The Jazz Education Network: Bass Magic on the Banks of the Ohio - BassPlayer.com

The Jazz Education Network: Bass Magic on the Banks of the Ohio

THE 3RD ANNUAL JAZZ EDUCATION NETWORK (JEN) Conference, held in Louisville, Kentucky from January 4–8, 2012, featured performances and clinics from a bass-heavy roster.
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THE 3RD ANNUAL JAZZ EDUCATION NETWORK (JEN) Conference, held in Louisville, Kentucky from January 4–8, 2012, featured performances and clinics from a bass-heavy roster. Thousands of professional musicians, students, teachers, and industry types gathered to play, listen, network, and support jazz. Every day, from 8AM until well past midnight, the conference was packed with clinics, concerts, lectures, discussions, jam sessions, and a lot of hang time.

The Jazz Education Network is dedicated to building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance, and developing new audiences. Bassists John Clayton, Dr. Lou Fischer, and Bob Sinicrope sit on the JEN Board of Directors, and they add input to the organization in a way that only bassists can: from the bottom up.

Sinicrope explains, “JEN’s Board is purposefully structured to represent diverse areas of the jazz world. We have world-class performers, dedicated teachers, and administrators at the college, K–12, and community levels, plus authors and publishing-company executives. This representation ensures that many voices are heard and considered as JEN grows.” Los Angeles-area bassist Sherry Luchette says, “It’s great to see so many people who have the same love for the music. Professionals, students, and jazz fans come together once a year for a concentrated jazz fix at the JEN conference. It’s motivating and very inspiring.” Fischer adds, “I see JEN as the professional organization connecting all interested parties in jazz music: fans, record labels, instrument manufacturers, musicians of all levels, mentors, and students. All members have the freedom to interact with everyone, to hear great players perform, to hear the young future jazz stars, and to share our collective wealth of knowledge.”

“The conference offers fantastic performances and an incredible opportunity to network,” says Sinicrope. “All those who love jazz have common goals to foster and support the music. Working together is the best way to achieve these goals.” Fischer concurs, “JEN can shape the future of jazz music by making certain that the story is told. Being inclusive of all genres, embracing everything that comes through the door from a global society, is the key.”


It was a magical 50 minutes. Steve Bailey led the proceedings at his clinic on bass doubling, exploring various career paths available on the acoustic and electric basses. To start the clinic, Bailey invited Victor Wooten onstage for a tag-team blues. Wooten (on acoustic) and Bailey (on fretless electric 6-string) switched instruments in the middle of the tune, with both players serving up killer solos and groovy walking lines.

Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get better, Bailey called on Mike Pope, who was sitting in the front row. Pope joined the fray—three bassists, two basses, and countless smiles around the room. When Pope grabbed Bailey’s electric, he commented, “This bass has a seriously low fret-to-fingerboard ratio!” Then he proceeded to tear up and down the glimmering fretless, ignoring the fact that he had never held the instrument before. Giving a shout-out to Pope’s formidable abilities as an electric bassist, upright bassist, and pianist, Bailey said, “This man’s not a doubler, he’s a tripler!”

After the dust settled, Bailey explained his practice regime on electric and upright, emphasizing that when he was young, he spent equal time on both instruments. He recounted sitting in front of his TV when he was a teen—before the days of VCRs and YouTube—just to catch a one-time concert and a fl eeting glimpse of how Stanley Clarke played the lightning-fast runs on Chick Corea’s Light as a Feather [Polydor, 1972]. “I had been practicing chromatic scales and fingering every note— until I realized that Stanley just moved his left-hand index finger up and down real fast.” Bailey tipped his hat to several bass luminaries in attendance, especially Rufus Reid. Bailey said he still had his original copy of Reid’s book The Evolving Bassist [Alfred Publishing].

Dr. Lou Fischer, bassist and President of JEN, said, “Doubling is an absolute requirement to survive in the music industry today. We treat bassists as bassists regardless of which instrument they play. The expectations are the same: good pitch, good time feel, and stylistically correct performance.” Rich Armandi, a bass and tuba doubler from Chicago, added, “I came from a classical background on tuba. Doubling on electric and acoustic bass guided me into studying jazz, rock, and pop music. This in turn led to many gigs, some very lucrative, and I was able to make a pretty good living doing what I loved to do most, while expanding my musicianship and repertoire.”

The legendary Reid closed out the clinic, which had a warm, family-of-bassists vibe, with stories about his early years as a trumpeter, his time in Chicago, and his development as first an electric bassist, then as a double bassist.


A highlight of the conference was the mindbending bass playing of Kamil Erdem, who made the long journey from Turkey to present his clinic, “Suggesting a Leading Role for the Bass Guitar in World Music.” Erdem used right- and left-hand tapping, combined with rhythmic techniques from the darbuka, a traditional Turkish hand drum. “Over the years I have incorporated the sound of the darbuka in my bass playing,” Erdem said. “I’ve tried to combine techniques from bassists like Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, and others with influences from other cultures, like Turkey, Greece, India, the Arab world, Africa, and the Middle East.”

Erdem made a good case for world music, which grows out of a multi-cultural musical experience. Said Erdem, “World music should be expressed in a contemporary manner so it becomes the music of today, not the music of yesterday. The music is related to tradition, but it is not a one-toone interpretation of the tradition. World music should combine influences from several sources.”

Erdem played several compositions for solo bass, and demonstrated the main darbuka beat, different scales used in world music, and odd-meter patterns from Bulgaria [see Lesson]. Erdem earned many new fans in Louisville with his engaging personality and exotic playing style. “People say that Turkey is a melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures. A bassist in Turkey can either develop a multi-cultural identity, or no musical identity. I hope I belong to the former group!”


Sherry Luchette is author and producer of The Flying Jazz Kittens book and CD set [Doubletazz Music], which provides teachers of elementary-school students with jazz activities for the classroom. “The main premise of the FJK materials is to use speech, movement, singing, and instruments in a jazz context,” says Luchette. My goal is to see teachers and students start moving, singing, scatting, and improvising with a swing feel and learning about the blues form early in their musical experiences. By the time they begin to play in a band, orchestra, or choir, they will already have a familiarity with jazz.” Luchette also delivered a swinging set of bass-up-front jazz standards with her trio, featuring pianist Tamir Hendelman and drummer Chris Brown. She paid tribute to Ray Brown by playing his tune “FSR,” which has become somewhat of a bass anthem in recent years. She bowed a lovely version of the Disney hit “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and finished with the Oscar Pettiford finger-buster “Tricotism.”

Chris Fitzgerald, Professor of Bass and Theory at the University of Louisville, made several performance appearances during the week, most notably with the Harry Pickens Trio. Said Fitzgerald, “Harry describes his trio as a benevolent dictatorship, which means he tells us in no uncertain terms where the music should go. We’re welcome to push some musical suggestions, and he likes that, but he’s still in charge.” On the opening night of the conference, the trio of Pickens, Fitzgerald, and drummer Jason Tiemann presented a program that encompassed the entire history of jazz, from early jazz to cutting-edge modern. Fitzgerald added, “These players don’t have any preconceived idea about what they expect to happen when we get together. We just start playing, and we converse, and that’s what our set is about.”

Professor Jeremy Allen of Indiana University called his clinic “Jazz Bass 101: For the Non-Bassist Band Director.” Allen stressed proper tone production on both electric and acoustic, discussed the role of the bass, and gave a succinct primer on how to create bass lines in various styles.

Hans Sturm, President of the International Society of Bassists and professor at Ball State University, presented his concert in an intimate duo setting with his vocalist wife, Jackie Allen. The concert, entitled “Voice Meets Bass,” featured music from their recording of the same name.

Dr. Larry Ridley, Professor of Music Emeritus at Rutgers University and head of the African American Jazz Caucus (AAJC), was one of the elder statesmen of the jazz community in attendance. Ridley is known for playing on many classic jazz albums, including Lee Morgen’s Cornbread [Blue Note, 1965], Freddie Hubbard’s Night of the Cookers, Vol. 1 & 2 [Blue Note, 1965], and Hank Mobley’s Dippin’ [Blue Note, 1965]. He performed at the JEN conference with his Jazz Legacy Ensemble, presenting a program dedicated to jazz composers from Indiana, such as Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Wes Montgomery, and David Baker.


JEN bridges the gap between professionals who have learned to play jazz in the trenches—in clubs and on the road—and those who learn, perform, and thrive in academic quarters. Dr. Lou Fischer says, “I believe both street learning and academic learning are quite valuable. We are products of our environment and culture, and jazz remains an aural experience for the most part. It must be handed down from performer to performer. The academic setting can be helpful in fine-tuning performance skills, but street-sense is an important ingredient.” Says Chris Fitzgerald, “We have to teach people to take everything they learn in school with a grain of salt. The academic experience can be great because you’re surrounded by a lot of people who are really hungry to learn, but sometimes you’re surrounded by a lot of poor dogma. Things might be taught in a cut-and-dry way about a music that is not cut-and-dry. Any good teacher has to be open-minded enough to show what he does as only one possible way to do something. If you can find some value in my way, take it and use it.”

Bob Sinicrope adds, “Academic learning can bring you ideas and information quickly, but street learning is generally more lasting and is more useful on the bandstand. Infants learn their native language without directed effort and in a non-academic manner. They can express themselves fully and seamlessly. When older people learn a foreign language in a classroom, they have to think and consciously process their thoughts before they can form words in their new language. This approach inhibits improvisation. One of the biggest hurdles improvisers face is decision making. The best solos flow from the musician, and street learning better serves the ability to be spontaneous.”

“These days, most students must assimilate their skills in a school setting, only rarely getting out into the ’real world,’” says Rich Armandi. “I prepare my students by emphasizing the importance of having a vast repertoire at one’s disposal.” Fitzgerald adds, “In university ensembles, or in clubs, the point of the music should be to teach people to communicate with each other. Most of what I am teaching in improvisation classes, and in ensembles, is how to listen and how to relate to other people. Most people come into a situation thinking, How can I look good, or, How can I show off my shit?”


Should you belong to JEN? It’s a vibrant, growing organization that brings together jazz players, teachers, students, and industry professionals. JEN has proven over the last three years that the jazz community is strong and growing, and the bassists of JEN provide the backbone of the organization.


Turkey: West Of East & East Of West

KAMIL ERDEM TAKES musical input from around the world and translates what he hears to the electric bass. Here are three important lessons from his JEN clinic.

In Ex. 1, Erdem shows the hicaz scale (pronounced hijaz), which is equivalent to the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale in Western harmony. Erdem says, “This scale is approximated to the 12-tone tempered system, but the original hicaz has some microtones, which aren’t playable on fretted instruments. The word hicaz is Arabic, and we also use the name in Turkish. We call this a scale for the sake of a common musical language with the West. However, the real term is maqam, or makam as written in Turkish, and it has some differences with a Western scale. The makam is constructed not only from the intervals between the notes but from the accents on certain scale degrees.”

Example 2 shows a tapping pattern adapted from the darbuka, a traditional Turkish hand drum. Says Erdem, “The darbuka is played with the fingers and thumb. It’s the main instrument used to accompany belly dancing, and it is common to all Middle Eastern countries, but it originally comes from Egypt. By adding some tones to the darbuka rhythm, we can hear how the bass is speaking the language of the darbuka.”

Example 3 is a bass line based on a Bulgarian rhythm known as kopanitsa. There are 11 eighth-notes per bar, and the eighth-notes are divided in groups: 2, 2, 3, 2, 2. Erdem suggests first clapping the rhythm to find the groove, and then playing it on the bass. Says Erdem, “Bulgaria is the motherland of odd meters!

Sherry’s Life Lessons


• Be open and ready to learn as much as possible from other players, in-person and through recordings.
• Be prepared to do a few different things in the music business such as performing, teaching, writing, arranging, being a multi-instrumentalist, engineering, recording, and producing.
• Have confidence in your abilities and stay focused on what you really want to do with your career.
• Don’t let negative or jaded attitudes of others bring you down or sway you in a negative way.
• Stay focused.

Dr. Lou’s Tips For College-Bound Bassists


• Be a musician first—one who happens to play the bass.
• Know your role in all styles of music, as it does vary from style to style. That and playing in tune with good time will get you a career.
• The music chooses you, but only you can accept the challenge of dedicating your life to it.
• Be certain the teacher you want to study with will be available when you get to the school where he or she teaches.
• Music scenes are constantly in a state of flux, so choose wisely when deciding where to live or relocate. Always surround yourself with better musicians than yourself in order to challenge your skills.
• Listen intently.
• The great bassists understand piano, drums, guitar, horns, composing, and arranging. Study everything, not just your instrument.

Mr. Bob’s Four Keys To Enlightenment

Show up. Don’t stay in the practice room only. Get out and play with others in lots of circumstances as much as possible.
Pay attention. Be open to learning and growing. You will learn from everyone you play with by keeping an open and positive attitude.
Tell the truth. Don’t under-sell or over-sell yourself.
Be open to the outcome. Keep your vision and trust the universe. The right situations will present themselves.


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