RIGHT FROM THE START, ONE OF MY most important goals as BP’s founding editor was making sure that BASS PLAYER documented the history of our instrument. We did this in a variety of ways, including features on groundbreaking players like James Jamerson, articles about instrument development, and Classic Revisited reviews of landmark recordings. But one of our most important ongoing chronicles of bass history was launched in July/August ’92: John Goldsby’s column The Tradition.
I made John’s acquaintance during our first year, when he sent me a copy of his self-published book Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist. I reviewed it in Jan/ Feb ’91, praising its thoughtful organization and clear writing. I stayed in touch and hired John to do some transcriptions. His first column, “Adding Rhythmic Interest to Walking Bass Lines,” appeared in Jan/Feb ’92.
I learned, from our conversations and correspondence, that John had a deep understanding of the jazz tradition, so he was a natural for a column series profiling upright players who had been the most important and influential innovators on their instrument. The first installment of The Tradition was about Scott LaFaro, and I’ve included an excerpt here. (Unfortunately, there isn’t room for the transcription of LaFaro’s solo on “Detour Ahead” with the Bill Evans Trio.)
John went on to cover such vital figures as Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, and Charles Mingus—in all, he wrote 19 installments of The Tradition. But he wasn’t done, and he has continued to be an important BP contributor to the present day. (see John’s latest Woodshed column.) I’m pleased that I got to know John Goldsby 20 years ago—and even more pleased that he’s still informing and educating his fellow bassists in these pages.
Scott LaFaro, like Jaco Pastorius, was a bassist who transcended the traditional role of his instrument and forever changed the way it was played. For a brief period, at the end of the ’50s and the beginning of the ’60s, LaFaro helped to revolutionize improvisation, and his recordings feature some of the most important and innovative bass playing in jazz history.
Rocco Scott LaFaro was born in Newark, New Jersey, on April 3, 1936. He studied classical clarinet in high school and began playing bass the summer after he graduated. Although he had a few lessons on the double bass, Scott was mainly self-taught. In the fall of 1955, he joined the Buddy Morrow Orchestra and stayed until 1956, when he began to work with trumpeter Chet Baker. Pianist Bill Evans auditioned for the Chet Baker group at the same time but did not take the job.
LaFaro worked with several different band leaders in 1956–57, including guitarist Barney Kessel and reedmen Ira Sullivan and Buddy DeFranco. One of his earliest recordings was The Arrival of Victor Feldman [Contemporary], a trio date with Feldman on piano and vibes and Stan Levey on drums. Listening to LaFaro on this record, one hears a strong bebop-style bassist whose walking lines are deeply rooted in the jazz tradition but whose solo lines are already beginning to stretch the idiom. At this time, Scott was influenced by such contemporaries as Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, and Red Mitchell.LaFaro’s best-known musical association began in the fall of 1959, when he joined drummer Paul Motian and pianist Bill Evans to form the Bill Evans Trio, a group that changed the sound of jazz. For the first time, three musicians were improvising contemporaneously to create a sound that could be called “conversational.” Before the Bill Evans Trio, most jazz featured a solo instrument on top of a rhythm section that outlined the harmony and rhythm of a tune. But the Evans group adqpted a “democratic” approach, one where each instrument improvised freely to create a complex, contrapuntal texture.
The Bill Evans Trio recorded two studio albums … but it’s the famous live recordings made on June 25, 1961, that capture the Bill Evans Trio in full bloom, and they are required listening for every serious bass player. [Note: These recordings have been issued in a number of different formats and are currently available on a remastered three-CD set, Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961.] As you strive to develop your sound, listen to Scott’s playing and try to absorb some of his intensity and dedication. He set a standard for all of us.