“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Sir Isaac Newton
Yes I have just started a bass blog post with an Isaac Newton quote but Newton was a genius and even he credits those who came before him. As bass players there is no better way to improve than having the greats of the instrument teach you by way of studying them. Being aware of the history of the bass guitar and popular music is important too as some of the greatest music occurred in the golden age after Leo Fender invented the Precision bass in 1951. It’s pretty remarkable if you think about it, how much incredible music has been made involving the bass within a relatively short time.
These documentaries tell the story of a few of the session musician super groups in America as well as the lives of a few of the greats of the bass. Whilst none of these films are instructional DVDs, there’s so much to learn and be inspired by here. Check out more bass products here.
1. Standing In The Shadows Of Motown
The Funk Brothers were the house band for the Motown record company from the late 50s onwards. This film tells the story of the group of unheralded session musicians that provided the magic to the music of the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas and The Temptations. James Jamerson was the bass player and remains one of the greatest, most influential bass players of all time. He was largely unknown and died far too young (check out the film’s inspiration: the book of the same name). The film features footage from a live concert featuring some of the living members of the band. It’s a funny, touching and often sad film that captures the sound and the feel that helped to make the careers of many singers.
2. The Wrecking Crew
Whilst the Funk Brothers were based in Detroit, The Wrecking Crew were doing their thing in LA. They were another group of session musicians who provided the soundtrack to the 60s and 70s. Huge and funny characters like Hal Blaine and Tommy Tedesco feature alongside bassist Carol Kaye who played on over 10000 sessions including the Mission Impossible Theme and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. You will listen to music made in this era with different eras when you know the amazing story behind the sessions.
3. Muscle Shoals
The third session musician super group doc is the most unlikely and will surprise and charm in equal measure. Far more under the radar than The Wrecking Crew and The Funk Brothers, these guys look so unassuming that they could be mistaken for accountants! They were an all-white group of session musicians working in the Deep South of Alabama. Then you listen to some of the records they played on: Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett), Respect (Aretha Franklin), When A Man Loves A Woman (Percy Sledge) and, again you learn that a particular group of musicians in a particular location were responsible for a very recognisable sound. The Deep South somehow features as a character in the film and as an ingredient to the particular sound made in the studio.
4. Back in Brooklyn
Back in Brooklyn combines live performances, rehearsal and studio footage and interviews with the family and friends of John Patitucci, one of the most influential jazz bass players and composers of recent times. John is such a great teacher as well as player and the film provides a fascinating insight into his life and process. Interestingly, the film was crowdfunded by Kickstarter and a great example of how an artist can directly produce art from their own fans, cutting out a record company.
Along with James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius remains one of the most influential bass players of all time. Jaco could groove and sit back but is more known for his utterly mind blowing technical and harmonic facility. Along with Stanley Clarke he defined what was possible on the instrument and was a true pioneer of the bass guitar. The documentary was produced by Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo and tells Jaco’s often troubling and ultimately tragic story. I was absolutely obsessed with Jaco’s playing, listening to no one else for a whole year when I was 13. I really couldn’t wait for this film to come out and even if you are not into jazz it’s well worth a watch.
Marcus Miller is another New York titan of the bass. He produced and played on many George Benson hits as well as playing for the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Marcus is an absolute super star of the bass regarded by fans and fellow musicians alike. Most known for his slap playing his groove is almost superhuman.
If you’ve seen any great bass-centric documentaries then add them to the comments below and we can all learn from those too.