Basic “Latin” Bass Groove Approaches

When playing in a jazz jam session scenario, it is likely that you will be asked to play a “latin” tune at some point. It is important to note that the term “latin-jazz” might have different meanings depending on who you are playing with or talking to. In this lesson we will NOT be focusing on specific musical cultures like Afro Cuban, Brazilian, or Caribbean styles and how they mix with Jazz. 

We will be discussing a type of pseudo-Brazilian style similar to the bossa nova which is often referred to as “latin,” at jam sessions and in jazz education. Popular latin standards found in the Real Book include Blue Bossa, Black Orpheus, Recorda-Me, Wave, Gentle Rain, and many others. 

This lesson will cover the basics of constructing a latin style bass line on a real book tune or lead sheet labeled “Latin,” and offer a few exercises to get the feel and techniques under your fingers. More advanced techniques and specific musical styles, like Afro Cuban and Brazilian bass lines, will be covered in future lessons. 

The bass line below is a great example of a typical latin bass line on a blues in the key of Bb minor. It uses a rhythm which accents beats 1 and 3 with little pickup notes on the and of 2 and the and of 4. It uses only the roots and 5th of the chords. The root always occurs on beat 1, while the 5th is played on beat 3. The pickup notes are usually the same as the note that immediately follows. 

If getting to the 5th on beat 3 is too challenging, it is fine to play only the roots of the chords using the same rhythmic pattern.

The bass line above is loosely based on the iconic bass line used on Horace Silver’s recording of his tune “Song For My Father.” This groove is a common variation on a typical Brazilian bossa nova bass line. Listen to the song examples linked above to hear different versions of this same fundamental groove. Each bass player has a slightly different take on which notes to accent and what notes to use for the pick ups. The first four measures of each of the bass lines is presented below for study. Take note of the extensive use of the dotted quarter note followed by the eighth note.