Iconic bass virtuoso shares his amazing bass origins, insights on his pivot and crab techniques and why jealousy is an obstacle to good bass-playing
By David Sands
François Rabbath is a name that’s both familiar and beloved to bass players around the world. The self-taught master’s innovative techniques and teaching methods have revolutionized how the double-bass is played, inviting comparisons to what Paganini did to establish the violin as a virtuoso instrument in his time.
The tale of how Rabbath became a bass player is a fascinating one that almost seems to have leapt out of a storybook. A native of Aleppo, Syria, he picked up the instrument at age 13 in order to play with his musician brothers. Lacking any teachers, he taught himself how to play using an antiquated copy of Edouard Nanny’s Contrabass Method he found in tailor shop in Beirut, Lebanon.
In the mid-1950s, he traveled to Paris, hoping to meet with Nanny and show him what he had learned of the instrument, only to find the great teacher had died nearly a decade earlier. Rabbath went on to study for a brief time at the Paris Conservatory. After that, he went on to earn a living as an accompanist to artists like Jacque Brel, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Becaud and Michel Legrand as well as performing recitals and making music for movies and the theater. He’d later go on to play with the Paris Opera for many years and to work with acts like Beatles and the Moody Blues.
Rabbath recorded the first of numerous albums, The Sound of Bass (also known as Bass Ball), in 1963. During the late 1970s, he began a long-running collaboration with American composer and double-bassist Frank Proto, who wrote five major works for him. Many of Rabbath’s contributions as a teacher can be found in his three-volume set, Nouvelle Technique de la Contrebasse. His teachings can also be experienced through his DVDs, Art of the Bow and Art of the Left Hand.
FBPO’s Jon Liebman spoke to the always inspiring Mr. Rabbath at the 2017 convention of the International Society of Bassists in Ithaca, New York.
Watch out interview with François:
FBPO video interview with Gary Karr