Free improvisation on double bass

The double bass is a fantastic instrument for free improvisation. The depth of the fundamental pitch extends down below most other instruments and, with some practice, our available pitches via harmonics and false harmonics extends up above many others. In addition, there are a vast array of textural gestures and percussive effects available. And all of this before getting into electronics; thanks to the double bass role in jazz, rockabilly, and other popular genres, the instrument is well equipped for amplification.

The first solo recording for double bass, Barre Phillips’ 1968 release Journal Violone, is also the first solo free improvisation recording. Phillips once explained to me that the recording itself was prompted by a request from a composer to get a collection of sounds so that the composer would have a sense of what things a double bass could do (not entirely unlike what I do today with the 100.100 Experimental Double Bass series). The cross-pollination between free improv and composition runs deep, the instrument being integral to the jazz world in which free improvisation developed and also the classical world.

There are many individuals making excellent free improvised music on the double bass today: Nina De Heney, Joëlle Leandre, Luke Stewart, Zach Rowden, William Parker, and too many to list all at once.

When I look over these things—the suitability of the instrument to discovering and deploying sounds, the ease with which it slips between genres, the people carving out inspiring new sound worlds—I feel lucky. I’m lucky to be playing this kind of music, on this instrument, at this time. I hope you enjoy the music.