Ray Brown: Bass Solo Medley: Full Moon and Empty Arms/The Very Thought Of You/The Work Song

On The Very Tall Band, which is a quartet with Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, and Karriem Riggins, Ray Brown does a medley does a medley on this record with “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Work Song.” To me, it’s a case study in how the bass can execute at the highest level of melody. Ray Brown was always known almost as a boorish type of bass player, a pile-driving bulldozer of a bass player. But when Ray Brown played a ballad, just playing the melody and soloing, playing it free, no time, it was crystalline and beautiful. You can imagine transcribing that to a piano and having Oscar Peterson put something to it, and it would sound absolutely gorgeous. I think it’s pretty marvelous.

It was interesting to hear Ray talk about tone production. When you talk about the other major bass players, the most influential bass players of his generation, Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus... Ray, of course, loved Oscar Pettiford, and he admittedly stole a lot of his ideas, stole a lot of his concept. But Ray said that one thing he always wanted to do differently than Oscar Pettiford was make his notes longer. He always felt that bass notes were too short. They came out as much more of a thud than a ring. A lot of bass players pulled their strings out instead of down. but Ray would pull them down, so almost his finger was hitting the finger board as he was pulling the string, which freed the string to vibrate up and down instead of side-to-side. That gave it that crisp, percussive sound. He always kept the strings at a comfortable height that was never too low, never too high, which gave him just the right amount of tension so he could get a nice chunk of flesh into the string, without (a) killing the bass or (b) killing his fingers. So I think he always had the perfect setup and he had the perfect concept to be able to make his notes ring, still keep that big sound, and not overplay. When I saw him play in person and discovered that’s what he was doing, it was a revelation. I had been used to either the low-action, high-speed guys, or guys my age who were raising their strings way-way up high off the fingerboard, trying to go for that old-school, 1940s or early ‘50s bass sound. Guys were getting gut strings, and they were just yanking the crap out of their basses. I was doing that for a little while, but then I saw Ray Brown and went, “Ahh! So that’s how it’s done. What am I doing?” I think Ray Brown was both a musical and a scientific master in learning how to get that perfect sound out of the instrument. Unfortunately, I never sat down and asked him directly about whether that was a conscious... I mean, “did you know that you were plucking this way instead of that way?” It just seemed so natural, I have a feeling that’s what he got to through trial-and-error.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: Fantasy In D Minor

As far as I know, this is the only recording of Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen playing an unaccompanied bass solo. The tune is a beautiful composition with a reflective mood, inspired by a piece by Bartok. Here, NHØP both carries the melody and improvises while accompanying himself at the same time. There are no flashy runs or dazzling figures. The track is played with a maturity that shows a man in complete command and at peace with himself.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


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