Friday, 15 May 2009

El Bajo

I've just put down my bass after having played it for a good four hours, losing all track of time. This is not in itself unusual: I started playing the bass when I was six years old and have been, to a greater or lesser extent, utterly obsessed with the instrument ever since. My dad, a very fine guitarist with a forte for bottleneck slide playing, bought me a Hondo Deluxe bass from a music shop in Swansea that was going bust. £60 was the price, if I remember rightly. I originally chose bass as my instrument of choice simply because I calculated that playing the guitar when you have an accomplished father for a teacher would be the source of much familial despair and gnashing of teeth. I figured that learning bass meant that I would soon move into my own territory, away from my dad's realms, and be able to improve at my leisure. Pretty astute for a six year old, I'm sure you'll agree. Or maybe it's a false memory and I just liked the colour of it in the shop. Either way, I've always loved bassy things - the rumble that you feel in your guts whether it's the double basses and tubas in an orchestra or the bass drum in some dance music.

The bass Dad got me was to be a combined Christmas and birthday present. I remember with a sharply defined vividness the Christmas morning I came down the stairs - already utterly unable to contain my boyish excitement at the globally delicious anticipation of Christmas mornings - to see my first bass, snug in its case with a token bit of wrapping paper sellotaped to the front. I've basically been playing that bass ever since, until it was superseded as my main instrument by a Fender Jazz five-string that creates strange feelings to be felt by a man regarding and inanimate object. I still have the Christmas morning bass, but it lives in a state of semi-retirement and only gets played in a spur-of-the-moment, nostalgic kind of way. It's essentially a crap instrument, but I regard it as a slightly ugly friend with whom you have come a long way down the pot-holed cart track of life with: you love him, but probably wouldn't want to be seen
with him in public by your cool friends. I said: I've just been playing for four hours. I played like I played when I was a kid and trying to master an enigmatic and much misunderstood instrument. I put on some CDs and listened - really listened - to what the players were doing. Then I played with them and tried to get so close to their lines, so perfectly locked into what they were playing, that I lost a sense of myself and actually felt like I was part of the original music. I believe that an athlete might say that I was 'in the zone'. I love it - it's a trance like state that is by no means vacant or hallucinogenic; it's a state of being totally focussed, utterly intent and right on it.

The album that really got me was Aja by Steely Dan. I've been a bit obsessed with this record recently, so I had most of it etched on my ear drums already. It's a glorious, masterpiece of a recording; every time I hear it new things come to light - percussion, beautiful brass, stunning singing, some of the best drumming ever committed to tape and, of course, some wonderful bass playing from Chuck Rainey. The songs are witty and exciting - pure, surreal Americana.

I don't get to play like that very often nowadays. Work, DIY (see post previous postings!) and general social life seem to get in the way. When I do play, it's usually during the throws of hurried preparation for a gig, church event or something similar. Today I remembered the pure, innocent joy of playing because I wanted to; playing for myself without thought for practicalities and limitations. I really enjoyed it. I must do it more often.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I like commenting. I like your comments.