ideal jazz bass player has an enormous memory; he knows every standard
that is being played by heart, and he can play them in every key.
Jazz musicians play about 300 standards. Most musicians use the
standard reel books. Most reel books are illegal, no royalties are
paid for them, but jazz musicians from all over the world copy them
enthusiastically. Every group of jazz musicians plays its
own favorite songs, but the ideal bass player knows them all. My
memory is not ideal; I tend to forget a standard when I havent
played it for some time. What Im very good in nowadays, is
to remember the harmony of a new song very quickly. Playing a song
once is usually enough for this. This is very nice, because I definitely
play better when I know whats coming.
Knowing the harmonies is not enough. Youll have to be able
to play it in any key without using pen and paper. This takes some
practicing. Most tunes are played in only a few keys, blues for
instance are played in F and Bb in most cases. But when you play
with a singer, it is expected of you that youre able to transpose
a big number of standards immediately
Dont let these demands discourage you. The ideal bass player
can do this, but if youve just not got the right memory but
play beautifully, people will still enjoy youre playing and
ask you for gigs. Do you want to make learning all these standards
youre priority or do you prefer spending more time
on developing your technique and on learning to play more in tune?
I prefer the latter, these things make me attractive to play with
also. And I cant know for sure if Ill ever play all
these standards that I would otherwise learn by heart.
If you play Dixieland, things are less complicated than for a mainstreram
bass player. 80 % of the Dixieland repertoire is so simple that
youll be able to hear what chords are coming, even when you
dont know a song, or youll know this when youve
heard the harmony once