Don’t forget to change musical lanes from time to time
By Jon Liebman
Week of September 23, 2019
This week we published a thoroughly enjoyable interview with Herbie Hancock bassist and longtime Saturday Night Live house band member James Genus. What a great story he told about growing up in Virginia, then migrating to New York City to break in to the music scene, and how one thing led to another as his brilliant career unfolded.
After some banter about gigs, gear, equipment, and life on the SNL set, I asked James to share his opinion about what he felt was important for any bass player to keep in mind, whether he could identify anything he thought might often be overlooked.
While his answer may have seemed like a no-brainer, it should serve as an important reminder for anyone who wants to be a good bass player.
The first thing he said to do was to listen.
Come on, James. We all know we have to listen!
Or do we?
Is there a “right” way to listen? And what, exactly, are we listening for?
There are all kinds of ways in which we can pay attention to music. Things like tone, technique, and note choice come to mind, as do many other factors.
What James was referring to, though, had to do with educating yourself on different styles of music, even the ones you don’t normally play. You should also “check out those before you,” he says. “Learn the history.”
The point he was making was that it’s important not to limit your playing to just one style exclusively, even if it’s your favorite. “Don’t tend to go down only one lane,” he admonishes. Learn what role the bass plays in different types of music. That way you can broaden your horizons, seeing how the bass fits in to different styles, and learning what to do.
Those of you who are members of the bass school here at FBPO can relate to what James is saying. In fact, now would be an excellent time to jump in to one of the courses you haven’t gone through in a while, whether it be Jazz & Blues, Rock & Metal, Funk/R&B, Latin, Reggae, or any of the others, as a reminder of how many hats are available to you – and necessary for you – as a low-end groover.
Remember, a well-rounded bass player is a confident bass player. So be sure to broaden your scope, study the history, know who came before you, and try switching lanes once in a while. Change is good!
Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with James here.