Last week the exuberant spectacle known as the NAMM show occurred in Anaheim, California. (I wrote about what the NAMM Show is here). I had a fabulous time, got to meet up and catch up with bass besties from all over the US and the world and enjoyed playing several concerts and performances with the amazing Muriel Anderson and the German Flamenco Duo Tierra Negra with Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs. Raul Ramirez holding down the percussion. We played the main NAMM stage and Muriel had put together several great events outside of the show as well. Awesome musical times playing beautiful songs!
Now, most of the time on the NAMM show floor you spend steeped in an amazing wall of sound. In the “bass department” it’s mostly a waterfall of E minor thumping. Fast and furious licks. bombasticness you’d typically not hear in a song. Just loud, fast, and often void of musical context, so it’s not really grooving or making the heart sing either.
Here is a sample of the sound carpet at NAMM – we measured 100 dB – which is majorly asking for trouble:
I stopped for a moment to realize that a lot of it was tiring, exhausting to listen to.
Not just because it was so loud. It felt pretty meaningless.
once in a while, someone’s playing would draw me in. Because it had an individuality to it or had an arc to it. It could have been a fast thing but it had a goal or a direction, was set in the context of a story, so it had meaning and touched me in some way.
Granted, it is NAMM and in order to even hear yourself at all, you are going to need an amp that goes at least to 11. But that does not mean no music can be made.
The funny thing is,
you will hear everyone moaning and bitching about how loud the slappety-slap carpet at bass events often is. We all agree, yet, at the same time, slappety-slap seems to be the imaginary ticket to belong to “The Club” or something. A rite of passage one must go through.
I remember a Bass Player Live event a few years ago – I and a good friend (who is a phenomenal bassist!) were standing in the corner lamenting the lack of musicality and thumping offense we were exposed to. A few minutes later my buddy grabs a bass to test it out and proceeded to – you guessed it – thump a funk in E with the same fast and furiousness we had just lamented against.
There is something about this environment that makes not attempting to perform musical pyrotechnics a hard proposition. Yet, it does raise this interesting question: What is it that truly draws us in musically? What draws us in not because of some technical flashiness, but because it truly touches us. And that is not to say that fast can’t touch us. I think it very much can. Fast is not bad. It just needs to be embedded right.
I am constantly searching for this special thing
that makes my heart skip a beat. And I have noticed that even players with limited facility can do that for me.
- when they sound authentic,
- seem to be effortlessly connected to the music,
- when there is no fight against the instrument that would distract from the music,
- and it almost feels like the instrument is not there,
- and they show themselves.
I think that’s where it’s at. Theory, technique, knowing the fretboard are all tools to that end. Tools that give you the facility to bring the music into this world. I do believe that this telling of our story and cultivating our own selves (musically and beyond) can be practiced just like permutations are practiced: from the food you eat to your very personal habits of thought, to the music you listen to, the books you read, the friends you hang with. It is all there. Victor Wooten says to be a good person before you even try to be a good bassist. I relate to that and am developing teaching materials to that end which will be integrated with our Pattern System method.
Stay tuned. I think everything can be learned and practiced!
And here are a few NAMM photos for your enjoyment.