I would like before anything else to express my true joy at being able through the pages of the hospitable Bass Musician Magazine to communicate with friends and colleague’s, and in particular bass players, and exchange experiences, ideas, and concerns about our strong mutual creative passion.
Coming from Greece, a European country evolving from an ancient civilization and with substantial musical activity today, I have experientially developed a particular mode of analysis and thought on my musical involvement with Jazz, Fusion, and their “offspring’s”, which in my opinion constitute international musical streams, and a universal language of expression and communication. I will try, through this electronic column to convey my thoughts and my view on all those issues which concern our music, and which of course have as their main protagonist, the bass.
I have been a professional bass player, composer, arranger, and teacher of our instrument, as well as Jazz theory for over thirty years. In all that time, I’ve had the opportunity to reap some exceptional experiences and knowledge, and to collaborate with some of the best musicians in the world. And as a teacher, I have followed my new bass students’ concerns and anxieties. As a result of my educational role, I among other things have accumulated a whole list of issues that concern the younger players as well as some professional bass players, issues that relate entirely to music. But I’ve also experienced greater issues as well, more philosophical, artistic, and work-related issues for the new as well as the accredited musician.
A prevailing issue is the need for and the degree of the development of technical dexterity for the bass-player, and to what extent this affects their musicality and expressiveness.
Technique is an enormous issue with any instrument, and there are many conflicting views on its use and utility. I could say that it has its proponents, and opponents. I will try in the following lines to briefly present my own view, knowing that it is impossible to exhaust such a wide topic in a few words. I will simply expose some of the main opposing arguments on the usefulness of technique in today’s musical reality in creative music, merely as a starting point for further discussion and exchange of views between us.
Let’s define, initially, what we mean by “technique” for any musical instrument. It is the totality of actions performed by a musician to adjust their muscular system, at its highest level, in order to carry out the necessary movements required by their instrument, so as to produce the desired result for the performance of simple or intricate compositions. In other words, the versatility and speed of the hands with respect to the musical material at hand determines the extent of technique necessary for the musician, and bassist.
Technique and its development constitute in my opinion the basic determining factor for the potential of each musician for expression. I cannot imagine how a musician without any technique, and whose relation to his instrument is not characterized by any form of dexterity, can aspire, through his instrument and music, to express their sonic experiences, their spiritual mood, and the communicative exchange he or she wants to form between themselves and their audience. Because what differentiates a musician from other people is that he or she creates through the ability to communicate via a musical instrument!
How unrealistic then are the claims, especially by younger musicians, that the development of technique opposes musicality, that it limits freedom of expression by imposing particular paths and forms tried in the past yet restrictive for the progression of new ideas. I believe the exact opposite. Expression alone means nothing for an artist unless they control the technical means of their art. Of course the impulse of the young, who want to acquire years of knowledge and experience as quickly as possible trying to instantly surpass the old and replace it with their own, adopts this type of view about the more scholastic involvement with the musical object. Time is needed, as well as determination and patience, to develop an expressive means to a high level. But it’s a necessary process if we want to play whatever we choose with ease and persuasiveness, and express our mind, heart, and spirit. It is inconceivable for a musician not to know music, and for a performer of a musical instrument not to grasp its technical secrets. It is essential to know the whole in order to be able to use that part of it that inspiration calls for each time, or that the musical work we are called to interpret requires.
However, I do not support the use of technique, for no reason other than exhibition, not serving the essence. Naturally, a musician needs to be able to play intricate melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns, assuming they know each time what and why they are doing it, and not just to show-case the abilities of their hands. Today, a number of bass players use techniques like slapping and tapping merely to impress their audience, without this being obligated by some deeper expressive need. There, and whenever such phenomena occur, we have a misuse of technique. Not because the dense and intense bass line devitalizes the composition, but because in essence it is not called for by the piece itself.
Naturally, I am not suggesting that everything should be simplified so as not to burden the message to the audience. I adore intricate music and intricate bass patterns, as long as their presence is a natural consequence of the work, and not disconnected from it. Intricacy in expression does not invalidate the austerity of a musical work if it is necessitated by the work itself, and accompanied by having knowledge of the use of the mediums.
Conclusion: It is all good, and desirable for today’s bass player to develop his or her technical resourcefulness to the fullest, as long as they are aware that this is a means to an end, the end being inspired expression and a deeper musicality. We should also be reminded for the sake of the argument that the knowledge and progress of technique has never interfered with eloquence in expression. On the contrary, it has helped it shine whenever used with the aim of a high musical outcome.