Jazz Concepts: Ben Tucker's Beatnik Vibe

January 25, 2017

In the new Amazon series Crisis in six Scenes, Woody Allen frames his meandering plot with classic jazz hits from the ’60s: “Moanin’” played by Art Blakey with Jymie Merritt on bass, “Topsy” played by the Jimmy Guiffre Trio, and “Comin’ Home Baby.” Bassist Ben Tucker composed and performed “Comin’ Home Baby” with flautist Herbie Mann on Live at the Village Gate [1961, Atlantic]. Over the past 60 years, Tucker’s tune has been recorded often by both jazz and pop artists. The beauty of his composition lies in the sexy, hypnotic, double-stop boogaloo bass groove. On Live at the Village Gate, Tucker joins Mann’s band alongside Ahmed Abdul-Malik—Mann’s regular bassist at the time—for a two-bass romp that draws the listener into the smoky, dank zeitgeist of Greenwich Village in the ’60s.

Bob Dorough later put lyrics to the bluesy melody, which became a hit for vocalist Mel Torme [Comin’ Home Baby!, 1962, Atlantic] and Michael Bublé and Boyz II Men [Call Me Irresponsible, 2008, Reprise]. A strong bassist, Tucker eventually found a more profitable niche in the world of songwriting, music publishing, and radio.

Bassists usually only make money per note—when we play, we get paid. Hit songwriters make money while they sleep. Tucker also played with and wrote songs for Marian McPartland. In his book, Shall We Play That One Together? The Life and Art of Jazz Pianist Marian McPartland [2012, St. Martin’s Press], Paul de Barros writes, “The real money in the music business, as Ben Tucker discovered, was getting one’s songs published, played on the radio, and/or recorded by others.”

Tucker’s career as a first-call bassist in the ’60s was admirable. He made his mark playing in bands and on recordings with jazz heavyweights like Quincy Jones, Mose Allison, Billy Taylor, Pat Martino and Grant Green. In the early ’70s, his bass playing took a back seat to a business career after he purchased two radio stations in Savannah, Georgia. Ben Tucker passed away in a car accident in 2013 at age 82. His groovy bass playing and hip melodies still enthrall jazz fanatics and Woody Allen fans.

Example 1 shows the bass line that Tucker plays on Herbie Mann’s Live at the Village Gate album. “Comin’ Home Baby” is a 12-bar blues form with a couple of interesting harmonic twists. The tonic chord is G minor. In bar 5, the harmony moves to an Fsus, which you could think of as a C minor chord with an F in the bass. In bars 9 and 10, the bass line moves chromatically from Bb back down to G minor. Compare this chromatic movement to the harmony of songs like the jamsession standard “On Green Dolphin Street” and the rock anthem “I’m a Man” from the Spencer Davis Group. Tucker’s melody—based on a G blues scale—snakes smoothly through the harmony.

The term double-stop means two notes played simultaneously. Play the double-stops slowly at first and make sure that each pair of notes is in tune. A perfect 5th double-stop sounds full, round, and sonorous when you play it in tune. When the perfect 5th interval is out of tune, it sounds like a sick cow. Make sure you can hear the difference.

To lock in the groove, honor the eighth-note rest on beat two of each bar. Also watch for the rests that happen often on beat four. These rests create space for the drummer’s backbeat, and makes the listener bob her head and do that cool, nonchalant finger-snapping thing that beatniks did in the ’60s. On the Village Gate recording, Tucker starts the bass line—it was his tune, after all—and then Abdul-Malik joins with high harmonic accents.

When the bass solo begins at 5:50 into the track, Abdul-Malik switches to the bass line and Tucker takes the lead. Example 2 shows the fifth chorus of his solo, beginning at 7:00. Tucker quotes the melody in the first four bars. In bar 5, he plays a repeated riff from the note C. In bars 7 and 8, Tucker throws off a nice blues lick with a left-hand pull-off. The last eighth-note of bar 8 pushes into bar 9. Be sure to push the anticipated eighth-notes in bar 9, but don’t rush. Dragging might be a drag, but rushing is for squares.

In bars 11 and 12, Tucker finishes the chorus with a G7 lick, landing on the 3rd (the note B) in bar 12. Maybe he meant to play a Bb because the rest of the tune always has the G minor sound in that spot. But Tucker can play any beatnik note he wants, because it’s his tune and solo. Long live the ’60s!

INFO

GOLDSBY

Check out John’s new video lesson series, The Upright Bass Handbook. More info at truefire.com and johngoldsby.com.

LISTEN

Herbie Mann, Herbie Mann Live at the Village Gate [1961, Atlantic]. Additional Ben Tucker recordings: Grant Green, Green Street [1961, Blue Note]; Mark Murphy, That’s How I Love the Blues [1963, Riverside]; Marian McPartland, Bossa Nova + Soul [1963, Time Records]; Pat Martino, Strings! [1967, Prestige]; Billy Taylor, Sleeping Bee [1969, Prestige].

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