Before you commit suicide...
by Harald Weinkum hwein.com
Kenny Werner is right: you need to love and accept yourself regardless of how good you play your instrument. However, in reality most of us do feel better about ourselves when our playing is really happening one night, and, on the contrary, have almost suicidal thoughts when we get back from that jam session where we made a fool of ourselves.
And between those who always blame someone else for everything (your next door neighbor with that 8 mpg Hummer SUV comes to mind), and those, who always complain about their own performance (the very talented Allan Holdsworth comes to mind), there’s lots of room for your own performance based self-esteem.
But: I am a veteran of two scenarios, where I almost filled out that Burger King application and sold my bass(es), only to eventually find out that, for a change, I was not to blame for my horrible sub-440 Hz performance, and you might want to look out for those scenarios in your own musical world:
The first one happened when a friend and saxophone player asked me to come by and contribute a few (hopefully) funky bass lines to a demo he was making. I agree, go over, plug into his mixer, and off we go, using his mac computer to track. First tune seemed a piece of cake, until we gave my first take a listen: my time was all over the place. I blamed it on not being warmed up, so off we go to a second take, and it felt really good while tracking.
Listening back, it was hardly any better than the first one. My first serious self-doubts kicked in, but I tried to fight them off by breaking up the tune into little 8 bar segments, just to be safe. The first of these segments, although I kept it really simple, was just as bad as everything else I tracked so far. Take after take – not happening.
I eventually had to split without leaving him anything to work with. Needless to say: I hardly slept that night. How can I devote 10 years of my life to my instrument, and then fail at a simple, 1-chord jam bass line?
Next day I headed back with the highest intentions to regain my musical (and unfortunately personal) self esteem. Bring it on! Same 8 bars…same old result, only that it became clearer that my time was actually not "all over the place", but always dragging like hell, no matter how hard I tried to push the beat.
And then, while my buddy was busy on the phone, I let the computer roll and just hit a grace note on every beat, desperately trying to isolate my problem. Opening those grace notes in the editor became the biggest relief I’ve felt since Austria’s soccer team beat Germany in 1978: each and every of those notes was exactly 42ms behind the beat!!
I immediately asked my (by then almost ex-) friend, if he ever set up the proper latency time settings on his audio card – which he hadn’t. I threw every curse at him I could come up with, and after a one-minute tweaking job on his audio driver settings I recorded 4 tracks fisrt take and went home a happy fellow.
The moral: simple, double, and triple-check your latency settings before you record anything straight to a computer! It might save your life…
The second incident happened very recently on a jazz jam session I was called to open. I used my electric upright bass, which always posts a challenge intonation-wise, but I felt I could afford to show a little imperfection here and there on a jam (where else if not there?).
How wrong I was: I kept tuning up (using my electronic ears courtesy of KORG), I asked the piano player twice to double check if his digital piano was set to anything else but 440 Hz, but I basically was not able to play a ballad without driving everyone else on stage to tears – and NOT for sentimental reasons.
Again, I left the event crushed and apologizing to all the musicians, promising to them and myself how much I will work on my pitch.
2 weeks later, surprisingly, they called me again, and even though I was in a much better mood, I was still struggling like hell on those bossa nova tunes with my half note roots and fifths – especially on "lucky southern", where I eventually only used my open D string on the one chord, but it still wouldn’t sound right. I decided to stay strong, keep a happy face, but also started to look for an explanation (I already ruled out any piano pitch-irregularities), until I heard, between songs, the drummer mess around with his bass drum…
It turned out he really liked the "open" sound of a ringing bass drum head, except that his bass drum was tuned about a quarter tone above a low D!! So whenever he played a "one" on the kick (and naturally he always did), I was doomed: either play my note way sharp and clash with all the musicians on stage, or play it "in tune" and clash with the drummer. I was way more polite to him than to my aforementioned sax-buddy, but made it clear to him he needs to do something about that ringing, off-pitch bass drum.
Thus, our second moral: before jumping off (the upright player section of) that cliff, give the bass drum a listen for any potential disastrous sounds! Your children (and, more immediate, your audience) will thank you
Stay tuned for Harald's my next CD titled "ÜBERTHREE". It will feature Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, Dave Weckl, Steve Weingart, Joe Labarbara and Kirk Covington, and, like the "BASS BOLERO" be exclusively in 3/4 time. Go to hwein.com for some audio samples
gary willis, victor wooten, steve bailey, jimmy haslip, rocco prestia, alain caron, marco mendoza, abraham laboriel, bill dickens, alexis skljarevski, dave carpenter, ric fierabracci, james genus, jimmy earl