So you were watching the Mark Twain Awards show and you saw Mr. Cosby get his richly deserved honor and you clapped wildly, laughed at all of the jokes and felt very satisfied with yourself.
There were many things to watch and many incredibly talented people to see, not the least among which was Wynton Marsalis. Mr. Marsalis is a master trumpeter, composer, director and scorer of music. He can do just about all there is to do with music and if you happen to find something he hasn’t done yet, it is just because he is too busy.
Now you would think, I certainly would if I were such an accomplished young man, that basking in the glow of all of that accomplishment would be a full-time job. But Mr. Marsalis keeps finding new places to direct his considerable talents.
Ax men, trumpeters to ya’ll are supposed to be egotistical snots, cause it takes a lot of talent to bend an ax and while you are doing it you have to do it right cause you hear every note. It ain’t like the clarinets or the guy on the string bass, you miss a lick and everyone hears.
Unless you are playing with Mr. Marsalis.
He has done one of the most generous, brilliant and simple things any band leader has ever done and it not only makes his group sound so much richer it takes the guy in the back and gives him a place at the front of the bandstand.
Now I suppose you never gave much thought to the guys in the rhythm section, the string bass, the drums, the keyboard and maybe the Vibraphone. They do a lot of work, get very little credit and go home at the end of the day without so much as a single paparazzo in tow.
And in truth the guys in the rhythm section never gave much thought to what goes on up front where the spotlights glow and the screams rend the air. They never expected to be in that sort of thing cause if you play a base or a drum set you just don’t get all that many chances to shine unless you are Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich. Okay so every now and them someone pulls out dog-eared copy of Big Noise From Winnetka and the bass and the drums get a chance to show the horns how it is done. But that doesn’t happen very often.
I know what I speak; I carried a tuba for Ole Gravel Pit Indoctrinational Reeducation Center and was proud of it. I always wanted to play like Mingus, but then I wanted a Ferrari until I found out what it would cost to insure it.
About the same time I heard Take Five and Eugene Wright became my MAN.
I never did manage to play well enough to play jazz. It’s still hard to admit, but I sure put in enough practice. Couldn’t afford or house and upright bass but I had a nifty little tone-hole strung practice stump with a cleat so you could hold it in the right place while you scrubbed the prints off your fingers.
Hurt like hell but Lawd it was grand.
Guess you still want to know about what Wynton did, or maybe that was so log ago you lost interest?
Wynton took a delicate, expensive and terribly sensitive Dynamic mic,the kind they use for singers, ( looked a lot like a Neuman TLM49), and placed it just a foot away from the bridge and tuned so that all of the lovely tone could come out and play with the rest of the kids.
And the result was just brilliant. The bass could be heard clearly in the background, not just felt like a good bass should but heard. And the rest of the instruments benefited from the increased richness of the rhythm. Now that’s a lot of bang for just a little buck and it makes you wonder why didn’t anyone else think of this?
Maybe because they don’t have all of the talents that Wynton Marsalis brings to the party, maybe they just didn’t care enough, maybe they wanted the bass to stay in the back where it belonged. (Ask a Rocker about that and see how hard they laugh.)
One little thing for a guy who knew he came to be ignored and the whole ensemble gets a big boost and no one every bothered to do it before.
And maybe there were just a dozen old broken down bassists like me watching and we are the only ones who cared at all. But it was done and done by a guy who knows a whole bunch about music and what makes it good, great and dazzling. And Wynton thought it was a good enough idea to do it.
Now what has this to do with you, you don’t play jazz, don’t much like jazz, don’t give a rat’s behind about the bass and the guys who play it on the back of the bandstand.
It matters because by doing one small thing, which did not enhance his own position, he enriched the whole group's sound and made them more than they could have been without that lovely rhythm line.
What have you overlooked in your search to make your own art good enough so that people stop in their tracks when they see it? Do they gasp, do they weep, do they linger and pull their friends over for a look? If they don’t then maybe there’s one little thing you have forgotten.
It takes so much effort to make great art that it is easy to skip over the tiny things because you have too much to deal with in the first place. Take a look, take a close look and find that one thing which can drag you from the back of the bandstand and put you up in the spotlight.
Now would you like to hear a rousing version of Big Noise From Winnetka?