Music is basically oom-pah or oom-pah-pah and we bassists are responsible for the oom. Truth is in most styles of music it’s pretty similar. We play roots and roots and fifths in so many types of music.
It took me ages to realise that the skill in playing bass often came from playing the simple well rather than the complex adequately. The subtlety and sophistication comes in shape and tone of the notes and their length and dynamic shape. We are sound architects.
Bass is a listening mindset and a role where we endeavour to be as supportive as possible. This active listening and making things sound great is what makes many bassists excellent producers and it can also allow us to fit in seamlessly to many, many styles of music; much more so I’d argue than pianists, saxophonists, violinists, trumpeters etc.
I was excited growing up to see a page reproduced from Coltrane’s notebook of exotic scales he’d transcribed from hours of listening to musical styles from around the world. The exotic can be very exciting but musicians have to study hard and immerse themselves if they’re not going to sound patronising in a musical context from another culture. Respect for that culture and music is essential.
So when I get asked to play Romany music, or Turkish pop or Highlife I immerse myself into the music and listen actively for weeks until I have at least a feel for where the music is coming from.
I’ve been so lucky to have had opportunities to have played music from so many cultures. I’ve also spent many months or years studying musics that I love and have never had a chance to play: Middle Eastern music and North African Rai for example but they all saturate into the way I play jazz; as does the time I’ve spent immersed in Indian music.
As well as jazz, soul, reggae, soca, folk, rock, gospel, funk, free improv and the like I’ve had the chance to perform Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Klezmer and Roma music and music and musicians from Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungaria and Romania.
London is just the ideal place to live to inhabit all these musical cultures too.
Excuse me, I have to go learn some Hawaiian music for a gig next week!
Oh, just time for a recommended site:
Maqam World is dedicated to helping musicians understand the maqam or modal system used in classical Arabic music.