[Dixielandjazz] Swingin' Unplugged
willc at highstream.net
Fri Jun 10 17:57:43 PDT 2005
Wow! Swiping a line from Jud Denaut, the bassist on Shaw's Gramercy
Five and Matlock's Pete Kelly Big 7, Mop hit the nail right on the thumb!
Don Mopsick wrote:
>By Don Mopsick
>Electric instruments-especially the electric guitar-have become so
>universal and ubiquitous in the post-WWII rock-dominated world of pop
>music that a word had to be invented to denote the old-school way:
>Decades ago, an ad agency for 7-Up came up with the ingenious and
>successful "un-cola" campaign, and proved that defining things
>negatively in terms of what they are not can appeal to the impulse to
>stand out from the crowd, go your own way, and march to the beat of a
>As a mid-Boomer, I saw my first electric instruments at age 12 when my
>big brother Mike came home with a Fender Stratocaster guitar and a
>Precision Bass. Both of these instruments are solid-bodied, meaning that
>they have no acoustic sound of their own-they must be plugged into an
>amplifier to be heard. Mike let me fool around with the P-bass. In the
>quiet of our living room, without using the amp I could hear the tiny,
>plinky sounds the P-bass made well enough to learn how to get around on
>I also played the trumpet in the junior high school Band, two hours per
>week during the school day, but after school I played bass guitar in a
>rock and roll "garage band" with its heady promise of raw sexual power.
>In theory at least, plugging in an electric guitar converted one's
>testosterone into electrons, which were then broadcast directly into the
>brains of nearby females via an irresistible magnetic beam.
>It turned out that we were the first generation of musicians steeped in
>the dual worlds of loud, electrified rock 'n roll and softer, subtler
>unplugged jazz, folk, and classical music.
>Jazz had discovered the electric guitar in the late 1930s with Charlie
>Christian, and Miles Davis embraced rock rhythms and all-electric
>combinations with his seminal 1971 albums Bitches Brew and In a Silent
>Way. Since then, electrified rock elements have been important
>contributors to whatever commercial success jazz has had in recent
>years. These days, the average listener is likely to encounter a live
>"jazz" performance not quite up to the volume of a heavy metal band, but
>very loud nonetheless.
>As a young adult professional musician, I went through what I thought of
>then as reinventing myself as a "jazz bassist." In my work I used both
>the solid-body electric bass guitar and the bass fiddle. According to
>the fashion of the time, I explored every known method of amplifying the
>fiddle. My aim was to produce a sound at least loud enough to compete
>with the other players who would show up to the job with *their* amps
>and gear. I didn't know it at the time, but I was contributing to an
>endless "arms race" of upwardly spiraling volume levels.
>The results were rarely satisfying. In all of my experimenting, I never
>found a pickup or amp that sounded as good to me as the unplugged bass
>fiddle did in my practice room at home. The more gear I bought, the more
>frustrated and disappointed I became. In 1990 Jim Cullum called to offer
>me an audition with his band in San Antonio with the stipulation that
>the bass position involved playing strictly unplugged. That immediately
>got my attention. Then, a phone conversation with bass legend Bob
>Haggart convinced me that this was the way to go.
>Our friend Marty Grosz, acoustic guitarist, singer, raconteur and guest
>on Riverwalk Jazz, has a lot to say about how electrifying stringed
>instruments changes the way they function in a jazz setting. "With an
>amplifier, your sound is not coming out of you, it's coming from behind
>you out of a box." Furthermore, he says, the string height of electric
>instruments is usually so low that the player feels very little
>resistance under his fingers. Marty says, you've got to have that
>"fight" or a certain amount of stiffness, to create a pulse that swings.
>During 14 happy unplugged, amp-less years with the Cullum band, I've
>come to learn that creating swinging rhythm involves some physical as
>well as mental effort. I realized why jazz performances captured on old
>78-rpm disks often swing more and sound more alive than on more modern
>ones: The pre-electric player had to learn how to draw a living sound
>and swinging pulse out of a hollow wooden instrument by moving and
>controlling a resonating air column with sheer muscle power and
>Now we're getting somewhere!
>Today my music room closet is full of pickups, cables, amps, pre-amps,
>equalizers, etc., gathering dust. I should probably get rid of all of it
>on eBay, but it's nice to know it's all there in case I have to "go
>electric" again. But by then it will all probably be way obsolete, and
>I'll have to start over from scratch.
>Copyright 2005 by Pacific Vista Productions
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