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I am intrigued by the sound of what I assume to be a Double Bass played with a bow in "Sometimes I'm happy" by Lester Young, between minute 1 and minute 2.

If I am listening correctly, this seems like a Double Bass playing its line in octave doubling, as guitarists and pianist often do. Is that right?

If so, how the hell do you do that on a Double Bass? Is it at all possible without altering the tuning of the Double Bass?

If it's something else, any idea how that sound was produced in this particular tune?

  • 1
    Could be a very well rehearsed doubling on tenor, no vibrato? – Tim Feb 14 '17 at 15:45
  • Good point, did not thing about that possibility. If that's what it is, it would just increase a little more my admiration for the sound of Lester Young. – Martin Van der Linden Feb 14 '17 at 16:26
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slam_Stewart "Leroy Eliot "Slam" Stewart (September 21, 1914 – December 10, 1987) was an African American jazz bass player whose trademark style was his ability to bow the bass (arco) and simultaneously hum or sing an octave higher."

I believe that's what you're hearing here.

I'm also guessing it's the same as this recording

which lists Slam Stewart among the personnel.

  • 1
    I think this is where I first heard Slam Stewart, still a favorite of mine: youtu.be/1y9dZk-GMiM?t=2m15s – Bruce Fields Feb 14 '17 at 16:45
  • Well that's be about as amazing as the tenor doubling suggested by @Tim. I think you're most likely right. Too bad for my admiration to Lester Young's sound, but it did not need much more anyways. I'll wait a little bit to accept your answer because I really wanted to believe the tenor doubling theory, and I don't want to discourage people from defending that alternative theory before a while. – Martin Van der Linden Feb 14 '17 at 16:45
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    I guess what I like about the doubling in the above recording of "Sometimes I'm happy" is that I am unable to tell that the doubling is voice-based: it really sounds to me as if it was string-based. youtu.be/1y9dZk-GMiM?t=2m15s is impressive, but I am bummed that you can actually tell the doubling is voice-based. Maybe that's the charm and value of older, less "accurate", recordings? Or maybe Stewart's style changed throughout the years? – Martin Van der Linden Feb 14 '17 at 16:49
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    You're right, whether it's the performance or the mix, the effect's more subtle. Great stuff anyway, I don't know how I'd missed that version of "Sometimes I'm happy", thanks for bringing it to my attention! – Bruce Fields Feb 14 '17 at 16:51
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Answering the minor question, it is possible to do octave double-stops if you're high enough on the fingerboard in thumb position. Thumb position gives a lot more reach, and the intervals are also shorter up there.

  • Right. On cello, these double stops are actually a standard exercise for practising thumb position. I'd reckon they're much more difficult on bass though, both due to the unwieldier strings and because fourth tuning and the longer scale means you still need quite a lot of stretch even in high positions? – leftaroundabout Feb 15 '17 at 12:35
  • Having tried it a bit more since writing this, it is not easy. But it is possible. – luser droog Apr 17 '17 at 5:49

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