Learn To Play: “I Break Out … In A Cold Sweat … Hah!”
By John Goldsby
Sun, 1 Nov 2009
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SOMETIMES I SIT AT THE COMPUTER and cut and paste funk loops into my sequencer program. It’s easy—I just pick something from my library and plug it in. The problem is, the loops that are supposed to be funky are just not funky … not truly funky, anyway. Nothing the computer spits out can compare to the human creations of a bass master like Bernard Odum, a stalwart of the James Brown Band. Why is that?

Since I play a lot of jazz, I’ve thought long and hard about what makes jazz music feel good. In jazz, the beautiful feeling of forward motion comes from the bass playing a groovy, repetitive, rhythmic line, which is locked in with the drums—in particular, with the repetitive groove of the ride cymbal. The bass and ride cymbal float through the music, creating a carpet of comfort for the other instruments. The bass/ride hookup makes jazz music swing. So what is it that makes funk music funky?

In funk music, the bass also locks into the drums, but especially with the repetitive groove from the bass drum and snare drum. The relationship of the bass to the drums establishes the main difference between jazz and funk music styles.

Let’s look at Bernard Odum’s bass line on “Cold Sweat” from the James Brown classic Live at the Apollo [Polydor]. “Cold Sweat” finds unlikely roots in one of the greatest jazz standards, Miles Davis’s “So What” (See March ’09). In a Downbeat magazine interview, saxophonist and composer Pee Wee Ellis said he was influenced by “So What” and modeled his “Cold Sweat” horn arrangement after the Miles Davis classic. During the composition process, Brown grunted the bass line to Ellis, and the team of Odum and drummer Clyde Stubblefield— which ranks as one of the best in the history of the funk business—took care of the rest.

http://www.bassplayer.com/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/bp1109_Wood_Goldsby_Ex-1.jpgEx. 1 shows Odum’s unique approach to the simple harmony of the verse. If a student brought this bass line to me, I would have to say that it’s theoretically wrong. I would send the student home to work on a new line, suggesting that he avoid major 3rds on minor chords. However, Bernard Odum makes his line work in a big way. So why does Odum’s line sound so great when he plays it, even when he uses an F# over the Dm sound? The horns are vamping, “So What”-style, between Em and Dm, and Odum lays down the F# as a passing tone in the second bar. It does sound—funky. Awww … make everything all right … I break out in a cold sweat … hah … huh!

The correct theoretical explanation would be that the entire second bar of the riff consists of passing tones leading into the basic D minor pattern in bar 1. Odum doesn’t care that the chord is Dm. He plays a pattern over the D “something.” Since he’s completely locked-in rhythmically with Stubblefield, the groove sounds indestructible.

http://www.bassplayer.com/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/bp1109_Wood_Goldsby_Ex-2.jpgThe bridge (Ex. 2) vamps between the chords C7 and F9, and once again Odum grabs some funked-up note choices. In bar 2, he drops down to the low E before landing on the root of the F9 chord on beat three. He stays on C7 for a couple of extra beats, slightly delaying the resolution to F9 until the middle of the second bar. It’s the same type of lick found in Ex. 1, but used under a different chord progression. This is a common trait of funk music: Bass lines and melodies that stand on their own don’t always perfectly outline the harmony in a theoretically correct way. But Odum’s approach doesn’t come from a theory book. It’s straight from the heart and gut.

http://www.bassplayer.com/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/bp1109_Wood_Goldsby_Ex-3.jpgThe release, or interlude, is the tune’s hook (Ex. 3). These four bars are the payoff for the whole song—the “money notes.” When James Brown sings: “I break out …” the band lays into the syncopations in bar 1. The rhythm section and horns are tight, like a dance troupe dropping onto the floor in unison and freezing in position. In bar 2 when the band rests, J.B. sings “… in a cold sweat …” The band nails the accents on the upbeats in bar 3. On beat one of bar 4, J.B. delivers a trademark “hah!” and the band hits on two. J.B. screams an extra “huh” for good measure, and the band returns to the A section vamp. One peep out of place, one eighth-note too early or too late, and the groove is destroyed; Brown would have gotten rid of the offending player. The four-bar interlude is simple, yet there’s so much pressure to nail the notes in time.

Nothing could ever shake the team of Stubblefield and Odum. They demonstrate another defining characteristic of funk music: the tightness of the rhythm section. Odum plays with harmonic ambiguity in his lines, but his groove and rhythm are impeccable. The funkiness of his harmonic approach counters the precision of his groove.

This month, turn off Band-in-a-Box, quit GarageBand, unplug the looper, and listen to Bernard Odum. Emulate his feel, sound, and rhythmic delivery, but remember: It’s not what you play, but how you play it.

Check out John Goldsby’s new releases, The Visit and Space for the Bass [both on Bass Lion]. He is the author of The Jazz Bass Book [Backbeat Books], and also Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist [Aebersold Jazz], which has just come out in its fourth edition. For more info, visit his webpage at www.goldsby.de

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