Review of “The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass” in Bass World Magazine

[Bass World Magazine is the publication of The International Society of Bassists. This review appeared in the August issue, Vol 35, #1, pp 54-55]

The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass

– Jon Burr

jbQ Media

$14.99

32 pages

Jon Burr is a noted first call bassist in the New York area, having performed with such jazz greats as Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Tony Bennett, and Chet Baker. This brief but highly informative book is one of a written series concerning melodic bass lines and improvisation. This is not a book for beginners. Knowledge of jazz harmony and chord changes is necessary. Knowing that, through this book Jon will give you many great ideas on how to “learn how to think like a composer of bass lines, how to plan ahead, and make choices that are appropriate to the style of the song.”

As with many authors of education books, Jon uses his own terms to describe his musical ideas. These terms work very well in defining his methods of developing bass lines. There are two sections of the book. In section one, Jon lays out his ideas on what notes to use for bass lines, starting with “Anchor Notes (the root),” “Pivot Notes,” and “Lead-ins.” A fascinating insight used in this book is the introduction of the use of rhythmic accents in even the most basic of bass lines. In his first example, which is the repeated root note of the chords that make up the first four bars of a twelve-bar -blues, the second and fourth beats are written as accented. As stated, “The use of accents is an essential parameter in establishing ‘feel,’ or style.” Though only hinted on in the beginning, the idea of accents is developed very convincingly throughout the book. Most books teaching bass lines stay within the harmonic aspects of the development of the line, and discuss the use of rhythm in the context of style (latin, funk, etc.). Jon brings both concepts together, showing us how rhythm and accents can make a more supportive, musical line.

Jon uses the concept of “tension and release” in discussing his ideas of melody. Through the use of the aforementioned “Pivot notes” and “Lead-ins,” these notes are used to develop your melodic bass line, and there are many good examples in this section. Section two begins with a very convincing argument about “swing.” In brief, instead of pulling against the pulse of the music, Jon shows how to create tension and release through the use of accents and regrouping of rhythms for a more effective line. By analyzing where accents are and what goes before and after, and the placement of offbeat notes as compared to the downbeat notes, the book makes a very compelling thesis in the art of swing! Also discussed in this section is what Jon calls “Rhythmic Overlays;” rhythms that come from lyrics, “second line” rhythms, or the “clave” form found in Afro-Cuban music. From these rhythms, the bassist can come up with lines that complement and support the music. The last concept, called “Harmonic Dynamics,” deals with dynamics, techniques of how to achieve them, and the use of note placement to bring out dynamics.

This book would be a great addition to anyone’s library as another way of looking at how to develop bass lines that are interesting, imaginative, and above all musical and melodic. The section on swing is highly recommended for study, not only for bassists, but all jazz musicians. Jon’s comments on the “Basie” style of swing are very eye-opening and informative. You can also read about the book on Facebook, and catch up with Jon ‘s blog at jonburr.com.

– Review by Lou Pappas, Bass World Magazine

(Available for purchase here)

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