How good does your bass playing make other people sound?

Going beyond the fundamentals

By Jon Liebman
Week of August 30, 2021  

What determines whether a bass player is truly getting the job done or not?

Recently, I spoke with veteran NYC jazz bassist, Harvie S, for this week’s FBPO interview. For as long as I’ve known him, Harvie’s always been one of the busiest bass players on the scene.

When I asked him what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, his answer blew me away.

I’m always going on about how the bass is a supportive instrument, how we need to lock in with the drummer, lay the foundation for the band, etc. 

In talking with Harvie, though, I’d never heard the role of a bass player described in quite the way he put it, and I absolutely loved his answer.

While there was no push-back from Harvie about the bass player’s need to honor the fundamentals, he offered a much deeper perspective. 

“Understand that when you play the bass,” Harvie says, “it’s…really, how to make other people sound better.”

Think about that. As emotionally secure adults, good bass players understand why they’re there and what they’re supposed to do. If you want to take your bass playing even further, think of Harvie’s insight while you’re playing. Be prepared to test your security even more, though, because you’re not likely to get the credit for what the audience feels. And that’s okay. We know.

Harvie’s mantra is, “A bass line is only as good as how it makes the other members of the band sound.” 

Of course, when learning bass, the fundamentals are still important, time is important, intonation is important, groove is important, as are all the other things we’ve been taught. Mixing in the goal of making other sound good will give you a beautiful thing to strive for.

“If you play great bass lines and make a band sound good,” Harvie says, “you’ll work and people will hire you.” 

No wonder the guy works so much.

What about you? 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 Harvie here.

Comments on How good does your bass playing make other people sound?

  1. Seth Hill (Bass Guitarist) says:

    The greatest affect we have is how other people perceive the rest of the band.

    (At a certain point in discussion we must expect and imply a degree of competency regarding the basics.)

    Beyond the music we are playing, how we play and sound reflects on everything else that is happening on stage.

    Usually bass frequencies aren’t able to stand out as an easy ear distinction, so our every nuance doesn’t make it to the listener.
    Understanding and accepting that allows us to further our thought to how we can intentionally affect our fellow band members and the listeners.
    Since we know that we DO affect them, we can learn how to control that affect!

  2. Ted White says:

    If we are going to make others sound better, we must listen like a hawk and know the total score.

  3. Pete says:

    I’ve been saying this for decades, and can be summarized by my motto, “Great bass players don’t hold it down, they lift it up.” You don’t see much of a house’s foundation, if any. It’s in the ground holding up the house.

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