Evolution of Jazz Bass

BlantonOn this podcast I examine the history of the bass in jazz from the 1925 through 1930. Most bassists came from the brass traditions–they were originally tuba players. The string bass could not be heard in brass bands or in outdoor venues, nor could it be heard on acoustic recordings. The double bass was used in the string or salon ensembles of the early 20th century. The introduction of the electric microphone in the mid 1920’s was a revelation for listeners and made it possible to record using a double bass. Because most double bassists were originally tuba players, when they played the string bass they would often mimic the 2/2 style of the tuba in the traditional marching band. You can hear the “slap” bass technique used by many bassists of this period–its percussive sound helps drive the band. Occasionally a bassist from this period might play in 4/4 time, but that would evolve later in the 1930’s.

Evolution of Jazz Bass - Episode 1

CompositionArtist/LeaderBassist Year
Milenburg JoysTed Lewis and His BandHarry Barth1925
My Pretty GalJean Goldkette OrchestraSteve Brown1927
Black Bottom StompJelly Roll Morton and Hot PeppersJohn Lindsay1926
China BoyCharles Pierce OrchestraJohnny Mueller1928
Voice of the SouthlandThelma Terry and her PlayboysThelma Terry1928
Freeze and MeltJoe Turner and his Memphis MenWellman Braud1929
PanamaLuis Russell OrchestraGeorge “Pops” Foster1930

Evolution of Jazz Bass - Part 2

We begin to see a shift in the manner in which the double bass is played beginning by the late 1920’s. Bassists on recordings from what was referred to as the Southwest Territory, really Kansas City, often would play 4 beats to a measure. This was the beginning of the more modern walking style of bass playing. Walter Page did not invent the walking style but he certainly perfected it. Walter Page was later a member of the famous Count Basie rhythm section that led to the development modern jazz rhythm section. The bassists featured on this podcast were more adept soloists than their predecessors and all were starting to walk the bass in a fluid and even manner.
Squabblin’Walter Page and his Blue DevilsWalter Page1929
Pagin’ the DevilThe Kansas City SixWalter Page1938
Chinatown, My ChinatownFletcher Henderson OrchestraJohn Kirby1930
ShagNew Orleans FeetwarmersWilson Meyers1932
My! Oh, My!Eddie South QuartetMilt Hinton1933
Pluckin’ the BassCab Calloway OrchestraMilt Hinton1939

Evolution of Jazz Bass - Part 3

This podcast will feature some outstanding, but lesser known bassists from the 1930’s. All were good timekeepers and soloists. It is interesting to hear the bass being featured more often on recordings as we get closer to the 1940’s. The last excerpt on the podcast is from the legendary bassist, Jimmy Blanton. Enough cannot be said of his amazing talent. Duke Ellington hired him on the spot after hearing him play in St. Louis one evening. He died at a tragically young age, but during his time with Duke Ellington he made some monumental recordings. Ellington often featured him as a timekeeper, soloist, and as an ensemble player. Blanton revolutionized the way the bass functioned in jazz and gave us a blueprint for the next generation of jazz bassist.
Rug Cutter SwingHenry Allen OrchestraElmer James1934
Hawaiian War SongAndy Iona and his IslandersSam Koki1934
Liza Pull Down the ShadesBob Wills and Texas PlayboysSon Lanford1938
Bugle Call RagCandy and CocoCandy Candido1934
Deep Blue MelodyDon Albert OrchestraJames Johnson1936
Sepia PanoramaDuke EllingtonJimmy Blanton1941

Early Jazz Piano

Jazz piano has a long and interesting history, which actually goes back to the mid-19th century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Gottschalk’s syncopated works, influenced by the Cuban habanera rhythm, were popular in North America and Europe. These syncopated compositions of the mid-19th century led to the development of the popular cakewalk dance of the late 19th century and later to the ragtime compositions of Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers.

Early Jazz Piano - Episode 1

Late 19th and early 20th century of popular ragtime did not swing in the modern sense, nor did it contain any improvisation. Cakewalk and ragtime music were usually performed on solo piano, but any type of ensemble could play ragtime---it was the syncopated rhythmic approach that helped to identify the music as traditional ragtime. It was probably the New Orleans (or Mississippi Delta) musicians who would give strict ragtime its swinging lilt. We don’t know who first swung it, but Jelly Roll Morton’s 1938 Library of Congress Recordings may give us some insight. Morton is an important figure in the development of jazz piano. He started his career in the early 20th century as a journeyman performer and became a pre-eminent composer, arranger, band leader, and performer by the mid 1920’s.
At a Georgia Camp MeetingScott Joplin (from a piano roll)ca. 1910
American Beauty RagJoseph Lamb1913
Maple Leaf RagScott Joplin (from a piano roll)ca. 1916
Maple Leaf RagJelly Roll Morton (tradition style)1938
Maple Leaf RagJelly Roll Morton (swing style)1938
The PearlsJelly Roll Morton1923

Early Jazz Piano - Episode 2

Snowy Morning BluesJames P. Johnson1927
The Mule WalkJames P. Johnson1939
Carolina ShoutJames P. Johnson1921
Carolina ShoutFats Waller1941
A Handful of KeysFats Waller1929
Honeysuckle RoseFats Waller1934
Echoes of SpringWillie “the Lion” Smithca. 1957
Tiger RagArt Tatum1932
Willow Weep for MeArt Tatumca. 1949