Bass at the Grammys
What an amazing adventure to get to experience the 2017 Grammy Awards show (pre-telecast, telecast, and after party), and a week of parties and special events on top of it! From getting to see the historic Village Recorder at the Producers and Engineers Party (who honored Jack White) to the incredible Clive Davis Show honoring Deborah L Lee with amazing guests in the audience (Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr, Joanie Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones…) and fantastic artists on stage (Judy Collins, Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J Blige, Neil Diamond and more) to hanging with dear old and new friends – it was a mind blowing, star-studded never-ending fest, with the music front and center.
Let’s take a look at a bit of bass at the Grammys!
Here is a very incomplete (but passionate) account based on who I saw or heard. Make sure to check out the list of all winners of the 2017 Grammys..
The Pre-Telecast features a seemingly endless stream of announcements of nominees, the obligatory moment of breath holding, finally followed by the announcement of the winner. Then we wait until winner/s have sufficiently collected themselves to be able to get out of their seats, make their way through the rows and down the aisle, fending off congratulations and hugs left and right so as to come up the impressive stairs of the Staples Center to receive the handshake and the award and find their – often shaking – voices to say heartfelt thanks. [Or – to keep it interesting – announce that they thanked God but really had to go pee now, (true story!)].
It is more than moving, sometimes funny, but clearly a deeply meaningful moment for everyone who makes it up to this podium. You get a sense of the hopes and dreams, the hard work, the many people it took, sometimes the many tries it took. For every single winner there are four who didn’t win and many more who didn’t make the nomination. It is special. It doesn’t mean one is necessarily a better musician than the other or that someone who did not get nominated should quit or rethink their “talent”. But it does mean that the voting members of the Academy – high level industry professionals – cast their votes as they did.
But I digress. Back to bass. That story about making it up the stairs has bass relevance, because…
Lee Sklar is in the house! In the house band, actually! If you didn’t hear it (you did!) you saw it – the silhouette is unmistakable!
While announced winner makes it through seats/rows/congratulations/up the stairs/wipe sweat/catch breath etc, the house band plays. In keeping with the broader style of the category you get to hear recognizable instrumental versions of the epic songs we have all played at weddings and in top forty bands: be it a rocking Eye of the Tiger, or a more Southern Sweet Home Alabama, Buffalo Soldier for the reggae category etc. High energy, upbeat win-tunes. And with Lee on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, it was grooving – very – hard!
As a perk the band also got to back up some of the acts that played throughout the event. I especially enjoyed Lee playing with Ziggy Marley!
Bowie’s album Blackstar was one of the big winners of the night: it received six grammys total including Best Rock Performance. They won in all categories they were nominated in.
David Ellefson, Chris Adler
It was great to see Megadeath up there on the podium, receiving the award for Best Metal Performance. Too much hair and too far away to make out who took the trophy. Both Chris and Daniel played on the album. In any event: Awesome!
I am a big fan of whatever Mark O’Connor does. His band played a feature spot and upright bassist Geoff tore it up – talking five-one at quite the tempo. They won for Best Bluegrass album! Congratulations!
Yes, he plays bass. And piano, and sings, and drums. Any instrument, including video, seems to just be a creative tool for this young man from London.
The Awards Show
During the awards show it was too much of a whirlwind to notice live bass versus tracked performances, but Terry Lewis pumping bass for the Prince tribute as part of the Time featuring Morris Day (and later also featuring Bruno Mars!) was of course epic, historic and bitter-sweet. Robert Trujillo with Metallica featuring Lady Gaga rounded out the stylistic variety.
The After Party
Kool and the Gang at the after party! What a groove unit they are. And still bringing it. The most important thing – the signature groove – is there and strong; as high an energy show as ever. Everyone was dancing!
Jerry Watts with the John Daversa Big Band at the after party. Maybe this was my favorite band of all. The John Daversa Progressive Big Band is a sight and sound to behold. Big band, a string section and vocalists, and John at the helm conducting precisely and compassionately, by heart and from the heart… the arrangements are funny and quirky but always make musical sense. They covered a few Beatles tunes – ObLaDi with constant modulations by a half step – ingenious! Jerry of course was grooving his heart out and laid it down with the rest of the amazing rhythm section. Standing ovations would not stop. And even though it was the last music of a very very long and music filled week – the shouts for “one more” would not stop.
If I had to name one artist the “bass at the Grammys” artist it would be Rickey! He was everywhere – at the show, at the Clive Davis Party… when I picked up my tickets the Bee Gees Tribute Band made the entire queue bop heads to Stayin Alive. He lent his amazing pocket – and I also assume MD talents – to several events I witnessed: from the Clive Davis Industry Party, to the Bee Gees Tribute at the show, he played bass and keys and gave subtle and perfect clues and cues. I can’t but imagine how much work arranging and preparing the Clive Davis show must have been. He navigated – seemingly effortlessly – a variety of styles and artists with a pocket so deep you can put your kitchen sink in it (and then some).
Take Aways of Bass at the Grammys
- Almost all of the bassists I mention here I have had the pleasure to meet in person. They are not only incredible bassists but also very nice people: helpful, respectful, encouraging. It is part of “making it” I think, to be a “good person first, before being a good bassist” (paraphrasing the beloved Mrs. Dorothy Wooten here). I also like to say it is part of being a bass player – we are choosing the supportive role in the band after all. But I will openly admit a bit of a bias for bass players.
- Solid playing. None of the playing I witnessed was particularly flashy. But man, did it groove! I personally love flashy, virtuous, fast, what have you, but these gigs require solid. If you want to work with the best, solid has priority, that is for sure.
- evenness of tone,
- relaxed technique,
- economic fingering
- your sound,
- your solid timing,
- your impeccable reading
- eartraining… before you go and practice the triple tritonic backwards #17 flip at tempo 250.
Okay I made that up.
But you get the idea – work on the basics (and those include music theory)
And last but not least, food for thought:
- For every single band who submitted, got nominated or won: there was a bass player holding down the groove. (Or maybe a few of them swinging their bows, or a voice filling the low end duties.) Surely those bass player names are not the names you see out front. The Grammys are not about bass. But without us – there would not be any of that grooving that gives you that yummy feeling in your gut and makes everyone’s head bop.
Here is Earth Wind and Fire bassist Verdine White grooving to Neil Diamond… Rickey Minor on bass!
Ariane is an elect Governor of the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy. The views and opinions expressed in this article are her own.