Writing a bass feature is an interesting challenge, something I’ve thought about (as a bassist) for years. Bass playing has evolved radically, and players are expected to be fluent, competent soloists as well as “section” players. In my younger days I was an ambitious bass soloist – one of those cocky young bassists who could solo better than play in a section.
Looking at it from a composer/arranger/producer/bandleader point of view, bass solos are unnecessary, annoying, and frequently interruptive to the music. The bass role provides essential context to harmony, working best when it’s low and slow, anchoring and stabilizing – that’s what I need from the bass as a writer. The bass looks different from the other end of a pen!
And, a lot of people just don’t want to hear it, or don’t get it, or feel that it’s a violation of the bass’s role. A guitarist friend of mine turned to me after one of my solos on a little gig and said (smiling) “it’s a drag when the bass player is the best soloist in the band!”
A lot of bass players haven’t met the challenge they face in playing a good solo. Playing a lot of fast low notes creates indistinguishable mud for the listener. Playing sped up roots and fifths is not melodic playing, but too often the approach used by elementary bass soloists. Playing melodically in the instrument’s upper register can be lovely, with the cost that the bass role is absent from the music, leaving a hole in the texture for the duration of the solo. If the arranger can create a context to support melodic upper register bass playing, it can work as a temporary event or transitional section in an arrangement – an approach used to great effect by Weather Report.
In a jam situation, it’s good manners to let everybody solo, although some musicians believe that should not include the bassist. In that context, if the bassist wants to solo, he should – he’s serving everybody else, chorus after chorus – except, possibly, in a concert setting. (If I play any more than 2 solos in a set, I feel overexposed.)
A bass solo “in the clear” hinting at both roles can work very well. Also, walking solos, or rhythm bass solos continuing the bass’s functional role have long precedent in American music.
“Whatever You Want” is designed as a bass feature with solos in the clear, bookended at the top and end.The bass plays the melody and supports the arranged responses to it. After the “head,” the bass walks, staying in the section role, until the final melodic statement, and a short cadenza at the end.