Recording Jazz Bass

Discussion in 'Bass' started by pr0gr4m, Sep 29, 2006.

  1. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Well-Known Member

    Feb 9, 2005
    South Florida
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    I've got the XM radio and I've become a bit bored with the 60s, 70s and 80s, so I've been flicking around and landed on a couple of the jazz stations.

    I have no plans to record a jazz band anytime soon, but I'm curious about how they are recorded, specifically the bass, acoustic or upright bass.

    I can generally hear the low notes just fine but when the bass players get into the upper register I can barely hear it. This seems to be the same regardless of band or age of the recording. If it's a solo, it's not a problem but when the whole band is playing, it gets lost. I'm just wondering how the bass is recorded...and maybe why it's recorded like that.
  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2005
    I've noticed that at times, too, even on jazz gigs I engineered! I think that it's a combination of things. The musical arrangements of traditional jazz tend to look at the bass as THE low-end instrument, and it's often the soloes that get "up there". So, there is a desire for the higher notes being played to not over-shadow the other instruments in that range (horns, piano, guitar, etc), or the singer(s). Did I make any sense with that?
    Then, there's the instrument itself. It's resonance point of the body is pretty low in terms of frequency. As the notes progress up the scale, there are some other resonance points, but , generally speaking, the
    volume gets more subdued. And because "trad-jazz" is more "organic", the producers tend to accept that fact and leave it alone. Very little compression or EQ is used. I use a gentle ratio (2:1) with a slow release to just take off the peaks a bit. Anything more sounds unnatural.
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    There is a big reason for what you are hearing - that is just the way an upright bass sounds acoustically like when is played pizzacato. Yes, you can change that through amplification and recording techniques, but you are really changing the character of the instrument. Of course, everyone does this to some degree and some bassists have gone into it more than others. But there definitely a "purist" school that wants the "bass to be the bass." I have a lot of sympathy for this. Why make the URB sound like a bad electric bass? Either embrace the sound or pick up "the slab" as the electric bass is know to "real bassists." (Check out the URB pages at to read some real fanatics. I mean that mostly in a good way.)

    One example of a bassist that goes a little farther that some others in "treating" the problems of the URB is Ron Carter. He takes some heat for his tone from purists, but he has great technique (which is a big part of the battle anyway). Take a listen to his recordings with Houston Person (bass/tenor sax).
  4. Tommy P.

    Tommy P. Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2002
    I agree, that soft pizzacato is the tone of the upright bass.

    Its up to the other musicians to give way, dynamic musicianship . Other instruments have to bring thier part down to a whisper to let a quiet instrument solo. The arrangement has to have the air and space too.
  5. DIGIT

    DIGIT Guest

    A lot depends on the intruments.

    For example: An Italian bass made around the 1600's has a totally different sound (and size) than a French bass made 100 years or so later.

    From the two specific samples I have heard, the Italian bass had louder upper register when played with finger while the French bass's upper register was louder when played with a bow. Again, this is from the two samples that a friend of mine plays. For Jazz, he uses the Italian bass (yes, he takes that very expensive intruments to gigs...!). For classical music he usually prefers the French bass.

    Clearly, if one were to record either of those two intrsuments the choice of micophones and placement would likely vary accordingly.

    But, even instruments made recently all differ in sounds. String choice affects the registers as well.

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