Bassline Academy – Opportunity, Bobby McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin has been a longstanding hero of mine. To see him live is spellbinding, he can captivate and engage an audience of thousands with just his solo voice. His album ‘Spontaneous Inventions’, from which this track is taken, was an early acquisition of mine and remains a perennial favourite.

Whilst this isn’t strictly a bassline, tuba players can learn a lot from the phrasing, articulation, breath control and groove of Bobby McFerrin. He has this ability to be able to sound like two instruments, improvising bass and melody, at the same time rather like a Bach cello suite. I’ve tried to replicate some of this in the transcription and recording!

‘Opportunity’ is predominantly based around an Eb blues scale which works really nicely for me being an Eb tuba player, however, the range of Mr McFerrin’s voice is considerably higher than I can play so I’ve transposed the whole transcription down an octave so that I act as his tuba octave pedal double.

Download the PDF transcription of Opportunity here.

Bassline Academy – Conscious Club, Joe Dart

This bassline comes from the band Vulfpeck and their amazing head nodding bass player Joe Dart. If you’ve not heard any Vulfpeck then check them out. They are tongue in cheek and seriously funky and, whilst all the band members are great musicians, Joe Dart is a stand out virtuoso.

Conscious Club (Instrumental) is there bare bones instrumental backing to the song by the same name. It works as a stand alone track and in the absence of ‘the tune’ it’s Joe Dart’s bassline that serves as a lot of the melodic interest. The song form is ABCBCACB but if we’re honest as bass players it’s the A section we’re most interested in. Fast, funky and fun to play. Joe sticks to the groove impeccably throughout but when he does choose to embellish the line it is always exciting and lightening quick!

Download the full transcription here – Conscious Club Transcription

Bassline Academy – On The Serious Side, Rocco Prestia

‘On The Serious Side’ is another tune from Tower of Power’s album ‘In The Slot’ (if you haven’t already, check out ‘Drop It In The Slot‘ as well!) featuring Rocco’s punchy sound. The whole tune revolves around the same relentless bass pattern almost all the way through, with a short B section interjecting in the middle of the song. The repeating bassline contains a trademark chromatic run up from the 3rd degree of the scale and just keeps going and going! This presents a bit of a stamina challenge on the tuba. I can just about keep my single tonguing going for the whole tune but found that double tonguing is not only easier and more efficient, but also seems to fit better with the way the TOP band play the groove. It’s like the double tongue sound matches the ‘wacka chicka’ type articulation that is going on throughout the tune.

Download the full transcription here: On the Serious Side bass transcription

Bassline Academy – Drop It In The Slot, Rocco Prestia

When I was studying at university (many moons ago) I would hear many tuba students talk about who they would like to sound like. Names like John Fletcher, Owen Slade, Patrick Harrild and Oren Marshall were some of the tuba players we were trying to emulate. However, for me I also had the sound of Tower of Power’s bass player Rocco Prestia in my head. There’s something about his direct, punchy, fat sound and style I’ve always loved and tried to recreate in my playing. I think that if we aim to make a sound that is beyond someone else playing the same instrument as us, then we may well stretch the possibilities of what we can do on our instrument. One of the most common bits of feedback I get after a gig is ‘I thought that was a bass guitar’, which I usually take as a compliment because when I’m playing any afro-american based style I’m generally not trying to sound like a tuba, but a bass.

Anyway that’s a long winded introduction to my transcription of ‘Drop It In The Slot’ from one of my favourite Tower of Power albums, ‘In The Slot’.

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Rocco’s playing in the A section is quite high on the bass which sits nicely on the tuba. He plays the riff on F7 pretty much unaltered throughout the opening  and only embellishes the tail of the phrase on F#7.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 12.53.49In the B section, however, I’m not sure he plays exactly the same thing twice! There are some rhythmic hooks but he’s mainly freestyling on Dmin using the root, 6th and 7th.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 12.54.32.pngThe outro, after the chromatic shifting of the original riff, is where Rocco starts to let his hair down with some of his trademark semiquaver chromatic runs.

This is a fun tune to play on tuba and I actually think the interactions between the sound of tuba and the rest of the TOP horns works better on a brass bass than an electric one (but I would think that wouldn’t I)!

Download the full bass transcription here.

Bassline Academy – Come on Come Over, Jaco Pastorius

Come on Come Over is the second track on Jaco Pastorius’ album called ‘Jaco Pastorius’! It’s a great album which takes you on a proper musical journey and is really well put together – if you haven’t heard it check it out, it’s been a firm favourite of mine for many years. Come on Come Over is one of the full on funky tracks with the horn section featuring amongst others the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn and the great Howard Johnson (also of jazz tuba fame) on baritone sax.

This track is a great example of Jaco’s melodic bass craft. He’s never just keeping time or outlining the harmony but playing long arching melodic phrases that are spellbinding. In essence the piece has just 2 sections. The bass line in the A section, which sits on C minor with a couple of ascending chromatic semi runs, stays rock solid the same all the way through the track.

The B section steps up a tone to D major. The bassline loosely follows the example on the left with Jaco continually embellishing the phrase in his own characteristic way throughout the tune. The way he plays makes it sound like there’s nearly always continual semiquaver movement in the bass, but listen closely and there’s actually a fair bit of space in his lines (well, in the first two B sections at least, he does let his hair down a bit in the last one!). Jaco’s note placement is impeccable and it’s his interaction with everything else that’s going on in the band that gives the feel of perpetual motion.

Click here to download a full transcription of Jaco’s bassline in Come on Come Over.

This may not be the most obvious track to try on tuba but I love this tight funky kind of thing so here goes!

Bassline Academy – Lingus, Michael League

Lingus has got to be one of my favourite Snarky Puppy tunes. Cory Henry’s epic solo will surely go down in history as one the greats, and underpinning it all is Michael League’s bass, which I think is a great example of groovy restraint. Michael League and Snarky Puppy can, by his own admission bit quite ‘chopsy’, and there’s certainly a lot of fireworks going on in the soloing and drumming on this track. But if you listen to the bass it’s actually doing the simple things (well, relatively simple things) really well. There are a few times when he lets loose but on the whole, especially in the Cory Henry solo, he’s just thumping out the same underpinning grove pattern without making things too fancy – there’s enough fancy stuff going on in the keyboard and drum parts!

 

The opening Emin riff is wonderfully phat and dirty, and so fits very well on tuba!

 

It’s in this section that Mr. League takes the (rare in this piece) opportunity to put in a choice fill. For me this is one of the bass highlights of the track! The use of C#s and low G# make things momentarily brighter implying Emaj briefly, before returning straight back to Emin.

A nice touch of rhythm section detail is how the syncopated pattern (that delays the root of the chord to beat 2 in bar 5 of the B section) leaves the low root out altogether on the third time we hear it. It’s a great example of how less is more. By just leaving out one choice note it gives a really nice moment of space but at the same time it’s like we still hear the low root even though it’s not there!

 After an increase in the baseline intensity through the horn solos, Michael finally lets loose for 4 bars in the tutti that ends the first section of the tune before reigning it all back in to hold down the repeating bassline in the second half of the piece.

As a bit of a tuba challenge a decided to transcribe the whole bass part and give it a blow. I’ve tried to get the transcription as honest to what Michael is playing as possible. It’s tricky to tell exactly what octave he’s playing in sometimes as there are other instruments doubling the baseline at times but here’s my best attempt.

Click here to download a pdf of the full Lingus Bass transcription.