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Tales from the Pit: Blyss Gould and West Side Story by Jonathan Moody

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Tales from the Pit: Blyss Gould and West Side Story by Jonathan Moody… I have always held Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece, West Side Story, on a pedestal. It was one of those shows that I had the opportunity to play in high school but passed on. Later, as I heard horror stories from the musicians in the pit, I silently thanked myself for backing out. Decades later (wow, I can say that now) I had the opportunity to tackle the behemoth that is WSS. A good friend – and smoking musician that you can find at www.bayareabassacademy.com – of mine, Ted “Blyss” Gould just recently tackled this as well, and we compared notes.

Blyss’ Specifics:

  • West Side Story at the Contra Costa Civic Theater, for a 4 week run
  • The pit consisted of 15 musicians, 12 feet above the stage on a narrow platform, like one of those little planes; the kind you think you’ll die in and the live on in the hearts and minds of millions of adoring fans. (ed. note: His sense of humor is another reason why I love this guy)

Gear used: Aguilar TH500, Aguilar GS112, Mike Lull MV5 Jon’s Specifics:

  • West Side Story at Western Michigan University, for a 3 week run
  • The pit consisted of 15 musicians, in the pit under the stage

Gear used: Kydd Carry-On Electric Upright Bass, EA iAmp Micro into a Schroeder Mini 12R

The physical size of the pit that Blyss was in led to him not being able to use a string bass for the show (which, since composed in the 50s, called for it). As he put it, “The physical space would not all an upright to fit in so I had to play electric using a piece of foam and palm muting techniques.” Both techniques are great for approximating the sound of an upright bass when the real estate just doesn’t allow for it. Blyss’ experience with the upright also helped make the sound more “authentic” to the original.

Blyss brought up an interesting point in terms of compromises that I hadn’t thought of. “I think that the biggest compromises came from the budget constraints. It’s always pretty obvious when less experienced players are there to get ‘the experience.’” Theatre work is a very different animal from the regular gig, and like he mentioned, it’s very easy to spot the people that are either new to the genre or have previously written it off as easy. I experienced this a little; as a “local pro” that was brought into a college level production, I was the minority as most of the players were students. Some had pit experience, but a lot of them didn’t realize the mental focus and attention that was needed (especially when talking about Bernstein). Despite being in a larger pit, Blyss still got the call to cover all of the cello queues that were left open. Yours truly didn’t have to worry about that; the keyboardist I played with is a monster and easily absorbed those parts into her book.

When playing with a larger pit that is close to – if not the same as – the initial orchestration, more care needs to be taken when looking at the bass score and figuring out which parts you keep and which parts aren’t important. And then, there are those shows that just have to be played completely correct. “West Side Story is so different from any of the other shows, where a lot of the music in pop oriented with very discernible grooves. Of course songs like “Cool”, “America” and “Officer Krumpke” have grooves but the show isn’t like, say “Hairspray” or “The Wiz” where you can take some liberties. The ink in the West Side book is there because that’s what they wanted you to play, nothing else.” I’ve found that Bernstein’s book is so intricately written that the instrument parts need to dance with each other, much like the actors on the stage. As Blyss put it, there is NO room for interpretation, improvisation or anything else. You’re playing your part, and it needs to LOCK IN with everything else or it sounds wrong.

In terms of gear selection, Blyss mentioned that the show really didn’t influence his decision at all (aside from the real estate constraints). I’ve personally found that having an electric-upright bass (my current one is the awesome CR-5M from NS Design) in my arsenal makes a lot of sense, and in the case of West Side Story, really came in handy.

In the end, Bernstein’s “West Side Story” is one of those shows that you don’t play; you strap in and hope that you come out at the end. It’s a demanding show that, when it locks in, is beautiful on so many levels. Thanks again to Blyss for taking the time to compare notes with me. Drop the man a line at http://www.bayareabassacademy.com on Twitter (@sonofabass) or on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/sonofabass).

If you’re a fellow “theatre rat” and would like to be included in an upcoming “Tales from the Pit” article, contact me at moody@justmoody.com or find me on Twitter at @monjoody. Thanks for reading, and have a great month!

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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Bass Videos

New Gear: The Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model

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New Gear: The Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model

Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model…

After playing a limited edition Dingwall live with Duran Duran, John Taylor has launched his
Dingwall Guitars production model, loaded with a Rupert Neve Designs preamp and
Rio-inspired graphics.

Dingwall’s major launch for 2023 was the limited edition Rio Dream Bass, featuring an
innovative Rupert Neve Designs onboard preamp. A year later, the range has been bolstered
with the Canadian company now offering unlimited access to its continued collaboration with
John Taylor of Duran Duran.

Dingwall CEO Sheldon Dingwall says the basses are a response to Taylor’s upfront bass style.
“John’s bass playing with Duran Duran really imprinted on me how a bass should fit into a band mix. The combination of tastefully busy syncopation, his punchy tone, and tight performance immediately drew my ear. His basslines have always had a special combination of energy and elegance.”

The John Taylor Signature model follows the formula of the limited edition Rio Dream Bass,
combining a lightweight Nyatoh body with three neodymium pickups to produce what Dingwall deems “wonderful playability and tones that display a rare clarity and refinement.” The JT Signature model also updates the Rio Dream Bass with a range of new colors; Metallic Black, Primrose, Cranberry and Seafoam Green, as well as a new 5-string variant.

Other specs include a bolt-on Maple neck, a Pau Ferro multi-scale fingerboard with the ‘Rio Eye’ inlaid at the 12th fret, and Dingwall’s new ‘Minimalist’ bridge. The headstock sports lightweight tuners and a Rio-inspired graphic that complements the body stripes, designed by longtime Duran Duran collaborator, Patty Palazzo.

Finally, an onboard preamp designed and configured in collaboration with Rupert Neve Designs, whose studio consoles have long represented the pinnacle of high-end audio engineering, promises a clear voice that balances punch and sustain. “Duran’s breakthrough single, the title track from 1982’s Rio, was originally recorded on a Neve console, so the history was already there,” says Sheldon. “But the team at Rupert Neve Designs absolutely nailed the tone.”

Like the Rio Dream Bass, the JT Signature has also been configured to Taylor’s own personal
specifications. “It all started when I was in Toronto about six years ago,” says Taylor. “A friend
showed me a Dingwall bass on his phone. I loved how it looked and immediately said to my
tech, ‘You’ve got to reach out to these guys!’”

For further information on the range options, head to dingwallguitars.com

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Bass CDs

New Album: Killing Bees, Racing Towards Ruin

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New Album: Killing Bees, Racing Towards Ruin

Killing Bees Racing Towards Ruin out May 10th via Tonequake Records.

There are some records where the first note grabs you and doesn’t let go. Before the first lyric is sung, Killing Bees pull you into Racing Towards Ruins via the sheer power of TONES, MAN, TONES. Brown-note bass reverberations and gut-punch kickdrum snap the listener out of daily reverie instantaneously. Together, bassist/vocalist Nic Nifoussi and drummer Ray Mehlbaum (both of Automatic 7) and producer Andrew Scheps (Mars Volta, Audioslave, Adele) have crafted a piece of art that fuses low-rock minimalism, post-hardcore aggression, and SoCal throttle rock urgency into, well, a real ass-kicker. 

The bones of Killing Bees began their calcification when Nifoussi started a high school punk band called Automatic 7. They signed to BYO Records upon graduation and soon found themselves in need of a new drummer. Enter Ray Mehlbaum. Tours with Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Face 2 Face, Bouncing Souls, Suicide Machines, Unwritten Law, Youth Brigade, DOA, and others followed, as well as a deal with A&M Records. A&M got bought by Universal, the band moved to Vagrant Records, cut a new record, toured, then broke up. 

“Eventually, Ray and I decided to start a two-piece band” explains Nifoussi. “I was trying out a new sound using 2 amps and an A-B switch. Overdrive through one amp and playing a lot of chords to get a guitar-like sound. After years of playing together, we were already tight and used to writing together. The songs came quickly and easily.”

Via Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, the band had come to know Grammy-winning producer and engineer Andrew Scheps. Though originally recommended as a producer for Automatic 7, when the band played him the Killing Bees songs, he loved the concept and the trio got to work on their self-titled debut. Following the record’s release on Guano Loco/Loose Fang Records, “we played a bunch of shows and eventually started writing the new record in our North Hollywood lockout” says Nifoussi.

Recorded once again at Scheps’ studio, drums and bass were recorded live, the only overdubs being vocals and some bass and accordion textures (Nifoussi is an accomplished accordionist). “We tracked the two together over 4 or 5 days and everything you hear was played live by talented humans, not put together after the fact.  I think that live energy is what makes the record so compelling!” says Scheps. “Andrew wanted to challenge us. We came in wired towards traditional songwriting – he wasn’t interested in that” explains Mehlbaum. “He encouraged us to think about instrumental bits that would drive the tune, as opposed to the sing-along chorus of a traditional song. As a drummer, he kicked my ass. I remember him saying “we’re gonna turn the click off. I want you to go completely ‘out of time’ then come back in.” That’s some crazy shit! But I fucking loved it.”

Thematically, the record deals with the dangers of love and politics in equal measure. As Nifoussi puts it, “if there’s a takeaway, it’s to be careful with who you love… and vote into government.” So, Racing Towards Ruin. A concise, compelling listen, arresting at first blush, and deeply moving upon completion. A modern rock record (not a modern-rock record), unrelentingly heavy and sonically immaculate. And loud. Super loud.  

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Gear News

New Gear: Nembrini Launches Bass Hammer Plugin

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New Gear: Nembrini Launches Bass Hammer Plugin

Bass Hammer Plugin…

Nembrini Audio launches the Bass Hammer plugin which is engineered for advanced bass tone sculpting. Modelled on the Aguilar Tone Hammer* which is renowned for its tone shaping flexibility, the Nembrini Bass Hammer features Adaptive Gain Sculpting, comprehensive EQ adjustments and versatile cabinet simulations.

The Nembrini Audio Bass Hammer plugin has been designed to infuse discerning musicians’ digital workspace with the legendary tonal characteristics and dynamic versatility of its hardware counterpart. The new plugin delivers all the distinct organic warmth, detailed midrange control and adaptive tonal shaping the Tone Hammer* is famous for in a flexible digital format.

Bass Hammer features Adaptive Gain Sculpting to transform a signal’s EQ curve and gain structure and alter the behaviour of the MID parameter.  The Graphic EQ has six bands enabling nuanced shaping across the bass frequency range. Plus, the four selected bass guitar cabinets, four carefully selected microphone emulations and a parallel D.I. signal with console compressor offer users plenty of scope to explore ambient reverb blending.

Introductory prices of $29.99 for the Desktop version (regular price $137) and $9.99 for the IOS form (regular price $19.99) are available until 30th April 2024. Bass Hammer is PC and Mac (VST2, VST3, AU, AAX) compatible and requires a FREE iLOK account.

To find out more and download the Bass Hammer plugin please go to nembriniaudio.com/products/bass-hammer-bass-amplifier or
apple.com/us/app/bass-hammer/id6480058361Video

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore…

I am always impressed by the few members of our bass family who are equally proficient on upright as well as electric bass… Edmond Gilmore is one of those special individuals.

While he compartmentalizes his upright playing for mostly classical music and his electric for all the rest, Edmond has a diverse musical background and life experiences that have given him a unique perspective.

Join me as we hear about Edmond’s musical journey, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Photo, Sandrice Lee

Follow Online

facebook.com/EdmondGilmoreBass
instagram.com/edmond_gilmore/
youtube.com/channel/UCCYoVZBLXL5nnaKS7XXivCQ

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