(originally printed in Bass Player Magazine 09/2018)

The Art Of Being No One

As a teacher and writer, I’ve always drawn my message from my life experiences, and as a long-time freelancer, my musical life was focused on meeting the requirements of a wide variety of situations. A typical month might find me playing in the pit orchestra for a show, a Texas honky tonk for Chicken-Shit Bingo, a fusion gig at a jazz club, a straight-ahead jazz gig at a lounge, backing singer-songwriters, a classic rock cover gig, a blues band at a dive bar, playing swing jazz for dancers—to name just a few possibilities. This varied musical life inspired me to write about technique, harmony, improvisation, performance protocol, and to design studies of various genres. But three years ago, my career pulled a 180-degree turn, and I found myself touring year-round with the Mavericks, a band with a catalog that spans a successful 30-year career, and musical influences as wide ranging as a typical month of my life as a freelancer. It’s been an amazing experience to play with this talented group of musicians, performing for large, appreciative audiences all around the world. The musical variety kept things fresh for me in the past, but this steady gig has provided musical experiences that would have never happened in my relatively non-committal freelance life. 

I came from a place where bass solos are common occurrences. Bassists are considered equals as soloists, and they accompany others adding occasional bits of tasty stuff that makes you go “wow.” You know this world, Bass Player magazine has played a significant role in the development of this bass-centric culture. We lionize our heroes, admire their ever-increasing note-per-second rates, marvel at the complexity of their chromatic/diminished runs, and ooh-and-ahh over the latest Brazilian wunderkind’s YouTube clip of his two-hand tapped cover of Dirty Loops cover of a Justin Beiber tune. The bass has exploded as a vehicle for some of the most technically-inspired, complex expressions of music the world has ever seen—and it’s a beautiful thing. However, there is another realm of bass—the paradigm that existed before bass players became icons, before the instrument became a dominant voice in the music, and people began to play to get noticed. For every envelope-pushing God Of Bass, there are many more invisible, “normal” bass players supporting the music, staying in the pocket, and not sticking out in any way. When I relocated from the bass-centric universe to a planet where the bass never solos, adjustments had to be made—and they’ve helped me appreciate music in a totally new way. 

In my new world, the lines I play are determined either by a previous recording, or what the song demands. Essentially, the bulk of my job involves playing major triads in quarter notes over the I and V chord, or playing Root-5-8 Latin patterns. My gig was once described to me by our lead singer as “the place bass player’s dreams come to die.” If you’re attached to the post-Stanley/Jaco paradigm, that’s an accurate description. But when relieved of the need to be clever, technical, or original—what do we have left? When your goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible, what do you strive for musically? My first impulse was to dig deeper into the rhythm to find the sweet spot for the groove. It is a continuously moving object, and you ride it much like you would ride a horse—guiding it, knowing full well that it has a life of its own. Taking the next step, my intention became to fill each note with what I call “life force”. This “stuff” of the universe surrounds us, and playing music is an excellent way to work with it. As a bass player in a song-driven, 9-piece band, my approach is to internalize the various parts being played, and lay down a thick layer of glue to hold them together—like a mosaic. How exactly does one do that you might ask? For me, it’s part physical understanding of the music, mental awareness, and listening deeply. By anchoring all the pieces, I’m able to centralize my position in the feel and more effectively control and react to what’s going on. From this location, I encapsulate everything that is played—every note I play is the entire band. Once merged with the music, I cease thinking about bass. No, I don’t need to invert that triad. No, I don’t need to go up to the higher octave now. No, I don’t need to do anything to make the bass line “interesting.” All I have to do is play what sounds right, and play it perfectly. When you give up the agenda of putting your personal stamp on everything you do, you begin to understand the Art of Being No One. 

Like Game Of Throne’s Faceless Men, a bass player that is No One is invisible, yet fully present. Our training allows us to take on whatever form is needed, and we accomplish our task without fanfare. When we embody the music, we as bassists no longer need to be special, to stand out in the mix—we are the mix. Through the dismantling of my bass-centric ego, I have found a much greater connection to the music I play, and to the musicians I play with. Instead of facing the constantly shifting challenges of the freelance world, the repetition of playing with the same band has made space for a more direct connection to the energy source that all music comes from. While I may not be free to play any note I want, giving up my need for individuality has allowed me to become part of something larger—a musical ecosystem that brings joy to a lot of people. And the joy those people experience comes back as love—the best payment of all. 

I’m not suggesting players stop pursuing the cutting edge of bassdom. No, don’t stop pushing the limits of the instrument, never quit exploring. Just know that there is a time and a place for all things, and that the bass break in “Car Wash” is not the time or place for that new chromatic riff you learned on YouTube. I’m not suggesting that playing less notes and being invisible is the “best” way, this is just what happened to me after migrating to a different planet. When I was oriented toward being a soloist, I found that I was never completely happy with my playing. We are taught that dissatisfaction motivates you to improve, but it also makes some people habitually depressed about their playing. As an improviser and soloist, I may never be completely satisfied with my playing. But giving up the need to be satisfied, the requirement for autonomy, and the desire to be unique, made it easier for me to make the the people I’m playing with happy—which sets up a chain reaction that dominoes back to me. As a formerly-jaded veteran of the freelance wars, I’ve come to appreciate the luxury of focusing on these simple things when I play: Connect with the band. Connect with the music. Connect with the audience. Some of you may go on to be artists that play bass, or band leader/composers with the instrument—there is more interest in that than ever before. But in the not-so-parallel universe where bass is just bass, you’ll need to learn the Art Of Being No One to thrive.

Written by : edfriedland


  1. Jack March 10, 2021 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    As a fan of your work and the Mavericks I appreciate this dive into the zen of bass. The best music I’ve ever heard or played seems to involve a merging of the self with the music and with the other players. Every time I play I aim for that place you describe; becoming no one in support of the song, hoping others will follow.

  2. Lee Barker September 20, 2021 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    This is an eloquent journey through what I would call “settling” and, while it speaks directly to us bass players, it is also a template for aging. I could not have said that before I had to put my Barker Bass away in the closet because my tradesman’s hands can no longer deliver.

    Thank you, Ed. Most bios are damnable lists which assault the reader like a cannonade of smear-on-impact accomplishments. You let us in, and you rewarded our attention with a chestful of gold doubloons. I shall this page again, and share it.

    • edfriedland March 16, 2022 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      Hey Lee! I remember those mutes worked pretty good! It’s been years since I’ve had a working website, so I never check to see if anyone reads this shit, but thanks for your response. You have a way with “the words” too!

  3. John O'Boyle May 18, 2022 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    Ed, I have always appreciated your writing, playing, and instructional materials. Another great read that I can totally relate to. As a “down in the trenches” freelancer myself, I have come to realize that life in the pocket is what keeps you working. Being at one with the music and not worrying about missing a chord change while slapping 32nd notes is a perfectly fine place to be… and there’s more work in that realm anyway. Thanks again, I look forward to more of your writings and reviews in the future.

  4. Myra Dean July 9, 2022 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    One of the joys of following The Mavericks is 1: they can play nearly anything…and well and 2: the band sounds so “tight” compared to other bands. It’s a tribute to what 9 great musicians can do. A bass player I know said if the drums and the bass player aren’t good, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the band or the singers are. I loved reading your take on bass playing in general and your role as bass player in The Mavericks. You’re the best known “No One” I know! I’ve seen your videos and guest appearances on an online show talking about the difference in the upright and the bass guitar. Please keep educating us! Thanks!

  5. Hillary Yasmer Shemin July 10, 2022 at 1:09 am - Reply

    This is an awesome and enlightening piece Ed! Not being a musician myself, I really appreciate your sharing this insight and do love understanding that “being one” with the other musicians is probably why we crazy fans of The Mavericks love you all so much. You are all parts of the whole… of course led by El Maestro Raul! I really enjoy your writing!

  6. Brett October 27, 2022 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I never have been a soloist or a technician.
    My whole gig revolves around being no one while still maintaining presence and control of the groove.

    Thanks, Ed… for putting it into words so eloquently and with humor

    • Paul Rouse December 12, 2022 at 10:00 am - Reply

      I’m with you on that one!

  7. Mark Nine November 5, 2022 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Ed is a heck of a guy, a great teacher and above all THE BASS WHISPERER!! I met Ed and was lucky enough to study with him in Austin – he’s an influence and a friend and the type of musician that one needs to aspire to be – a hell of a talent who is so down to earth it’s crazy!!

    • Art Sap December 10, 2022 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      I came to a similar realization several years ago. Although the music I play these days isn’t quite as technically demanding I’ve gained a greater appreciation, satisfaction and personal joy from playing it.

  8. Luis December 12, 2022 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I truly got your bass vision, you have the skills to be a bass hero (Teacher, writer, entertainer, soloist or a pocket man / SMART).
    I have a collection of your instructional books and videos, congratulations for your hard work and for sharing your knowledge with the bass community.

    Greetings from Conroe Texas, please keep the groove alive like you always do 👌

  9. Craig December 12, 2022 at 11:11 pm - Reply

    Hello Ed,
    Great article! The thing I live the most about it is that you described very well my long held ethos of playing bass. Even though I nearly always have much more “freedom” than you are describing, I certainly try to consider every note I play and how I play it.
    Many times in my previous band the singer would give me a nod for a solo and each time I would politely decline. Primarily because that’s not my thing at all.

  10. Malcolm Jones December 13, 2022 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Once again you have put the correct words together in the right way. Always a fan and thank you for being a part of my music journey.

  11. Jack Love December 13, 2022 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed your article, Ed. I played center in football, which i think is a good parallel for playing bass. Each position requires becoming the invisible glue of the team/group. You need some knowledge of everyone else’s assignment in addition to your own, and you must learn to merge your own needs for recognition with the success of the group. In that respect, you learn that satisfaction, or whatever you want to call it, can’t be directly pursued, it is a byproduct of “becoming no one,”

  12. Antonio Gandia December 13, 2022 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Thank you Ed. Awesome as always. Victor Wooten once said ‘bass is a role, not an instrument’. I believe this to be true. If someone wants to do warp speed three handed tapping on a 35 string ‘bass’, well, more power to them. But at the end of the day, someone has to play bass in the band.

  13. Craig December 14, 2022 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Hello Ed,
    Great article! The thing I love the most about it is that you described very well my long held ethos of playing bass. Even though I nearly always have much more “freedom” than you are describing, I certainly try to consider every note I play and how I play it.
    Many times in my previous band the singer would give me a nod for a solo and each time I would politely decline. Primarily because that’s not my thing at all.

  14. Richard Earley December 20, 2022 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Well written Ed.

    • edfriedland May 10, 2023 at 7:43 pm - Reply


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