What is a bass, and what does it do?

April 16, 2019

Hello friends,

 

Time for this week's "Blake's Blog" post.  I like this format.  Unlike on Facebook, here I can say what I need to say without goofy comments being posted in response.   Ah, yes. Today's post may come across to some as 'sour grapes' but that's not where I'm coming from.  I want to follow-up on something I mentioned in my last blog post, a serious topic regarding the bass, my vocation and the Musical Arts.

 

In my last post I made a reference to the fact that most people don't know what a bass is. I am not making that up, why would I?  That statement is based on multiple experiences and conversations I've had with people over my career.  I'd bet (and win) any amount of money that if you took an exit poll at tonight's Nuggets' game that the vast majority of people wouldn't be able to identify the bass.  Even if you showed them an electric bass and a double bass, most people still wouldn't know what they were.  The majority of people think the double bass is a cello, and that the electric bass is simply a 'guitar'. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining here but rather just conveying the simple truth. Trust me, I enjoy receiving a compliment for my "cello playing" when I perform on double bass. I also find amusement in the frequent occurrences when people ask me why my guitar only has 5 strings.  Most of you reading this have known me for quite some time, and of course you know what a bass is.  Bless you and thank you!!!

 

It is clear though that most people only recognize the singer.  Proof can be found on television. 

American Idol, The Voice, The Sing-off...  There is no 'American Bassist' or "The Bass" nor will there ever be.  It is to laugh.  Furthermore, most everyone knows what a piano is, same with drums, trumpet, sax, flute, trombone, harp, you can see where I'm headed... The bass however is a total mystery to most folks, and so it is.  

 

Here are some cold, hard facts about the glorious yet misunderstood bass...

 

So many beloved titles have 'signature' bass parts that anchor the song.  "My Girl"  "Low Rider" 

"Another One Bites the Dust"  "Hysteria"  "I Wish" and too many others to list here.

Speaking of "I Wish", I wish that more people knew why the bass is important in music.  

 

Allow me to share these words of wisdom from some notable bassists... Bass icon Ray Brown stated:  "The note the bassist plays defines the composition." Superstar singer/songwriter and bassist Sting states: "It's not a chord until I play." The famous composer John Williams states: "When I'm writing a score I always start with the bass part, because everything else is dependent on that."  These guys are spot-on.  What they mean is that the other players providing chords can re-voice or substitute all manner of chordal ingredients, but the bass note defines the chord.  A piano player can play a chord consisting of C,E & G and depending on the bass note that could be a C major, an A minor, or a whole slew of other chords.  Sure, many bass parts are super-simple and therefore unimpressive to those who listen only with their eyes, but the sound and function matters to the rest of the band, believe me. Try sitting through a night of bluegrass, rock & roll, jazz, reggae or R&B without bass, you would wonder why it sounds so weird and so 'weak'. 

 

Next time you hear Elton John's "Rocket Man" listen to Dee Murray's wonderful bass part. It is mixed quite well with the bass right up-front.  Sir Elton surely knows what a bass is! And I'll bet that while a ton of people could tell you that Sir Paul McCartney was a singer for The Beatles,  they wouldn't know that he was the Beatles' bass player. Sir Paul states: "I'm quite proud to be a bass player." And so am I.

 

I feel better now that I've shared these morsels.  Love to you all!

Blake

 

 

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