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The Jazz Gym by Todd Johnson: Part 1 of the Improvisers Workout Program | Melodic Reps

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Meet Todd Johnson –

Hi Friends, my name is Todd Johnson and I’m excited to have this opportunity to work with you all here at Bass Musician Magazine.

I’m a bass player and instructor from Los Angeles. I’ve been blessed to have worked with some of the worlds finest musicians like Mike Stern, Dave Weckl, Poncho Sanchez, Mundell Lowe and Frank Gambale in addition to being a member of the Ron Eschete trio since 1991.

As an instructor, I’ve been on staff at B.I.T. (1991 – 1999) and Cal Arts (1997 – 2003) in addition to performing at clinics and festivals throughout the country. I’m currently adjunct faculty at The Master’s College in Newhall, CA.

It’s been my experience that the greatest bass players all have certain skills in common. They are, in no particular order; technique, reading, bass line creation, theory and improvisation. A working knowledge of these skills is a must if you want play with the big boys.

The first of these skills we’ll focus on in this column will be improvising.

As an educator, the best way for me to teach you about improvisation is through jazz. Please don’t let the “j” word scare you. My goal is not necessarily to turn you into jazz musicians. I would encourage you all to give this a shot regardless of your musical background. Jazz is just the gym we’re going to work out in. Fair enough?

Once you learn to play jazz then everything else will be a lot easier. It’s like having plenty of money in the bank. You’ll never regret having a little extra currency in your harmony account. A good friend of mine refers to this as musical headroom. So, welcome to The Jazz Gym. Here’s some simple common sense solutions to get you started improvising.

Your first assignment is to download the song we’re going to learn.

Download the MP3 below, Autumn Leaves from the Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley cd Somethin’ Else and give it a serious listen. This version is a classic and it’s played at a learnable tempo.

Too many people try to learn how to play jazz from a book with their eyes without ever really listening to it. You wouldn’t try to learn to speak Japanese out of a book, would you? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d use the book, but you’d also hang out with Japanese speaking people, watch Japanese TV and basically immerse yourself in the language. Learning to improvise requires the same thing. You have to listen to what you’re tying to learn. Now, click below for a quick preview of my Autumn Leaves video. It might give you some ideas for later on.

Your second assignment is to learn the melody to Autumn Leaves. Learn it by ear or from a chart, but learn it. The easiest way to sound melodic is to learn melodies. It seems obvious, but as bass players we don’t do it. We spend most of our time practicing scales, arpeggios and bass lines. The reason most bass solos sound like a doubled up bass line up an octave is because that’s what we practice!

Play the melody straight, without embellishments. Be sure to listen for the holes. Basically, holes are where the rests are.  Pay close attention to what you hear in those holes. This will come in handy for our next assignment.

Practice playing the melody along with Miles. This may sound extreme, but try playing the melody 100 times. Remember this is a language, so if you have to stop and think about it too much you won’t be an effective communicator. This stuff needs to be internalized. The only way to achieve this is through repetition.

Your third assignment is to practice playing the melody with embellishments. I want you to start dressing up the melody. Start filling in those holes we listened for in our second assignment. Play something simple and build from there. Make sure that if you hear an idea and miss it, that you go back and figure it out. Practice it a few times, then go back and play it in context several times. Repetition is critical.

Improvising is often referred to as playing the melodies you hear in your head. By going back and figuring them out, you’ll strengthen and develop your ability to transcribe yourself. I realize this seems obvious, but if you don’t practice playing what you hear then you’ll never get good at it. Don’t make the mistake of just learning a scale and thinking you’ll be able to solo. It doesn’t work like that. Scales are great, but they’re just an alphabet. An alphabet doesn’t say anything by itself. You can’t just learn the alphabet and think well now I’m going to learn a new language. We use combinations of letters to form words and then sentences. Melodies are the words and sentences that scales form.

FIGURE 1 shows you the chord progression and chord structures to the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves. Here are some chord structure formula reminders; All minor-seventh chords are (1 mi3 P5 mi7), all dominant-seventh chords are (1 ma3 P5 mi7), all major-seventh chords are (1 ma3 P5 ma7) and all minor-seven-flat 5 chords are (1 mi3 dim5 mi7). I’ve provided some of the possible fingerings. These will work fine, but I would encourage you to explore other possibilities as well.

FIGURE 2 shows you the scales that fit the chords for our progression. Except for the D and G Spanish-dominant scales, everything is a mode of the Bb major scale.

So download and listen to Autumn Leaves, learn the melody, then practice embellishing and filling in the holes around the melody. Study and memorize figures one and two and next month I’ll show you how to add this information to our melodic workout.

Jazz_Gym_1_Figures

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)…

Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel the Elder probably had many things in mind when painting his Hunters in the Snow in oil on oak wood in 1565. This masterpiece tells plenty of little stories about winterly pastimes and precarious livelihoods in the Early Modern Age. What Bruegel presumably did not have in mind was that this painting would, several centuries later, become one of the most popular ones in fine arts globally, displayed in a permanent exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) Vienna. The painting’s popularity was lately taken to a different level as it was replicated by hand to design an exclusive BITE bass.

An international art collector and bass player who regularly visits Vienna to immerse himself in the wonderworld of Kunsthistorisches’ Bruegel Hall asked BITE to replicate the painting on a bass body. BITE Guitars, an Austrian premium manufacturer exporting most of their basses to the US, has become renowned for colorful artwork basses, offering a range of manual and digital techniques. The firm’s art director Peter, a trained scenic painter of Oscar and Palme d’Or rank, specializes in photo-realistic reproductions. He also painted the bass for Robbie Williams’ 2023 world tour by faithfully replicating Robbie’s own stage design onto the tour bass.

Peter copied the Bruegel motif onto the bass body in minute detail, little twigs even by one-hair-brush. Positioning the rectangular image section on the body shape proved to be a special challege that he met by repositioning little elements, a bird here, a horse and cart there.

It all came together in a memorable video shooting in front of the original painting in the Museum’s Bruegel Hall: venerable fine arts, premium handicraft and groovy jazz tunes.

View video at the museum: www.youtube.com/shorts/2evdqfR6gUE

What’s the conclusion of BITE’s client, our Vienna, art and bass lover? “It’s a magical bass! When I touch the strings, I feel warm inside.”

Specs highlights:
Bass model: BITE Evening Star, the proprietary BITE premium model with inward curved horns
Pickups: 2 x BITE 1000 millivolt passive split-coils (PP)
Neck: roasted maple neck and roasted flamed maple fretboard

Price tag incl. insured door-to-door express shipping:
New York: 4726 USD
London: 3645 GBP
Berlin: 4965 EUR

Full specs available at bite.guitars/old-master-bass/

Bruegel Hall at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: 
khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/the-best-of-bruegel-only-in-vienna/

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

Bassist Ciara Moser…

Ciara and I sat down for this interview a few months after the launch of her debut album, “Blind. So what?”

Blind since birth, she is a powerhouse of talent; she is not only a professional bassist, but also composes music, and is a producer and educator. I am just blown away by her talent and perseverance.

Join me as we hear about Ciara’s musical journey, the details of her album, how she gets her sound, and her plans for the future.

Visit online:

www.ciara-moser.com 
IG @ moserciara
FB @ ciara.moser

Photos by Manuela Haeussler

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Gear News

New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar…

Black Ice Enterprises introduces Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort, small, battery-free devices that can be easily installed in a bass or guitar.

Black Ice Boost offers two selectable stages of up to 7 dB of boost, broadly concentrated in the midrange frequencies to add humbucker-like qualities to Strat®, Tele® and other types of single-coil pickups. Black Ice Distort is an overdrive module that can be configured to offer anything from slight overdrive to distortion. Both models are compatible with all passive guitar pickups and electronics (they’re not compatible with battery-powered active pickups).

Black Ice Boost (SRP: $119.95; MAP, $79.95) can be installed using several wiring options, including a simple “stealth” install that utilizes a single push-pull pot, and a dual-switch option that allows users to select between two different levels of boost. For those using the boost along with Black Ice Distort, a second push-pull pot or switch can be used to select a clean or distorted boost.

The Black Ice Boost module is approximately 2/3 the size of a 9-volt battery, and can be easily installed in most instruments with no routing or permanent modifications required. The tone of the instrument remains completely unaffected when the boost is bypassed.

In addition to use with popular single-coil pickups, Black Ice Boost can also be used with other pickup types. Use it to fatten up a P-90 style pickup, or add girth to a low-wind humbucker. Jazz Bass® players can use the additional midrange content provided by Black Ice Boost to produce a sound that’s reminiscent of a P-Bass® or soapbar-type pickup. Black Ice Boost is not recommended for use with high-output humbuckers and other dark-sounding pickups.

Black Ice Distort (SRP: $27.95; MAP, $21.95) is an overdrive module that can be configured for just a touch of grit, or a more aggressive grind, all the way to a 1960’s-flavored fuzz. While its battery-free circuit will never replace the more refined sound of a well-designed pedal, it provides handy, there-when-you-need-it access to a variety of fun old-school flavors, and is a great way to add additional textures to an already overdriven amp or pedal. Bass players will especially dig its raw dirty grind.

Like Black Ice Boost, the sugar-cube-sized Black Ice Distort provides a lifetime of tone with no maintenance or power source required. A variety of wiring options are included that let you activate the Distort via a switch or push-pull pot, or by easily converting your guitar’s tone control into a control for the Black Ice Distort circuit. It can be used in conjunction with the Black Ice Boost for a wide variety of useful tones.

Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort are now shipping.

Visit online at www.blackiceoverdrive.com

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @loritabassworks @meridian_guitars @alpherinstruments @phdbassguitars @mgbassguitars @mauriziouberbasses @utreraguitars @sugi_guitars @branco_luthier @blasiusguitars

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New Gear:  D’Addario’s New Humidipak

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New Gear:  D’Addario’s New Humidipak

D’Addario’s New Humidipak Absorb Protects Instruments Against Excess Moisture…

Utilizing two-way humidity control technology, D’Addario’s new Humidipak Absorb protects against damage to wooden instruments in environments with too much humidity. 

Humidipak Absorb allows players to safely return an instrument and case to the ideal relative humidity level. Using Boveda’s patented two-way humidity control technology, Absorb automatically soaks up excess moisture at a safe rate, re-establishing the right humidity level and eliminating the guesswork of revitalizing your instrument. 

Like all the Humidipaks before, using Humidipak Absorb is easy—there’s no dripping sponges or manual adjustments. All players need to do is put the humidification packets in the included pouches and place them in the instrument case, close the lid, and relax. The instrument and case will remain at the optimal 45-50% relative humidity level for 2-6 months. 

D’Addario’s other Humidipaks, Restore and Maintain, are still available for those who need to increase and sustain the humidity around their instrument. 

To learn more about Humidipak Absorb, visit ddar.io/absorb-pr 

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