Jerry Watts with the John Daversa Progressive Big Band
Mon, 11 Mar 2013

CALL IT A FIRST IN FIVE YEARS OF BASS PLAYER LIVE! clinics in Los Angeles: cramming the 18-piece John Daversa Progressive Big Band on the stage of Room B for an hour-plus of cutting-edge chamber jazz from the bassist’s perspective. The idea sprung from Jerry Watts, head of the bass department at the Los Angeles Music Academy (LAMA) and nimble anchor of trumpeter/composer Daversa’s forward-leaning flock. After the ensemble opened with “The Bridge” and “Your Mother,” from their new CD, Junk Wagon, Watts took to the mic to talk about the personal impact of seeing the big bands of Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, Jaco Pastorius, and Maynard Ferguson (with Will Lee as a last-second sub). He also provided a history of the five-year-old Daversa unit and spoke about LAMA, the clinic’s sponsor, before fielding questions. Asked how much of the music is notated for bass, Watts replied, “most of it,” but stressed the importance of being loose in addition to reading what’s on the page: “John encourages us to stretch and find new ways to interpret the music.” A question about whether he can hang back in the pocket during groove sections resulted in an emphatic yes! from the trumpet section, and all-around laughter. Queried on whether he listens to the horns when playing unison lines with them, Watts noted that he absolutely does. The band then played “Cheeks,” and concluded the clinic with a performance of the CD’s title track.

Afterward, Watts gave BP a closer look at his chart for “The Bridge,” along with some insight. Example 1 shows the basic groove of the opening section, which Watts recorded on his MTD 535. “When the tune starts, Jeff Driscoll’s piccolo plays the bass figure for several bars. I had to pay close attention to how Jeff was phrasing the notes—particularly the 32nd-notes [in bars 2 and 3]—because the line definitely has some swing to it. The trick is to articulate all the notes along with the piccolo and keep it light, retaining the bounce and forward momentum that [drummer] Gene Coye set up so nicely—we’re definitely not laying back in this section! In my left hand, playing the part across three strings instead of two allowed for better phrasing of the 32nd-notes. I plucked fingerstyle.”

Example 2 contains the repeated two-bar groove in the piece’s next section. “At this point, the whole band sits, and the swing straightens out a bit as we play the 16th groove,” Watts offers. “Here, I’m in unison with several instruments, most notably the low brass. Originally I tried fingerstyle, but after hearing the playback, it seemed the plucks tended to obscure the attack and envelope of the trombone notes. So I ended up playing the passage using double-thumbing [up and down thumbstrokes], which allowed the bass to cut through without stepping on any toes.” After the opening groove returns, the composition moves to a section with alternating 6/8 and 5/8 measures, a typical portion of which is shown in Ex. 3. Advises Watts, “It was important to be right with the woodwind and brass phrasing. It took me a minute to hear their feel. Once that locked in, the whole thing dropped in the pocket.”

Finally, Ex. 4 contains the repeated six-bar phrase of the solo and rap sections, for which Watts is given just the rhythm and the changes. “John has always advocated and expected Gene and me to freely explore and improvise in open sections like this. I played the whole thing using doublethumbing, with some right-forearm muting to add a bit more percussive kick, and I stick to playing the root and b7 for most of it. At this point, the bass holds the fort, and the drums interact more with the soloist. My goal is to keep the energy high and build in intensity.”

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