bandstand: The Bass Solo

Lorin Cohen
Photo by C. Andrew Hovan

Bassists abound in NYC. It’s not uncommon to get on the subway to see two other fellow bassists fighting for a spot with their low-end leviathans. And, you can be sure; these bass commuters can do it all – they can groove and solo.

My first two columns have been about the former – the primary background responsibilities of the bassist. Here, I’m going to address the latter – the bass solo, focusing on five solo ideas/materials that are particularly impactful on the bass.

1. Pentatonics

Pentatonic runs sound exciting and dynamic when executed with fluidity on our instrument. Look to John Patitucci and Christian McBride for masterful usage of pentatonics on the bass.

2. Funky stuff

As a non-fretted instrument, one thing we can do that, in most settings, no other instrument on the bandstand can, is to use effects such as slides and glissandos to create interest. Finishing a line with a slide or glissando can add a funky component to our solos that only we as bass players can achieve.

3. Groove

A bass solo doesn’t have to be linear at all. Embellishing and developing our groove can rock the house in a way only we as bassists can.

4. Dialoguing with the drummer

Instead of taking a solo, we can also trade with the drummer to significant effect. Trading in a call and response manner is a great way to create interest.

5. Call and response in different registers

We can also use call and response in our solos. Play a “question” low on the neck, “answer” high on the neck, and vice versa.

With all this, we can never forget that the goal of the jazz solo is to communicate and connect. Sure, play all the fancy stuff. But if you aren’t reaching out and grabbing hold of someone’s heart, there’s no point.

Why is Louis Armstrong the father of the jazz solo? Because his sound was a clarion call of biblical proportions that changed the listener’s DNA. Let’s strive for that when it’s our turn to step up.

Lorin Cohen is a New York City double bassist and bass guitarist. You can learn more about him, his music, and his availability for lessons in NYC and via Skype at lorincohen.com.

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