Be One with the One and Five
Hey Gang, Sean here. Pleased to meet you.
So, for my first article for this series of articles, now on Bass Lessons HQ, I pondered multiple subjects that could relate to the world of as we low-enders know it. After much consideration, I decided to go with this one:
Even though it’s not a new concept, I wanted to remark on my experiences concerning the value of Playing Simple. Before moving to Nashville in 1999, I had spent a six year stint performing throughout the Southeast with my own fusion band. Needless to say, I had about ten times the notes I needed for the gigs that were available in Nashville. Naturally, I would go on the gig and try to astound folks with my technical prowess but, reality set in when I wasn’t getting called back for some of the gigs.
This went on for sometime before I realized that the problem was not these poor saps who couldn’t appreciate the new spark of groove they were experiencing. Nay, it was yours truly shooting himself in the foot and not following the “when in Rome” philosophy of adapting to my new surroundings.
After a short period of swallowing my pride and generally sitting in the corner pouting, I embraced the fact that I was going to have to adjust to this whole “simplistic” thing. Little did I know at the time, this was going to be one of the greatest musical Renaissance Moments in my career.
One of the necessities of Nashville is to perform artist showcases. While logistically, this can be a royal pain in ye olde back side, they were great opportunities to hone my new approach on bass. Keep in mind that these are typically singer/songwriter gigs and can be grueling but, also a source for some really cool and diverse material. With that, I soon realized that there was a true art form to playing simply and it could even be . . . . wait for it . . . . extremely hip.
The joy of hearing stripped down music in its purest form got to be extremely intoxicating. I even got to the point that when I had the opportunity to “overplay”, I opted to lay back even more. Especially if it was a large band. And definitely on artist dates. Trust me – a tour bus is crowded enough and it makes for a LONG ride home if you stepped all over the guitar player’s “big moment” on some tune.
Anyhoo, the real Renaissance moment came when I truly discovered the tunes I was playing. I actually grasped the concept for the first time in over two decades of playing “for the song”. Believe it or not, this was even though I thought I already had it figured out. (By the way, make a mental note that we NEVER have it all figured out in this obsession of ours called music.) All in all, everything I have mentioned changed my opinion of certain playing styles and opened me up to a host of wonderful players.
Until then it was all Marcus Miller, Mark King, and Jaco Pastorius for me. Now, the new masters to me were Hutch Hutchison, David Hungate, and Chris Campbell (of the Silver Bullet Band ). More than any, I really dug in to the work and approach of Tony Levin. ( Insert bald comparison here ) He has the profound ability to marry amazing technique to the right situation and still keep it fresh – even if it is a simple part. Whether doing big old football-style whole notes or playing the bass with drum sticks ( check out Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” baby !! ), I realized that the same cat can do it all and it can all be hip.
Now for the best part, my fellow Pounders of the One. Once the concept that it’s OK and even cool to just lay back and groove, the REAL fun begins. Nothing is hipper than just laying back and knocking a groove in to the ground. Especially, when the whole band is “pigeon necking” and giving you the affirming grins we all desire. Then the moment you have been waiting on all these years finally comes. The time to step up and unleash those mind numbing licks for YOUR moment. You can finally rub your groove stank on them and you think “What Should I DO ?!” Let them fly like there is no tomorrow, my babies. All that restraint you have been practicing will allow you to actually make a statement instead of being that guy or gal who wanked all over the tunes all night.
Then, you are “the Man”( or Wo-Man ) and you are turning down the work instead of wondering “Why won’t they call me ?”. Then, you can truly enjoy the music and have a good time – which is why we all ultimately got into this in the first place. Seriously, all of my musical awakenings have kept me extremely busy over the years in the industry, and have led me from master sessions and clubs to theaters and stadiums. I hope that, with a little bit of shared knowledge, the same holds true for you. Until next time my fellow low-enders. Keep groovin’.
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About the author: Sean O’Bryan Smith is an Internationally acclaimed solo artist, producer, composer and freelance writer. His skills have taken him from stage to studio with some of the top artists in the world including Larry Carlton, Randy Brecker, Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna and many more. He’s currently part of the jazz supergroups Polcat, TST and Kazhargan World in addition to producing artists for his contemporary jazz label Groove Therapy Records. For more information check out www.seanobryansmith.com