BY CLAY CORSO
Eddie Gomez is one of the most established and creative bass players to grace the instrument. He has performed with Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, and countless other musicians. Many jazz listeners will recognize Gomez from his eleven-year collaboration with the great pianist Bill Evans. Having studied classical bass at Juilliard prior to his work with Evans, Gomez is known for his technique and lyricism that transcend the instrument. A true virtuoso, Eddie Gomez is also a brilliantly mindful and engaging accompanist. His intuition brings a new layer of depth and color to his music. Gomez is never predictable, yet his technique and touch are never out of place. A shining example of Gomez playing in a duo and trio setting can be found on Chosen, the latest recording by Chicago pianist Frank Caruso. In this article, I will break down devices that Eddie utilizes in his solo playing. The solo that I will be using as an example is taken from one of Frank Caruso’s original compositions, titled Waltz for Gomez, which is taken from the previously mentioned album.
Waltz for Gomez was written specifically for this album, and it features an unusual form. The AAB form adds up to 35 measures, with each A section lasting 9 bars, and the B section comprising 17 bars. During the statement of the head, Caruso and Gomez take turns seamlessly passing along the melody, while drummer Bob Rummage provides a sturdy rhythmic accompaniment. This passing of the melody was not discussed beforehand, and it just simply happened spontaneously. Gomez takes the first A section and the first two bars of the second A, with Frank taking over in the third bar of the second A. This is just one example of the creativity that Eddie Gomez sparks. By examining his three-chorus improvisation on this composition, we can gain a greater insight into what makes his playing so unique and tasteful. His mastery of the instrument is unmistakable, especially in his soloing.
The first thing I noticed when transcribing this solo is the ways in which Eddie approaches the waltz feel. He avoids the typical jazz waltz “clave” of accenting beat 1 and the “and” of two. This solo demonstrates many ways of approaching 3/4 time. The best part of this approach is that none of these rhythmic setups are difficult to study. They are based on rhythmic groupings that are very common. An underutilized rhythmic device in 3/4 time is the quarter note triplet. Perhaps this is due to the fact that multiple sets of quarter note triplets do not evenly fit into a measure of 3/4 like they would in 4/4. Gomez uses a large amount of quarter note triplets in this solo, and he utilizes several ways to execute quarter note triplets in this time signature. I will point out my two favorite examples. In the first bar of his solo, Eddie plays a group of quarter note triplets starting on beat two. I was astounded when I discovered this. This grouping (illustrated by example A below) is simple, yet few play or think about this rhythmic possibility. He uses this rhythm several times in this solo, often with eighth notes or a quarter note on beat one. Examples include measures 1, 11, 45, 63, and 84.
Several examples of rhythmic displacement occur in this solo. The term “displacement” is thrown around quite often, so it would be helpful to define it before further examination. When an idea is displaced, it appears in a rhythmic context that is either constantly changing or has been changed from a previous iteration. The most remarkable use of displacement in this solo occurs in measures 21 and 22. Gomez plays quarter note triplets across the barline, starting the grouping on beat three of measure 21, lasting through beat one of measure 22.
An alternative way to think of this is to treat measures 21 and 22 (example B) like a large “hypermeasure”. If these measures are combined into one 6/4 bar (example C), this over-the-barline displacement suddenly becomes less daunting, with the groupings of triplets starting on beats 3 and 5.
If one were to sightread the rhythms below, example C would likely be easier, due to the fact that triplets over a barline are difficult to read. However, both examples sound the same. If you read my article about Frank Caruso’s solo on Waltz for Gomez, I talk about his rhythmic grouping of bars of 3/4. He treats 4 bars of 3/4 like 3 bars of 4/4, creating a rhythm that repeats over the barline. Eddie Gomez uses this same principle, treating these two bars of 3/4 like one larger bar of 6/4. My best guess as to his approach is that this method of thinking in “hypermeasures” elongates the phrases, drawing the listener in. This preference for long phrase length may also be traced back to Eddie’s extensive classical training.
Another key example of displacement in this solo happens at measures 67-70. Eddie uses a three-note pitch grouping: A, G, and a low D. However, he uses four rhythmic attacks in every measure, which displaces the pitch group. This is due to the fact that the rhythmic group is longer than the pitch group. This is a really interesting use of displacement, as he shifts these three pitches around the measure, repeating the pitch group five times. This is shown in example D. I put brackets around the pitch groups, and the four-part rhythmic groups exist within each measure. Note that Eddie switches the rhythms slightly in each measure, yet there are always four rhythmic attacks per measure.
Gomez demonstrates fantastic technical wizardry, taking the upright bass to a new realm. His intonation throughout the solo is spotless, and all of his notes are of superb sound quality, even in the extreme high register. Gomez uses techniques that are specific to the bass, such as sliding down from notes, using open strings, and using harmonics.
A technical aspect of this solo that is universal to all instruments is Eddie’s use of the entire range of the bass. The lowest note he uses is a low F, which is just a half step higher than the lowest open E on the bass. For most of this solo, though, he stays in the higher register of the instrument. He goes as high as C and D on the high end of the treble clef. His ability to quickly jump registers creates an extremely interesting texture, engaging the listener. Another player who utilizes the entire range of their instrument is Donny McCaslin, who is known for his control of the high range of the tenor saxophone. Joe Henderson is also a fantastic player to look for in regards to utilizing the entire range of the instrument.
Thinking as a Classical Musician
This last section of the article is reserved for my personal thoughts and experiences in regards to something I learned from Eddie. I first had the opportunity to meet Eddie in March 2016, when he recorded with Frank Caruso. For two days, I was able to watch the recording process for this trio album, which included Frank, Eddie, and drummer Bob Rummage. In addition to being outstanding musicians, these three are all exceptionally welcoming people. I was particularly interested in talking with Eddie, as I knew that this would be a rare occasion. I figured he would perhaps answer a few questions about his time with Bill Evans, or talk about his upcoming dates with Chick Corea.
Interestingly, our discussions led elsewhere. During a few breaks, I was able to talk with him, and the first thing he brought up was the lyricism and technique required to play classical music. A point of our conversation that struck me was when Eddie asked me what classical repertoire I was working on. At the time, I was practicing Chopin and Bach. We continued to have an in-depth conversation about classical music, and this conversation with Eddie emphasized how important classical music was to my success as a musician. As a pianist, I learned in the “traditional” way, studying classical music for technique and touch. In high school, I studied jazz with Frank Caruso. When I became a student at Elmhurst College, I found myself at a crossroads between classical and jazz music, unsure of how to pursue both. I primarily consider myself a jazz pianist and composer, but there is no reason to limit my title to jazz pianist, especially when classical literature represents the technical and pedagogical history of my instrument. This conversation with Eddie put me in the role of thinking like a classical musician, even while playing jazz. Frank discusses this school of thought in my studies with him, frequently mentioning the classical leanings of pianists such as Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock.
Between the teachings of Frank and Eddie, I was able to piece together the mindset and intuition that makes up a “classically-trained” jazz player. In the past few years, I have found that my interest in classical music has increased, and this interest has widened my horizon as a composer and musician. I have found that the music that has really changed me has come from the pen of modernist composers, such as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, Alberto Ginastera, and Aaron Copland. It was these composers that helped tie me into the worlds of Duke Ellington and Bob Brookmeyer, two titans of jazz composition. The worlds of jazz and classical music are very much entwined, and those who realize this will seek great benefit. Eddie Gomez sparked this great interest in me, and our brief conversation on classical music led me down a new path.
I had the chance to meet Eddie again in April 2018, over two years after our original meeting. While our personal interaction was more brief than our first meeting, I still got the chance to watch him play. In this way, I feel like the dialogue between Eddie and me continued despite little verbal conversation. His musicianship and musical intuition spoke to me on a much deeper level than any of us have words for. It is this intuition that makes Eddie Gomez one of the most in-demand musicians in the world.
About Clay Corso
Clay Corso is a pianist and teacher from the Chicago suburbs. He has played behind artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Doc Severinsen, Ryan Truesdell, and Sean Jones. He is also a published composer, and is currently working on presenting a recital of his original works.
Clay can be reached for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.