A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Music Culture & History

Wifey’s extreme metal thesis and drum blog are here!

This isn’t totally bass-related, but it might be intriguing for some of you who are interested in extreme metal and in drumming (even separately).

individual-thought-thesis

My wife finished her 2nd masters degree this year. Apart from her MLS, she now has a masters in anthropology. Her thesis topic was centered on women’s participation in New York’s extreme metal scene – from musicians and fans to others in the industry like photographers, writers, women who run magazines and websites, women who host radio shows and more. We attended shows (quite a few were around the baby’s schedule), she met and interviewed women in the scene, conducted an online survey with dozens of respondents, and met and presented with incredible metal music scholars – a discipline that I didn’t even know existed until she started doing her thing. Many of them have written books and papers in academic journals and some have released video documentaries as well. Its a thriving and fascinating international community.

Anyway – for those interested, her thesis is finally available for public consumption via CUNY Academic Works. Here’s a link to the PDF (you can click the “download” button on CUNY’s site or read it online):

Here’s a link to her blog where she announced the release of the thesis as well:

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A different way to visualize rhythm – John Varney

I just took a short break from practicing and watched the most interesting Ted Ed Talk video about rhythm, focusing on beats which play out in a circle, like a clock face, instead of linearly, like on a musical staff. It shows how many genres across the globe base their rhythms on a 2-beat sequence (the strong beat and weak beat) and then layers concentric circles with other beats on top of it to represent other beats and instruments – and shows their commonalities over different styles.

What really caught my eye is the idea that you can see the relationships of layered rhythms like this. Its more visually decipherable than reading notation or tablature – and its interesting to see how spinning a wheel affects rhythm in relation to other wheels or circles.

Take a look, its a thought-provoking, eye-opening 5 mins:

A different way to visualize rhythm – John Varney


Songhoy Blues

I was watching a 3-part video in which Adam Neely and Ben Levin converse about a range of topics. One thing that came up was a band featured on NPR Music‘s Tiny Desk Concerts. They’re called Songhoy Blues. Wikipedia describes them as a desert punk/blues group from Timbuktu, Mali. They were formed after fleeing strife and Sharia Law in their country. Their name comes from their being Songhoy people, which is an ethnic West African group. Nick Zinner, guitarist from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs produced a track of theirs called Soubour, which means “patience”. Following this, Zinner helped produce their first album, Music in Exile, in 2015.

I like their sound quite a bit. There’s something intriguing to hearing blues with Songhoy lyrics sung on top of them. Because I don’t understand the words, they become something of a 2nd melody to follow, instead. Guitarist Garba Toure is apparently the son of the percussionist for Ali Farka Toure (1939-2006), whose music also blended traditional Malian music and blues. The band covered their music at their inception.

Songhoy Blues: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

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The music theory of mashups

Here’s a fun video from Adam Neely about mashups, or as 13th century composers called them, quodlibets. He goes into some music theory about them, initially, highlighting that its their tempos that really allow them to work together. He also speaks about the I-V-VI-IV chord progression, which is used in a lot of pop music, as illustrated by that old Axis of Awesome video that mashed up about 500 songs to demonstrate it. 😉

Some compositional attributes that allow a lot of this music to be melded together include their overall use of notes from the major scale, which – if I understand this correctly – allows them to be more readily transposed to the same key; 4-bar phrase lengths, which allows them to fit passages of the same length together; and cyclic chord progressions that repeat without a strong sense of resolution, so they can keep going without end. Enjoy!

The music theory of mashups


T Bone Burnett’s Keynote Address

t-bone-burnett

This is an amazing speech given by T Bone Burnett at AmericanaFest – the Americana Music Festival & Conference – on Thursday, September 22, 2016. I saw it posted on The Dutch Luthier‘s blog, and he, in turn, found it on The Americana Music Association‘s web page.

I don’t quite believe in the art vs. technology idea that he speaks about, but his call for freedom of expression and pushing boundaries rings true to me. There is possibly truth to the idea that people are becoming more homogenous through technology and social engineering, however. (If any of you are old-school tabletop RPG players, this might also come across as a Technocracy vs. Tradition speech, from the mouth of a Cult of Ecstasy practitioner.)

“Technology is turning over every ten years. Their technologies don’t and won’t last. Our art, if we do it right, will.” – T Bone Burnett

I have come here today first to bring you love. I have come here to express my deep gratitude to you for your love of music and of each other. And, I have come here to talk about the value of the artist, and the value of art.

When Michaelangelo was painting the great fresco The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, he came under intense criticism from various members of the church, particularly the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies- a man named Cesena- who accused him of obscenity. Michaelangelo’s response was to paint Cesena into the fresco in the lowest circle of hell with donkey ears and a serpent coiled around him devouring, and covering, his nether regions, so to speak.

Cesena was incensed and went to the Pope demanding he censor Michaelangelo for this outrage, and the Pope said, “Well, let’s go have a look at it. ”So, they went down to the chapel, and when the Pope stood in front of the fresco, he said to Cesena, “You know, that doesn’t look like you at all.”

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The Girls In The Band

Here’s something interesting from a cultural and musical vantage that I found when Jackie from Lindsey Tree Music posted in the Bass Blogs group on FB. Its a trailer for The Girls In The Band, a documentary with and about women from the jazz/bebop scene who were excellent musicians, but because of the influence of patriarchy, were marginalized and not given the credit they were due as amazing players – something that has repeated since in other styles of music, as well as areas outside of music. Some of the women were also black, so they had a double-whammy to deal with as this predates the civil rights movement in America.

The Girls In The Band 

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Jimmy Blanton – pioneering jazz bassist

Jimmy Blanton with Herb Jeffries & Duke peeking in 1941

Herb Jeffries sings in 1941 with Jimmy Blanton on bass and Duke Ellington peeking out from behind.

Enrique Quique Fabrega has been posting jazz bassists from A to Z on the Bass Blogs FB group. The other day, he shared Jimmy Blanton. I only just got to read up on him and listen to the track he shared, and wow, I love his sound. This is what he posted (the middle 2 paragraphs are from Wikipedia):

Jazz bassists from A to Z. Beginning with letter B we have the legendary Double-Bass jazz Master Blanton(Jimmy).Jimmy Blanton was the Father of the Double-Bass as a Solo instrument!!! There is virtually NO bass player that hasn’t study Blanton solos, compositions, technique and voice on the instrument. All bass players today are in DEBT with Mr. Jimmy Blanton. Blanton IS the first true master of the jazz Double-Bass. Blanton is credited with being the originator of more complex pizzicato and arco bass solos in a jazz context than previous bassists. 

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Blanton originally learned to play the violin, but took up the bass while at Tennessee State University, performing with the Tennessee State Collegians from 1936 to 1937, and during the vacations with Fate Marable. After leaving university to play full-time in St Louis with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra (with whom he made his first recordings), he joined Duke Ellington’s band in 1939. 

Though he stayed with Ellington for only two years, Blanton made an incalculable contribution in changing the way the double bass was used in jazz. Previously the double bass was rarely used to play anything but quarter notes in ensemble or solos but by soloing on the bass more in a ‘horn like’ fashion, Blanton began sliding into eighth- and sixteenth-note runs, introducing melodic and harmonic ideas that were totally new to jazz bass playing. His virtuosity put him in a different class from his predecessors, making him the first true master of the jazz bass and demonstrating the instrument’s unsuspected potential as a solo instrument. Ellington put Blanton front-and-center on the bandstand nightly, unheard of for a bassist at the time. Such was his importance to Ellington’s band at the time, together with the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster _ Verve Records , that it became known as the Blanton–Webster band. Blanton also recorded a series of bass and piano duets with Ellington and played in the “small group” sessions led by Barney Bigard, Rex Stewart, Johnny Hodges , and Cootie Williams in 1940-41. 

In this video we have a Great Jazz Duet between Duke Ellington – Verve Records and Jimmy Blanton performing Pitter Panther Patter.Enjoy!.

And here’s the track:

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