I remember it well.
I was accompanying a well-known jazz vocalist at a New York City jazz club called Cleopatra’s Needle (great name!). It was just the two of us, and I was having a great time playing walking bass lines with my left hand while “comping” with my right, as this wonderful vocalist sang the melodies to jazz standards old and new and expertly scat-sang her improvised solos.
As we finished our first set and headed to the bar area to take a break, she whispered to me “I’m so glad you’re playing walking bass lines!”
This surprised me, since I naturally assumed that every pianist would walk bass lines behind such a swinging singer as she was, so I asked her why this was worth remarking about. She then told me how, a few moths earlier, she had hired a pianist who had an aversion to walking bass lines, even when accompanying a vocalist. (Many jazz vocalists feel most comfortable on medium and uptempo swing tunes if there’s a walking bass line. It gives them a strong rhythmic underpinning with which they can phrase over.)
After her first tune with this other pianist, she leaned over to him and quietly asked him to “Please walk the bass.” He complied for a few measures and then went back to playing chords in a more rhythmically abstract way. Since it was her gig and her fans expected a certain style of swing from her, she kept asking him to play walking bass lines throughout the first set, to which he would always nod his head and walk the bass for a few measures before abandoning it shortly thereafter.
Well, this singer is pretty famous and had a definite “sound” in mind for her performances, and since this sound includes a walking bass line, she promptly made a few quick phone calls during her 30-minute break and got a new pianist there in time to begin the second set.
This story may seem a little harsh, but it highlights the importance of walking bass lines in the world of jazz accompaniment. We don’t need to play them all the time, and a lot of this depends on the individual vocalist or instrumentalist we’re playing with. But either way, they’re invaluable to learn and yes, a lot of fun to play!
If you want some help getting started with this wonderful style of playing, or to get more comfortable with it, I’ve written an ebook called Get Ready To Jam Vol. 1. It contains professional-level accompaniments for 20 famous jazz standards. Your left hand will play a great walking bass line while your right hand “comps” with rootless chord voicings.
The tunes are:
1. All of Me
2. All The Things You Are
4. Autumn Leaves
5. Blue Bossa
6. Blue Monk
7. Blues For Alice
11. Days of Wine and Roses
12. Donna Lee
13. The Girl From Ipanema
14. How High The Moon
15. I’ll Remember April
17. My Romance
18. Straight, No Chaser
19. Take The ‘A’ Train
20 There Will Never Be Another You
These arrangements sound great and you can use them while jamming with both vocalists and instrumentalists if there’s no bass player in the session. I play accompaniments like this on gigs all the time!
If you’re interested, you can get your copy here:
Get Ready To Jam Vol. 1 ebook
Good luck with your music, and have fun!
Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration