Listen To The Bass Player: Part 3, Bill Crow

As you may recall from parts 1 and 2, our theme in this series is that by concentrating on the lines played by a good string bassist, you can gain an understanding of the shape and structure of a piece of music, feel its heartbeat, sense its soul. Duke Ellington’s Jimmy Blanton in the early 1940s opened the possibilities of the bass as an improvising instrument in modern jazz. Oscar Pettiford followed, then Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Red Mitchell (this is a limited and selective list) and Scott LaFaro.
From the early 1960s, in great part due to LaFaro’s influence, bassists went beyond the instrument’s traditional basic function in jazz of supplying swing and harmonic guidance. In many cases for better, in others for worse, virtuosity to the point of acrobatics became a part of standard bass operating procedure.
Bill Crow '56.jpgA consistently satisfying bassist from the pre-gymnastics era of the instrument, still at work, is Bill Crow. A trumpeter, then a drummer, then a valve trombonist, Crow became a bassist in 1950. A very few of the leaders he has worked with are Stan Getz, Claude Thornhill, Terry Gibbs, Clark Terry, Bob Brookmeyer, Al Cohn, Lee Konitz, Marian McPartland and Eddie Condon. I’m showing you a picture of Bill because in the clip that follows, you will get only a glimpse of him behind the front line of the Gerry Mulligan Sextet.
This was Rome in 1956, the same year the picture was taken. The other players are Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombone; Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Jon Eardley, trumpet; and Dave Bailey drums. The piece is Mulligan’s “Walkin’ Shoes.” The absence of a piano means that the bass is crucial to the harmonic life of the tune. The listener can let it be his guide without a redundancy of chords from a piano. You may notice that the members of the big band in the background are paying rapt attention. No wonder.

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  1. says

    Been really enjoying these posts on the bassists – great footage of NHOP that I hadn’t seen before, and great to discover this Bill Crow clip.
    Apropos of your comments about the development of the bass as a solo instrument, outside its traditional function, I wrote a post about this on my blog recently and there was quite a reaction to it – anyone interested can have a look at:

  2. Larry Kart says

    Back in my salad days, Crow’s playing on the Mulligan album “What Is There To Say?”* was a revelation to me; it still is. The vivid, airy sound quality (Columbia’s 30th St. Studio, no doubt), helps a good deal; Crow seems to be right in the room. Crow’s sense of the potential links between harmonic choices/motion and rhythmic drive remind me of Jimmy Raney; the pitches themselves swing.