HOW IMPORTANT IS A BASS INTRO? IT’S A MATTER OF MUSICAL LIFE or death! In the pregnant moments before the intro, the band is poised and ready to play, an audience waits, and the tempo is a silent concept of time in space. For a split second before the intro begins, the bass stands at the edge of the universe, ready to set the cosmos in motion. Yes, it’s that important.
Last time, we looked at three classic intros from the bop era. Let’s continue with three post-bop bass-intro gems from Jimmy Garrison, Charles Mingus, and Ron Carter—lines from recordings that every aspiring bassist should know.
The least talked-about member of the John Coltrane Quartet of the mid ’60s, Jimmy Garrison had the task of tethering his explosive bandmates to an earthly anchor, while simultaneously churning out variations of vamps, pedal tones, and drones. Drummer Elvin Jones, pianist McCoy Tyner, and bandleader/saxophonist Coltrane reached for the stratosphere, and Garrison threw them a lifeline to Mother Earth. A Love Supreme [1965, Impulse!], a suite of four Coltrane compositions recorded in one session, turned the mid-’60s tumultuous music world upside-down and has since become one of the best-selling and most influential jazz albums in history.
Considering that A Love Supreme is an improvised suite in four parts, it’s hard to characterize Garrison’s famous bass line on “Acknowledgement” (Ex. 1) as an intro. But the figure, which he introduces 0:32 into the track, is the real beginning of the exploratory part of the suite. Garrison sets up the F minor tonality with his three-note line, underpinning the main section of the piece and creating a jumping off point for Coltrane’s improvisation. Garrison develops the motive at 1:00 (Ex. 2), playing rhythmic and melodic counterpoint to Coltrane’s aggressive melodic explorations.
Toward the end of the piece, the musicians begin chanting “A Love Supreme,” and Garrison reverts to a more conservative bass line. The energy winds down at 6:45 when he moves to an Eb minor key center (Ex. 3). To end the track, Garrison plays a short solo and finalizes his thoughts with a double-stopped tremolo on the notes Eb and Bb. Because of the intensely personal nature of A Love Supreme, the music is rarely played by other musicians. However, Garrison’s intro on “Acknowledgement” belongs on the short list of recognizable jazz bass lines, and he will always be remembered for his part in this landmark recording. Ironically, in the book A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album [2003, Penguin], author Ashley Kahn points out that Garrison received a one-time fee of only $142 for the session.
Charles Mingus boasted a brilliant career as bassist, bandleader, composer, and author. The bass intro to his composition “Haitian Fight Song” (Ex. 4) is a hip classic that’s fun to play and moves smoothly across the fingerboard. The song was first recorded in 1955 [The Charles Mingus Quintet & Max Roach, Debut], but Mingus laid down a definitive version on The Clown [1957, Atlantic].
Much of Mingus’s music reflected a gospel spirit. In the liner notes to The Clown, Nat Hentoff quotes Mingus as saying, “‘Haitian Fight Song,’ to begin with, could just as well be called ‘Afro-American Fight Song.’ It has a folk spirit, the kind of folk music I’ve always heard anyway. It has some of the old church feeling, too. I was raised a Methodist but there was a Holiness church on the corner, and some of the feeling of their music, which was wilder, got into our music.” Mingus played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, writing many songs that reflected social injustices, and “Haitian Fight Song” reflects the struggle of the Haitian people. Said Mingus, “I can’t play it right unless I’m thinking about prejudice and persecution, and how unfair it is. There’s sadness and cries in it, but also determination. And it usually ends with my feeling, ‘I told them! I hope somebody heard me!’”
The intro showcases Mingus’ strong points: a powerful tone, unusual blues notes (the Eb and C# in bar 5), and the use of the entire range of the instrument (bars 7 and 8). To get the fervor and fury of Mingus into your playing, listen to the original and emulate his accents, note lengths, and tone.
Mingus’ second definitive version of the composition was re-titled “II B.S.” and appears on his album Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus [Impulse!, 1964]. This version of the tune is more compact and volatile than previous recordings. We can only guess what the new title means.
In his countless recording sessions, Ron Carter has immortalized numerous intros, like Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” [Power to the People, 1969, Milestone], Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” [Maiden Voyage, 1965, Blue Note], and Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” [Red Clay, 1970, CTI]. In 1963, during his tenure with the Miles Davis Quintet, Carter recorded an enduring bass statement on “Joshua” (Ex. 5). At that time, the Quintet was stretching the boundaries of rhythm-section playing and exploring the limits of very fast and very slow tempos. “Joshua” moves at a burning pace, and the mood is set by Carter’s fleet intro. The incessant vibe is accentuated by the eighth-note anticipations in bars 1 and 3. The video of the live version captures Davis counting off Carter (see Connect). This high-pressure moment is familiar to all bassists who are given the tempo at the beginning of a tune. The concert hall is quiet, the audience is waiting, and the musicians on the bandstand are counting on the bassist to provide a magic carpet and give flight to the performance.
Next time, we’ll look at generic intros that every bassist must know.
Read more about Jimmy Garrison, Charles Mingus, and Ron Carter in John Goldsby’s The Jazz Bass Book [Backbeat Books]. Visitjohngoldsby.com for more information.