Volume 4, November 2012
Walk That Dog: The Emergence of Walking Bass Lines In Jazz

by Regan Brough

Section 2 — Plucked Two-Feel

New Orleans bassists are well-known for their interactive, rhythmic, and varying accompaniment styles. Pops described it as follows: "In New Orleans, we'd have two pick notes in one bar, then you'd go six bars of bowing, and maybe have one note to pick."10 In other words, the role of the bass at the time and the style of music being played did not call for a heartbeat walking style throughout the course of an entire piece. As Gunther Schuller points out in analyzing New Orleans bassist John Lindsay's performance of "Black Bottom Stomp" with Jelly Roll Morton in 1926,

The rhythmic substructure is equally interesting. If we follow the bass of John Lindsay, we can hear how perfectly he alternates the basic two-beat rhythm (2/2) with hard-driving 4/4's on one hand and whole-note single-beat passages on the other. These changes of pace do not occur at phrase junctures, but are apt to break in at any point in the sixteen- and twenty-bar phrases, balancing with and reacting to the soloists and ensembles.11

Pops provides more background on plucking the bass, "I don't know who started the pizzicato bass. It was always in music, and I don't think anyone around New Orleans invented it. When we used to pick the bass we'd hold onto the bow at the same time . . . I still usually hold onto the bow while I pick unless I'm going to slap the strings too."12 Great video evidence of holding the bow while plucking is found in the 1930 RKO Pictures movie "Check and Double Check." In a performance with Duke Ellington's band, Wellman Braud (another New Orleans native) can be found performing in this manner, even walking a bass line with the bow in hand.13 Another important aspect of plucking (prior to 1930) is that with few exceptions, the style of plucking was different than it is practiced today. The plucking was executed much in the same way a Bartok pizzicato is, wherein the player pulls the string away from the fingerboard so upon its release, it hits the fingerboard and produces a loud snap. Braud clearly demonstrates this technique in the short video segment in "Check and Double Check." After 1930, the popularity of the snap started to fade and bassists sought for a round, fatter sound, achieved by pulling the string to the side and allowing the finger to fall into the string below.