Free Bass Transcriptions

Free Bass Transcriptions

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Tag: fretless

Jaco Left Clues

September 2017 marked 30 years since the untimely death of Jaco Pastorius, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest bass player of all time’ who completely revolutionised not only the instrument itself but also…

September 2017 marked 30 years since the untimely death of Jaco Pastorius, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest bass player of all time’ who completely revolutionised not only the instrument itself but also the way that it was played – Jaco pioneered the fretless bass and helped to make the electric bass a more legitimate jazz instrument (this may or may not be a terrible thing, depending on your point of view).

So why is everyone still talking about Jaco 30 years after his death? The fact is that he has influenced every single prominent electric bass player that has come through in the ‘post-jaco’ era; it doesn’t matter who you’re into – Pino Palladino, Mark King, Me’Shell N’degeocello, Gary Willis, John Patitucci, Marcus Miller, Will Lee, Richard Bona, Flea, Laurence Cottle, Stu Hamm – all of these great players have stolen a ton of stuff from Jaco. In fact, even if you’re keen on more modern players then Jaco is still relevant, as his influence can be clearly heard in the playing of Evan Marien, Joe Dart (Vulfpeck), Michael League (Snarky Puppy) and Hadrien Feraud.

What made Jaco So Great?

In order to understand why Jaco’s playing had such a profound impact on the history of the instrument we’re going to dig into his first commercial recording as a sideman, R&B guitarist Little Beaver’s ‘I Can Dig It Baby’, which was released in 1974, before Jaco’s infamous debut solo record, his appearance on Pat Metheny’s ‘Bright Size Life’ or Weather Report’s ‘Black Market’.

You can find a pdf of the transcription HERE

This wasn’t Jaco’s first recorded outing as such, he appeared on a record released under Paul Bley’s improvising artists label, originally titled Pastorius/Metheny/Ditmas/Bley (now widely referred to as ‘Jaco’) on which he can be heard playing some utterly ridiculous things in a not particularly accessible electronic free jazz setting. ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ represents Jaco’s first recording that would reach the ears of most mainstream listeners and allows us to study the key elements of his unique style in the context of a 6 minute pop song.

The credit for bass on ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ went to Nelson ‘Jocko’ Padron, but after a handful of notes it’s clear who’s in charge of the low end. What is most significant about Jaco’s recording debut is that it clearly demonstrates that he was a fully formed musician with a unique voice at the age of 22 or 23, which is an extremely rare thing. By examining the transcription of Jaco’s part on ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ we can isolate the fundamental elements of his style that would become so influential in years to come – it’s as if Jaco left us clues as to what he was going to unleash in the future as his career progressed.

5 essential ‘Jaco-isms’

1. Outlining Chords Using Harmonics

Bar 2 of the tune (Jaco’s fourth note of the piece) features a double stop harmonic which outlines the Bm7 chord. Harmonics don’t seem particularly out of the ordinary to us in the present day, but if we go back 30 years the story was very different; although Jaco doesn’t get sole credit for ‘inventing’ the harmonic vocabulary that we have nowadays he was definitely a pioneer of using both natural and false harmonics in order to expand the bass’ ability to convey extended harmony – Jaco totally changed the game with tracks like ‘A Portrait of Tracy’ and ‘Okonkole Y Trompa’ from his self-titled debut, and even managed to integrate them in a singer-songwriter context on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Coyote’.

Voicings like which combine fretted notes with harmonics have become mainstays of the electric bass, and it was Jaco that brought them to our attention.

2. Propulsive 16th note lines

Although Rocco Prestia is widely considered to be the king of relentless 16th note funk grooves – Tower of Power released ‘What Is Hip?’ around the same time as this record came out – Jaco was no slouch either and many of his signature lines, including the chorus to ‘Come On, Come Over’, consist of rapid fire funk motifs interspersed with ghost notes. The 2-bar groove that serves as the main line for this tune is no exception:

Here Jaco begins by outlining the Em7 harmony before descending into open position and using a combination of chord tones and ghost notes to create the rest of the line – he alternates figures on beat 4, first landing on the 5th and then resolving to the open E; this helps to give the groove a more ‘composed’ feeling compared to a constant 1-bar vamp.

Sharp-eyed (and sharp-eared) readers might have spotted that the main groove is almost identical to that of ‘Kuru/Speak Like a Child’ from his debut album, albeit at a slower tempo. The melodic contour of the line is also very similar to that of one of Jaco’s most famous grooves, the chorus of ‘Come on, Come Over’, with the highest note placed on beat 2 of the bar and the introduction of ghost notes in the second half of each bar:

(for a more detailed look at ‘Come On, Come Over’ check out Groove of the Week #34)

3. Chromatic Approach Notes

Another of Jaco’s frequently used trademarks is the chromatic approach, either as a single chromatic approach from a semitone below a chord tone, or a double chromatic approach from a tone below.
These first appear in bars 9 and 10 of the transcription – the sections  labelled as ‘chorus’ and ‘bridge’ on the transcription are also littered with these approaches.

Bar 21 of the transcription shows the use of a double chromatic approach at the end of the second verse, where Jaco targets the major 3rd of the D7 chord and uses the open D string to create a double stop:

He would use throughout his later compositions most notably ‘Continuum’.

The chorus figure that uses root- 5th with single chromatic approaches actually hints at the infamous ‘Jaco Samba’ pattern that forms that basis of his lines on ‘(Used To Be A) Cha Cha’ and ‘Invitation’.

4. Rhythmic Displacement

As the song progresses, the verse/chorus/bridge structure gives way to a lengthy, less structured outro section. Here, Jaco leaves his opening groove behind and gives us another great 2 bar vamp that combines propulsive 16th note playing with chromaticism and some simple, yet effective rhythmic displacement:

Displacing the opening of bar 1 ahead by a 16th note transforms this from a stock Em funk groove into something special.

After 12 bars of this, Jaco cranks out a variation on this line that gives a nod towards what would become a cornerstone of his style…

5. Pentatonic Sequencing

Bar 97 of the transcription shows Jaco playing this line:

The first 2 beats are comprised of a minor pentatonic scale sequenced in 4ths and 5ths – after beginning with the root note he plays 4th to flat 7, 5th to root, then 5th to flat 7; This sort of thing was unusual at the time, with most scale sequencing being of the linear variety (typically using consecutive notes in the scale played in 3 or 4 note groupings).

Jaco was one of the first to employ wider interval skips, which became features of his landmark solos including Continuum, Port of Entry and Havona.

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Groove Of The Week #35: Tribal Tech – ‘Face First’

More New Gear, No New Ideas – Confessions Of A String Tickler – R.I.P Rod Here’s where we left off last time. Meet the latest family member: Oops. So much…

More New Gear, No New Ideas – Confessions Of A String Tickler – R.I.P Rod

Here’s where we left off last time. Meet the latest family member:

Oops. So much for the self-imposed gear ban, then. I also made sweeping statements in an earlier post about how I’d never go fretless. So how am I going to justify the purchase of an Ibanez Gary Willis fretless?

Well… It was cheap. The Ibanez GWB35 has a strong reputation for being a good value fretless, and I felt like it was a worthwhile investment. Given my recent conversion to Jaco-ism it was only a matter of time before my resolve weakened and I gave into the lure of the fretless bass, although I won’t be gigging it anytime soon – whilst previous owners have made some positive alterations to the bass, such as stripping away the original ‘none more black’ finish (so it closely resembles the more expensive GWB1005), the nut was re-cut at some point and the action got set so low that the strings were practically touching the fretboard. In spite of my best setup efforts, the bass isn’t playing as I’d like it to so it’s heading off to my local tech for some serious attention.

But hang on, isn’t low action a desirable thing? Surely it means that our fretting hand has less work to do and prevents our plucking hand from wasting energy – doesn’t Gary Willis himself state that digging in too much is “the worst thing you can do on a fretless”?

I agree, up to a point. But if it’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s ‘string ticklers’.

Let’s get one thing straight: Gary Willis is, in my opinion, a total genius. He has one of the most highly evolved right hand approaches around, is an absolute master of playing across a huge dynamic spectrum and (to my ears, at least) is one of the few fretless bassists who doesn’t stand in the shadow of Jaco.*

But I disagree with his views on tone production – Willis advocates playing with a light touch and cranking the amp to get appropriate onstage volume, while I believe that giving the string more energy (notice I didn’t use the phrase ‘playing harder’) results in more authoritative playing and a superior tone.

Tone is in the ear of the beholder, as it were.

*For reference, the late Percy Jones is pretty much the only other fretless player who really grabs my attention. Sorry, Pino.

The Right Stuff

This was crystallised for me during a clinic given by Todd Johnson when I was at university (some readers will already be aware that Todd Studied extensively with Gary, so their right hand philosophies are similar). Todd was discussing the ‘floating thumb’ technique and advocating playing with a light touch and letting the amp do the work, and he demonstrated this by playing an Earth, Wind and Fire groove. Whilst there was no debating that he was playing the right notes in time and in the correct order there was something missing – it didn’t groove in the same way that Verdine White’s version does.

The reason? In my opinion, the right hand wasn’t being viewed as the principle source of the sound.

I say this as a reformed string tickler. Check out my mark sheet from an assessment at university:


Nothing makes you go home and get your shit together quicker than seeing the words WEAK TONE used to describe your playing.

Never again.

Fusion, With A Capital ‘F’

Anyway, here’s Groove of the Week #35, which features yours truly playing one of Gary Willis’ most famous lines with a not-so-light touch:

And here is the ‘Face First’ transcription:


As with the groove from Jaco’s ‘Come On, Come Over’ that was transcribed in the last post, Gary’s line on ‘Face First’ features frequent use of right hand raking to play ghost notes. I’ve chosen to notate the open strings that I rake rather than attempting to pitch the muted notes.

Rest In Peace, Rod Temperton

On Wednesday we lost Rod Temperton. Who? Keyboard player in 1970’s disco outfit Heatwave and pop writer extraordinaire. He wrote this:

And this:

AND this:

Probably the funkiest man to come out of Cleethorpes. You’ll be sorely missed, Rod.

MJ’s ‘Off The Wall’ album is one of my go-to CDs for driving to and from gigs – expect to see a few of Louis Johnson’s classic lines appearing on the transcriptions page over the coming months.


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Fret less, Say More

Last year I got a call to play some bass on some tracks for Records On Ribs artist Talk Less Say More. The plan was to make a record with…

Last year I got a call to play some bass on some tracks for Records On Ribs artist Talk Less Say More. The plan was to make a record with a decidedly 80s feel, which meant that I got to stretch out and take some risks doing things that I don’t usually do as part of my ‘day job’. I seem to remember the conversation going something like this:

“It’d be great to have some fretless bass. Do you have a fretless bass?”


“Oh ok… Do you play fretless at all?”

“Sorry, I’ve never played fretless…”

“Ok no problem, we’ll hire you a fretless. It’ll be fine.”

In almost 15 years of playing this was the first time I’d had someone ask for fretless. So, the night before the session I take delivery of an unlined Fender P/J and do my best to get my fingers (and ears) around it.



On the day I tried to channel the spirit of Pino Palladino/Jaco/Bakithi Kumalo and other fretless players that I’d grown up listening to. Here’s how some of it turned out:





So, did the experience persuade me to take the plunge and go fretless? In a word, no.

In spite of the fact that I really enjoyed the session I don’t feel that fretless fits with my ‘voice’ as a bassist – although I’m heavily influenced by fretless players I’m sure if I made the switch then I’d end up sounding even more like a sub-par Jaco or Pino clone.

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