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Willis Takes on Your Questions

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Meet WIllis

Question

I’m relatively new to jazz bass lines, and my teacher and I were wondering how to walk a chord progression that has slash chords. Example: the |D- D-/C|B-7b5 E7b9|A- A-/G|Fmaj7 | chord pattern from Black Orpheus. My teacher recommended a |D D C C|B F E B|A A G G|F…| line. I was doing more of a |D A D C|B F E B|A E A G|F…|. What kind of walking line would you do over that kind of progression?

Befuddled,
Beth

[Willis]
Hey Beth,

Both examples, your teacher’s and yours, will work fine. A valuable element of line creation is the use of passing tones – notes played on weak beats 2 & 4 – that chromatically connect chord tones that are played on strong beats: 1 & 3.

A slightly more interesting line could be | D Db C Bb | B F E Bb | A Ab G Gb | F… or you could try | D G C Bb | B F E Bb | A D G C | F… One thing to remember when you’re playing over chord changes is that each musical situation could require a different approach: like the basic one from your instructor to a more creative setting where the chord changes are just used as a framework for improvisation from everyone involved. Depending on the situation, you can ignore playing roots altogether and play a descending line like this one: from the A on the G string – | A Ab G Gb | F E D Db | C Bb A G| F…

Question

I was wondering if you compose on the bass initially or do you write on other instruments as well?
-Thanks & peace-CH

[Willis]
Hey CH,

Lately I find myself working more on creating “groovescapes” within Logic Pro on my Mac. I’m exploring all kinds of different ways to get sounds that create each composition’s own environment and most of the time that doesn’t involve the bass. Once the environment is established then it’s much easier for me to find out how to fit the bass in.

Question

I just wanted to ask, if you know any good tricks for working on the “speed” side of bass playing. I always feel that when I play fast, I loose control over playing and my articulation and tone suffer… how can I gain more “tempo headroom”?
greetz Alex

[Willis] Hey Alex,

Good question – bad word choice “tricks”. No tricks or illusions will get you playing fast. Although I do like the phrase “tempo headroom”.

The first thing to focus on is efficiency. Your right hand is pretty much always on autopilot so you have to break it down to get control and eliminate wasted motion. Do some motion studies of your right hand and analyze exactly what your fingers are doing and make sure that every movement has a purpose.

The next thing to do is to create the instinct to relax. Everyone’s natural reaction to playing fast is that it’s hard and so the tendency is to tense up and “muscle” your way through. The phrase “tempo headroom” in interesting in that “headroom” is usually associated with volume and in this case volume becomes very important for relaxation. If you normally play “hard” with your right hand then speed will always be a problem. You can create tempo headroom by giving yourself more volume headroom. On an intensity scale of 1 to 10, you need to reeducate your right hand to be playing all the time at around 5. Then when things get fast, you do not have to fight the tension that used to slow you down.

By creating this awareness of relaxation and efficiency you’ll probably find that it will carry over to your left hand as well. Another thing to remember is that a more relaxed intensity will allow you to lower your strings and your bass will be easier to play.

Question

How do you practice your bass playing when you’re not playing with a band? Do you have any good tips on that? Thanks!

[Willis]
Since your question arrived via the Internet then that means you have a computer – use it! Sequencing, midi, sampling, signal processing, chord voicings, drum patterns, looping – all these elements will help you develop a good, modern practice environment. Plus they’re all valuable tools that you can use to create your own music. A good place to start is to learn how to use sequencing software to create grooves. Choose a drum groove that you would like to play over and re-create it in the software.

Question

I’ve been working on the right hand exercises on your website for a bit, and wondered how you handled consecutive notes on different strings – and which fingers do the damping. For instance octaves; if I do something like P2 – D1 – P3 – D2 (play two, damp one etc) I end up with fingers in a position where its quite difficult to repeat the same pattern again. I notice in one of your answers you say that for playing for consecutive notes on ascending strings you’d use “1 2 3 2” – but which fingers do the damping?

Chris

[Willis]
Hey Chris,

Actually, for repeated octaves, I just repeat 1-3-1-3 where each finger takes care of its own dampening. An extension of that pattern is triplet octaves 121(1 dampens) 323 (3 dampens). For consecutive notes on ascending strings, we have the benefit of the follow through (rest stroke) dampening the preceding note.

Question

I am DR SIDIBE KAN the bank manager of BANK OF NIGERIA (BOA) BURKINA FASO WEST AFRICA BRANCH.

I am contacting you based on Trust and confidentiality that you will keep this as top secret. Don’t be scared or surprised, I am the manager of BANK OF NIGERIA and I have an opportunity to transfer sum of US$10.5MILLION (TEN MILLION FIVE HUNDRED UNITED STATE DOLLARS) I have the courage to look for a reliable and Honest Person who will be capable for this important business Transaction, believing that you will never let me down either now or in Future. The owner of this account is JONATHAN F. GRAHAM, foreigner and he is the Manager of petrol chemical service, a chemical engineer by Profession. Unfortunately he is deceased and the bank has made series of efforts to contact any of the relatives to claim this money but without success. My investigation proved to me as well that his company does not know anything about this account. I want to transfer this money into a safe foreign account abroad but I Don’t know any foreigner, I know that this message will come to you as a surprise as we don’t know ourselves before, but be sure that it is real And A Genuine business. Hope that you will never let me down in this transaction, at the conclusion of this business, you will be giving 30% of the total amount, 70% will be for me. I look forward to your earliest reply by email for more details

Best Regards,
DR.SIDIBE KAN

[Willis] Hey Dr. Kan,

It’s true that at first I was scared and surprised but 10.5 million big ones can do that to a person. Nevertheless, I’m a reliable and honest person and I’m always on the lookout for important business Transactions. I hope not to let you down and will do my best to make sure that this guy’s family never sees that $10.5 million dollars. I’m enclosing all my personal data and bank account records and look forward to doing A Genuine business with you very soon.

Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.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 @officialspector @bqwbassguitar @brute_bass_guitars @phdbassguitars @ramabass.ok @tribe_guitars @woodguerilla_instruments @mikelullcustomguitars @jcrluthier @elegeecustom

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Features

Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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Bass CDs

New Album: Avery Sharpe, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

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A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper”

Avery Sharpe and his Double Quartet to release, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper” is scheduled for release in June 2024.

Sharpe has composed a new work that highlights our commitment to one another. Avery initiated the project as a response to the political and racial division that has grown over the past seven years in the country. “The U.S political climate has drastically changed in the past 40-plus years, especially during the last seven of those years. In this age of greed, which Sharpe refers to as “IGM,” I Got Mine, basic human compassion has been eroded. Racial, economic and social strides are being turned back.

“We have food insecurity, the unhoused, pandemics, school shootings, domestic violence, and an opioid problem, just to name some. There is a need to remind people that each of us is here on this planet for a very short period of time. It doesn’t matter if one has a religious approach or a secular approach, it all comes down to concern and compassion for each other. Through these compositions and recordings, Avery’s mission as an artist is to remind us that we all are interconnected and that ‘We Are Our Neighbor’s Keeper.’ When we help to uplift one, we uplift everyone,” Sharpe said.

Each movement in the piece describes the values we should strive for to help one another for this multi-media (video slide show during performance) and multi-discipline performance.

Many of Sharpe’s projects and recordings have been about “standing on the shoulders of ancestors, heroes and sheroes.” Among his recordings and projects, include “Running Man” (celebrating the athlete Jesse Owens), “Ain’t I A Woman” (about Sojourner Truth), and his most recent project “400: An African American Musical Portrait” (marking the 400 years from 1619 to 2019).

Avery Sharpe has recorded and performed with many jazz greats from Dizzy Gillespie to Yusef Lateef. He had an illustrious run of 20 plus years with the legendary Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, of which he recorded more than 25 records with Mr. Tyner and performed countless worldwide concerts.

Visit online at averysharpe.com/

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Bass Videos

New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

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New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

Spector Launches Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II…

Spector Musical Instruments expands their celebrated Woodstock Custom Collection with the Volume II series – a breathtaking series of 12 handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bass guitars, each one masterfully designed by members of the Spector team. Crafted in the Spector USA Custom Shop in Woodstock, New York, these works of art go beyond musical instruments and expand the boundaries of Spector Bass design.

Spector’s iconic design lays the foundation for the Volume II collection. Each bass showcases a unique vision, including the selection of tonewoods, electronics, captivating finishes, and intricate design details. The collection highlights Spector’s commitment to craftsmanship and artistry and the individual people and stories that make up the team.

“The Woodstock Custom Collection was such a huge success, and we had so much fun with it that we couldn’t wait to do it again,” said John Stippell, Director – Korg Bass Division. “With Volume II, we’re expanding on everything we learned from the first collection, as well as pushing our design and Custom Shop team even further. These basses are a testament to the inspiring talent, creativity, and skill of every person on the Spector team. I’m excited for all of these basses and love how they tell the unique stories of all involved.”

Visit online at spectorbass.com/

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