On her sophomore album, Balance, Mimi Jones juggles the roles of bassist, singer, composer, and bandleader on a record that has as much soul as it does swing. The opening track, “Nothing Like You,” features a bowed intro that transitions into an uptempo walking line before Jones unleashes a melodic solo where she effortlessly traverses every bit of real estate that her fingerboard has to offer. And if her skillful playing isn’t enough, her tremendous vocal ability that ranges from a sultry, Nina Simoneesque timbre to a beautifully pitched falsetto steals the show on tracks like “Traveler” and “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”
As a budding bass player, the New York native studied at the Harlem and LaGuardia schools of the arts before she attended the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied under an impressive list of jazz legends, including Ron Carter and Max Roach. Jones then made a statement with her 2009 debut A New Day, which revealed the bluesy and folky side of her playing. On her latest record, Jones’ evolution as a bass player and composer shows a depth of experience beyond her years that mixes her traditional jazz foundation with shades of modern hip-hop and R&B. And if her bass work weren’t already awe-inspiring, this time around Mrs. Jones has added a slew of new techniques to her already impressive bag of tricks.
What new techniques did you try on this album?
On “Patriot” I did the whole middle section using double-stops, which is really hard to do on upright. It takes focus to play in tune and make it flow smoothly. I also played some electric bass, which I hadn’t done before. I took some lessons with Lonnie Plaxico and I learned a lot from him. On “Traveler” I play an odd-metered ostinato line, and that was really hard to play and sing over. I knew I wanted to do some bowing on this album because I used to bow all the time when I was studying classical and jazz composition in school. When I wrote “Nothing Like You” I bowed the melody and created the arrangement around it. I also took more solos on this record because I didn’t take many on my first album.
How do you typically compose your songs?
I practice every day, and a lot of my riffs come from that. I love it when I get an idea when I’m practicing, but then I have to stop and record it on my phone, and that takes away about ten minutes from my practice time. Then I put it away and I’ll go back and go through the ideas I come up with. I never like to force ideas. I love it when they come organically and when the first melody that comes to mind has potential to be a song.
What’s the secret to your booming bass tone?
I’m extremely bottom-heavy with my sound, and I’ve gotten into many arguments with engineers over my tone. It really depends on the frequency of the room and the size of the hall, because it can become heavy with too much low end. I’ve learned to roll down the lows a bit and raise the midrange to get it so it sounds natural but still deep. If it’s a hip-hop thing then I know I need the bottom, but if it’s folky or melodic, then I rely on my mids. The most important thing is clarity. It needs to cut in every circumstance.
Do you feel that women play the bass differently than men?
I definitely think there are subtle differences between their approach. Physically, it’s kind of ironic because it’s such a big instrument and women tend to be smaller than men, so that can make it more challenging. But the bass has more of a supporting role, so it can have somewhat of a maternal embodiment. There’s something about the touch of it and something about the role of the bass that makes women sound distinct on it. It is a generalization, but I find it to be true. Really, it depends on the player regardless of gender.
Mimi Jones, Balance [Miriam Sullivan, 2014]
Bass Karl Meisel upright, Juzek Czech upright, Fender Precision Lyte
Amp Gallien-Krueger 400RB-IV, SWR Goliath 4x10
Strings Corelli Orchestral Strings