Double bass players grotesque?: Hemingway thought so

Ernest Hemingway

I WAS recently re-reading Hemingway’s classic treatise on bullfighting Death in the Afternoon and came across a quote which I missed first time around.

In discussing the spectacle of the bullfight, Hemingway compares the picador – the mounted torero who pics the bull with a pike pole – to the bass player in an orchestra.

The Picador

The aficionado, or lover of the bullfight, may be said, broadly, to be one who has a sense of the tragedy and ritual of the fight, so that the minor aspects are not important except as they relate to the whole. Either you have this or you have not, just as, without implying any comparison, you have or have not an ear for music. Without an ear for music the principle impression of an auditor at a symphony concert might be of the motions of the player of the double bass, just as the spectator at the bullfight might remember only the obvious grotesqueness of the picador. The movements of the player of the double bass are grotesque and the sounds produced are many times, if heard by themselves, meaningless.
If the auditor at a symphony concert were as humanitarian as he might be at a bullfight he would pobably find as much scope for his good work in ameliorating the wages and living conditions of the players of the double bass in a symphony orchestra as in doing something about the poor horses [in a bullfight].

The Bass Player

Grotesque? What do you think?

2 responses to “Double bass players grotesque?: Hemingway thought so

  1. Hi Dave

    Not grotesque indeed, but a bit odd when you think how big a bass is compared to a violin, but broadly performing a similar function.
    The bass player in this case is the wonderful Mark Elton who in his early days in jazz played with those great bandsHotter than Six and Fireworks. Here’s clip of Mark playing with Hotter Than Six in Japan in 1997. Enjoy!

    Black Bottom Stomp by dickiesdream

  2. Not grotesque. Neither is the Bass player pictured,
    Doubt if he is playing in an orchestra there. Orchestral Bass players stand behind the instrument, a bit to the right of the fingerboard, with the arms forming a ‘C’ shape -broadly speaking.
    My name is Dave Myers, probably not well known to many of today’s muso’s. Stupidly had a long break due to work work and cyclic illness. Believe every muso should have complete break, at least 1 year. Every muso I know who has had a break has said they play much better on return.

    Back to my name.
    One could say ‘Dave Who’?! Been around since 1958,partially gifted, not schooled except for 2 years piano,aged 7 to 8,,clarinet 3 years aged 16 to 18.
    Since then, extremely grateful to my mentors, played Bass with very good groups with one exception.
    There are many in the New Orleans Revival scene, both musos and audience , would think I am sometimes grotesque when I play .Many musos pull faces or grunt etc when playing. In early married days my wife said that I often appeared to be approaching orgasm on stage as the number really got grooving. Well, not far wrong. When you get into the ‘Zone’ , it is pure Heaven on a stick.
    As time passed I passed I began to move my hips forward and back in time and could get a bit carried away. There’s no doubt some musos and audiences didn’t like this. Also, between numbers I would often caress the neck of the Bass.
    After the Gig, men and women would come to the stage and comment how much they had enjoyed watching this, in particular, women past a certain age, So, I thought if it makes them happy it makes me happy, bugger the others, we are up there and should entertain as well as just play.
    Now 72, taking 2 Bands to 69th Aust Jazz Convention.



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