Between The Lines with Ed Friedland

Get to know the player behind some of the best bass instructional books around! Ed Friedland talks with Chris Tarry about gear, writing, school, and developing a career.
Chris Tarry: Hi Ed thanks for taking time out to talk with us here at Active Bass. Can you fill us in a bit on your background, influences, and possibly how you began playing bass?

Ed Friedland: It's my pleasure Chris, it's a nice change to be on the other side of an interview!

I grew up in New York City, started playing guitar when I was 10. When I hit Junior High School, I joined the orchestra, picking the bass because it had the same bottom 4 strings. Knowing my way around the neck really helped. I studied classical bass for 5 years, and even considered going to a conservatory, but my life changed in High School when I heard jazz for the first time. I went to the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, and our jazz band included Marcus Miller on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. These guys were hitting pretty heavy even at 15 years old, and it c ompletely changed my mind about what musical direction I wanted to go in. So, instead of the conservatory, I went to Berklee.

Berklee was still primarily a "jazz" school then (1977). The pop thing hadn't really taken hold yet, though fusion was very big. I recieved alot of instruction there that has stayed with me my whole life, even though some of my old teachers may have thought I wasn't listening! Until I left the East Coast, I'dsay the majority of my professional contacts were all somehow connected to Berklee.

My background as a "studied" player is really on upright bass. My main influences were/are Scott LaFaro, Eddie Gomez, Paul Chambers and Ron Carter. You have the whole upper register soloing thing with Scott and Eddie, and the serious bottom groove thing with Paul and Ron. When I was 18, I figured if I was going to be a bass player, I'd better get an electric bass, but I had the typical upright/jazz snob attitude. I thought it wasn't a "real" bass. Hah! Thankfully that didn't last long. Jaco was the primary force in electric bass then, and I got hooked. I ripped the frets out of my aluminum necked Kramer bass and gave it a shot.

My first electric bass influence was Marcus Miller, as I mentioned we went to the same school and I saw him play alot back then, everyone knew that he was a phenomenal talent, even in High School. Watching him really shaped my idea about what the electric bass could do. Of course, Jaco was a big influence, one that I'm still absorbing 23 years later! I got heavily into Larry Graham, the source of slap! Also James Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott, George Porter and Jack Cassidy.

I spent many years gigging around Boston and New York taking all kinds of gigs - Jazz, Rock and Roll, Fusion, R&B, Pop, Country, Brazilian, Theater, Studio, whatever came my way. If I were to make an honest assessment of my skills, I'd say I'm far from being the best at any one thing, but I can do a lot of things really well.

CT: I attended Berklee as well and one thing I noticed about it was the mini micro giging world it created internally just through the fact of having so many players. Sessions, shows, and professionalism all operate much like the outside world but at a smaller scale. The top players are the busiest and I found as a bass player this really prepared me for the real world. Did you find the same thing?

EF: Sure, as you get known around the school, you start getting into the "session" scene - jamming after school. During school there was always moving up the ladder in the ensemble program as your ensemble rating improved. Then there were student concerts, recitals, recording projects. Plenty of opportunities for a good bassist. It can be a great training ground.

CT: You have some of the most successful bass instructional books around and as you know AB is a site dedicated to teaching bass. How did you decided to get involved in writing instructional books and what do you feel are some of the most important points you try and stress to players wanting to improve?

A Great Bass Resource!

Building Walking Bass Lines by Ed Friedland.

EF: I had been teaching for several years and while there were plenty of materials out there, I felt they weren't suited to the way I wanted to teach, so I started writing my own hand outs. I highly recommend that anyone teaching do this. It's the best way to clarify your vision of what you have to offer as a teacher, and you will learn alot in the process.

My first book, Building Walking Bass Lines was actually my Masters thesis. I had always had in mind to write a bass book, but had no idea how to do it. Going back to school to study education taught me how to find a gap in the literature and fill it, developing an outline (very important!) and communicating your ideas effectively. After I graduated, I was using my homemade version of the book with my students and they seemed to like it. One of them was Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith. While 'Smith was in rehearsal prior to the recording of "Pump", he was taking lessons with me and learning to play through "Satin Doll". He liked the book and knowing that Aerosmith was published by Hal Leonard, I asked him for a name at the company. I caught them at a good time as they were just starting to get the Bass Builders series going. SInce then I've done 5 books for them, all in the Bass Builders series.

Another Great Bass Resource!

Jazz Bass by Ed Friedland.

When I write instructional materials, my goal is to break the subject down into a chronological sequence of events. I teach that way as well. I'm always thinking "what's the first thing this person needs to know?" Then it's "what's the NEXT thing this person needs to know?" If you follow that line of thinking, you wind up with a method, the next step is learning how to explain it to someone that doesn't know what you're talking about. I think I've figured out how to do that, and the feedback I receive from people tends to confirm it.

CT: Do you have any plans for another book?

EF: Well, my 6th and newest one is due out any day, it's called "The Working Bassist's Toolkit" and it's put out by Miller Freeman books. It's essentially a collection of a lot of articles I've written for Bass Player Magazine over the years.

The New Book!

Turn yourself into a pro!.

Putting them into book form allowed me to expand on them, magazine writing is very "space conscious". I added lots of new material and included a CD with an Ear Training workout, and lots of tracks to play with. Some of my favorites are the "Style-O-Rama" vamp, a I-VI-II-V vamp that changes styles every 8 bars and the "Random Modulation Torture Test", another I-VI-II-V vamp that modulates every 8 bars.

As the name implies, the book is geared toward developing the skills a professional bassist needs to survive in the real world. There's always alot of attention paid to cool stuff like tapping, soloing, double thumbing and what have you, but in the average day of a freelance pro bassist, you rarely need that -you need to be able to hear fast, come up with something that works for the tune, and groove like a mofo!

CT: Can you fill us in on some of the current musical projects you are involved?

EF: Well, I now live in Tucson, AZ and it's although it's a small town, there are things happening. Mostly I gig locally, I was never that much into roadwork. I've always been more of an "in town" guy. I like sleeping in my own bed and eating my own food! While I've done some nice touring gigs, I'm perfectly content to work within a 20 mile radius! One thing I do quite often is back up visiting jazz artists for the Tucson Jazz Society's concert series. Since moving here in 1996, I've played about 40 major jazz shows for them. It's a great scene, playing in a beautiful outdoor venue with (mostly) perfect weather for large appreciative audiences.

In addition to freelancing, I've been leading a lot of different bands, I have a fusion group, a swing group, a quartet where I play piccolo bass, an "out there" jazz thing, and most recently a classic New Orleans R&B group called "Lazy Ed and the Strat-O-Loungers" in which I'm also the lead singer. None of the bands work full time, I book whatever I'm in the mood to do.

I've done a little producing for people, and recently written some music for an independant documentary film. I've been writing some tunes for The Strat-O-Loungers, rootsy New Orleans R&B stuff. We're recording soon, and if it comes out okay, maybe I'll make it available on the web, just don't make fun of my singing!

CT: You are a big contributor to Bass Player magazine. How did that gig come about and how has it helped your career?

EF: When Bass Player first came out I was so excited to see a magazine for just us low enders. I had been wading through the guitar content of Guitar Player for years looking for the stuff I wanted to read, and now it was finally all bass, all the time! I knew I had to submit something, so I looked for an idea that I thought would be of help to as many players as possible.

I wrote "The Metronome As Guru" (BP 4/93) and sent it in. Editor Jim Roberts liked it, but they sat on it for almost a year looking for the right issue to put it in. In the meantime, he asked me to write a "sitting in" column which I called "Soloing In The Stratosphere" a piece on some of the methods I use for learning to solo in the upper structure of chord changes.

After "Guru" came out, I kept getting al these ideas for pieces based on my experiences in the bass workforce. Things that I felt people needed to know to be a working player. They kept taking my articles, and eventually they brought me on board as a contributing editor and monthly columnist. Being involved with Bass Player has been a terrific thing for me in many ways. It's given me a wide platform to get my message across to players, I feel like I'm providing a service to my fellow bassists. Writing for Bass Player has also helped me learn more about my craft, as a player, a teacher and writer. Once I stopped taking the editing process personally, I realized that there is always a more consice way to express an idea, something I'm still learning. It has also given me a fairly high profile in the bass community, especially for a guy that is not on any major records or doing any high level touring. Wherever I go, people know me from my work at Bass Player and it's very gratifying to hear how something I wrote may have helped them learn something. It's been a very important association for me, one that I am very grateful for, and proud of.

CT: What kind of basses are you playing right now and what do you enjoy about playing them?

EF: My upright is a 50 year old Juzek carved bass. It's not what you'd call a pedigree axe, but it sounds great and is very solid, it has never cracked in 5 years of living in the desert. It has a very even response, nice growl in the low end and it sings in thumb position.

I use a Fishman BP100 combined with the Crown PG200 mic. I put them through a Fishman Pocket Blender running through an Acoustic Image Clarus head that pushes a Carvin 15" speaker in a custom built cab.

All my 5 strings are Carvins. I've been playing them for about 7 years. My old trusty Koa/Maple BB75 has been re-strung in "high - C" tuning, the Koa has a nice tight focused sound that is ideal for soloing and chordal playing.

Carvin BB75

Tried, tested, and true! Ed's workhorse, a Carvin BB75

My new "career girl' is a Swamp Ash BB75 with a maple fingerboard. I can't tell you how much I love this bass. It feels just like my old one, but the Swamp Ash is amazing for bringing out the low end, the B string is massive. And the slap sound is crispy and buttery at the same time. It's punchy, consistent, and very versatile. I need a bass that can do everything, this one does it. I also have an LB75 that's my piccolo bass. I just strung it up an octave higher, I never bothered to change the nut. I use the front pickup and it sounds like a fat jazz guitar.

I'm also getting a new fretless, it's going to have the BB body, but as a special favor they're putting on the narrower LB neck, I like the narrow spacing for fretless, it's also going to be Swamp Ash. Swamp Ash RULES!

My 4 strings include a '74 Jazz with a Bartolini TBT preamp and a Badass II bridge. This bass is the standard by which all others are judged, it's the bomb for slap or just about anything. I have a '73 P Bass that I play alot, it has a Lindy Fralin P bass pickup and a Quadrophonic Bartolini J pickup in the bridge position with an Aguilar OBP, it's my Swiss Army bass.

My pride and joy is my fabulous Egmond bass. It was featured in Bass Player's "Totally Weird Basses" (BP 9/00). It's a cheapo Dutch axe from the 60's. It's plywood covered with contact paper, and genuine mother-of-toilet-seat. The strings are 30 year old LaBella flatwounds, and it sounds terrific. I use it for blues, country, reggae, anything that needs to be FAT.

All my basses (except for the Egmond) are strung with LaBella Hard Rockin' Steels. On the 5's I use the M-42B set, and for the 4 strings I use the M45 set. I love their B string, I have never found another one that produces such clarity in the low register with a strong fundamental and sounds good even above the 12th fret.

CT: You are so right about Swamp Ash! The openness of the wood is amazing. I find that (ala Willis) it is the best wood for fretless bass. Do you prefer bolt on's or neck through's on your fretless basses?

EF: Well, it's hard to say, I tend to agree with Gary Willis' ideas about fretless bass construction. I played a few of his personal basses and was very impressed with them. However, the Carvins I've used are neck through, and I really like them too. I think this Swamp Ash one I'm having built is going to be great. Ultimately, for me the best fretless is still a responsive Jazz Bass, except that I really like to have 5 strings and a 24 fret neck. I think that's at the heart of Gary's design concept.

CT: Is there an Ed Friedland solo album available or one in the works?

EF: Not at the moment. I've thought about it alot over the years, but honestly, I'm not driven to put out a "bass CD." The kind of CD I'd put together would be so incredibly dis-jointed that there would be no place for it. I'm into so many things, I couldn't see doing a whole CD of any of them. You never know, it could happen, but I would have to go into a real studio with players. I'm not inspired to do a solo overdub thing. I'm amazed at guys that can do that, it's like they just turn on a switch and it's all there, I feel like I need the energetic exchange from the right group of players to get me going, I'm not one of these guys that can stand there alone and be amazing. Maybe you've planted a seed, ask me again in a few months!

CT: You heard it here first at Active Bass!

EF: I do have my website going up at and as I get more savvy with html, I plan on having soundfiles to download. I do have a few things that I've done with other people that I'd like to share with the rest of the world, I just need to get "tooled" up to make that happen.

CT: There are a lot of Active Bass members who want to know what it takes to sustain a career as a bass player. How do you do it and do you have any advice for people looking to make it their life's work?

EF: Well, there are many different types of career opportunities for bassists, and the answers would vary slightly for each. However there are many universal principles to good bass playing that would apply to all situations.

First of all, you must be competent. You don't have to be brilliant, you don't even have to be great, but you must be competent. Competency implies a solid familiarity with your instrument, clean mechanical skills, a good sense of time and groove, and a workable knowledge of musical concepts. Naturally the better shape your core skills are in, more opportunities exist for you.

I think bass playing falls into two categories. There's the artist, and the craftsman. Both are equally noble. The artist has a vision that must be followed at any cost. At the highest level, these are the people that define the instrument in new ways. They create situations for themselves so they can exist as artists. The craftsman is the player that absorbs styles and derives their pleasure from doing the job well. Playing the "right stuff" and filling the need, whatever it may be. They are usually sidemen, maybe well known, maybe unsung, but they aren't into drawing the focus to them. The craftsman sees their role as a service industry to other musicians. Personally, I lean more toward the craftsman side myself, but I think there's a bit of artist in there too.

If you're going to be a craftsman, learn as much about music as possible, keep your core skills at a high level, be able to get along with people, and develop your musical intuition. If you feel the call of the artist, then just listen to those little voices inside your head!

CT: What kind of things do you still practice and how do you stay motivated to keep improving?

EF: I practice different things at different times. I like working on my melodic vocabulary, I'm still very much at heart a bebopper and there is always more to absorb from the great masters. I don't practice chops much, I feel like they are there when I need them. If I'm on a blues gig, I physically CAN'T play all my fancy stuff, it just won't come out! My technique seems to naturally adjust to the present need. When I'm on a hard core jazz gig and I have to play tempos all night, it's there. I still practice reading, it's a skill that you can never be too good at. I also spend time with my metronome, recharging my internal clock and washing away the sins of the weekend!

CT: Who are some of your favorite bass players out there today and why?

EF: There has been an explosion of amazing players in the last 10 years, the instrument has reached alot of new heights.

For my money, Victor Wooten is undoubtedly the greatest living electric bassist. I'm not just amazed by his technique (which is as close to flawless as I've ever seen), but he is supremely musical. He grooves like the devil, he has the melodic and harmonic vocabulary, he has jaw dropping mastery of the instrument, and he's a genuinely humble person. I really dig Matt Garrison, I love his concept, g reat lines, and chords - I'd like to be able to do that! Otiel Burbridge really plays wonderful stuff, he has a great melodic sense and a well tuned ear, and he's a super nice guy. Gary Willis is great, I had the chance to take a lesson with him last summer, I like the way his mind works. He zeroed right in on some things that I need to work on. His melodic sense is very cool and advanced, he's a deep cat. John Pattitucci is also a favorite. Being a doubler myself, I find him very inspiring. He has truly mastered both axes. Whenever I hear a track that has some ridiculously hard stuff to play on upright, and it sounds flowing and in tune, I know right away it's him! He's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. I'm sure I'll hear about more new players coming up, that's another nice thing about writing for Bass Player Magazine, you get the inside track on all the new monster bassists!

CT: Ed, thanks again for hangin out with us here at AB and best of luck in the future!

EF: Thank you Chris, I think it's a really cool site, it's great to see so much dedication to the art of bass. It's a great resource for players. Thanks for inviting me to talk!