Ask Willis - October - 2000

Hey Willis
While playing a chart the other day I came across the term "Bass pedal through out". Which pedal should I use? The wah-wah got strange looks from the rest of the Big Band and then after trying the distortion pedal the entire brass section threatened to beat the hell out of me due to the ringing feed back that my upright produced.
Is there a special pedal I need for Jazz? Or am I missing something here?

Unfortunately, you've fallen victim to one of the oldest bass marketing scams in the books.
Your big band was probably playing one of the old Nestico charts. The talented Nestico brothers, Sal and Sammy, are famous for their big band writing and arranging skills. In the last 50 years their charts have become staples for every school's big band, jazz band, lab band, stage band....whatever you wanna call it. In their heyday back in the late 60's they were approched by a shadowy figure know only as "Marcello". He convinced them to try to take advantage of their considerable influence and start doing product tie-ins. The "Nestico Bass Pedal 200" was born.

For several months there, every Nestico chart that was published had the "Bass Pedal Throughout" somewhere in the bass chart. Several dealers offered discounts when you bought a Nestico arrangement and some even gave you a free pedal with the purchase of 5 charts. Things quickly turned sour when it was discovered that the input and output jacks (neither were labeled) were hard wired to each other. The switch and knob had no affect on the sound at all.
To their credit, once the bothers discovered they'd been had, they quickly discontinued sale of the pedals. In order to justify the charts they'd written they agreed that the definition of "Bass Pedal Throughout" would mean that the bassist settle on a low note that would work under all the harmony and "pedal" that note during that section. Over the years, this technique became a regular fixture in their charts while the "Bass Pedal 200" was quickly forgotten. It's in the hands of a few collectors now, but has little value as an antique and obviously less value as an actual pedal.

Hey Willis,
Do you give lesions? If so I would like to talk to you about it..

OK, multiple choice here:
A. Yeah, ocaisionally a student will get a few lesions but nothing a little cosmetic surgery won't take care of. I can recommend a good one, if you'd like.
B. I won't discuss any health related information unless you can prove to me that you are a board-certified healthcare professional and agree to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
C. My lawyer informs me that tthe correct medical term is "abrasions" and that they could have been caused by a number of other non-incriminating factors .
D. OK, it has worked out for students to come to Santa Fe for private lessons when I'm off the road but nothing's possible now until January. Check with me in Dec.

Hey Willis,
As I get older I'm noticing that I'm rolling off a ton of high end stuff from my bass (76 P-bass w/p and j emg's) and from my amp and leaving in a lot of the mid's I used to jerk out for that "oh so sweet" BIG V eq curve. I used to really love to hear the "snap" of the high end around 8k and 10k but now it just sounds damn wrong to me...have you gone thru the same thing over the years? I also notice that you're not slapping and thumping like you used to in the past---what's up with that:) (joking, of course)

Instead of blaming it on "getting older" why don't we just say that our musical tastes have been refined with wisdom and experience....? Actually, with the redesign of my signature bass and the patient cooperation of Mr. Bartolini, I think I've slightly mellowed the tone of my fretless to a little more "woody" sound. But overall the sound remains basically the same as it was when he was winding those custom 59V's for me. What I have changed has come more from the adoption of the palm mute that I've been doing for 8 or 9 years. It really darkens the sound and sonically fits underneath all the frequencies where everything else resides. Since it doesn't involve EQ, I still have access to the full-range tone whenever I need it.
Yeah, I did my share of thumpin' back in the day but us old farts don't have as much use for it anymore.

Hey Willis,
I saw you do a clinic a while back (about 3 years ago or so) and you were playing along with a sequencer. I was wondering what type it is you were using and if you are currently still using it, how easy it is to program tunes, and all that.

The sequencer is a Yamaha QY70. It's an awesome little box. I still bring it to clinics although recently I've converted most everything into MP3 format and just play it all through my PowerBook. If you're familiar with how sequencers work, it's a breeze to learn. If it's your first sequencer, you'll still be able to get tons of use from it although the learning curve might be a little slower.

Hey Willis,
Today I bought Tribal Tech's latest album 'Rocket Science'.
Why don't you and Kirk use the Betty Crocker indoor grill? .

Aside from the obvious drum and drum-related endorsements (great ones, I might add). Kirk just hasn't quite got the hang of this marketing/product-tie-in thing yet. He did get an extra free Chalupa the other day when one of his ex-students took his order at Taco Bell.
My problem with the Betty Crocker Indoor grill is one of percieved conflict-of-interest. Cannondale, who makes my mountain bike, is a subsidiary of IBC (International Bike Corp.) and IBC is owned by GRT (Global Recreational Technologies). GRT recently purchased controlling interest in Sunbeam who makes the Sunbeam Indoor Grill. Since the GRT aquisition was an "unfriendly" take-over, the product managers at Sunbeam won't return my calls about their indoor grill even though we're technically part of the same "family" and the Betty Crocker people aren't interested because of the Cannondale/IBC/GRT/Sunbeam connection. I'm stuck ordering take-out unless we can get some new product managers in place.

Hey Willis,
I'm a big fan of progressives. They were my favorite strings for my 4 strings. Now I'm playing a 5 string with a 35" scale (w/ a regular bridge not a string through.) Do you think they'll fit???.

Close but no cigar. Sorry but the wrap on the E and B string is the culprit. The wrap extends almost a half an inch past where the back of the nut would be on a "35 scale bass. GHS will custom make strings. If you order in enough quantity it helps make it more affordable.

Hey Willis,
Your book, "Fingerboard Harmony For Bass" is the best around for learning to play. No joking, I've looked and bought approx. 30 books on bass methodology, and yours is best BY FAR! What I want to know is, How does one incorporate scales into the arpeggios and passing tones? I mean, I read you don't 'like' scales, but they do have a place in music, and especially in walking bass. My only complaint about your book, (if you would even go so far as to call it that,) is that you have left a gap between arpeggios and scales.

Wouldn't it be more comprehensive book, if you included scales, just to show how they loop around the arpeggios. And, it's far easier to memorize one C major scale to create a line with, than the arpeggios of C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and B dim.. And what about scale sequences? Aren't they an integral part of music? They have been totally left out here, and an easy tool for comping has been completely overlooked. I hated scales at one time too,(learning guitar) but I found them to be equally as important as arpeggios, especially when having to solo over fast changes. I will certainly use your book to create lines in certain situations, but in others, such as four chord to the bar progressions, I will have to use scales. I sicerely wish you had presented your method for dealing with scales, and handling those types of progressions with them, for I have not found a good book on the subject as of yet. Please comment on what I have said. If you put out another book on a topic of interest to me, I would surely buy it. Perhaps one tying together this one and scales into one super method?

Thanks for the high compliments, 'glad that the method makes some sense to you.
You have raised an issue that inevetibly comes up when I'm asked to discuss improvisation.
However, the goal of the book is to teach "linear" harmony not necessarily improvisation. I do believe that it's fairly comprehensive even with the omission of scales. Hundreds of books about scales and their use have been published, they're a dime a dozen. If you follow through with all the exercises and concepts, you will find that you're using parts of scales everywhere. You just don't have to think about them. Scales play a very insignificant role in linear harmony in that they are only able to outline harmony in extremely limited circumstances: they basically only produce the proper chord tones on the correct beats if you start on the root an ascend or start on the 7th and descend. And we all know what that sounds like.....somebody went to school....
If you want to discuss improvisation (not the subject of the book) here's my take on scales:
A scale on a 4-string bass is around 50 notes. OK, 1,2,3,4, play......which of those 50 notes are you going to play, and why? OK, let's limit it to the scale that's under your hand, which is 12 notes......ready 1,2,3,4, go......which of those 12 notes are you going to play, and why?
Just selecting the correct scale isn't enough of a decision. You still have to get further inside the scale and make decisions about which notes to play and when. That's where the book can become a good start for improvisation. It gives you a consistently geometric visual foundation to make these kinds of decisions with.
The duplication of information contained in scale labels and scale sequences just makes for extra, unncessary mental gymnastics. If I remember correctly....Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aolian and Locrian are all the same 7 notes. Of course, it's up to you how you choose to learn and how you choose to improvise. If you have the patience and mental capacity to weed through all that duplication information to actually find notes that constitute ideas that communicate, go for it.

I realize that in this forum, since I'm the editor of these here proceedings, I will always have the last word. So I respectfully maintain, no joking, that you can choose how to learn and play however you want and I appreciate your bringing the subject to my attention. I will now dismount from my soapbox....