Top Ten: Influential Bassists
As someone that’s been a working musician for a number of years, I’ve found that I try to keep my mind – and ears – open to all sorts of music, as you never know when inspiration is going to hit you and inspire you to new heights. It gives you a more well rounded view of music, which is always good (especially when that music is paying the bills). So with that, here’s a list of the Top Ten Influential Bassists worth checking out.
A Quick Disclaimer: As with ANY top ten list, there is a lot left to the personal preference of the person making the list. In my case, I approached this much like you would if a young, eager musician came up to me during a set break and said “Who are some bassists I should listen to?” Here we go.
James Jamerson: Groove really starts and ends here, period. His basslines helped to shape Motown as a musical genre, let alone the countless bassists that have come after him.
Berry Oakley: The Allman Brothers was the first band I really listened to intently, and made it a point to see them live and “take in” the ambiance. Yeah, that’s it, ambiance… “Blue Sky” was the first rock tune I sat down and transcribed. I was taken by Oakley’s way to hold down the solid groove, but do it in a way that made the bass line dance over and through the tune.
Oteil Burbridge: What immediately struck me about Oteil’s sound was its authentic voice, and his harmonic knowledge and foundation. I mean, he’s got some brilliant chords that he plays, and then he sings/scats on top of it. And then, like any truly professional musician, when he joins a band like the Allman Brothers, he tailors his playing to fit that band, while still staying true to his voice (if you want to read more on Oteil, please check out my interview here).
Flea: I know, the bulk of bassists will immediately rip into the intro to “Higher Ground,” but there is a lot more soul, funk and groove in his fingers than just the slap skillz. Flea’s got some insanely tasty chops that can be super simple, to compliment the melody and guitar part perfectly.
Jack Bruce: I got into Jack’s playing based solely upon my bass instructor highly recommending that I listen to Cream. The driving groove force of his playing made the bass an integral part of the overall sound, instead of just something in the background that you don’t really pay attention to (Embedding disabled by request: click here to open this video in a new window).
Slam Stewart: One of the very early jazz bassists, I was impressed that he bowed – and sang! – all of his solos. His duet album with Major Holley (Shut Yo’ Mouth!) is easily one of my most favorite albums ever, as it captures the levity and skill that Slam had. I had the honor of meeting Bucky Pizzarelli many years ago, and when I asked if we could talk about his time playing alongside Slam, his face lit up.
Marcus Miller: Oh God, that tone; two notes into a groove, and you just KNOW it’s Marcus. His bass lines are so fluid and musical to the point you wind up singing along with them instead of the melody of the tune. And when he starts slapping, well, it’s something to enjoy.
Bakhiti Kumalo: Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album completely blew my mind, partly because of this man. Bakhiti plays with an ease and joy, that you can’t help but smile (and when I told him this at Bass Player LIVE! in November, he laughed and said “Good! I don’t play to scare people!”). Combining harmonic and rhythmic precision into one cohesive, extremely musical phrase that you could easily sing along to is what many of us aspire to.
Jaco Pastorius: Upon initial inspection, you think Jaco is just crazy good. Once you transcribe some of his lines and solos, you gain a greater appreciation; Jaco KNEW the fingerboard like the back of his hand. And when you get into his stuff with the Word of Mouth Orchestra, you realize just how brilliant an arranger he was.
Michael Manring: He’s on another level. Manring approaches the bass like a symphonic orchestra, and he plays it all on fretless. On fretless! What truly inspires me is how down to earth he is, and how that is conveyed into his compositions and performances.
With a lineup like this, it’s no surprise to any of my musician friends that I have wound up on the path that I am, playing the bass lines that I do. While this list is always expanding and evolving, these are the ten that I come back to for solid inspiration. What are some of the players that have influenced you – and more importantly – why?