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«2008-04-27 Solo Techniques for Unaccompanied Pizzicato Jazz Double Bass Larry James Ousley University of Miami, ousley Follow this and ...»

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University of Miami

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Solo Techniques for Unaccompanied Pizzicato Jazz

Double Bass

Larry James Ousley

University of Miami, ousley@bellsouth.net

Follow this and additional works at: http://scholarlyrepository.miami.edu/oa_dissertations

Recommended Citation

Ousley, Larry James, "Solo Techniques for Unaccompanied Pizzicato Jazz Double Bass" (2008). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 96.

This Open access is brought to you for free and open access by the Electronic Theses and Dissertations at Scholarly Repository. It has been accepted for inclusion in Open Access Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Scholarly Repository. For more information, please contact repository.library@miami.edu.




By Larry James Ousley, Jr.


Submitted to the Faculty of the University of Miami in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts Coral Gables, Florida May 2008 ©2008 Larry J. Ousley, Jr.

All Rights Reserved


An essay submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts



Larry James Ousley, Jr.


______________________________ ________________________________

Donald Coffman, Chair Terri Scandura Professor of Jazz Bass Dean of the Graduate School ______________________________ ________________________________

Whitney Sidener Rene Gonzalez Professor of Studio Music and Jazz Associate Professor of Classical Guitar ______________________________

Gary Lindsay Professor of Studio and Jazz Writing OUSLEY, LARRY JAMES (D.M.A., Jazz Performance) Solo Techniques for Unaccompanied (May 2008) Pizzicato Jazz Double Bass


of a doctoral essay at the University of Miami.

Doctoral essay supervised by Professor Donald Coffman.

No. of pages in text. (89) The purpose of this study was to research and demonstrate various techniques that a double bassist may utilize when performing an unaccompanied solo in a jazz setting.

This study primarily focused on pizzicato (plucked) styles and sought to maximize the polyphonic potential of the double bass, which has traditionally been considered a homophonic instrument. This study provides a written, organized approach that illustrates recorded examples and augments private instruction for the double bass. This study offers a vocabulary of techniques comprising chords and intervals that allow the double bassist to accompany oneself. It uses an intervallic approach to determining practical ways of voicing chords and accompanying melodic statements. Specific songs from the standard repertoire were chosen to demonstrate self-accompaniment techniques in the contexts of melodic and harmonic movement. Recorded examples are provided that show how specific bassists successfully used certain techniques in the context of songs. Bassists that were examined include Ray Brown, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Dave Holland, Charlie Hayden, Ron Carter, Edgar Meyer, Lynn Seaton, and David

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Significance of the Study

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions


Classical Double Bass

Jazz Bass

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Description of Method



–  –  –


Scales and Modes

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Catalogue of Chords

Common Chord Progressions


Natural Harmonics

Artificial Harmonics


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“Alone Together”

“La Pasionaria”

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”

“Tennessee Waltz”



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4.1 Intervals using open strings

4.2 Transposable double stop intervals

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6.9 Open D string chord voicings

6.10 Open G string chord voicings

6.11 II-V-I progressions

6.12 “Autumn Leaves” cyclic progression, A section

6.13 “Autumn Leaves” cyclic progression, B section

6.14 Blues progression in C

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7.3 Harmonic chords

7.4 Harmonic chords with bass notes

7.5 Artificial harmonics

7.6 Artificial slide harmonic

–  –  –

8.2 “Alone Together” measures 5 through 8

8.3 “Alone Together” measures 9 through 12

8.4 “Tennessee Waltz” measures 23 through 25

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Musicians of the late fifteenth century probably never envisioned the bass viol as the lead melody voice of an ensemble or as a solo instrument. This lowest member of the string family was not even common until the eighteenth century. And still today, across a wide variety of musical genres, the predominant functions of the double bass are support, foundation, and accompaniment. This is in part due to the development of the classical style of melody and accompaniment, as well as folk practice. Yet, the soloistic capabilities and techniques of both classical and jazz bassists have developed a firm trend towards establishing the role of the bass as a melodic voice as well. The improvisational essence of jazz and the small-ensemble environment have escalated the performance practices of the double bass to that of a lead instrument in many instances. As a result, the modern bassist is now frequently expected to perform the melodic function with as much ease as the traditional bass functions.

The double bass, in the form of its viol ancestor, is one of the oldest stringed instruments still in common use, predating the emergence of the violin by over one hundred years (Siemers 2001). While the double bass (or its bass viol ancestor) was not originally conceived as a predominantly soloistic or melodic instrument, due to its low range, there is a history of solo literature for bass which began in the classical period.

Some of the most famous compositions for double bass from this period are concertos by 1 2 Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) and Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846), who was also a famous bassist. Beginning with this early point in the history of the double bass, a few virtuosic performers were clearly able to showcase the double bass as a lead melodic voice in an ensemble setting.

The origins of the first jazz bass solos are not certain, as the earliest stages of jazz are undocumented by recordings. David Chevan suggests that John Lindsay’s bass solo on a Jelly Roll Morton recording of “Grandpa’s Spells” (December 16, 1926) was one of the first recorded examples (Chevan 1989). However, Jimmy Blanton (1918-1942) is widely recognized as the first great jazz bass soloist. His work with Duke Ellington’s ensembles elevated the role of the bass from limited time-keeping functions and “novelty” rhythm-section solos to a true melodic solo voice. His duo recordings with Duke Ellington are significant landmark recordings (Nash 1999).

The unaccompanied double bass solo is a relatively new medium in both jazz and classical common practice. Certainly unaccompanied works for string instruments have existed for hundreds of years. The unaccompanied violoncello suites of J. S. Bach are relevant examples. However, for the double bass, unaccompanied solo compositions did not really emerge until the twentieth century. With the new unaccompanied works in the modern classical genre came new developments in performance techniques and notational practices (Neubert 1982). Indeed, bassists have devised unique techniques and methods specific to modern unaccompanied performances. Bertram Turetzky’s The Contemporary Contrabass (1989) serves as a monumental resource for modern bass

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The archives of jazz improvisation rely primarily on recorded rather than written documentation. Such is the nature of improvised music. There are many examples of modern bassists performing extended unaccompanied solos, yet little source material for that has been provided in the pedagogical, methodical, or technical literature for double bass. Artists such as Dave Holland, Lynn Seaton, and David Friesen have released entire albums of unaccompanied bass. Other artists such as Charlie Haden, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Ron Carter, and Edgar Meyer have consistently introduced innovative techniques into the art of the unaccompanied bass solo. The unaccompanied solo is clearly becoming a significant part of the professional jazz bassist’s repertoire.

While a complete historical recounting of influential jazz bassists is beyond the scope of this paper, some performers must be credited for their contributions in the field.

Oscar Pettiford is regarded as Jimmy Blanton’s successor in the pioneering development of the jazz bass solo. He played with greater complexity than other bassists of his day, emphasizing hornlike lines which outline harmonic content and embellishing the usual techniques for playing the roots of the chords and keeping the beat (Gourse 57). Slam Stewart and his protégé Major Holly were both important to the development and acceptance of the bass as a melodic solo voice in jazz. They soloed in an arco style while singing along in unison (Holly) or an octave higher (Stewart). Paul Chambers also utilized arco techniques and furthered the art of the bass solo on some of the most important albums in jazz. Scott LaFaro’s contributions and innovations removed the constraints of the predominate root functions of the bass while in an accompaniment role.

LaFaro soloed and interacted with pianist Bill Evans freely and melodically while

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A few bassists have expanded the techniques and performance practices of the bass in the duo format, which is closely related to the unaccompanied bass solo format.

Bassist Willie Ruff joined pianist Dwike Mitchell to form a successful and influential duo for many years. Despite Ruff’s separation from the mainstream playing arena of jazz, he became quite influential as a professor at Yale University. Harvie Swartz is another bassist known for his contributions in a duo format, notably with vocalist Sheila Jordan.

The format of the bass and vocal duo is particularly related to this study, as nearly all the bass solos in such a format are unaccompanied, and the accompaniment function involves more harmonic implication than merely playing the roots.

Several important electric bassists have also contributed to the art of the unaccompanied jazz bass solo and to its acceptance by listeners. Jaco Pastorius was widely regarded as the most innovative electric bassist of his time. His unaccompanied electric bass solos were innovative, virtuosic, and musical. Other modern electric bassists such as Michael Manring have developed an increasing array of techniques that expand the possibilities for expression on the electric bass. While in many ways, the electric bass differs from the acoustic double bass, many techniques, ideas, and concepts can cross over and be applied from one to the other, particularly chord voicings and linear techniques.

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This study is rooted in the philosophy that it is important that any instrumentalist be able to make a cohesive personal musical statement on his or her instrument. Jazz double bassists may be expected to perform an unaccompanied solo in a multitude of

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piece in and of itself. This study was designed to provide the double bassist with a variety of techniques, not only for unaccompanied solo, but also to expand his or her vocabulary for solo improvisation.

The published repertoire for unaccompanied jazz double bass is virtually nonexistent. Pedagogical and instructional materials are also insufficient. This study was designed to provide students and professionals with the basic concepts of unaccompanied soloing techniques for the double bass. Since 1978, the jazz bass studio of the University of Miami Frost School of Music under the direction of Professor Donald Coffman has recognized the importance of solo bass techniques. All jazz bass majors there are required to perform an unaccompanied solo piece at each jury exam and on their senior and graduate recitals. Some students choose to fulfill this requirement using the electric bass guitar, while others choose to perform such unaccompanied solos on the double bass. This was a source of information and inspiration for this paper.

–  –  –

The purpose of this study was to research and demonstrate various techniques that a double bassist may utilize when performing an unaccompanied solo in a jazz setting.

This study primarily focused on pizzicato (plucked) styles and sought to maximize the polyphonic potential of the double bass, which has traditionally been considered a homophonic instrument. This study provides a written, organized approach that

–  –  –

1. What are the theoretical intervallic possibilities for polyphonic performance on the double bass?

a. What intervals are possible utilizing the open strings?

b. What intervals are possible utilizing only stopped notes?

c. Which recorded examples of known performers demonstrating some of these

–  –  –

2. What are the theoretical chordal applications of these intervals?

a. How can performers voice the essential qualities of chords?

b. How can performers voice chords in any key?

c. How can performers utilize rootless voicings?

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