5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Jazz Bass


Here, Blanton is not only accompanying but also playing rhythmic melodic figures. When I first heard “Jive Rhapsody,” I remember thinking that it reminded me of what later Oscar Pettiford would play on the bridge of “Bohemia After Dark,” the same concept of rhythmic melodic figures but in a different strata this time. I love this intense feeling of groove and ostinato that, to me, brings back undeniable West African roots.

Jimmy Blanton’s path is very inspiring for a bass player like myself, from the fullness of his sound to his beautiful melodic and harmonic explorations and, of course, his major contribution to building the sound of one of the most important bands in history: the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

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It could be a throwaway scene in “Boomerang” (1992) were it not for the music. A silent and contemplative Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy) — the playboy main character recently given his just deserts by an equally cunning playgirl — looks off camera. To where, we don’t know, but the song’s opening bass line over elongated synths pulls listeners in, leading one to assume that the scene will produce some dramatic play. And then it ends. At only 15 seconds, it’s not enough time to know what the music is telling us or to recover from what it’s done, but Marcus Miller, who scored the film, ensured that it would live on in two variations on his album “M²” (2001), which won the 2002 Grammy for best contemporary jazz album. A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer, Miller has worked with legends in jazz and popular music, including Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Luther Vandross, whose “Never Too Much” (1981) was touched by his iconic bass playing. The final track on “M²,” Boomerang Reprise,” is also brief but affecting at 1:54, with multiple bass lines that groove and snap in a song that some may not immediately register as jazz. Nonetheless, it manifests a merger of styles and techniques that rise and return “just like a boomerang.”

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The pianist Bill Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian forever changed the rules of engagement in jazz trios by reimagining the roles of soloist and accompanist. Their unified harmonic approach brought the rhythm section out of the shadows and established a group equilibrium that expanded conversational and improvisational possibilities. “Gloria’s Step” is LaFaro’s ode to the footfalls of his girlfriend Gloria as she returns home to their upstairs apartment. His tone, technique and youthful exuberance deliver a master class in bass expression.

Even before LaFaro’s impressive bass solo, the music is the swinging, melodic sound of democracy in action. The traditional orientation of leader and supporting players transforms into a murmuration, akin to a flock of birds flying with intricately coordinated movements and directional shifts, operating as a hive mind. As Evans, LaFaro and Motian celebrate Gloria’s arrival, they create a breathtaking illusion of one musician in three bodies — a swinging, shimmering cascade of melodic brilliance. “Gloria’s Step” is the opening track on “Sunday at the Village Vanguard,” a landmark recording that belongs in every jazz library. A tragic automobile accident would claim LaFaro’s life 10 days after the Village Vanguard gigs, prematurely ending this trio’s arc of ascent and leaving this album (and its twin, “Waltz For Debby”) as the apex of their accomplishments.

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Knowing about Israel Crosby is almost like being part of some secret cool kids’ club. Those who know, know. And when people do find out, there’s really no going back. I know they say this about a lot of people, but I feel like it’s safe to say he was truly ahead of his time.



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