In my next life, I will again be a bassist, because it’s just that cool. However, I’d like to have a body double for those times when the good gigs are aplenty and I can’t be in two places at once. (I could also send my body double to the bad gigs, so I could stay home and play with my looper pedal.) For example, due to some scheduling conflicts, I won’t be teaching at the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops this July. After 50 years and a gazillion choruses of blues, this will be the last year of the Workshops. If you’re curious, I urge you to go and spend a week with the outstanding bass faculty: Rufus Reid, Lynn Seaton, David Friesen, Bob Sinicrope, Tyrone Wheeler, Chris Fitzgerald, Rich Armandi, and J.B. Dyas. Because it’s the Workshops’ final year, I’ve been thinking back on my involvement, beginning as a student in the ’70s and continuing as a teacher off and on for decades since. I wanted to find one tune to sum up the spirit of teaching and bass brotherhood that I experienced with the Aebersold bass faculty and students.
This month, let’s look at a transcription of Percy Heath’s bass line on “Doxy,” a jazz-workshop standard. “Percy’s time feel was swinging and infectious,” says Rufus Reid. “He had great pitch, and his lines were clear and simple, full and buoyant, with great note placement.” “Doxy” is easy and fun to improvise on, a mini-masterpiece, which is why it remains a jamsession and gig standard 60 years after it was first recorded. Says Reid, “It’s a very singable melody, with basically only two phrases to remember.”
The original version of “Doxy” was recorded in 1957 [Miles Davis, Bags’ Groove, Prestige]. Each section of this AABA form is only four bars long, offering a quick, satisfying romp through the melody and solo changes. The chord progression meanders from the home base of Bb, always moving in cycles, before returning for a soft landing in Bb. Says Chris Fitzgerald, professor of jazz bass at the University of Louisville, “Harmonically, ‘Doxy’ can be covered by playing a blues scale, but it has enough twists and turns that anyone with more harmonic vocabulary can outline all of the changes. This makes it a great vehicle for both beginning and advanced players.”
The rhythm section team of Heath, drummer Kenny Clarke, and pianist Horace Silver anchored many of the Prestige label’s sessions during the ’50s. Jazz historian David Rosenthal called the threesome “one of the most tightly knit and well-balanced trios in jazz history” [Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955– 1965, 1992, Oxford University Press]. Kenny Clarke played with an irresistibly happy ride-cymbal beat, and Heath dug into his quarter-notes with a mature matter-of-factness. Rosenthal writes, “Their equilibrium came from the contrast between Heath’s and Clarke’s flowing, cushiony beat and Silver’s choppily percussive comping: a mixture of smoothness and roughness that was extraordinarily propulsive.”
Example 1 shows the first two choruses of Heath’s bass line. “Doxy” is a contrafact of the 1918 standard “Ja-Da”: Both tunes share a similar harmonic structure, although the changes are slightly different in their harmonic rhythm. Possibly because he was hearing “Ja-Da” in his head, Heath tends to place the Ab7 on the downbeat of bar 2 in the A sections, whereas Silver plays the Ab7 on beat three of bar 1, followed by a G7 on the downbeat of bar 2. That’s jazz! Hearing master musicians work out their musical differences spontaneously in the studio is a key difference between jazz and pop music. Later in the track, Silver and Heath agree that the G7 lands on beat one of bar 2.
“Percy plays mostly quarter-notes under the solos and makes them bounce and feel good,” says Fitzgerald. “If a jazz pedant were to listen to his note choices, they would find a lot of broken rules regarding bass line construction. But the line feels and sounds great. This teaches us that playing simple lines that bounce and feel good is more important than academic, connect-the-dots systems where the emphasis is only on theoretically correct note choices.”
Note the following:
Bars 1–8 Heath plays a broadly swinging two feeling on the melody chorus.
Bars 9–12 In the bridge (the B section), Heath sits on fat half-notes, while the piano and drums play rhythmic hits. These hits have become an integral part of the tune—for bassists also.
Bars 13–16 Rhythmic embellishments, including ghost-notes (dead or muted notes marked with an “x” notehead) and a triplet drop in bar 15.
Bar 17 Listen for the slight space at the end of the quarter-notes. This helps the bass and drums lock in and gives forward motion to the line.
Bar 20 Chromatic leading tone on beat four.
Bar 24 Chromatic passing note on beat two.
Bar 25 Triplet drop on beat one.
Bars 25–27 Note the use of the dotted-eighth and 16th-note rhythmic embellishments.
Bar 28 Edim7 arpeggio.
Bar 29 Chromatic passing note on beat two.
Bar 33 Third chorus starts.