How to Groove, With Help From Victor Wooten.
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
The place was packed.
Virtuoso bass player Victor Wooten was holding a workshop at the music lesson business where I worked, and it was standing room only.
For those of you who don't know Victor Wooten, here's my explanation:
There are 3 levels of "good" when you watch a musician. There's "journeyman" good. "Journeyman" good makes you nod your head, turn the sides of your lips down, and say, "mm".
Then there's "surprisingly good". "Suprisingly good" is when a musician pulls something out you haven't seen before. You bring your head back, lift up your eye brows, and say, "alright, alright."
Then there's "stupid good". "Stupid good" is when a musician plays something complex so quickly or effortlessly that you laugh, look down, and shake your head.
Victor is stupid good.
Victor took the stage. He started his loop pedal, and layer by layer proceeded to build a groove and improvise a solo over it. As he finished, the place erupted in the kind of earnest applause that only fan boys can give- everyone trying to out-appreciate the other.
"Are there any bass players in the house?"
Hands shot up.
"Who would like to come up and play my bass?"
Nervous laughter rippled through the audience. To play bass in front of Victor is bad enough, but to play to an audience of critical musicians ready to pounce would be even worse.
One brave young man took his chance.
"Just play anything?" He asked Victor.
"Go for it." Victor encouraged.
So he did.
I have no idea what that guy played, but I do remember the feeling in the room. Every bassist was at once judging and weighing their criticism with the knowledge that they could be next.
Then Mr. Wooten reached into his bass case and pulled out a small black box about the size of a paperback. It was a drum machine. He thought about the young squire's groove and found a drum beat that matched it. Then he explained,
"Now, let's try the same groove. But before you start to play, listen to the drummer and lock in with him BEFORE you begin."
The beat started, the brave bassist paused in focus, and began.
Victor smiled and let him play for a while before turning to the crowd.
"Do you all hear that?"
"Hear how solid he is? He's on the beat. He was rushing a little before, but now he's locked in."
"Now, let's have you play without the drum machine, but play with that drummer in your head before you start."
The bass player paused, counted off, and began to play.
And it wasn't only him. The entire room was now listening to the drum machine that wasn't. Everyone was in the same groove as the brave bassist.
"The music is already happening before you start. Your job is to join in."
Go and do likewise.