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Bass Transcription: Ray Brown - "Moten Swing"

June 6, 2016

Today's equation: Ray Brown = beat.

 

When Ray Brown died in 2002, NY Times writer Douglas Martin quoted fellow writer Ben Ratcliff:

 

'His notes are shapely -- fat and round and well-defined -- and his rhythm is so propelling that on up-tempo pieces his eighth-notes are always blowing wind into the music.'

 

While 1963's Moten Swing with the Oscar Peterson Trio isn't an up-tempo piece, the same qualities are still there: fat, round, well-defined.

 

To my ears, this track exemplifies Ray Brown's greatest strength: rhythm. His beat is so giant, even when he isn't slamming out straight quarters.

 

In fact, I think this beat-above-all-else even supersedes note choices at times. For example, check out measure 44. 

 

I'm not sure the powerful F sounds so great on top of the C7 chord. But it oozes with confidence! He wasn't exactly sheepish about playing that note. But whether you hear these as "wrong notes", or prefer to look at it in a more generous way like , "Nah, man, it ain't about the notes... Ray Brown is all about the BEAT!" we can appreciate his unmatched sense of rhythm.

 

One thing upright bass players usually figure out long before us electric players is how absolutely life-saving open strings are. Don't be afraid to use them... Ray Brown isn't!

 

Note: improvised endings don't always come together perfectly, with musicians guessing what the others will do and responding intuitively in the moment based on their past experiences with each other and others. So, I notated the ending I *think* they were going for, the standard Duke Ellington ending.

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