History of Slap Bass

I first saw the Stand-up/Acoustic/Doghouse/Up-right/Double Bass/String Bass/ Bass fiddle/Contra Bass/ Bull Fiddle or simply "Bass" slapped at the 1982 Henderson Colorado Bluegrass Festival.  I was there to compete in the Banjo contest.  (Another blog). The band was Country Gazette, and the bass player (I think -  Mike Anderson) sang a funny song and slapped the bass during solo's given to him by the "more professional" players like the mandolin, banjo, and guitar player.  His song was an interlude in the middle of the set to relax from the "more serious" Bluegrass songs during the rest of the set......

Along with its Cousin (the violin) the stand-up bass was first used in Symphony Orchestras in Europe going back to the 15th Century. It is usually tuned to E, A, D, G.  The Bass is played either with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings (pizzicato).  In orchestral and tango music, both arco and pizzicato are employed.  In jazz, blues, and rockabilly pizzicato is the norm. While classical and sometimes bluegrass music uses just the natural sound produced acoustically by the instrument. in jazz, blues, and related genres, the bass is typically amplified with a bass amplifier.  It is not known for sure when the Bass was first slapped, but the first descriptions come from the 1890's when the Bass was used in New Orleans Jazz bands and also in "Hillbilly" bands from the mountains of Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri.  Typically the Bass player was considered the "Clown" or Comedian of the band and there are numerous pictures of bands from the 1890's to the 1950's of the Bass player wearing a different outfit than the rest of the "professional" musicians.  Slapping the Bass in many music settings is considered "Crass" or Un-professional, and many Symphony and Jazz bassists "will never slap the bass" for fear of damaging the fingerboard.  Possibly this is why in many bands the bass player of that era that does slap the bass is considered the "Clown" - See below. 

Here is a youtube "slap bass" video from the 1930's.  Pay particular attention to Frank DiNunzio at the 1:12 minute mark. If that is not "clowning around" then I don't know what is: 


In my next blog, I will post more "clowning around" and more history of Slap Bass.

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