Choice of instrument fuels debate on swing-ability
By Jon Liebman
Week of December 23, 2019
Should jazz bass be confined only to the upright bass?
Should electric bass players be “allowed” to play jazz?
It’s a subject that gets some bassists pretty riled up, including this week’s interviewee, Teymur Phell.
Born in Azerbaijan and raised in Israel, Teymur was exposed to all kinds of music while growing up, including rock, jazz, fusion, and classical. He became an outstanding instrumentalist on both electric and upright bass, demonstrating great prowess with classical bowing, as well as virtuoso chops on the 5- and 6-string electric, including fretless.
As well-rounded a bass player as he is, one topic that really pushes his buttons, is the refusal of some people to take the electric bass seriously as a legitimate instrument for playing jazz.
What’s up with that?!
Teymur is critical of electric players who add triplets, ornaments and other embellishments that are often inappropriate and out of place. On the other hand, he cites players like John Patitucci, Anthony Jackson, and Jaco Pastorius to disprove anyone’s notion that a genuine swing feel can’t be accomplished on the electric bass.
According to Teymur, you can get the job done even if all you play are quarter notes. “Just play fat quarter notes,” he says, “and see how satisfying that can be on an electric bass.”
What it really comes down to, Teymur says, is how good are your tone and your time. You can play jazz on an upright bass, but if you have bad tone and bad time, how’s that going to make the music swing?
Let me know your thoughts on the subject by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, check out my interview with Teymur here.