Leading bass guitarists from Germany and around the world met this month at a workshop dubbed Bass Camp in Markneukirchen, near the Czech border. There, they passed on their knowledge to students of the instrument.
Just like in school, the students were sitting in their seats promptly at 9 a.m. Award-winning jazz and rock bassist Stuart Hamm from San Francisco played something on his instrument before talking with the students about posture, handling and technique. He aimed to show them ways of preventing repetitive stress and strain injuries from playing.
Most of Hamm's students were familiar with what he was saying - used to sore fingers, cramped shoulders and back pain from playing the bass. Stuart then practiced various relaxation techniques with them. His simple advice: "Stay cool and relaxed!"
Big bass meet-up
Over 80 students attended the most recent Bass Camp in Markneukirchen, striving to learn as much as possible about playing their instrument well. German jazz and rock bassist Helmut Hattler, who taught himself to play the instrument and kicked off his career in 1971 with krautrock band Krann, talked with the students about his experimentation with reverberation. Then he encouraged them to accompany him playing their own instruments, and to improvise - despite their varying levels of proficiency.
Hattler was inspired by the surroundings as well: the small town of Markneukirchen in the German state of Saxony, near the Czech and Bavarian borders. "In a remote place like this, you meet people you never would otherwise. It's perfect!," Hattler said.
Down a new path
With its Bass Camp, Warwick is out to draw world-famous bassists as well as students from around the globe to Markneukirchen. It's there that the company builds its high-end electronic bass guitars, including custom pieces crafted specially for some of its high-profile customers.
Warwick took advantage of state subsidies to build up eastern Germany after the country's reunification, and the company's new headquarters were founded in a part of the Vogtland region with strong local traditions of instrument building.
Warwick head Hans Peter Wilfer revived the bankrupt guitar-maker Framus, once founded by his father.
"I've become convinced in recent years that the consumers and the market are changing," Wilfer said, adding that companies have to generate practical incentives if they want to hold customers' attention and establish long-standing ties with them.
That's how his idea of staging a bass camp at Warwick's headquarters came about.
"Here we're bringing the consumers, from whom we earn our living, together with their heroes. They get up close and personal with the stars who give them practical tips," he explained.
The 17 instructors include Irish multi-instrumentalist and folk singer Andy Irvine, Chick Corea's legendary bassist John Patitucci and Lee Sklar, who earned fame with the instrument playing with the likes of James Taylor and Carol King.
Bass to the fore
Wolfgang Schmid also gives a seminar at Bass Camp because it offers a unique chance for him to get to know young talents and pass on his own multi-faceted style of playing. His rapid rise in Germany began with Klaus Doldinger's group Passport. Meanwhile, he has served as a studio musician on more than 400 albums recorded around the world.
"Bass has moved more and more into the foreground in recent years," Schmid noted, adding that he is prefers clear melodic lines when playing. "The instruments have gotten better and now hit pitches using five strings that used to be the domain solely of guitars."
Gone are the days when bass served merely as accompaniment.
From hobby to profession
The students at Bass Camp are every bit as diverse as their teachers. Hobby musician Ian Lewis comes from just outside of Perth in western Australia, where he heard about Bass Camp on the internet. His wife had given him a bass as a present, and in Markneukirchen, he's learning just what he can do with it.
Annika Strobel is a few steps ahead of him and currently studies bass guitar in Stuttgart. "I want to earn my living as a bass player because that's my great passion!"
Professional players like Frank Lässig also pay close attention to Bass Camp seminars. A classical musician at Berlin's Komische Oper, he calls himself a beginner when it comes to bass guitar.
"In newer classical music, it's like in jazz: the bass guitar and the double bass have come right to the fore," Lässig said.
He advises fellow participants not to lose sight of fun at the camp, saying, "Just play. It doesn't matter what level a person is at technically!"