The latest issue of DownBeat lists what it considers to be the most important guitarists of all time. Among the 75 listed was but one female: jazz and blues artist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Are woman similarly under-represented among the top bassists? We think the answer is “no.” Not only are there some major talents just emerging, but female bassists have played a large role in shaping jazz and pop music for some time. In this column, we will explore the women who have had a significant impact on the worlds of jazz and funk. In our next column, we will take a look at some of the most important women bassists in rock.
One of the rising stars in all of jazz is 23-year-old Esperanza Spalding, who not only plays wonderful upright bass but also sings so beautifully that her voice has been featured on tour and on recordings with artists such as Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock. David Letterman called her the coolest guest he had ever had on his show. Here is she is being interviewed and performing with her group on the TV show, “The Second Cup Cafe.”
Kim Clarke rose to prominence in the 80s as bassist in the seminal avant-funk band, Defunkt. She has played on 22 albums with the band but has also played electric and acoustic bass with everyone from Lionel Hampton to Queen Latifah. In this video, she lays down a slap solo back in 1981 with Defunkt.
Another women who has been prominent for some time is Meshell Ndegeocello. She is a superb deep pocket stylist and an accomplished singer-songwriter with seven highly acclaimed recordings under her own name. In this video, she demonstrates her ability to propel a thick funk groove.
Tal Wilkenfeld seemed to appear out of nowhere in 2006 and has in a few short years made a name for herself touring with Jeff Beck and Chick Corea–impressive for a 22-year-old from Australia. She first startled a large audience at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in 2007 backing Jeff Beck. Here she performs at a clinic at Bass Day 2006.
Anyone who has had the treat of seeing Rhonda Smith perform with Prince knows that she is fully capable of handling the bass duties with the Purple One, often stealing the spotlight with her funky accompaniment and stage presence. This video features her performing with Prince as he chants, “Go Rhonda Go.”