Instead, what might be more interesting is if I asked musicians who were not even bass players what it is they expected and wanted from the bass players in their band. These are the people that bass players are going to work for anyway.
Because face it, even in the world of solo bassists and mega-chops players, 99% of gigs that bass players get are supportive and, especially in a pop/rock situation, it is questionable you are even going to get a solo. And that other 1% of bass gigs where you do, and are actually bass showcase gigs...are gigs that are started by bass players, so the bass chair is kinda covered.
In general, all this new focus on bass centric resources seems to be causing an echo-chamber feedback loop and a chops arms race resulting in a deadly plague sweeping electric bass players - Shreditis. This is a fatal disease which kills your gig and gets you fired from your band. More and more it is striking down healthy bass players in their prime, rendering them practicing in their rooms all alone completely band-less.
Now this is the bass playing world post-Jaco, and I am not saying there are any players that are responsible for this chops overload, *cough* victor *cough* garrison *cough*, but it is pretty hilarious some of the bass playing up on YouTube. People are playing things that would never, ever, ever go over in a band context and some of them even call it "grooving".
So I thought I would get to asking this question of some actual players and see what they say they want or need in a bass player and what makes a bassist "good" for them. This is episode 1 of hopefully many more to come.
First up: Jake Hertzog.
A little background on Jake - Here he is playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2007, after he won the young composers contest.
He currently has a trio with Harvie S as the bass player and he has released two records so far. He went to Berklee, writes for Guitar Player Magazine, has toured Europe and the US, been on Good Morning America, the Today Show, yada yada yada.
And oh yea, he is 23. He was 20 when he played at Montreux.
I don't know Jake, and have never met him, so of course, what did I do?
Sent him an email and just asked him what he thinks a good bass player is. Jake was more than kind, and took some time to reply and his response is below. I emphasized certain points in bold, but otherwise it is how he wrote it.
Q: Right now, there is a plague sweeping the bass player community - shred-itis. Its like all the bass players went back in time to Guitar Institute of Technology in the year 1983.
So, as someone who gets to perform with a lot of different rhythm sections, what is it that you listen for and want/need from a bass player? What is it that makes a "good" bass player for someone in your position, especially in a trio setting. What is it that will make you want to play with that guy again? Tone? Technique? Time? Tune Knowledge?
A: That's a great question...I'll probably post this, because as you accurately notice, there's a lot more to bass then having nasty chops. Once you're past a certain point technically, imagine your shredding abilities as a side effect of becoming a great musician. Its not the main goal.
So on to your question-
The main thing that I look for in bass players, especially in a trio context, is their natural instinct and ability to add something to the song. Ability to improvise and know when to go crazy and when to hold down a groove. In my experience, since im a sort of 'whirling dervish' type player, and I play with a very intense drummer, I need a bassist to hold the song together at the right moments, lay down the form really hard, and step into the sonic space left by the guitar and drums.
Now. that's a little cryptic, so let me give you a more concrete answer:
Versatility - To master multiple styles, or at least a few, will make all your music come to life. As a rhythm section player, you want to be as familiar with world music (brazilian, arabic etc) as you are with American music (jazz, R&B, punk rock etc), so weather or not you can burn like Jaco is irrelevant if you don't have a deep grasp of many styles. 21st century music is about many things put together, so if you know the ingredients well, you're recipe will work.
Time - That goes without saying (almost). More than anything, Time and Feel as a bassist will get you the gig every time. I never heard someone say "his time sucks but we'll hire him cause he can wail". NEVER. Its always the other way around. If you don't have a great feel, then no one will even care to listen to your solos lol. So become master pocket, and it will put money in your pocket ;-)
Tune Knowledge, as you put it, kinda goes along with Versatility, just having a large vocabulary of music to draw from weather its every jazz standard ever written, or every led zepplin song ever written. Just know a lot of music and it will enrich what you play.
So if you're trying to figure out how to stand out in a chops dominated world, just remember- make everything you play sound great. That will get you hired, because that's what music is all about, as much as we love GIT circa 1983, the music has to be great.
Last thing - Originality - if you can have a sound, or a style to your playing, that's the best because then people will come to you, not for chops, or tone, or feel but... you!
Be well my friend,
I hope that helps,
There you have it.
Be sure to check out Jake on the web or at Facebook or YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/jakehertzog and definitely check out his latest record "Patterns" at Itunes.
And if you really like his stuff as much as I do, he is raising funds for his third album here at IndieGogo.com. He is almost halfway to his goal of $10,000. You can be part of what could be the new way to fund music by contributing something to the production of his album.