Turn up the (upright) bass
The story starts with the classics. Charles Mingus (1922-1979), the old school king of walking bass, played upbeat, funky jazz grooves at a pace that could only have been achieved by a master. His music can still make the drive home in heavy traffic somehow enjoyable, as if those busily bustling rhythms somehow match life in the big city and make it better.
Stanley Clarke and Ron Carter are other classic jazz giants on the upright, among the firsts to start bringing bass into the lead. You can't go wrong with Carter, and Clarke's tones (not only in his upright work, but on electric bass, too) are smooth, deep, and rich, often utilizing unique scale modes that lend the music an ancient sound. Christian McBride is also among those considered the best, excelling at upbeat, grooving funk and incorporating elements of rock. Edgar Meyer, the undisputed virtuoso of classical, catapults the instrument into the solo realm. His versatile playing can be heard most recently on the lively and intriguing album The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Stuart Duncan.
Some of the most interesting musical acts of today are upright bass players in jazz. Esperanza Spalding, 2011 Grammy award winner for Best New Artist, is making waves with her beautiful compositions and skillful playing. Her pieces run the full gamut from pure fun to hauntingly emotional, and can transport you from smoky jazz lounges to the streets of Brazil. From Israel, the Avishai Cohen Trio is stunning the jazz world by blending traditional Jewish music with the jazz groove of the upright bass, drums, and keys into a wondrous new creation. Musicians will appreciate the group's use of intricate polyrhythms and interesting time signatures, which come across to the lay listener as flavorful twists on classic themes. If you like the styles of these musicians, with a melodic emphasis on the rhythm section, check out the Brad Mehldau Trio, whose offerings also include well-done jazz covers of popular rock songs.
This bunch is just a small selection of the great upright bass music that's out there right now. If you dig it, try music sampling websites like emusic.com, Tuneglue, and Pandora to explore similar artists. Then ask your librarian if they can get you some albums!