Double bass expert Ruth advises on practice
There are many different ways of practising jazz improvisation on the double bass. What works for some people doesn’t necessarily work for others. Some people just listen to music and improvise without touching their instruments. Others imagine playing over chord changes in their heads. However, all people at some point have to work in a methodical way and come up with their own system. Some practice with guide-tones or arpeggios, and others learn licks or small phrases that they like and practise in every key until they can use them in their own improvisations. There is no rule to it. Personally, I found transcribing to be a good tool. At the beginning I found it hard to find something to transcribe that I could play and that I liked, so I started with Chet Baker’s trumpet solos. His language is very strong and beautiful: listen to his solo on the standard ‘But Not For Me’. Once I had done the transcription, I learned it by heart and then played along with the record. You could take it further and learn it in every key.
A great double bass solo to learn is on ‘Topsy’ by Oscar Pettiford, on the Lee Konitz With Warne Marsh LP. The saxophonist Lee Konitz is a great player to transcribe – his lines are so lyrical, and in my eyes he is one of the really pure improvisers. It is very useful to transcribe solos played by another instrument, because it really stretches your way of thinking and feeling improvisation. It is challenging because often it is hard to find easy fingerings on double bass, and also because frontline players stretch and bend time a lot more than bass players do. The pianist Lennie Tristano was another great discovery for me; although I found some of his stuff hard to transcribe, it definitely helped me along. It helps to be picky with what you transcribe and what you learn, because it will make you sound a certain way. Of course the aim is to sound like yourself, but we are all different combinations of sounds that we like and that we listen to, and something unique will come out of this exercise.