Transcending musical genres where you least expect it
By Jon Liebman
Week of June 15, 2020
It seems I’m always talking about the groove. It’s gotten to the point where my students are incessantly uttering what’s become their mantra: Groove is everything, and everything must groove.
So, is there any kind of music that doesn’t have to groove?
Think about it. This week’s interview is with Nick Villalobos, a classically trained double bassist and co-founder of Simply Three, a string trio that plays classically oriented versions of pop tunes. I asked Nick what he thought was important for someone who wants to learn bass. His answer blew me away.
In his initial response, Nick stressed the importance of playing in time. No surprise there. Music should be played in time, regardless of style or genre. “First and foremost,” he says, “learn the importance of good timing and rhythm, because if the bass doesn’t feel good, if you’re not in that pocket, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”
That’s what caught me off guard. The pocket??? How often do you hear those words from a classical player?
When I commented on how refreshing it was to hear a symphonic player refer to “the pocket,” it was almost as if I’d hit a nerve. First, he said, “Oh, man, I can’t tell you how many times…” before he jumped straight to the bottom line. “You gotta have the feel and timing of music,” he says, “or else, to me, it really isn’t music. It doesn’t groove. It doesn’t feel good.”
Reflecting on his classical upbringing, Nick cited things like intonation, articulation, bowing techniques, and other aspects one would expect from an orchestral player. But he kept coming back to the rhythm, timing, and the pocket. “You might be able to player faster than anybody else,” he continued, “but if you can’t do it in time, it’s not going to make any sense.”
Students learning bass here at FBPO, as well as those familiar with my books, have seen and heard me emphasize the importance of the groove and the pocket. Whether they’re learning to play blues, rock, jazz, funk, reggae – it doesn’t matter what style – it’s got to groove.
Now we can take that concept a step further and include things like symphonies, chamber music, or a Vivaldi sonata. Nick sums it up best: “It’s just that groove, man. You gotta have that.”
How 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 Nick here.