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stewblack

Jamerson Appreciation

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Martha Reeves is Quoted in Standing In The Shadows Of Motown as saying

" He never played the same lick twice. They'd give him some chord sheets and they'd say, 'Give me something James' "

As I'm working through a few bars of the great man's work I often have pause to remember this. It's like a keen chess player recreating one of the games by the grand masters. An enthusiastic snooker player carefully setting up the table and trying to recreate a series of shots as played by a world champion in a final.

He started out ahead of me by such a margin it seems impertinent of me to discuss his work never mind pretend to understand how he thought. However I know there are those here who are better trained and qualified to explain what's going on. It's my hope that you'll join this thread and help me deepen my understanding.

I'm looking at Gladys Knight's version of Grapevine right now and there's a lovely section where you can imagine Jamerson being given a sheet, scanning down and seeing "6 bars instrumental, F" and then just coming up with this

1291480704_Grapevinemid8.JPG.6be021d0c77816c6bb21ee5170d43985.JPG

He did this all day everyday and knew his way around the fretboard instinctively. If I had improvised this it would have been different every bar because I'd be flying by the seat of my pants on every single first beat. When you start studying Jamerson there's a sense that he knows by what he's played at the start of the bar what he needs to do at the end to end up exactly where he wants to be to start the next bar. Like the chess player he thinks several moves ahead. My timing goes whenever I have to think to hard about note choice or finger placement, because he had such mastery over what he was going to play he could have fun with the feel he lends the piece.

The line before the chorus in this song is a perfect illustration of this ability to think on the fly. It's two bars, nearly identical to the chorus, except he jumps up the octave a whole beat earlier, realising (at 113 bpm) that he's going to land a beat early he throws in an eighth note and a couple of sixteenth notes which not only follow the upward run of the preceding notes but then drop to the perfect note to lead us into the next bar. 

But I could talk about that chorus line all day - I think I'll leave it for another day, today I'd love to know what people think of the part quoted above.

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If Jamerson is an inspiration to you, I recommend you listen to Cameron Dawson's work with Mamas Gun. Their new album, Golden Days, is inspired by that Motown Marvin Gaye vibe and the bass playing is sublime. I've been playing the album constantly, on repeat, since I bought it.

This the single from the album.

This is London Girls which also features a fantastic bassline.

 

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I think Mama's Gun is sublime. We cover This Is The Day in one of my bands. 

Sounds such a simple breezy tune, but it's actually beautiful how it's constructed. 

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Jameson is my number 1 bass hero. If I ended one quarter as skilful as him, I’d  be very happy 

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14 hours ago, Geek99 said:

Jameson is my number 1 bass hero. If I ended one quarter as skilful as him, I’d  be very happy 

1/10th is good enough for me.  And I'm not talking about where I am, it's where I'd like to be.

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I studied Jamerson for a long time. Still my favourite bass player.

Inspired by (transcription in my topic)

 

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@stewblack
 

In fact the idea is simpler than it may appear and is one that is easy to steal. It’s a repeated call and response.

If you at look at the shape of that part (literally the shapes on the page) you can see that it’s actually three repeats of the same shape. One bar up and one bar down. 
 

Look again and you’ll see that bar 1 or each 2 bar phrase is the same idea each time. The rhythm is the same each time and the notes are all from an (ascending)  F7 scale using 1,3,4,5,6 b7 (F A Bb C D Eb). Yes there are some E naturals as well but first I think is probably a mistake and the second is a passing note. In fact bars 3 and 5 are identical - he may even have been going for that phrase in bar 1 and missed!

So what you have is a riff going up followed by an answering phrase (using the same notes) going down. Thought of like that - this is something much easier to steal. 

Yes - Jamerson was a great player (IMO the greatest) but just like anyone else he used techniques and patterns to focus his creativity.

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9 minutes ago, Nickthebass said:

@stewblack
 

In fact the idea is simpler than it may appear and is one that is easy to steal. It’s a repeated call and response.

If you at look at the shape of that part (literally the shapes on the page) you can see that it’s actually three repeats of the same shape. One bar up and one bar down. 
 

Look again and you’ll see that bar 1 or each 2 bar phrase is the same idea each time. The rhythm is the same each time and the notes are all from an (ascending)  F7 scale using 1,3,4,5,6 b7 (F A Bb C D Eb). Yes there are some E naturals as well but first I think is probably a mistake and the second is a passing note. In fact bars 3 and 5 are identical - he may even have been going for that phrase in bar 1 and missed!

So what you have is a riff going up followed by an answering phrase (using the same notes) going down. Thought of like that - this is something much easier to steal. 

Yes - Jamerson was a great player (IMO the greatest) but just like anyone else he used techniques and patterns to focus his creativity.

Absolutely spot on. Thank you. 

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1 hour ago, stewblack said:

Absolutely spot on. Thank you. 

You’re welcome. Magic only looks like magic when you don’t see the mirrors and wires. 
 

When you talk about “thinking several moves ahead” what you’re actually seeing is a highly developed approach to leading the ear through chord changes. The way it was taught to me comes back to walking bass in jazz.
 

Let’s say you’re walking and you going to hit the root on beat one. You then have three notes with which to outline the harmony and end somewhere nice in relation to the next chord. Example a bar of C then a bar of F - we’ll just talk about bar 1

| C /// | F /// |

Triads (1 3 5) are C E G and F A C.


Playing C E G C in bar 1 would be great. You’ve got the triad then a 1 (or 8va) which is the 5th of the next chord. The ear will hear that move from C to F and feel a resolution into that F - especially if you go up to the F from below.

You could finish bar 1 on the E and approach the F from a semi tone below. Again the ear is lead from one chord to the next.

You could get fruity and stick a Gb on beat 4. A common resolution to a major chord in jazz is to play a b7 chord a semi tone above. Using the 2 bars above the piano would play

| C / / Gb7 | F /// |
 

Remember that thing about open strings in flat keys? Open A down to Ab is the same thing. Not only does it make position shifts simpler but it implies a quick chord substitution and leads the ear to the next root. 

Most chord progressions follow similar rules and patterns. What Jamerson is doing is applying the way that a jazz walking bass line moves around changes to a pop context. He has done it so many times (probably playing standards on upright) that he already has under his hands a dozen ways to navigate a given set of changes.

Some tunes he gets to blow on more than others (I have no idea how he got away with the part on Darling Dear ... 🤯😳).

At the end of the day it’s mostly walking bass (harmonically speaking). 
 

 

Edited by Nickthebass
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I’m working my way through the Standing in the Shadows of Motown book and I sight read this tune last night. So great - it is a great class in timing and jazz style chromatic lines. 
 

My intention is to read my way through the whole book, over time. It’s improved my reading a lot already - ‘What’s Going On’ gave me a workout from the get go. 

Edited by funkle
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Because of my Chronic Fatique, learning, and indeed thinking, is considerably harder than that to which I have been used. So playing this song (not learning it) while reading has taken me many weeks, working in small bursts. But however long it takes it is still a wonderful example of the craft. I am also using my questionable transcription skills to correct the interpretation in the book.

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10 minutes ago, wateroftyne said:

And the beauty of it all is that he probably didn't think about any of it. He just did it 'cos it felt right.

Although I think that later the arrangers started writing Jamerson style parts - including some stuff for him!

The dude was special ... I read somewhere that he wasn’t allowed to tour because he was so important to the studio sound. 

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On 28/09/2020 at 16:26, Nickthebass said:

In other news ... this to thread prompted me to dig out my DVD of Standing In The Shadows...

I may try to inflict it on my wife this evening. 

Beautiful film, one of my favourites. Hope she enjoyed it. 

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20 minutes ago, Nickthebass said:

Works and kids have conspired to scupper my plans thus far. 

Gah! Bad luck 

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On 01/09/2020 at 21:11, gjones said:

If Jamerson is an inspiration to you, I recommend you listen to Cameron Dawson's work with Mamas Gun. Their new album, Golden Days, is inspired by that Motown Marvin Gaye vibe and the bass playing is sublime. I've been playing the album constantly, on repeat, since I bought it.

This the single from the album.

This is London Girls which also features a fantastic bassline.

 

Great vibe glad i stumbled on this very old school.

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James Jamerson was one of the greatest bass players. He's up there in the top 3 most influential bass players ever. He completely changed the instrument. He changed how people thought and expected bass lines to sound and fit the song. It helped that he had perfect timing,  a total understanding of music theory and an ability to make up interesting and complex bass lines on the fly.

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I continue to read my way through the Shadows of Motown book. I have learned a lot and my reading has improved a ton, unsurprisingly. This is one of the best things I have done on bass. I can only recommend it. 

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On 07/09/2020 at 20:54, Nickthebass said:

You’re welcome. Magic only looks like magic when you don’t see the mirrors and wires. 
 

When you talk about “thinking several moves ahead” what you’re actually seeing is a highly developed approach to leading the ear through chord changes. The way it was taught to me comes back to walking bass in jazz.
 

Let’s say you’re walking and you going to hit the root on beat one. You then have three notes with which to outline the harmony and end somewhere nice in relation to the next chord. Example a bar of C then a bar of F - we’ll just talk about bar 1

| C /// | F /// |

Triads (1 3 5) are C E G and F A C.


Playing C E G C in bar 1 would be great. You’ve got the triad then a 1 (or 8va) which is the 5th of the next chord. The ear will hear that move from C to F and feel a resolution into that F - especially if you go up to the F from below.

You could finish bar 1 on the E and approach the F from a semi tone below. Again the ear is lead from one chord to the next.

You could get fruity and stick a Gb on beat 4. A common resolution to a major chord in jazz is to play a b7 chord a semi tone above. Using the 2 bars above the piano would play

| C / / Gb7 | F /// |
 

Remember that thing about open strings in flat keys? Open A down to Ab is the same thing. Not only does it make position shifts simpler but it implies a quick chord substitution and leads the ear to the next root. 

Most chord progressions follow similar rules and patterns. What Jamerson is doing is applying the way that a jazz walking bass line moves around changes to a pop context. He has done it so many times (probably playing standards on upright) that he already has under his hands a dozen ways to navigate a given set of changes.

Some tunes he gets to blow on more than others (I have no idea how he got away with the part on Darling Dear ... 🤯😳).

At the end of the day it’s mostly walking bass (harmonically speaking). 
 

 

I still like magic - sometimes things do need to be left magical 

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