What's on my mind.

11 January 2008

The Bass

I was going to write about a book that was recommended to me and I hated or something I'm optimistic and/or pessimistic about (Portrait of a Lady and life, respectively) and I might this weekend but the sexiness of the bass has been rattling around in my head for a few weeks, so I thought I'd give you my thoughts on this.

On December 22 Herbie Hancock was on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me to play "Not My Job". If you've ever listened, you know they do a fairly long interview/introduction of their guests. Apparently they've been doing an survey of all the musicians asking them what they consider the sexiest instrument. Branford Marsalis choose the saxophone; Weird Al Yankovic choose the accordion. Herbie Hancock said the guitar but in his case it wasn't the guitar but the piano because he can "play sexy piano". I'm not about to argue about Herbie Hancock's piano playing. One of the panelists asked if Herbie if anyone ever said the bass was sexy; the answer was no and one or the other said that even bassists don't think it's sexy. I disagree, at least in the case of the upright bass. (Why the electric bass would be less sexy than the guitar, I'm not sure.) Later he said a sexy instrument for a woman is the cello. I think you can use your imaginations as to why that would be; he may have meant it half jokingly.

The cello is held between one's knees and rests against the breastbone. Until one is playing far up the finger board, one's body is not held terribly close to the instrument. My grandmother was glad when I moved to the playing the bass because to play the cello I had to sit in such a unladylike manner. Cellos are lovely instruments with a lovely sound (low squeaking potential for new players!); I like cello music. In the hands of the average player the cello is often limited in the emotions it depicts. Despite the obvious, I contend that the cello is not a particularly sexy instrument.

The bass on the other hand is. First off, playing position - the bass is held against the chest with one leg slightly behind and one to the side. (There are variations in playing styles so this may not apply equally to everyone.) There is, typically, more instrument/body contact with the bass than with the cello. The bass is moved in and out from the body and turned during playing to allow better access to the strings. The left arm (fingering hand) often comes around almost to hug the instrument as one moves up the finger board. The cello is held, the bass is embraced. Secondly there is the sound of the bass versus the cello. Basses routinely sing and growl, sometimes at the same time. The range of emotion, the passion, that can be elicited from the bass, even from a mediocre player like me, is vast. Thirdly the upright bass is played in orchestras, jazz bands, and bluegrass; the electric bass is played in country and rock and roll, further proof of it's versatility. An instrument that can depict a wide range of emotions in a wide range of musical styles that is embraced by the player is very sexy.

(I may be a bit biased since I was a much better bassist than I ever was a cellist.)


Shadowhelm said...

Hahaha, I am such a closet redneck. I read the title of your post and immediately thought this was going to be a fishing story about the one that got away.

I am now going to go flog myself for such an error.

Good day.

Sarah said...

I love the cello. It was the first instrument I ever fell in love with. Someone demonstrated it solo in a music class in the 4th grade and I have never forgotten the feeling I had. I tried to play it (in that school system, you could play strings in the 4th grade). I had a cello for a week before we learned that we were moving and I had to give it back.

I'm definitely going to listen more closely to the bass from now on. I only played in a full orchestra for a couple years and used to have a lot of fun watching the bass players. It looked like such a lot of work.

Marciepooh said...

I, too, started the cello in 4th grade. I'm sorry you had to move!

It isn't that I don't like the cello, I do, but the bass is, in my opinion, at least as sexy if not sexier.