LA Phil Blog

First Time on Tour: The Quest for a "Great" Bass

First Time on Tour: The Quest for a "Great" Bass

Bass player Brian Johnson with his "good," faithful bass.

How did we get to Toronto already? I remember the the weeks leading up to tour like they were yesterday. How many pairs of shoes would I need? 2? 6? And underwear? 14 or 47?  

Planning to be out of town for two weeks performing is very different from planning to be gone for two weeks on vacation. I mean, who brings tails to the pool in Hawaii? Not to mention the fact that this is my first tour ... But not to worry, in the end I brought an adequate amount of shoes and undergarments.

Performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA every week is a great joy. I can't think of anything else I would rather do, but touring the country can bring out something different in an orchestra. There are constant conversations about how every hall sounds. Should the brass play softer? Is the balance in the woodwinds correct? And, clearly the most important question to me: Are the basses louder than ever?  

A hall can feel different, too. That's right, feel different! Every venue can make your instrument feel like it's responding better or worse, changing which colors are available in your sound, and changing the interactions your instrument has with the environment around you. Each performance of Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 on tour has been a different experience from the last. Different acoustics can make it easier or more difficult to hear certain lines and phrases, which can consequently effect both the flow and shape of the music. I can only imagine how some of the board members traveling with us experience the music, having heard it already inside Disney Concert Hall and now in other venues across the U.S. and Canada.  

This tour has also afforded me the opportunity to start my search for a great new instrument. My bass is a good bass. It sounds and plays well and has served me faithfully over the years, helping me win auditions for three different orchestras. But now that I'm in LA it's time to look for a bass that's better than "good." It's got to be great.  

The basses played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic bass section are made by some of the greatest makers of all time. I was excited to begin looking for an instrument comparable to those, a real "career" bass. So, I prepared before the tour by making phone calls to shops and lining up instruments with private sellers. I've seen many basses on tour and spent plenty of time comparing them with the other great instruments in the section. Mariani, Dodd, Tarr, Betts, Gagliano, Testore, just to name a very few, are some of the old Italian and English makers whose instruments have passed through my hands in the last few weeks.

The search continues, but I know I'll chose an instrument soon ... Or will it choose me?

- Brian Johnson