Disclaimer: the written part for the lesson is LONG 🙂 Video does not go deep into analysis, the written part does.
The second part of my walking bass series goes back to one of my favorite upright bassists of the 1960s era – Jimmy Garrison. He is best known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet, nevertheless, he has an incredible discography which includes names like Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane.
He is often described as being a solid center of a band laying down a rock solid foundation. Nonetheless, he could also be a driving force having a huge woody sound. He had an amazing feeling of space and time – he knew and used pauses and breaks in his lines without interrupting the flow of music itself. He was the safe yet fertile grounds for the band – he allowed them to go wherever they wanted to go, following them, yet he was there to get them back together. He always chose to be supportive, his great musicianship lies in his musical humbleness – he had masterful technique and great musical wisdom as his objective was to make the band (the other members) sound good. In the John Coltrane Quartet he was often given a solo space between songs and had extended improvisations. He is definitely a musical giant and should receive more recognition.
Bessie’s Blues is a very simple blues and I really find it amazing how many little nuances there are in such a “simple” piece. The bass line is solid yet some rhythmical choices and note approaches make it very interesting on many levels. Again, I strongly recommend to listen to the piece while you are learning this – this will make you hear a lot of interplay in these 36 bars only!
First of all, if you are new to walking bass, look at my previous lesson. Then open the PDF for this lesson, and look at all that information 🙂
At the top of the page, you can see 3 chord diagrams – these are the chords, which constitute the song. I also spell out the chords with the root, the third, the fifth and the seventh. In grey, you can see the scale notes (diatonic means notes are within scale). From the root to its octave we number the notes in the scale – we already have the first (the root), the third, the fifth and the seventh – I hope the other numbers are obvious 🙂 (These numbers become important when we analyze the walking bass line later!) The green notes form a chord voicing.
In the notation/tab part, you can see letters above the notes – that describe the notes according to the chord diagrams. (R-root, 3-third, 5-fifth, 7-seventh, D-diatonic and there is C, which means chromatic passing note). So if you all know that, we can begin to talk about the bass line 🙂
In the video, there is only a general analysis, so if you want to look deeper and discover some patterns here are some things to look at in addition to what I mention to in the video:
Let’s look at the first 12 bars:
– bar 1,3,4,5,7 use a very similar pattern played forward and backward: R-2-3-(last note)… the last note usually depends on the following bar – in the first bar, you have a 5th (a Bb) as a last note which leads perfectly to the root of the next bar – Ab. And that works especially well, since in that bar (Ab7) that Bb note is now a second. The same way, in bar 4 that last note, that third (G) leads to the root again smoothly.?- bar 6 has no chord notes in it! Problem? Of course not – the Ab7 chord lasts for two bars and this is the second bar of Ab7 there and as the diatonic notes are within that harmony it sounds great. Similar thing happens in bar 10 – but now as the chords change rapidly notice how Jimmy employs almost the same notes in bar 9 and 10 – yet they have different harmonic roles in the bars!?- bar 2 and 11 employ the same pattern of notes – under two different chords – it just moves to different strings?- notice that bar 7, 9 begin with thirds/fifths – listen to how it sounds together with the rest of the band – it does not always have to that root :)?- chromatic notes are used sparely and only on weak beats as passing notes leading to the next chords. The harmonies are spelt out clean as this section in the song is where the band plays the melody
– the movement is balanced throughout the 12 bars – the direction almost varies bar by bar yet it feels smooth – notice how the line has ascending and descending movements as chords change
The second 12 bars get more exciting as Jimmy brings up the intensity by going up the neck.
– he brings in more chromatics this time, nevertheless, you can see that he is again strongly outlining the chords throughout these 12 bars, notice that while going up the neck, roots are mostly on beat one – he brings variation to the motion by adding upper octaves?- the very first bar is the same as bar 13
– pattern in bar 15 – an octave variation of bars 1/ 13 – here he brings in chromatic notes to bring tension – notice how he stops on that chromatic note in bar 16 – can you hear that actually when continues the line, he follows the pulse of ride?
– observe that again, movement is balanced – but now there are longer arcs – upward 13-16, downward 17-18, upward 19-20
– in bar 21 he is beginning to close the melody section – he breaks the traditional walking pulse and plays a rhythmic variation on a fifth and brings the bass line down again and bar 22 has a closing walking motive in a chromatic sandwich 🙂 which leads to the little motive I was talking in the video – finding that little space and referring to the closing of the sax melody is simply amazing to me. and by the way, just look at these 4 bars and imagine how difficult these jumps were on the upright 🙂 also bar 21-22 is also a “violation” against non-written walking bass rues – root on weak beat and even repeated 5 times? busted! but does it sound good? you bet
Last 12 bars:
– as I said in the video – back to laying down the foundation so the first soloist can start off of safe grounds – yet you can feel that the approach is more free – notice roots being on weak beats (bar 26) and thirds and fifths being dominant on strong beats.?- I feel that the movement is very subtle – it feels as if he would stay in one place
– yet, the variatons are interesting: root on weak beat again in bar 26, root played twice in bar 27 – the pattern used in this bar is also great for two bar chords(R-R-3-6 – 5-4-2-C)
– bar 29-30 – seventh is on weak beat and a chromatic is on a strong beat – when the chord lasts for two bars you have greater freedom to explore notes. Also if you listen to the piano solo, the previous bar is also bringing up tension and I feel Jimmy is just following him by going to the same territory while maintaining the pulse this time
– bar 31 employs the same pattern that was mentioned regarding the first 12 bars – it is a backward version of it
– bar 32 is a variaton of bar 2 and 11!
– bar 33-34: chromatic ascending and descending pattern compare with bar 9-10!?- bar 35-36 – a motive employing third (on an open string) and fifth – notice how Jimmy avoids the obvious as the soloist begins to heat up
– root is completely avoided
…and the solo and the bass line goes on 🙂
When you learned the line, it is also important that you get a sense of shapes on the bass too – this fingering is trying to view the bassline from an upright viewpoint – sit down with your bass and try to come up with different fingerings in different positions – bring the root to another string and find the same notes in that fingering. Look at the upper and lower octaves of the thirds, fifths and sevenths – it is important to know the “shapes” in both “directions”.
Well, that’s it for today – hopefully I haven’t made your brains explode with all that walking bass stuff and could show you a few tips and angles on it 🙂 Happy practicing – enjoy this bass line and try to see the poetry of it 🙂 As a homework assignment, try to transcribe the rest of it and identify the roles of the notes within a bar!