In the beginning, there was an intro. A bass player played an introduction and set the mood for an entire song. Without the intro, there wouldn’t have been a song, because we would never have gotten that far.
An intro sets up and frames a song by introducing the rhythmic and harmonic vibe carried forward through the entire performance. Intros matter a great deal, and bassists are often charged with laying them down. Over the years, some specific intros have become integral parts of certain jazz standards. Let’s take three of these tunes and look at the classic intro bass lines that you absolutely must know.
Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie wrote “A Night in Tunisia” in 1942 and recorded it with Billy Eckstine’s band. The Eckstine band was known as the first bebop-style big band, and it boasted a roster of up-and-coming boppers determined to set the jazz world upside-down. Sung by Sarah Vaughan, the first version was titled “Interlude,” although it used the “Night in Tunisia” melody. In 1945, Gillespie renamed his composition and re-recorded an up-tempo version, with Curly Russell playing the bass intro. “A Night in Tunisia” has been covered thousands of times, by everyone from Chaka Chan to Victor Wooten. The seminal hip-hop group Gang Starr used the intro as a loop on “Words I Manifest” from the 1989 debut album No More Mr. Nice Guy [EMI]. In 2004, the “Night In Tunisia” recording from Dizzy Gillespie and His Sextet [Victor, 1946] was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The bass intro became a standard part of the song (Ex. 1). This intro catches the ear because it starts on the bII7 (Eb7#11) in the first bar, and then resolves down one half-step to the tonic chord, Dm6. Usually, the same bass line continues through the A sections of the tune, finally breaking into 4/4 swing on the B section.
Like so many great standards, “Star Eyes” was originally recorded for a Hollywood film. It took the beboppers of the day to recognize the full-blown blowing potential of the song, which was recorded in 1950 by Charlie Parker with Tommy Potter on bass (Bird at St. Nick’s, Blue Moon). The “Star Eyes” bass intro (Ex. 2) implies an exotic sound from faraway shores, underpinned by a Latin-ish drum beat, usually with rims and cross-stick on the snare. The sound is derived from the Eb Phrygian dominant scale, which is generated as the 5th mode of the Ab harmonic minor scale (Ex. 3). Think Ab harmonic minor, starting on the note Eb, and all of the notes will fall into place. The Eb Phrygian dominant scale was a new sound in jazz at the time, and the extended bass vamp on the intro offered horn players a chance to explore the mystical vibe. When the melody begins, the chord moves to Ebmaj7, the bass usually walks, and the changes are very beboppish in nature (Ex. 4).
“All the Things You Are” is a universal standard. Whether you sit in at a jam session in Shanghai, Sausalito, or on Saturn, the players will eventually call “All the Things.” It’s your duty as a bassist to know the classic intro (Ex. 5). The tune was composed by Jerome Kern, a devoted jazz-hater, for a 1939 Broadway musical that bombed and closed after only seven weeks. Ironically, jazzers everywhere took a shine to Kern’s song, and it’s become one of the most-recorded standards in jazz history.
Once again, Charlie Parker and his partner Dizzy Gillespie, being the most influential musicians of the late ’40s and early ’50s, made the tune into a jazz standard. The famous intro first appears on Parker’s alternate melody to the “All the Things” harmony, which he titled “Bird of Paradise.” The intro has a slight resemblance to Rachmaninoff’s piano masterpiece “Prelude in C# Minor” (Ex. 6). In 1955, on his album Mingus at the Bohemia [Debut], Charles Mingus wrote a composite of “All the Things” and “Prelude in C# Minor” which he entitled “All the Things You C#.” Mingus’ version used the standard “All the Things” intro, combined with Rachmaninoff’s defining theme. Nowadays, we would call such a musical combination a mash-up!
The crucial factor in the intro to “All the Things You Are” is to feel the downbeat in the correct spot. Example 7 shows the incorrect way that some inexperienced players feel the line. Make sure you come in correctly and feel the downbeat as it’s shown in Ex. 5.
The standard intros on “All the Things You Are,” “Star Eyes,” and “Night in Tunisia” are sometimes not played, especially when a working group creates a new arrangement. However, jazz bassists should know all the typical intros to standard repertoire. Next month, we’ll explore more must-know bass intros.
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Get Introduced To Some Great Listening!
3 Versions of “A Night In Tunisia”
Dexter Gordon, Our Man in Paris [bassist : Pierre Michelot, Blue Note, 1963]
Bud Powell, The Amazing Bud Powell [bassist : Curly Russell, Blue Note, 1951]
Sonny Rollins, A Night at the Village Vanguard [bassist : Wilbur Ware, Blue Note, 1957]
3 Versions Of “Star Eyes”
Charlie Parker, Complete Charlie Parker on Verve [bassist : Teddy Kotick, Verve, 1951]
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Plus [bassist : Sam Jones, Riverside, 1961]
Jim Hall, Jim Hall Live Vol. 2–4 [bassist : Don Thompson, ArtistShare, 1975]
3 Versions Of “All The Things You Are”
Charlie Parker, Original Charlie Parker Quintet [Playing the alternate melody, “Bird of Paradise”; bassist: Tommy Potter, Dial, 1947]
Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, Jazz at Massey Hall [bassist : Charles Mingus, Debut/OJC, 1953]
Ahmad Jamal, Live at the Pershing [bassist : Israel Crosby, Argo, 1958]