We had the exceptionally good fortune to get to attend a master class by legendary session bassist Carol Kaye! 

Ok, even though I feel as if I don’t have anything worthy of sound tracking this post with, I’m going to put up an old track – one of our most popular and highly rated ones – for which I composed the bass line, but Chi performed/recorded it since he’s a million-times better bassist than I am….

Here is “Prelude” – the opening track from the first recording (an EP titled “Neo”) Chi and I did together when we began our collaboration in Tokyo, Japan in 1998

Master Class by Carol Kaye hosted by West L.A. Music

I always find it exciting when I discover a new hero, and am always dreadfully disappointed when they let me down, usually by turning out to be fake and/or evil.  I am confident, however, that’s not going to happen in this case.

A dear friend of mine got wind that an extraordinarily interesting event was going to take place at West L.A. Music that would be particularly relevant to bassists (For readers who only know me through my work with The Panache Orchestra, I double on bass, and bass is actually Chi’s “main” instrument, believe it or not!), and signed me up.  I called W.L.A. to see if I could bring Chi along, and it was ok.

The event was a master class by Carol Kaye, and as much as I hate to admit this, I didn’t know who she was.  There is a reason for this that will be addressed later.  We got there about 30 minutes late because we left after I got home from the day job and had to slog through hideous rush hour traffic all the way from Chinatown to West L.A. (nearly opposite ends of metro L.A.), and so missed the first part, assuming that it started on time (which hardly ever happens in L.A.!).  The room was packed to the rafters, presumably with bassists, and we were somewhat nonplussed at the extremely low turnout of female bassists.  At first it looked like I was the only one there other than Carol, but then a couple more women became visible after the crowd started to thin out near the end.  We still could be counted on one hand though, and found that quite surprising given Carol’s well-deserved title as the “First Lady” of bass guitar and the number of female bassists we’ve seen playing here and there.

So, we were treated to about half a century of American music history as Carol gave us loads of very helpful tips and information ranging from how to get the best sound for studio recording, how to use the bass line to subtly bring a piece of music to life that has a relatively static chord progression, how to use octaves to create movement, how to rein in a drummer that’s dragging or rushing (by playing less and creating more space to expose the offending drum part!), the best approach to working rhythmically with the drums (better to be ever so slightly in front of the drums instead of laying on top of them) the way to make tricky rhythms easier to sightread, how to use a metronome to develop a strong innate sense of timing/rhythm, etc.  She also showed us how jazz progressions tend by and large to move along the cycle of 4ths, and how strong familiarity with that, rather than note scales, is the most effective way to become adept with jazz bass lines.  I didn’t really understand her explanation of how jazz chords typically move in three-fret increments since I don’t relate to the instrument by the frets though.  She also shared with us loads of fascinating anecdotes of her experience working with pretty much everyone who was everyone during her very long and distinguished career, particularities of being a studio musician, dropped the veil of mythology surrounding it, and answered lots of questions from the audience.

Even though our asses were in desperate pain from sitting for over 90 minutes on terribly uncomfortable little plastic folding chairs, we still could have sat there all night for the world’s most awesome bassist hang, and the HMFIC at W. L.A. Music acknowledged as much, but they reluctantly had to pack it for various reasons, of which I’m sure range from what they are allowed to do vis-a-vis their business permit, to having to pay staff overtime, etc.For us, in addition to the brain-busting amount of information and inspiration, it was very reassuring to get such strong confirmation that adherence to old school “realism”, i.e., “old-fashioned musicianship” is still the tried and true “gold standard”, however much it appears to now be all about smoke and mirrors, digital editing monkey magic, posturing and mythology, i.e., up is down, black is white, fake is real, survival of the pushiest and most well-funded, etc.  Another cool takeaway was that acquiring basic competence as a jazz bassist should be fairly quick and straightforward given my existing musical background, when all along I had shied away from taking that on at any substantial level since I had heretofore assumed that it would entail another lifetime of study, as is the case with classical music.

Carol’s website is here: http://www.carolkaye.com/ and a fascinating read about why information about her extreme recording credits is so obscure is on the “Faqs” part here (scroll down to the bit about Motown, and then onward to Q 28: http://www.carolkaye.com/www/library/faq.htm

Until Chi and I attended this master class and began delving into her history, which we did instantly upon our return home, neither of us were aware of this!  Well, I have a couple bass books to buy and some woodshedding to do.  My Blue Tiger is about to get a serious workout!

Next scheduled posts: learning to play the cello; and tracking for our upcoming album