I got this email recently from Jack, a bass teacher who was looking for new material for his jazz student:
I just picked up the print copy of Three Short Stories. I have a graduate student who is pretty proficient with the bow, and I thought it would be a great piece for him to possibly play for an upcoming recital. Despite having listened to your “Tale of the Fingers” CD for years, it didn’t dawn on me that those are false harmonics in the second part?
How are you fingering those? Are you stopping the string below the written note? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
First of all, I assume you’ve heard the original recording on Tale Of The Fingers [Concord Jazz]. We also did a live version way back in 1993, and you can watch that here:
So, Jack —
You’re right — in part II, the first few notes are artificial harmonics. The part you’re asking about starts at about 5 minutes into the video above. The way I play them is by stopping the string with my thumb a 4th under the harmonic to be played (Actually an octave and a 4th). So, the first note is a high Bb harmonic. I stop the high F on the G string with my thumb, and then lightly touch the Bb in thumb position on the G string . . . and then hope the harmonic comes out! Then I move that up to the next harmonic C, with my thumb stopping the G.
Same thing in bar 5, except on the D string: I stop the C# on the D string and play the F# harmonic high of the D string. Then slide that up a whole step to play the stopped D# and harmonic G#.
Bar 6: Stop the F# on the A string while playing the C# harmonic, and slide it down to the stopped E and harmonic B on the A string. It’s low on the neck, and that is a big stretch.
Bar 9: Stop the high A on the G string, play the D harmonic. Slide that up a whole step.
Bar 10: stop the E on the D string, play the A harmonic. Slide that down a whole step to play the stopped D and harmonic G.
There are a couple of hard technical things about this: The stretch of a P4 is really big, so players with small hands might have to play some of the notes with a different artificial harmonic fingering (maybe on a different string, higher up). You really have to anchor the thumb hard in order for the artificial harmonics to come out. If your student absolutely can’t reach the notes, you might have him just play the part ponticello, close to the bridge, with a light, airy bow sound and a lot of overtones.
In the pizz section of Part II that follows this section, I play all of those as natural harmonics, except in bar 14, I play the C as a normal, stopped pizz note (The listener does not hear that it is not a harmonic because I play it lightly and it is followed by two harmonics). In bar 15, I play the F as a regular stopped pizzicato note. Bar 16, the C is stopped, as in bar 18. In bar 19, the F is a regular stopped note.
“Three Short Stories for Contrabass and Piano” is a three movement suite written by pianist Bill Mays. We recorded the piece on my Concord Jazz album, Tale of the Fingers.
By the way, the solo on this track is in the new edition of Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist.
I hope this cleared up some of your questions . . . .