This great photo of the solitary bass player was taken by a Japanese exchange student of active Flickr (great photo sharing service) member Bunaen’s father. There is a TalkBass.com forum thread (see comment below) with some information about this individual, and feel free to leave a comment with any additional known details.
A Japanese exchange student took this photo. After she returned to Japan she airmailed it to us. My dad was a professional bass player in the movie studios. He practiced at least 8 hours every day–even days when he worked in the studio.
The Japanese exchange student got the tourista disease as soon as she arrived in L.A. from Japan. Fortunately my family has a bunch of Nisei friends, so we found out that in Japan, when you feel urpie and have the runs, mom feeds you ume boshi–pickled plums. The girl was so grateful for the ume boshi. She said, “oh thank you, this is just what my mom would give me.”
This is the living room of the house where I grew up. My mom not only designed it entirely, she drew all the blueprints and the construction detail drawings the crew used to build the place.
The bass is french from about 1760 something as I recall. Its finish is light blonde and it had a sweet sound combined with impressive volume that other bassists coveted. My dad put a machine on it in the mid sixties (not long before this picture was taken). It saved him from having to lug a second five string bass around, but he regretted cutting that fine scroll to have it. After he sold the five string he said he wished he had never put the machine on it.
He told me back in the sixties that he had been offered, or it had been appraised (I don’t remember which) at, over $10,000 (I used to say $25,000 when I’d tell this story, but I’ve been telling it so long, I don’t honestly know what the figure was. I do think it was over $10,000 because at the time I thought, “that’s more than a house.”)
The finish of that bass was really messed up looking, with scratches and gouges and even a patched or repaired place on it here and there. My dad told me he never ever let anyone touch the bass to make a repair unless there is a problem with the sound. He never did anything to it for cosmetics. He used to clean it (did he use Xylene to remove the rosen? I think he did), but he never did a thing to it otherwise, that is until the great buzz freakout.
One day the bass developed a buzz. I could barely hear it and only then after my dad repeatedly played this certain set of notes to point it out to me. My dad went on this quest to find the right guy to fix the buzz. We went to every music shop and repair guy in the L.A. area who did basses. We went to the Broken Drum (“you can’t beat it”). We went to a place that also specialized in selling and repairing mexican mariachi guitars and guitarons. I remember seeing all the big ark-like giutarons hanging from the wall. Dad went to other bass player’s houses with his bass to talk to them about what they thought it was. Meanwhile he was playing all his gigs with his relatively speaking crappy five string. This went on for what seemed like weeks. And it was very stressful for the entire family. It really was what we came to call “the great buzz freakout.” Finally dad decided on this little hunch back hungarian guy who had an instrument shop in this trailer that sat in the back yard of his tiny hollywood cottage. This guy built violins, violas and cellos, and he repairs those instruments as well as basses. My dad decided his taciturn description of the problem and the solution made the most sense. Not only that, dad decided this guy was the best guy to actually make the repair. I don’t have the slightest recollection what he did, but it worked, thus bringing the great buzz freakout to an end.
When guys would ask him if he wanted to sell his bass, he replied with the standard “ask my widow.” He did sell it though, for only $5000. My dad had this student, Earl, who was not the the typical bass student. Earl was old, in his late thirties, a plumber and a dad. His kid played electric bass and was a fan of Jimmy Carl Black, the Mothers of Inventions’ bass player (you had to love Earl for being proud of his kid for that). Earl was not Dad’s most talented student, but he may have been the best student. Earl worked his ass off. He had this dream of becoming a full time professional bassist in a real live symphony.
Finally after my dad had become too ill to play or teach, Earl landed an audition with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. I think Dad loaned him the bass for that, and then when Earl landed the job, Dad sold it to him cheap.
This story makes me so happy. I always loved Earl. He looked like a greaser 50’s guy, with his DA haircut and cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve. But he loved classical music, and playing bass.
You double bass players may be able to tell Dad is playing with a german bow. It is strung with genuine russian horse hair. Back in the cold war days of the forties, fifties and sixties, buying russian horse hair was no mean feat. He used to take me along when he’d go out to score it. There would be some guy with a musical instrument shop who knew a guy who could get it, etc. It would come wrapped in wax paper or something and though it looked like nothing in particular, and smelled kind of funny, I remember my dad making a point of how much he paid for the stuff.
I may post more on these topics here, and I will post more pics of basses and bassists and other musicians. Many of these will be from the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. What a wild and crazy bunch those classical musicians were…seriously!
Visit Bunaen online at www.acm3.wordpress.com.
- Bass scroll, Chicago-style
- Jazz & Wine
- Playing gut strings on the Old Crow Medicine Show
- Edgar Meyer in action
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