The Nest Plays!

Man, it’s been a hundred years since my last post, but here’s some news:

My band, The Nest, ( will be appearing at Neck of the Woods on Friday, December 4th, 2015. Neck of the Woods is in San Francisco’s inner Richmond district at 406 Clement near 5th Avenue. Doors at 8, show at 9, and we should come on at 11PM or so. Be sure to come early to check out the openers, the Anthony Presti Trio, Afterglow, and Mango Bus. Fun for all! It’s a bar, so 21 & over only.

This may be my last appearance with the band, and at any rate we’ll be off after this for at least a month, so save the date, prep your best night club duds and come on out. A perfect warm-up for the coming holidays!

Cheers, hope to see you all there!

When Choosing An Instrument, Aim Low

As a bass teacher I belong to an Internet job board called “” People looking for various sorts of service providers can log on and see the profiles of several providers in the area and then request a quote for services. It’s free to the potential customers and depending on the service, the provider (like me) pays a small fee to respond and give a quote. Initially, Thumbtack’s algorithms (don’t you just love that word?) had a hard time distinguishing between “bass guitar” and regular old “guitar,” so I got a lot of requests for a guitar teacher, which I most assuredly am not. Now I have the option of not receiving inquiries for guitar teachers, but I haven’t chosen it because sometimes I get an inquiry from someone looking for a teacher and under the heading of “Guitar Type” they put in something like, “Acoustic, Electric, Classical, Bass.”

Oh, where to begin…

So the first three instruments are all variants of a six-string guitar, tuned the same way, and very roughly the same size and shape, although the electric solid body can appear quite different. The bass, of course, has superficial similarities, but the bass guitar is a completely different instrument. Yes, if you squint or take your glasses off, the bass guitar still sort of looks like a guitar. It’s held on a strap you sling over one shoulder. It has a body and a neck and most have frets just like a guitar. Like a guitar the bass can be played with a flat pick (plectrum) although most players use two fingers to pluck. The tuning of a four-string bass (the most common type) is the same as the lower four strings of a guitar (E, A, D, G), but they’re tuned one octave lower. Allow me to repeat: they’re tuned one octave lower!

The difference is huge, categorical in fact. Even though there are some frequencies that cross over both instruments, the bass takes up a completely different place in the sonic spectrum and is experienced in a different way. One cannot feel a guitar note in the gut. One cannot fail to feel an amplified bass note that way. In fact, other than the lower notes on certain types of keyboards (some of which are made to mimic or replace the bass guitar) or perhaps the amplified sound of the bass drum (the “kick”), there is no other instrument that is felt as well as heard, it’s just the physics of low frequency tones and what’s sometimes referred to as the “punchiness” of the bass. Plus, the function of the bass in the ensemble is also quite different than the guitar. The bass is there to provide a sonic foundation, the floor on which the other instruments and the voice rest. It’s the bridge between the more-or-less purely rhythmic instruments like drums and the more-or-less purely harmonic or melodic instruments like the guitar or voice. It’s the glue that holds the whole ensemble together.

Now I know that there are many guitar players who own basses because if you know the guitar it’s not that hard to pick up a bass, at least initially. And I know there are lots of teachers who are essentially guitarists but still feel they can teach the bass, and maybe they can. After all, there are those crazy cats I remember from elementary school who seemingly could play and teach everything, from oboe to violin to tympani to glockenspiel. But if you’ve got a compound fracture of the tibia do you really want to be operated upon by a general practitioner?

Maybe that’s a bad analogy.

Here’s the deal: It’s an old saying, but the guitar is the easiest instrument in the world to play badly. The acoustic allows one to accompany oneself while singing and is a handy tool for the songwriter. You don’t need a band to perform with unless you want one.  And a band ain’t a band without at least one guitarist, can’t be done.

But consider the bass: In many ways it’s the stealth leader of the band, because where the bass goes, the chords go, and as the chords go, the song goes. Ask people in bands, some will tell you, if the bass player has the song down, everyone else will be OK. Ask a singer, particularly a soul or R&B vocalist and they’ll tell you the one instrument they really have to be in sync with and the one they depend upon the most to guide them through the tune is the bass.

And consider one more thing: no offense, but there’s a zillion guitarists. A good bass player will always, always be in demand. Maybe we get the least attention (unless we happen to be singing lead), maybe we appear to be stuck in the background, but if there ain’t no bass, there ain’t no booty. So when choosing an instrument, head on down to the deep end and dig in, you won’t be sorry.

The Endless Argument: Art/Commerce

Over the years I’ve worked in lots of different sorts of bands and of course my students have also. (And no, that’s not me in the photo…) And the ones who come to me as absolute beginners eventually try to find a band and often that first band is a cover band. After all, it’s much easier to copy something that has already been played and recorded than it is to create original lines, and cover bands can find work, paying or otherwise, easier than original bands.  And if they’re any good, a cover band can eventually start to book weddings, bar-mitzvahs, wakes, corporate events, parties, etc., and actually make real money. Maybe not quit-your-day-job money, but real nonetheless.

If you get to very top of the cover band business where the band has a clear identity and gets to play, for instance, show rooms or good-sized corporate gigs, you really can make quit-your-day-job money and even sell records of  your versions of other people’s music. Then there’s the variant of the cover band that’s labeled a “tribute” band, where the band really tries to capture the look, feel, and vibe of a particular artist. At the higher levels this type of outfit can also generate real income. There’s a Led Zeppelin tribute band that does its job so well that no less than Jimmy Page himself commented that they really capture the essence of the original.

From the very early days of my experience with the bass I wanted to work on original music. It’s probably why I’ve never actually made any real money in the business, since it takes not just talent, but incredible drive and a healthy portion of good old dumb luck to get anywhere. Don’t get me wrong; I’m very proud of a lot of the music efforts in which I’ve participated and I’ve played lots and lots of gigs, and put my imprint on a bunch of original songs. Right now I’m looking for another original project to join.

I’m always struck by the question of what makes a true musician. Is it that you make your living playing music? Is it true only if you’re truly creating your own music, as opposed to playing someone else’s? A little digression: I’m addicted to “The Voice.” It’s the only reality TV I watch. And I’m absolutely knocked over by the incredible skills of the house band. They can seemingly play virtually anything, and I know they’re doing it without a lot of time to rehearse. Musical skills? Totally awesome. And yet, I would never see myself doing that job. I want to be the guy that’s in a band that does its own thing, a like-minded group of individuals who come together behind a repertoire of good original songs and grow and mature as a group and share experiences together over time.

But there’s a long list of job descriptions for musicians. Studio musicians often put their own imprint on the songs they record, but except in the world of music nerds they’re largely unknown. There’s the folks who record commercial jingles and movie scores. They usually don’t write what they play, but we all know how important music is to film and TV. There are the cats who play in pit orchestras for musical theatre. Heck, there’s the guy that plays piano in Nordstrom’s, and the countless little two- or three-person outfits that play jazz standards in hotel lobbies and bars. I’m leaving tons of stuff out here, and I’m not forgetting the musicians who have musician “day jobs” and then do their own thing in their spare time.

So what does it for you? Is it pure musicianship, no matter what the source of the material? Or is it pure creativity? Or something else entirely?

A final anecdote: Back in the days when I was first learning to play I was at a music school (Blue Bear) that was all about American popular forms, mostly rock, of course. Every now and then we would get a student who was a classically trained musician who wanted to “go pop,” or “rock out,” or whatever you want to call it. And I witnessed one young woman who could whip out a marvelously played piano concerto at the drop of a hat, but who was absolutely stymied when challenged to jam over three simple chords. She was sweating bullets. I thought she’d plotz. Nothing came out. So, was she any less of musician than someone who can improvise and play just from “the soul,” as opposed to the written page?

I don’t really think she was “less than,” but it’s a hell of question. What do you think?


I Had To Start Sometime…

Welcome to the Blog! I’m new to this stuff, so bear with me while I get the hang of it and I’ll try to make the thing as informative, entertaining, and thoughtful as I can.

So let me start with this: I think the bass guitar is really the stealth leader of the pop ensemble. I’ve heard many comments and anecdotes to support this contention, but of course since the bass guitar is my only instrument I obviously have a bias! Here are two that have stuck with me (and forgive me for not exactly remembering who said what):

“If the bass player knows the tune, everyone else will be alright.”

“At Motown, they taught us (singers) to listen to the bass player.”

One more, and though I’m paraphrasing, I know it emanated from Janis Joplin:

“I have to stand in front of the bass player’s amp in order to sing.”

So take that in, and remember the last time you saw a band playing live in a video. Unless the bass player happens to be the lead singer or is one of those low-end virtuosos who is fronting the band (Esperanza Spalding, for example), he or she is absolutely guaranteed to get the least camera time. It doesn’t even seem to matter if the bassist happens to be a hot chick, which is increasingly common these days. Even the background singers will get more camera time.

The bass is the instrument that bridges the purely rhythmic instruments, such as the drums, with the purely melodic instruments such as the voice or the lead guitar, and the rhythmic instruments that also have harmonic content such as the rhythm guitar. With the exception of certain aspects of electronic keyboards and the amplified sound of the bass drum (the “kick”), the bass is the only instrument that is not only heard but truly felt deep in the gut.

I don’t spend much time in DJ clubs, but it’s absolutely astounding to be in a space that holds maybe three hundred people and yet has a wall of subwoofers that could fill a good portion of an arena. The fillings in your teeth rattle sympathetically. Then of course there are the cars that you can seemingly hear from half a block away with so much bass content booming one wonders how the windows don’t blow out.

So clearly people like bass, but I wonder how many actually think of the instrument in the same way they think of the guitar or the drums.

My wife and I once gave a ride to a friend of hers to a concert we were all attending, but the friend’s seat was in a different location. I asked her after the show if she liked the bass player. Her response: “Which one was the bass player?”