Posts Tagged ‘car’

Reading Session Wrap Up and The Amazing Mr. Bastow

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

We had a reading session Tuesday night — an opportunity to play through some of the music I’ve collected and get a sense of how it sounds and where it might be useful. Joining us for this session was Jarrett Bastow.

So first, the reading session. Josh Harrison, Hans Peterman, Jarrett Bastow and I got together Tuesday evening. For reasons of little interest to anyone but myself, my preparation for this session was lacking. It’s nice to get music out to people a little bit in advance, so we aren’t truly sight-reading, but that didn’t happen this time. As a result, well, I’ll be honest, much of the evening didn’t sound very good.

And I’ll emphasize sound very good, because I mean no slight to the players involved. It’s just that sight-reading in a group reinforces everyone’s little intonation or rhythm problems: if I can’t quite tune that shift properly, then you can’t rely on my pitch after the shift to tune your note and so perhaps you either hurry past it or figure that you’ve gotten ahead–because boy, does that sound odd–and maybe you slow up to try and figure it out. But you play strongly, because that is one of the best ways to overcome that creeping lack of confidence. But add to that the fact that we were in a very, very resonant room. The sound we were making was just not conducive to brilliant sight-reading: very boomy and muddled.

So, my impressions of the pieces I’m going to list are indeed colored by all of that. Composers and arrangers who stumble across these notes, take heart. I’ll give your pieces another chance in the future! I publish these notes 1) for my own benefit in keeping track and 2) in the interest of hearing other people’s comments or experiences.

  • Diego Ortiz Madrigal, Cancíon e Recercada, transcribed for Double Bass Quartet by Klaus Stoll. Music from the sixteenth century requires a fair amount of study and familiarity before you can really make it ring out beautifully. We’ve worked on pieces like this before, and it’s not until you’ve played it through several times that you start to understand where the music lies. No exception for these pieces. The lack of tempo indications–since they would not have been given in the original–combined with a lack of research on my part gave us an opportunity to experiment a bit, and yes, these will sound better at a brighter tempo than the lugubrious pace we set. We noted a missed accidental in the third bar of Bass III – that should almost certainly be an f-sharp.
  • J. S. Bach Contrapunctus No. 1 from “The Art Of the Fugue” transcribed and arranged by Joel Di Bartolo. The fact that this is a fugue highlighted the sound problems described above: we couldn’t make it clear to each other where the fugue subject was. In performance that would be a fatal flaw; in sight-reading, it’s sad-and-promise-to-do-better-next-time. As with some other Di Bartolo transcriptions, it seems like this one is set too low in the bass register, introducing the low interval limits problems that your arranging textbook warned you against. Possibly the arranger was thinking of basses in solo tuning, and that would help. Here too, a brighter tempo helped out when we read through a second time.
  • For some time I’ve been wanting to have a go at Ron Wasserman’s Pieces for Basses for Five Double Basses. With four players present, we decided to tackle the fourth movement (written for four players) and the third movement (for three players). The writing in the suite is fairly virtuosic: a half-written/half-improvised solo in the high voice in the fourth movement, and solos for both voices 1 and 2 in the third movement. The impression I have is that this will be a good piece to work on and to present to audiences: a more modern flavor, challenging and interesting. The difficulty I have always had when considering this piece is the instrumentation. Each of the five pieces in the suite calls for a different number of players. I always wonder…what should I do with the other players while they wait, what will the audience think. It’s a very minor quibble, though.
  • Classical/Romantic Collection for Double Bass Quartet arranged and edited by Carolyn White. Five selections, some sight-readable, some not (at least not by us last Tuesday). I’ll admit to a little struggle with such short arrangements of such popular pieces; they do little more than flash a grin into the ear’s mind “oh, look basses can play that.” While clearly offering opportunity for improving technical skills, as performance pieces, I’m saving them for encores. Boy I hope we get to play some encores!
  • Finally, we summoned up our courage and our sense of “oh, what the heck” to attempt a sight-reading of Frank Proto’s 1964 Quartet for Basses. Like the Gunther Schuller quartet, this is a serious work, a true addition to the canon of music for the double bass. As a sight-reading, we of course slaughtered it, but all of us who were present agreed that it will be an interesting and rewarding challenge to work on it. But it’s not sight-reading material, not by a long shot.

All in all, it was a fun evening, if not a huge musical success. One of the reasons I hold these sessions is to meet players who I don’t know, and at this one I had the pleasure of meeting Jarrett Bastow. Unfortunately for me, Jarrett has recently become the King of Bass Freelancers South of the Mason-Dixon Line, and as a result will probably not be making an appearance with the Chicago Bass Ensemble any time soon.

In the last month or so, Jarrett has been named principal bass of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, third chair in the Tulsa Symphony and section bass in the Fort Smith Symphony. And he’s gotten himself on the sub lists for the Amarillo symphony, Topeka symphony, Wichita symphony, Enid symphony, Arkansas Philharmonic, signature symphony, and Shreveport symphony. (If I’m scoring correctly, that’ll be Texas, Kansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, don’t-know-where, and Louisiana.) I was very happy to see that Jarrett owns a recent-model-year VW Golf. He’ll be putting some miles on, for sure. Good luck Jarrett – don’t be a stranger!

When I lived in California, the freelancers who drove from orchestra to orchestra saw all the same faces at each rehearsal, no matter which symphony ‘name’ was on the program, and called themselves the Driving for Dollars orchestra (after a long-ago afternoon movie gimmick on KTVU called “Dialing for Dollars” where the host would randomly call people out of the phone book and if they were watching the movie, they would win a small cash prize–the small cash prize was a parallel to a freelancer’s net paycheck as well).


Car Shopping, part 2

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

On part 2 of our voyage to dealerships to find a car that could fit three humans and a double bass (without completely emptying my bank account), we tried the Toyota Matrix and the Mazda Mazda2.

Toyota Matrix

Having earlier struck out on finding a new Matrix at a dealership, we tried a used model. I think it was a 2010. I don’t know if there are significant changes for the current or upcoming model year. (If you just have to know, check

The bass fit on the “60” side of the folding rear seats, not only standing up, but even on it’s back. That is somewhat unusual, in my experience. There’s a reasonable bit of space left for some other equipment, as well. Of course the bass also fit on its side. But, too bad, it could not fit in the “40” side of the split, even when on its side–that would have been quite handy.

The seatbacks folded down to make quite a flat surface, probably very handy when packing for other purposes.

Projection of the scroll into the driver’s space was minimal, although it’s possible that it could be irritating on a longer drive.

We took the Matrix out for a spin. In the end, it was not a car that we were fully comfortable with. The slope of the front hood was hard for us to get used to… it just fell away such that one couldn’t really tell where the front of the car was when parallel parking.

Mazda Mazda2

After trying the Matrix, we were standing in the dealership’s main floor near a Mazda2. It wasn’t a car that we had thought of putting in our consideration set. But I was there with my bass, and one of the salesman walked by and practically dared us to try it. He thought he was joking with us, but I took the challenge.

Lo and behold, it fit. It fit just about the same way the bass used to fit in my Volkswagen Golf. Of course, it fit easily with both sides of the rear seat folded down. It also fit on its side with just the “60” side folded down. And in that position, the bridge faced away from the rear-seat passenger and any other equipment that might be stowed. In my opinion, that’s a good thing, as other gear shifting in the back would not hit the bridge.

Projection into the driver’s area is considerable, there’s no doubt about that. The Mazda2 is a smaller car than any of the others we tried. But as I said, I used to put this bass in a VW Golf, and this is exactly how it fit. From the picture, you might think that the scroll is very much in the driver’s way, but in practice, it is not. The peg box is actually so far forward that it does not impinge on the driver’s freedom of movement.

Granted, there is not a lot of room for additional gear, if one assumes three humans. But that is pretty rare for us, so it’s not a worry. That day when I’m playing a jazz gig (requiring an amplifier) and bringing my wife and daughter along, well, maybe I’ll just buy a smaller amp.

The Winner … for us … Mazda2

As illustrated by this and the previous car shopping posts (I’ve linked to it three times! go there!!) the fit of my bass was our primary concern. Others played a role: my wife refuses to drive a black, gray, white or silver car (“too boring!”) and I support her. We also had been looking to save some money by buying used and financing through a credit union of which I am a member.

I didn't park it next to the fire hydrant! And there's the old Subaru in the background

But in the end, when we discovered that Mazda was offering 0% 60-month financing on new Mazda2s, and that our local dealer had several in Aquatic Blue Mica and Spirited Green Metallic, we decided to go for a brand new Mazda Mazda2. After a longer-then-we-would-have-liked* negotiation and paperwork session, we drove home in our new car.

* Longer than we would have chosen, but far from being a horror story. I do recommend Autobarn Evanston for an overall good shopping experience. But don’t do your final shopping–at any car dealer–on a Saturday morning, if you can avoid it!

Car Shopping

Friday, April 13th, 2012

It hasn’t been a quiet week (or more) since I last wrote.

Mainly I’ve been

  • getting the hang of a new day gig
  • trying to arrange a music reading session
  • attempting to woodshed material for the New York Philharmonic audition
  • and shopping for a car.

It’s that last that is the subject of today’s post. How does a bass player find a car that fits him? You take your bass to the dealership, of course.

Thursday night, my wife and I did a whirlwind tour of four dealerships (well, three dealers, four brands actually) with bass in hand to see which of these–in hatchback body style–might be suitable for us:

  • Nissan Versa
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Mazda Mazda3
  • Honda Fit

Unfortunately, Chicago Northside Toyota/Scion did not have a Matrix on the showroom floor, so that one will have to wait.

The goal for my wife and I is to be able to fit the bass and three people (driver and two passengers) and still have some room left over for other things (small amplifier, collapsible music stand, luggage?). Although we didn’t specifically check it, keeping a relatively unrestricted view from the driver’s seat to the back window is also important.

For all these cars, we just went to whatever vehicle was on the showroom floor. I didn’t make note of whatever option packages and such were on the vehicles.

Mazda Mazda3

On its back, my bass fits in the "60" side of the split rear seats.

Enough headroom for the bass to be on its side, as well. But still on the "60" side of the split.

My bass fit neatly into the “60” side of the split folding rear seats in the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 hatchback. The scroll and tuning keys rested on the center armrest between the front seats, so a little something placed under the heel of the neck will be a necessity in order to prevent damage to the tuning gears.

The bass fit both lying down on its back as well as on its side, but always on the “60” side. The “40” side of the split seats was not wide enough to accommodate the bass in either orientation.

The fold-down seats made a very nice flat surface. The lip of the trunk is not too deep; I had no trouble maneuvering the bass in and out by myself, using my usual grip-points on the case.

Since the bass fit on the “60” side of the rear seats, there’s room for a passenger in the “40” side, and next to the bass there remains room for some stuff. Not a LOT of stuff, but some.

Honda Fit

The bass fit in the Fit, no problem ... but on its back, the bass required that both parts of the rear seat be folded down.

The rear area of the Honda Fit, once the seats are folded down, is … huge! for the size car it is. The floor of the cargo area is very low compared to the Mazda3 and the Versa, and the seats fold quite flat. In spite of the deep lip, I still didn’t have a problem getting the bass in and out. But on its back, my bass required that the entire rear seat be folded down. This is of course a problem for the goal of fitting a third person into the car.

It was a tight squeeze for the scroll between the two front seats.

Up front, the scroll was very tightly pinched between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. A block of some sort below the heel would elevate the scroll by angling the bass upward. This might cause it to feel a bit close to the shoulders of the occupants, but would probably be workable.

On its side, the bass' scroll will tickle the passenger all the way to the gig.

Putting the bass on its side would allow the “40” side of the rear seat to remain a seat, solving the problem of the third human occupant. But this position caused the scroll to angle into the front passenger seat in a way that would be quite uncomfortable for an extended trip.

There were other ways of getting the bass in. For instance, the front passenger seat reclines all the way back, to nearly flat. The bass can then ride cleanly on the passenger side, with only the “40” side of the rear seat folded down, leaving the “60” side for passengers. Technically that meets our 3-person goal, but for a long drive? Not really.

Also, the seat of the rear seats actually folds UP, allowing plenty of room for something fairly tall from the footwell-level to the ceiling. The salesman suggested for instance if you bought a tall plant a a garden center, it could ride home without bending over. I could also see my SWR Baby Blue amplifier fitting neatly there.

Julian Romane has a 2008 Fit and describes getting his bass, his wife’s cello and their daughter in their car “comfortably.” It didn’t look like that was going to be the case for me; it may be that the upper bouts on my bass are just enough bigger than his bass to change the dynamic. It could also be that the 2012 model has enough interior differences to account for the change. I’ll have to borrow his car someday to test out the theory.

Nissan Versa

An optional accessory container in the cargo area brought the effective floor level up to the seat backs.

The Nissan Versa’s cargo compartment was a little surprising to us. The area behind the rear seats goes down pretty far, but unlike in the Fit the seat backs of the rear seat do not match the level of the cargo floor. This means that the lower bout of the bass would be quite deep and the bass would angle up steeply. However, in the model we looked at, an accessory container filled the space to near-level with the folded down seats. For my bass, it was necessary to fold down both parts of the rear seat back in order lie the bass on its back. The projection of the scroll between the front seats wasn’t too bad, although I think we lost the use of a cupholder there.

The face of a guy who has to think about financing a car.

The rear area was tall enough to allow the bass to be on its side, and that meant that the “40” side of the rear seat was usable. But in this position, the height and angle of the scroll projecting into the front seats might have been uncomfortable on a long trip.

It didn’t seem to us like the Versa was going to work for us. In addition, the cargo cover seemed insubstantial and cheaply attached. Our impression was similar in the rest of the car, sort of lightweight and plastic. Of course, it’s not an expensive car.


A quick shout-out of thanks to these dealerships for humoring us on this expedition:

Other Resources

I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t point out that is a terrific place to do your searching for a car online. Now c’mon guys, implement that “shopper’s helper” page that I sketched out! I need it now!

Now added: Part 2 of our car shopping journey.

Bass Player Without a Car

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

It’s about to happen. I’m about to become–at least for some time–a bass player without a car.

It was bad enough when the wheel wells became occasional greenhouses. But recently, mechanical problems with the neutral safety switch and a locking caliper were threatening to cost us $800–the brakes needed “doing” as well–and that was just too much. We had already put off some sort of transmission work (I’ve forgotten exactly what it was) and we have to top off the oil with some frequency.

So for at least a month or two, I’m going to be a bass player without a car. Now really, I’m going to have a membership in iGo car sharing, so I won’t really be completely without wheels. But I have often wondered what it would be like to be a bass player without a car.

Adding to the “aw, this is easy” factor is the stark reality that I don’t have any gigs lined up. That makes it easier to not be able to get to gigs. So really, there’s not much of a story here. But I thought I’d write anyway, just to see if anyone cares to make any comments. Are you a bass player who has really managed to do any substantial amount of gigging while using public transportation, bumming rides from friends or managing to do all your work within walking distance of home? Tell us about it in the comments!

UPDATE: Oh, never mind. We’re fixing up the Subaru. I’ll still have a car that fits a bass, at least for a while longer.

UPDATE to the Update: Well, the work’s been done and life is nearly back to normal. But our mechanic has had trouble getting the parts he wants. The new shift cable is too long–requiring a little extra nudge on the shifter from the driver before going into reverse. And that’s the one he got from Subaru. And it’s hard to find the right calipers for the brakes, I am told. We’ve got over 180,000 miles on this 15 year old Legacy Outback. Will we make it to 200,000? What does Crocodile Dundee suggest?!

I would love to hear stories from bass players without cars. Have I told you how I fit my bass into my Dad’s Datsun 280Z when I was in high school?