Bass Playing as a Catharsis?

Getting it out – in a healthy way, of course!

By Jon Liebman
Samantha Stewart Photography
November 22, 2018

We all know about the power of music. The joy and benefits we get from listening to music can be difficult to describe. What’s more, those advantages can be multiplied exponentially when we’re the ones making the music. Some might argue that music is the ultimate form of self-expression.

Case in point, my interview this week with Element a440 bassist Katt Bell. The band gets pretty raw and intense, says Katt, “peeling that civilized skin off” and getting it all out. The Phoenix-based group describes its music as edgy and dark, with shows that bring about a release for “everything that’s in our heads, in our guts in our thoughts,” according to Katt. Not only has performing become a cathartic experience for them, but for their audience too, she says.

In any performance, watching varying levels of intensity exhibited by the players can be fun to watch. And bass players are no exception. Have you ever seen Abraham Laboriel play? Or Josh Paul? or Lemmy? If so, then you know what I’m talking about. Some people just seem to travel to another dimension while performing. Norwood Fisher puts on quite a show too.

At the other end of the spectrum, I wonder what goes through Michael Manring’s head when he’s doing his laudable one-man bass shows. Or Stephen Jay, who’s been doing the “Weird Al” gig for decades.

Sometimes discovering the awesomeness of the effects of music comes early in life. Roberto Vally (Spyro Gyra, Randy Crawford), for example, recounts having a total “out of body experience” when his teacher had him play G-D-G, G-D-G on the open strings of an upright bass as his class sang “Frere Jacques.” Roberto was 9 years old at the time.

As bass players, we get to lay down the groove and make the music feel good. That’s when that amazing thing happens, bringing about that incredible energy release, in a way that non-musicians just wouldn’t understand.

Why not let that magic inspire you to become a better bass player? Do it, not just for the audience, but for your own (cathartic!) benefit too.

How about you? Does playing bass take you somewhere you couldn’t get to otherwise? Have you ever had a bass-inspired “out-of-body” experience? Tell us about it by leaving a comment.

In the meantime, check out my interview with Katt here.

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