Making the Low Notes: A Life in Music

Bill Harrison

A bass player navigates his way through the muddy waters of Chicago’s music scene

Bill Harrison chronicles his journey from bumbling music student to successful professional bass player in late twentieth-century Chicago. Told with a mixture of wry humor and hard-won insight, Making the Low Notes gives readers an insider’s peek into the prosaic life of a working musician. Harrison describes periods of camaraderie, disappointment, pain, and joy as he toils in venues as divergent as bowling alleys, jazz clubs, recording studios, hotels, orchestra pits, and concert halls. He shares the stage with jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Clark Terry, Bunky Green, and Max Roach. Along the way, the bassist struggles to reconcile the dissonance between his desire to be heard and his impulse to hide silently in the shadows.

  • Our Price: $18.99 + $3 S&H within continental US
  • ISBN: 978-1-956897-28-9
  • e-book ISBN: 978-1-956897-29-6
  • Publication Date: June 6, 2023
  • 236 pages – 5.5 in. x 8.25 in. matte paperback
  • Contact us for multi-book order or bookstore discounts.
  • Order your copy today!


“A colloquially recounted story of a string bass musician who became a mental health counselor, this book more generally conveys lessons on career transitioning, cultural competency, adapting to aging, and surviving bullying. . . . VERDICT: While exploring a life in music, this book also outlines trying to fit in, finding and retaining a job, and adjusting to fellow workers, all experiences that many readers may find to be universally relatable.”

Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library Journal

“Full of heart and the craft of a natural storyteller, Bill Harrison's memoir Making the Low Notes is a tender, rhapsodic, funny, evocative love letter to the bass, an instrument which ‘leads from behind’ and that he describes with such memorable resonance we can almost feel the blisters callusing on our floating thumbs . . . By the end, reverberating with notes of social justice, grace, irony, tenacity, family, and psychotherapy, this memoir grows to mean so much more than mere music. A first book worthy of a virtuoso performer.”

Dr. Ravi Shankar, Pushcart Prize–winning author of 15 books including Correctional

Making the Low Notes is a rollicking and heartfelt memoir about a lifelong love affair with music. Harrison writes about the highs and lows of a musician’s life with wit, candor, and verve, capturing the pleasures of performing in the limelight as well as in its lambent periphery.”

Meghan O’Gieblyn, author of Altered States and God, Human, Animal, Machine

“Bill Harrison, according to Max Roach, could ‘make the quarter notes sing.’ That uncommon ability translates to the page, where his gift for walking bass lines that have traversed Chicago’s jazz and musical theater scenes for four decades carries us through a life story bursting with pathos and drama on- and offstage, from his early years as a Jewish American accordionist growing up in Queens to his trials and tribulations as a first-call bassist and jazz educator. That gift also apparently translates to his work as a psychotherapist, as his insight into the human condition proves just as uncommon. He imparts hard-earned life lessons that will make readers more mindful players and listeners, regardless of which side of the stage they’re on.”

Aidan Levy, author of Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins

“Harrison weaves an interesting tale of his half a century life of a musician. Any musician who reads this book will go, ‘I’ve been there.’ And for anyone wanting to know what it’s really like to be a musician, Harrison tells the story.”

Ken Voss, Illinois Music Archives

“Don’t read this book if you are thinking of a career in music . . . or maybe you ought to. Bill Harrison weaves a calamitous confessional of the un-making of a professional musician; a fascinating tale.”

Russ Lossing, internationally renowned jazz pianist, composer & improviser

“Harrison’s memoir delivers as resoundingly as an open-bottom E-string. He describes with engaging vividness the joys, discoveries, disappointments, and friendships of a professional journeyman… Anyone who’s gigged will connect with Making the Low Notes. But the truths common to making ends meet will be recognizable even to those who’ve never stepped onto a bandstand.”

Charles Farrell, author, (Low)life: A Memoir of Jazz, Fight-fixing, and the Mob, and pianist, 176: Improvisations for Two Pianos (with Russ Lossing), JAZZIZ Critics' Top Ten Pick 2022

“Harrison excels as a writer. Much of his past is brought back to life in gripping detail . . . 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.”

Graham Colombé, Jazz Journal book review

“Bill Harrison’s memoir captures the wild life of a professional musician with great flair. I had a blast discovering the lessons Bill learned from Joe Daley, Warren Benfield, and other Chicago musical legends. Bill paints a vivid picture of the highs and lows of the circuitous path of the professional musician. Highly recommended!”

Jason Heath, bassist, teacher, podcaster (Contrabass Conversations) and writer (Double Bass Blog)

“In this vivid and candid tale, Bill Harrison [journeys] through . . . the ‘business’ from the ’60s to the nows, and the phases of life as one matures their way through it all. The tale of a true survivor, this deeply felt memoir transcends jazz bass, as does this next chapter of his own life.”

Steve Rodby, multi Grammy Award–winning bassist, producer, former member of the Pat Metheny Group

“I first met Bill Harrison nearly 50 years ago—when invited to hear the college quartet he writes about in the early chapters . . . But I never really heard him until reading this account of his honest, intimate, often witty and always insightful journey . . . His lively writing contains a wealth of detail about the musicians’ life, the gifted oddballs that line the path, and the pure joy of true collaboration. Title notwithstanding, Harrison hits plenty of high notes along the way.”

Neil Tesser, Grammy-winning author and broadcaster

“Harrison’s memoir will tell you a lot about the bass and being a bassist, but his real themes include the development of a sensibility, the dignity of work, and how to do change. Although Harrison’s knowledge of his instrument and the bassist’s trade is bottomless (and delightful), he fetishizes neither. This is a profound book about life, love, and commitment.”

David Van Biema, former religion writer for Time magazine and coauthor of The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice

“Bill Harrison is an awesome, creative musician, a master of all styles of improvisation.”

Hankus Netsky, multi-instrumentalist, composer, faculty New England Conservatory

“Harrison knows how to laugh at himself and make his readers feel like they are in on the joke. His conversational tone makes his memoir more of a chat over a beer in a quiet bar. You lean closer to hear the confessions of his youth; the early days trying to make his way as a professional musician.”

LunaSea blog

About the Author

Bill Harrison worked as a professional bassist in Chicago for four decades. He performed with jazz luminaries Clark Terry, James Moody, Bunky Green, Max Roach, Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others. His theatrical credits include Wicked, The Lion King, Always, Patsy Cline, The Visit, Bounce, Turn of the Century, and Billy Elliot. Bill’s writing has been published in After Hours, Allium, Counseling Today, The Intermezzo, Performink, The Sandpiper, Sledgehammer, Under the Gum Tree, and elsewhere. He has a private psychotherapy practice in Chicago, where he lives with his poet/therapist wife, Nina Corwin, and a naughty Bengal named Jazzy.