Jazz Organ Bass Lines: a breif overview

A Jazz organist who walks bass is a bass player first and formost.

This is the key principle of classic JOS (Jimmy Smith) style organ playing.

Key principles:

  • Bass lines are usually played in the left hand with auxiliary notes and toe tapping in the bass pedals.
  • Some organists do play bass in the pedals. (Watch YouTube videos. When you see the toe hovering over a few notes, you're probably watching toe tapping, not a literally note for note walk.)
  • Jazz organ bass lines are functional: Timing is everything.
  • Basic drawbar setting (lower manual) 8x8000000. (Middle drawbar can be adjusted to taste.)

Hand Position:

  • Must be stable and predictable so you don't have to think about it when you're soloing.
  • Don't worry too much about "fold back" -- just let the lines flow.
  • Memorizing a few solid stock model "12 bar blues" bass lines is a good way to get the basic feel.

Basic approach:

  • Unlike a solo, bass lines are note solely about scale patterns.
  • The most important thing is the root, fifth and chromatic notes leading to the fifth.
  • You can often play the fifth on the second beat after the root, and the note a half step above or below the note you need to go to to get to it.
  • ex. C G C B | F
  • Another important pattern is Root down to the third up to the fifth, and root up to the third third, up to the fifth: F up to A Bb B | C, F down to A Bb B | C

Boogaloo and Funk:

  • Listen to Reuben Wilson's "Blue Mode" and Charles Earland's Black Talk. Notice the use of Root Fifth patterns and Root Fifth Octave.
  • Focus on listening to tunes with simple chords and changes and playing the root fifth patterns by ear.
  • Make sure that even when playing funk your baselines have a light triplet feel. (Old school funk swings!)

And most importantly:

  • Listen to real bass players.
  • Always listen to the drummer.
  • Make sure the drummer is listening to classic Jazz organ recordings and knows how to play to compliment a Jazz organist (not too busy!)
  • Make sure the guitarist is not clashing with the bass line by playing lot's of low bass-y roots!

then take a lesson with me (online or in person!)

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