The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing
by Ed Fuqua
a Sher Music Publication
I heard of the bassist Ed Fuqua several years ago and was prompted to investigate further as my wife's maiden name is Fuqua. When I saw this book at Chuck Sher's web site it gave me reason to find more information about him and what better way to start than by reviewing his bass method book.
Walking Bassics is just that. It goes through several exercises and helps establish the right mind set for any bassist to get into walking. And, of course, if you don't agree that walking is the basis for all mainstream jazz bass playing you are probably playing a bass guitar and might not ever long to move up to the "real thing," a big double bass.
Ed states the four basic ways that a bassist can delineate the chord changes then he demonstrates each of these with a written line and that line is played by Ed and a minimalist drummer and pianist on the included CD. Then these four methods, or note choices, can be combined in various ways to play great bass lines.
On page 8 there is a quote by Ed that really sums up all jazz playing on all instruments, "Getting the sound of a tune's chord progression in your ears is vital to getting your head out of the way and letting your ears do the driving." To that end Ed advocates building a "chord line" chart. This is a process that works for all jazz musicians, not just bassists. For years I advocated that all jazz instrumentalists learn to play a walking jazz bass line on their instruments. This helps students develop a melodic but simple bass line for single voice instruments (like trumpet and sax, not guitar and piano) to learn to "comp," helping the soloist in the improvisation class know exactly where he/she is with regard to the chord changes and the form of the tune. (You can even pair like or different instruments up, to take turns soloing and comping - helping the soloist to keep his place in the changes, and the form, without having to read the tune from the music stand.) It is even possible to teach drummers to do this, first with the form, then by playing snare drum phrases in imitation of the melody or common riffs associated with the tune.
Ed's first chord line chart is based on the changes to "September In The Rain," a very typical 32 bar tune and a very good choice to illustrate his points. The only thing I missed from Ed here is emphasis in delineating the form of the tune, in this case a 32 bar chorus with AABA form. Since the 32 bar song forms are completely foreign territory to today's youth it would behoove the jazz teacher to spend some time on this subject. A "fifth" item to emphasize in addition to the chord line would be the form. I have my jazz students use a 8 column, 4 row table, 32 cells, one for each measure and its chord changes, to notate the chord line. This graphic representation makes the "blocks" of the tune's harmony easier to visualize and remember.
Another thing I would add is for all bassists to reach a level of simple jazz theory to be able to play chords on the piano or keyboard. Hearing the changes and the ability to "pre-hear" where the tune is going is something every bassist will need to "let your ears do the driving." I guess that some would argue that jazz theory and "jazz keyboarding" be taught elsewhere, perhaps in other classes. The benefit of the bass teacher teaching these is self evident - no one can teach what the harmony and form structure of a tune from the bass- perspective to the bass student better than the bass player himself.
Ed's sound on bass in the accompanying CD has just the right mix of "ping" and "ring" and is a great recorded sound to emulate. He also spends considerable time on the "drive," or sense of propelling things forward that a bassist (and drummer) must develop when playing mainstream jazz. The second half of the book is complete transcriptions of Ed's lines on the CD. I will recommend it to students as a first book to assimilate when working on a great walking technique and "feel." This is a great book and a necessary one for all bass players in the learning mode (including older students). (Ed, if you read this please get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org)