Walking and Chewing Gum

Forgive the absence of a post yesterday, that gig took up some time.

My recent investment in bass lines has brought up an old friend of mine, the art of the left hand walking bass while playing solo.  My first teacher, Jackie Warren, has long been a proponent of this style, so I’ve been aware of it since I learned what a bass note even was.  Lennie Tristano is famous for some recordings he did using this technique, as is Dave McKenna.  Oscar Peterson put it into his lexicon and would sometimes even walk beneath Ray Brown in the trio.  However, when playing solo, most pianists go for Fats Waller or Bill Evans, sometimes a mix of both.  Either stride, romantic era arpeggios, or both(there are many exceptions, but this seems to be the rule for young pianists).  This means that when playing faster tempos, the pianist in question needs to have great technique and a lot of time on their hands to practice(stride), or  needs to deal with the space that is being created by the lack of harmonic movement, bass line wise(Bill).  A third option is just as difficult, playing a bass line while running lines in the right hand.  This stresses multitasking, and is extremely difficult.  Ideally, the pianist would be constantly improvising a two part invention, giving the illusion of a rhythm section.  The effect is great, and when a pianist is doing it well, while using the right hand as if it were a guitarist(intermittently inserting some chords to pad the harmony), there is not much better.

So why don’t we hear it often?  It’s really hard to do.  When walking a bassline and running and eighth note line, there is space created that many pianists(myself included) are uncomfortable with, mostly due to lack of ability.  Chris Donnelly, another former teacher and a primarily solo pianist, has previously said that it is impossible to create in both hands at once, due to the fact that the brain can’t handle it(not sure if I full on agree with him or the science behind it yet, but I definitely see where he’s coming from).  For the pianist to successfully create in this style, he would have to amass the knowledge of three jazz musicians and then be able to spontaneously create that feeling on one instrument, which is a rather tall order.  Nevertheless, people like Dave McKenna and Erroll Garner have done it, and have created some of the most interesting and burning music ever heard on the piano.  I’m sure that many professional pianists have looked into this, and I hope they start recording it.  The list of people who could really make waves with this kind of playing is quite long.  Meanwhile, I’ll just keep trying to walk bass lines without anything else going on, so that I don’t hurt myself(or my listeners…).

“The piano doesn’t need any more keys.  I have  enough trouble with the 88.” -Monk


~ by Martin Porter on November 21, 2010.

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