Making The Low Notes – A Life In Music

Bill Harrison, sometime bassist with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, writes engagingly about his life and work


Bill Harrison has written a very entertaining book which is centred on his experiences while playing jazz on the double bass. Fame never came his way but he was good enough to play on a few different occasions with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach and he received a compliment on his playing from the latter.

Competent enough as a bass player, Harrison excels as a writer. Much of his past is brought back to life in gripping detail with convincing dialogue that must have been recreated rather than remembered. He believes that introversion led him to choose the bass “to hide behind” but says that inside the introvert there was an extrovert trying to get out.

Such self-analysis is perhaps not surprising as he became a psychotherapist when health problems forced him to give up bass playing after several decades of musical activity and employment. He also then developed his literary abilities and evidently became able to extract the maximum amount of drama from such an event as breaking his left index figure during a casual baseball session – an incident which threatened his livelihood. Numerous relationships of varying significance are also charted convincingly.

Any musician who has played a number of casual gigs, with their surprises, annoyances and occasional pleasures, will recognise some similarities in this book to their own experiences. And, while I would recommend it most strongly to bass players, I think anyone with an interest in jazz, listener or musician, could find the book difficult to put down. (A dozen black-and-white photographs support the narrative appropriately.)

Making The Low Notes – A Life In Music, by Bill Harrison. Open Books Press, pb, 221pp, illus. ISBN 978-1-956897-28-9