For this installment of our Berklee bass babble-on (Babylon), two of our veteran instructors will take you on a “let’s make a career” journey. Lincoln Goines, one of New York City’s most recorded bassists with hundreds of album credits in many genres, and Danny Morris, groover extraordinaire and respected bass pedagogue, will provide tips on how to get the call-back. Both are in-demand private instructors at Berklee and teach several labs (classes) that focus on Motown, surveys of bass styles, Funkifying the Clave (from Lincoln’s best-selling 1993 book of the same name), and numerous other offerings. Take it away, Danny and Lincoln. . . .
Danny Morris There’s a seat open for a bassist in a rhythm section, and you want it. How are you gonna get it? Let’s lay down a plan that will jumpstart this mission of getting the successful audition outcome, the call-back.
The three P’s come into play: Preparation, Possibilities, and Positivity.
Preparation means exploring the material to be played during the audition. Devour it and learn everything you can about it. This will ensure that you play the material with fluency and musicality. Possibilities: During the audition, be present, be a listener, be aware of the myriad musical scenarios going on, and be able to react and contribute to the alchemy of the group performance as it unfolds. Be a good improviser! Positivity: Be a good citizen. From the time you enter the space of where the audition is taking place, your energy, your mannerisms, and your affinity to recognize how to fit in will all be taken into account and evaluated. Every sound coming from your bass and amplifier at any point—even before a song begins—is taken into consideration. Don’t be noodling!
The four T’s will help to seal the deal: Time, Tonality, Timbre, and Taste.
Time: Using subdivisions will aid you in tapping into the rhythmic pulse of the music and musicians. Straight eighths, swing eighths, stanky eighths—whatever the feel of the music is, get inside it and play with a confident and convincing groove. Time can be elastic, and your ability to be cognizant of that while performing will reinforce your lock onto the music. Tonality means understanding how every note you play (and don’t play) affects the music’s harmonic flow. Timbre: Your sound is in your hands, your command of your equipment, and your ability to function sonically with intent and character.
Taste is the ultimate quality that represents your bass playing and personality as a musician.
My esteemed colleague and friend Lincoln (Papi) Goines will now take you into a live scenario from the decades of gigs and auditions he’s experienced, spanning his long career with such artists as Dave Valentin, Tania Maria, Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Grusin, Michel Camilo, Wayne Krantz, and Mike Stern.
Lincoln Goines Right on, brother D Mo. If I were to assign percentages to the factors that have contributed to whatever success I’ve had as a recording/touring bassist over the past 35-plus years, I’d put them at 20 percent attitude, love of music, and luck, with the other 80 percent hard work, concentration, and resolve.
Some uncomfortable but transformative experiences helped, as well. In the early ’80s, I was one of Teo Macero’s session bassists. Teo made his mark as producer for Miles Davis and was a brilliant musician with a notoriously fiery temper. On one of my first jobs for him, he was conducting his arrangements for a film score session at the old Columbia Records studio: strings, horn section, two keyboards, guitar, drums, and percussion—all big-name New York cats. I was on bass with dozens of cues and no time to rehearse, just record. I got lost and screwed up a take, and Teo cursed me out in front of everyone there (I won’t repeat what he said), and then he told me to lay out on the next cue. I went home after that and practiced for 12 hours a day, two weeks straight. Despite the giant clam, Teo must have liked my contribution, because eventually I ended up getting the call-back. I never made another mistake on any of his sessions again, or on anyone else’s, for that matter.
D Mo is right—preparation is the key. Whether you have two weeks or ten minutes to get comfortable with the music you’re going to perform or record, do everything you can to make it your own: grooves, notes, fingering, cues, codas, etc. A #2 pencil with a good eraser is a session bassist’s best friend. Yeah, I know this is the 21st century, but if you have music on a tablet or laptop, you damn well better print it out.
A wrong rhythm or note from the bass is huge. Try not to play any. Relax, watch, and listen as you play. Remember that music, like life, is a paradox beyond words. Play without fear, and embrace the instinct for when the right note is wrong and the wrong note is right. Play from your spirit, and don’t try to sound like someone else. Stay humble and hungry when things go well. Never stop practicing.
STEVE B AILEY
Steve Bailey is the Chairman of the Bass Department at Berklee College of Music and the grandmaster of the fretless 6-string as a veteran sideman, author, educator, and solo artist. In addition to touring with Victor Wooten in Bass Extremes, he is at work on his next solo record.