Teaching Tuesday Cubana Bass

January 24, 2012 in Teaching Tuesday

The one style of music I have always felt the furthest from, has been Latin music. I never took gigs doing latin work and whenever playing a jazz gig, I would grit my teeth when someone shouted a standard in a style other than Bossa Nova or Samba.

After I moved to Tokyo, I found a group of guys playing Cuban-esque rock and roll. They didn’t have a bass player, so I jumped on them as soon as they finished and told them I would be there new bass player. They hesitated and said, OK OK we will let you audition at our next rehearsal. Little did they know, I’m not as much of a hack as I appear.

We started working on the songs and quickly began performing all over Japan as soon as we got our first gig as a 4 piece.

Before meeting these guys, I had the opportunity to play with jazz legend, Chuchito Valdes, thanks to Double G.
On stage at UCLA, I learned how to play a TUMBAO:


Drum Pattern

The basic tumbao pattern is played on the conga the drum is struck on every 8th-beat in the measure in the following sequence:

1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . Count
H T S T H T O O Conga
L L R L L L R R Hand Used

  L: Left hand
  R: Right hand
  H: Heel of hand
  T: Tip of hand
  S: Slap
  O: Open Tone

Bass Pattern

The basic tumbao on the bass (Originally a marimbula, later a contrabass or electric bass) is best visualized in cut time. It’s notable in its avoidance of the down beat.

1 . 2 . 1 . 2 .
   G  C    G  C
  G: The dominant (i.e. G in the key of C)
  C: The tonic    (i.e. C in the key of C)


So, of course, this doesn’t give a real good picture of how difficult the Tumbao is, but because I learned from one of the best, I found out that one must play the bass line in time, but pushing, ahead of the beat…driving almost.

This drove me mad when I was on tour with daKAH because the drummer was playing a hip hop beat, behind the beat, but I had to play a driving latin line pushing the beat. Super cool tension!

Anyway, there’s one guy I always looked to for ideas when it came to playing Tumbao/Cuban bass lines.

His name is Cachao. He’s many bassists hero when it comes to Latin music and also called the father of the Mambo.

Check this album out for learning some great playing in this genre. —>Cuban Jam Session Vol.2

THEN! If you’re a bass player, check out this incredible transcription done by Latin bassist Chip Boaz in San Francisco.