10 great performances by 10 great Jazz bassists

What are your all time top ten best Jazz bass performances?

We’ve put together a list of 10 great examples below. They range from early, pioneering bootlegged pieces on the upright to more modern affairs from present-day favourites of the electric variety.

Hopefully there are a few choices in our list that you’ll whole heartedly agree with alongside a few others that you may not have expected or first thought of.

We didn’t title this list “The Ten Best Jazz Bassists Ever” because we want to hear from you!

Without further ado, here are ten great performances by ten great Jazz bassists…

Jaco Pastorius – The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines

What a track to begin our list with.

Released on the Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus collaboration album Mingus – which was dedicated to the great player who died shortly after its recording – The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines was one of the last pieces of music he composed before his passing in 1979.

Fittingly, it was Jaco Pastorius, another legend of the four string, who would take on the piece as part of Mitchell’s band, adding horns to the arrangement and melding his genius with the late great Mingus’ creation. Somehow, as the live versions linked above can attest to, Jaco managed to take the piece to another level with his busy and brilliant performances.

Marcus Miller – Teen Town

Although best know as one of Jaco’s calling cards, Marcus Miller’s version of Teen Town is a fantastic arrangement and performance in its own right.

Released on Mysterious Voyages – A Tribute To Weather Report, Miller’s version sounds sharp, throaty and assertive. It even offers up some great steel pan work to complement the driving bass playing, adding a refreshing contrast to the memorable timbre and accompaniment of the original.

Charles Mingus – Duet Solo Dancers (Hears’ Beat And Shades In Physical Embraces)

The second piece written by Mingus on our list is track B on his 1963 release, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Falling somewhere between the autocracy of an orchestral conductor waving their baton and the engine of a steam train, Mingus’ performance on the upright exudes musical authority. While other instruments sail off with their ear-catching melodies and tricks, the bass remains dominant and decisive.

A performance as much about Mingus’ genius as a composer, arranger and leader as it is his enormous ability to play.

Victor Wooten – Norwegian Wood

The inclusion of Wooten’s re-arrangement of this Beatles classic may raise some eyebrows considering the strength of his other notable works. However, the track’s measured sense of restraint and melodically informed technical exhibitionism won us over.

We think it’s a great inclusion to our ten and a nice showcase of this modern master’s abilities and creativity.

Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen – Have You Met Miss Jones?

Released on the aptly titled album, Chops, this duet between Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen and Joe Pass is a simple stripped down affair that soars on the pretty, conversational interplay between the two players.

Bill Johnson – Get the “L” on Down the Road

A true pioneer, Bill Johnson is considered to be the innovator of the plucked string playing style and one of the first band leaders to take Jazz out of New Orleans and to a northern audience in his time at the helm of the Original Creole Orchestra and Bill Johnson’s Louisiana Jug Band.

Impressively, Johnson only committed to playing the bass at the age of 26 but his skills were said to have rivaled those of his most celebrated contemporaries such as Pops Foster and Wellman Braud.

Jimmy Blanton – Pitter Panther Patter

A bouncing, jiving duet between Duke Ellington and Jimmy Blanton, Pitter Panther Patter is a short and snappy piece featuring fun bass runs and lines improvised in response to the space pockets left by Ellington’s calling piano.

This piece would later be recorded and released by Duke Ellington and Ray Brown in 1972, but the natural flow and understanding within the earlier Blanton version is hard to beat.

Esperanza Spalding – Endangered Species

Esperanza Spalding’s take on Wayne Shorter’s Endangered Species is an intimidating showcase of her fearsome ability on the bass.

Skilled on both upright and electric basses, Spalding’s arsenal of techniques and styles is vast and diverse. On Endangered Species her comprehensive approach takes centre stage, driving the music on with a grounding funk figure while playing around with the track’s shifting harmonic progressions.

Oscar Pettiford – Tricotism

In 1949, bass pioneer Oscar Pettiford broke his arm – an injury that made playing the bass difficult. As part of his rehabilitation Pettiford learned to play the cello which he would occasionally play at gigs. He was also one of the first players to treat the upright bass as a solo instrument, playing fast, melodic be-bop lines effortlessly.

Check out the breathlessly nimble and smooth Tricotism above.

Eberhard Weber – The Colours of Chloe

The Colours of Chloe is the title track from Weber’s unashamedly experimental debut album on ECM.

In the midst of the synth swirls and wonderful oddness that flows through the piece, Weber’s performance grounds the whole composition while also contributing to its dreamy, exotic qualities.

What do you make of our list? Fancy coming up with your own?

Which Jazz bass performances demand to be on such a list? What are your favourite tracks and players?



    Share Your Thoughts

  1. says

    Here is my current ten;
    * Charlie Haden, Peace, Ornette Coleman,
    * Jimmy Garrison, Impressions, A Love Supreme in Antibes, John Coltrane
    * Paul Chambers, So What, Kind Of Blue, Miles Davis
    * Dave Holland and Harvey Brooks, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, Bitches Brew
    * Jim Barr, Equal and Opposite, All Is Yes, Get The Blessing
    * Bob Cranshaw, The Sidewinder, The Sidewinder, Lee Morgan
    * Scott LaFaro and Charlie Haden , Free Jazz, Ornette Coleman
    * Gary Peacock, From The Body, Inside Out, Keith Jarrett Trio
    * John Edwards, Boom Boom Cat, Boom Boom Cat, Sunny Murray
    * Henry Grimes, Elephantasy, Complete Communion, Don Cherry,

  2. Alex Wright says

    Argue with me if you will, but personally, I’d suggest the following (in no particular order):
    – Victor Wooten : Bass Day 2001

    First time I saw this, it blew me away. For the uninitiated, you might think he’s gone insane half way through! He’s a great explorer of the sounds you can get out of the bass and boy does he show it here! How he manages to re-tune his bass like that, I’ll never know…

    – Jaco Pastorious : Portrait of Tracy

    Maybe an obvious choice, but still one of the pieces that any bassist trying to master harmonics wants to play.

    – Marcus Miller : Scoop

    A perfect example of how Marcus’ bass riffs can stand up on their own

    – Anthony Jackson : Not Yet

    A fantastic groove player, well versed in the art of not overplaying, but can really pull some technical licks out of his 6 string (contrabass) when appropriate.

    – Ray Brown (Dizzy Gillespie) : One Bass Hit

    A fantastic groove with the double bass at the front of the song, from one of the all time greats (and composer of the Gravy Waltz).

    – Oscar Pettiford : Bohemia After Dark

    A brilliant upright bassists, and since “Tricotism” was already taken, I thought I’d use my next favourite piece!

    – SMV : Thunder

    Getting 3 bassists for the price of one here – when I heard about the formation of Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten, I was skeptical that they could make 3 basses work (we’ve all heard Spinal Tap’s ‘Big Bottom’). I should have known we could trust some of the modern masters of the low end.

    – Stuart Zender / Jamiroquai : Virtual Insanity

    Jamiroquai brought contemporary ‘acid’ jazz into the 90’s UK pop scene, and Stuart Zender was the man behind the band’s intricate bass lines that taught a new generation that the bass can (and should!) be cooler than the electric guitar.

    – Mark King (Level 42) : Love Games

    Okay, pushing the boundaries into jazz-funk/pop here, but a big influence on my playing, and I think the drummer-turned-bassist Mark King’s rhythmic approach to the bass is phenomenal!

    – Gustavo Dal Farra : Street performance

    So many great musicians walk the streets unknown, and I thought it would be good to have an inspirational street performance from one of the technical greats – it makes me want to get out there and treat the world as my stage!

  3. says

    These selections are the best! I can’t even seem to give the ranks! However, I am a fan of Spalding. She is such an amazing performer. She takes “funk” on a higher level and I must say she is a good shifter. Anyhow, I love all the performers you chose. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  4. REAL JAZZ says

    George Duvivier (the MOST RECORDED Bassist in Jazz) and his extended solo on “Almost Dawn” in Bb from “The Hawk Swings” 1959. Wilbur Ware’s solo on “Off Minor” (take 5) from Monk’s 1958 Riverside sessions.

  5. Paulo says

    Somehow, two very special of my many (bass) heroes are missing here. Charlie Haden and Dave Holland.
    And this one was one of the first on earth to have the courage of making a bass solo album (Emerald Tears – which I strongly recommend to anyone who doesn’t know it an for those who know it, hear it again).
    As far as I know, the first one was another “friend” of mine – Barre Philips – another great bass player.