Teen Town

In case you a) have had a woefully inadequate jazz education, b) have an unnatural grudge against bass players or c) are one of these persons with the common sense to not like jazz or jazz fusion at all, you’re familiar with the Jaco Pastorious composition “Teen Town.” Here is a refresher for the few that care.

As a bass player, I dig on it obviously because it’s Jaco and he’s busting out the crazy funky bass lines. But as a composer, I really find it fascinating because it’s a bass melody, and in ways that differ very fundamentally from just “the bass playing the melody.” It’s a bass melody in the sense that it is impossible to conceive the tune performed in any other voice besides the bottom voice. Could you imagine Teen Town played with a walking bass line and the melody played in, say, the trumpet? Actually…now that I’m thinking about that…that sounds like an interesting idea….hmm…

The point I’m trying to make, though, is that Teen Town really inspired me to think in terms of that sort of syncopated, sixteenth note melody being not only performed but specifically written for the bass. It’s an exciting concept, especially if you then are able to layer counterpoint on top of it. The bass isn’t simple a “function of the chord,” but rather a melody until itself that is just as busy and interesting as a melody written for the upper register. It’s such a fun concept to not only write for, but play on, and that’s what inspired me to write the bassline for one of my latest tunes “Mary’s Room,” (read the wikipedia entry for info on the title.)

I almost went off the deep end trying to include AH modal concepts here, including some I have yet to rant madly about here on this blog (rest assured, however, those rants are coming). If you skip ahead to 2:04, you’ll hear this bassline.

The beauty (?) with writing basslines in the “Teen Town style” is that they don’t have to have a slavish connection to the root motion. The first measure emphasizes F, even though the chord symbol reads Gbmaj7/Bb. The keyboard is playing a Bb in it’s bass, but the bass melody is ignoring that, and decides it wants to emphasize the fifth of the Bb root (7th if you believe Gb is the root). This sort of thing happens throughout  (the second measure emphasizes the voice leading between F and F# instead of the A root). The bass only rarely plays on the downbeat, and when it does (the third measure, for example), it sounds like the end of the phrase of the previous measure because of the odd time signature.

This whole concept of a bass melody in the actual bass register (versus the bass playing way up high on the instrument) isn’t used very often, and I feel like it’s a really neat tool to play with. There is a lot of interest that can be created by these complex melodies in the lower register, and damn are they fun to play.

Basically…..I like Teen Town. If you got a problem with that, talk to Jaco.


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Welcome to Adam Neely's blog/website. Check out his compositions, links, and information about lessons on the top bar, and enjoy the music!

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