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Of all the lucky things one gets to do in life, surely camp is one of the best. What’s not to like? You get to decamp (ahem) from your real life and flee to some beautiful hideaway. Strangers become fast friends, and there’s an invigorating intensity to the shared purpose, whether it’s weaving lanyards, learning archery, or, in my case, playing bass.
The Warwick Bass Camp is unlike any event in the world. First, the setting. Warwick is headquartered in Markneukirchen, Germany, a bucolic little village near the Czech border, surrounded by lush forest and rolling, cow-dappled hills. Its beguiling Central European charms aside, Markneukirchen has a rich heritage in instrument making, dating back centuries. And while this tradition still continues in all its mom-and-pop glory, with small lutheries and brass instrument makers scattered about, Warwick (and its sister brand, Framus) has brought a decidedly modern edge to the local trade. Its carbon-neutral factory (a music industry first) is a gleaming Teutonic masterpiece, all brushed stainless and exotic hardwoods. Picture a Porsche dealership, but instead of 911s, the showroom is packed with boutique basses.
The wünderbar architecture is a good clue to the financial resources at play here, as the camp made clear. Whether it’s the resort-like (if slightly surreal) hotel—a former Communist party retreat, according to the scuttlebutt—or the daily catered meals, or the ever-present, ever-cheerful staff, Warwick has undoubtedly invested heavily in making its camp a nearly luxurious affair. Said President Hans-Peter Wilfer, “When we invest in the community like this, it’s good for the whole industry. This isn’t about getting people to play Warwick. It’s about creating an amazing experience for the campers that they can then share in their own communities. It’s good for all bass players.”
This investment is perhaps most obvious in the sheer density of iconic talent assembled to teach the campers. When John Patitucci, Victor and Regi Wooten, Leland Sklar, Steve Bailey, and Stuart Hamm (among many other bright lights) can hang for the week, you know the organizers are deeply invested in the event.
The camp began with the first of what would be five dinners at the Alpenhof, a German restaurant and hotel straight off the Universal backlot: waitresses in bust-squeezing peasant dresses, men proudly rocking lederhosen, and enough beer and sausage to sate half of Milwaukee. The coolest thing about the place, as we’d soon discover, was the dining room stage, which would play host to ridiculously cool jams between students, between teachers, and between students and teachers the whole week long. After introductory remarks by Wilfer and a few of the teachers, and some post-chat jamming, it was off to bed for much-needed sleep.
And So It Begins
I yawn myself awake, self-satisfied that I’ve managed to get a decent night’s sleep, jet lag be damned. Tummy rumbling for breakfast, I arise to shower and head out, errantly glancing at my watch as I peel back the covers. Oops. It’s 1 a.m. Blech. Not to belabor the point, but this was a first glance into what the European attendees have over us Americans: sleep. If you’re thinking of attending next year, do yourself a favor and come early. Acclimate. Have a stroll into town. Feel human. It makes all the difference.
Once camp began, it was basically all-day clinics, augmented with much informal hanging. I couldn’t possibly cover the full breadth of the material on offer from the amazing array of clinicians, so I’ll touch on the stuff that touched me most.
Interestingly, bass virtuoso John Patitucci focused his clinic session on rhythm. “The truth is, nothing else matters comparatively,” he told students at Warwick’s annual bass event.
Of the many big-time pros who double on acoustic and electric, John Patitucci is the gold standard. His resume is as broad and extensive as his knowledge is deep. From Chick Corea to the L.A. session scene to Wayne Shorter, few bass players exude the skill, versatility, and positive spirit of a true professional like Patitucci.
Interestingly, for someone as well-versed in harmony and its application in jazz and classical music, Patitucci’s clinic primarily focused on rhythm. “Rhythm is essential,” he said. “Most players simply don’t pay as much attention to developing their rhythmic skills as they do theory. But the truth is, nothing else matters comparatively.” Patitucci marked Wayne Shorter cohort Danilo Pérez as a major influence on his own rhythmic development. The Grammy-winning Panamanian pianist is a master of the syncopated, complex rhythms of Latin America. Said Patitucci, “Before I started to hang with Danilo, I could play Afro-Cuban pretty good, but in my heart, I knew it wasn’t totally happening. He turned me on to really digging into clave and understanding how it works in an ensemble.”
“A player needs to have a great feel,” he continued. “To lay down a big wide beat that’s easy to build on, you have to know when to play straight, when to play a swing or triplet feel, and when to play a combination of the two. Ask yourself, can you play in a wide variety of tempos and make them all feel great?”
Patitucci went on to describe the woodshed habits that make a player get better. “Transcribe great bass lines from recordings. Use your ears and memorize the lines. Listen to Bach. We also need to develop our ears to respond to harmony quickly, intuitively, and emotionally. Rhythm and harmony influence each other in subtle ways. You can always hear the difference in drummers who respond to the harmonic shifts in the music, as opposed to the ones who play a particular beat no matter what happens around them.”
Moving into the harmonic realm, Patitucci stressed the importance of total fretboard awareness. Fig. 1 shows a brief melodic minor exercise he shared with the class. One powerful tip he offered was using triads as a way to avoid the scalar rut. In the case of G melodic minor, for example, instead of playing a scale-based line, consider the tonality as the combination of three triads: G minor, C major, and D major. It’s an excellent way to create more interesting and dynamic lines.