Ask Willis - June - 2001

Hey Willis,
When some one is soloing over you and using repeating lines, for instance, to create tension, how do you judge when to jump in on the accents and when to lay back and let the drummer and soloist handle it? My tendency (when I can hack it) is to always get in on it though I suspect that might be a drag or bogus if done continuously. What thinkest thou?

As a youngster (relativley) I was ready to jump on any repeated rhythm I could mostly just for the fun of interacting. Later on, as I got better as a soloist, I realized what a distraction this can be for a soloist. Once everyone has jumped on the bandwagon and is playing the same figure, who decides when to bail out and go on to the next idea? This becomes a big problem mostly for the soloist. Also, even if everyone decides to get off the idea at the same time, it's up to the soloist to try to get things started up again. I've found that a good way to balance interactivity with your responsibility is to acknowledge the soloist by changing your line in reaction to his repetition but don't imitate exactly what they're doing. That way, the soloist can continue or contrast their idea without feeling like he's leading the band off a cliff.

Hey Willis
I think that not practicing scales and modes and stuff like that is a good approach.
But what do you suggest to build up technique?

You can start by getting a lot of melodies, especially the more difficult bebop melodies under your fingers: Donna Lee, Joy Spring, Oleo, Billie's Bounce, any of the old Parker stuff. Once you get a few under your fingers, try to really get inside them technically. Play Donna Lee with only one finger with the right hand. Attack the first note and play the rest of the notes if they're on that string with nothing but hammer-on's and pull-off's. Then play it with your right hand attacking every note (no hammer-on's or pull-off's ). Then start scoping out how to play (exactly) Rocco Prestia, Jaco, Marcus or whoever you dig. A big part of my technique came from just practicing over changes, grooving or soloing. In trying to create something musical (not scales or arps, ect) I'd always find something I couldn't execute and so I'd create an exercise out of it.

Hey Willis
What would be the Top 5 CD's you'd be most inclined to sit back and listen to these days?
Also, with your interest in an outdoor adventure sport like mountain biking, I'm wondering if you've ever tried or had interest in trying rock climbing?

Don't really have time to "sit back" and listen. I do enjoy my favorite tunes from all my favorite CD's burned to mp3's and then played randomly.
I'm sure rock climbing would be murder on your hands. All the strength you need would really conflict with the dexterity and independence your fingers need.

Hey Willis
Bearing the solo on saturn 5 in mind): just how fast are you (and how did you get there eventually)?

Honestly, I have no idea how fast or slow I am. Anyway, it's one thing to be fast it's an entirely different thing to be creative at a certain preference. Whatever speed is under my fingers I've arrived at by trying to teach myself to be relaxed and efficient with my technique.

Hey Willis
First of all, do you play upright? and second of all, is it true that you don't read music? third of all, who is your favorite or most admired upright player? oh and one more, what are your thoughts on squarepusher, and terence blanchard?

I definitely don't play upright. I had to study a little classical in college but I was brand new to bowing so I really sucked. I've never said I don't read music, I just read it badly ;-). Squarepusher is awesome but I haven't heard much Blanchard.

Hey Willis
In your online owners manual, chapter Adjustment procedure for basses there is no settings for fretless bass, specially the clearance at nut.

All the adjustment info on my site applies to fretless. My basic take on nut height clearance is to have it as low as possible without buzzing. That depends on setting up the action first so I suppose that's the next step I could address. But, removing a nut on a lot of basses is tricky, they tend to come out in pieces on older designs. Individual string height adjustment on a nut requires special files and is also difficult. General adjustment can be done by removing material from the bottom of the nut but that assumes you can remove it sucessfully and that the string slots don't need to be changed individually.

Hey Willis
Is your ramp available for purchase, and where? I didn't see it on your site.

Sorry, the ramp isn't for sale gotta buy the whole bass;-) Actually, back when I was teaching at BIT, I probably made over 200 ramps for students that would come through. You have to be fairly good with woodworking tools but it's possible to make one that fits any bass out of some pine moulding. The shaping and getting it to fit different pickup configurations is the hard part. Once it's done, you can cover it with black vinyl adhesive shelf paper and it looks like it's part of the pickup.....saves having to try to finish it to match the bass.

Hey Willis
I play in a power-trio: bass, drums & sax. At times it works really well. Sometimes it's chaos. Mainly because no instrument is playing the chords. So I try to imply the changes and develop the music the best I can. But at the same time I have to play the beat. Coz like Kirk, my drummer knows how to play a beat (and he does) but he also likes to weird things out completely by simultaniously playing something like straight triplets on the third sixteenth of the third count in a swing-feel section (and the reverse in the next 8 bars). Just so the crowd (and usualy the saxplayer) starts to wonder where the "one" went.
Any tips for this playing in this brave setting?

If your drummer has a good reason to play wierd stuff, that's cool but the best problem solving usually comes from you and the drummer sitting down and listening back to a recording of a gig with a critical ear. Once you establish that you want to listen critically with the intention of getting better then it'll be easy and usually obvious to the drummer what belongs. If you have to point it out to him, at least it's in a setting where it's expected.

Hey Willis
I own your instructional video and notice it's not on your site. Do you have any other videos available? Is the publishing company not allowing you to sell the video on your site? Because if so, I can send my peoples to talk to their peoples.

Thanks for asking. I could sell the video if I wanted to but I'm hoping it'll fade into obscurity...I really hate it. It's only good for about a dozen minutes of right hand 3-finger technique. The rest of it ended up being a problem because the "producer" didn't like the concepts I was struggling to get across so I ended up wasting my best explanations off camera. Also, for some strange reason, the president of REH (the original company) decided to institute a "no-rewind" rule. .....In a video shoot there are constant interruptions....changing camera angles, working with audio, changing tapes, changing batteries. After everyone of these interruptions, I'd look around and go "OK, where was I?". Then everyone would just guess... so it ended up being extremely difficult to follow through with any ideas. Also, because of technical problems with the cheapo studio they were using, it took 12 hours to record 2 1/2 tunes and a few audio examples. Then, it was time to teach....I could go on. But, believe me, it sucks and if you can find a pirated my guest. Meanwhile, I'll stick to doing books.