How Musical Is Your Bass Playing?

The coolness – and the danger – of injecting “that” lick

By Jon Liebman
Week of June 10, 2019

What a thrill it was to sit down, one-on-one, with bass legend Basil Fearrington to talk about bass, right there in his hometown of Philadelphia. In case you missed it, the interview went live on FBPO this week.

Listening to Basil tell stories of his amazing career was incredibly inspiring, especially when he told of his experiences with Anthony Jackson and some of my other bass heroes.

Having performed and/or recorded with everyone from Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan to Roberta Flack, George Benson, Grover Washington, Jr. and Mary J. Blige, the man has seen it all. So when I asked Basil where he saw room for improvement in people wanting to become better bass players, his reply hit the nail right on the head.

“The most important thing you can do in any scenario is to be musical,” he said. He then commented on how he’d observed people getting caught up in learning licks, but soon discovered they were unable to do anything else. Regardless of what you’re playing, he says, “do the best possible job… to make sure that the tune is happening, not the best possible job of showing the lick that you learned last week or last month.”

Amen to that.

You may have heard the same admonishment from me, either in my bass books, or in FBPO’s online bass instruction courses. The fact is, this point cannot be stressed enough. Your job as a bass player is to lay down the groove and give the music what it needs. If the song’s just gotta have that mega-funky bass fill – you know, the one that also happens to incorporate one of your favorite licks of all time – then go for it! But then get right back to doing your job as groove-maker.

Even when we mean well and strive to do the right thing, sometimes it’s easy to slip into “Licksville” unintentionally, and when it may not be particularly welcomed by the rest of the band. So let’s be careful out there, eh?

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 Basil here.

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Comments on How Musical Is Your Bass Playing?

  1. Keith Copeland says:

    That was an excellent interview with Basil Fearrington! I’ve known Basil’s name for quite some time and have seen his name on numerous recording credits, but I didn’t know the person. There must be something in the air in Philly because so many of the world’s greatest bass players hail from there!

    It’s so cool to know that Basil learned from Anthony and Alphonso who are two of my favorite bassists on earth! Alphonso also said whatever you play or practice to always keep it musical.

    Thank you, John, for yet another fantastic interview with another stellar bassist and I will be checking Basil’s record out soon!

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