Global Bass Online April 2002
by Brent-Anthony Johnson
was while he was enrolled at Berklee College that he began to develop his
chordal approach to the bass guitar. Michael
comments, “I had heard of a Buffalo, NY
based player who was performing a solo bass arrangement of the Jazz Standard
“Misty”. I took the challenge to try it as well. I soon realized that this
was the way to go in order to develop a better understanding of the relationship
between harmony, melody and rhythm. I started to incorporate all of the aspects
of jazz standards in a chord-melody style. I've termed these techniques, “The
few years later, in 1987, Michael began to share his understanding with a
renewed fervor, and he re-wrote the chordal approach book, at that time.
Since then, Michael has focused on teaching, working musically with
dysfunctional teens in Upstate New York, and performing clinics for Fodera, and
most recently, Michael Tobias’ MTD Basses. A dedicated 4-string player,
Michael has composed some of the best music written by a bassist, since Charles
Mingus, and Jaco Pastorius!
recently spoke with Michael, in light of his recent CD release, “Big
Droppins”. This is a gorgeous
disc that features group and solo performances of Horace Silver’s “Song
For My Father”, Prevert/Mercer/Kosma’s “Autumn
Leaves”, Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”,
Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your
Smile”, Jaco’s “Three Views of
A Secret”, in addition to five Dimin composed pieces.
Each of Michael’s musical cohorts perform throughout the disc with
grace and utter taste! Check out
Paul McCandless’ lyrical soprano sax, Konstantin Tsykun’s dark, closed and
covered upright grand piano solo, and Michael’s strong fretless presence on
That particular tune defines the interplay on this wonderful release!
long-time Fodera clinician/composer had a lot to say about the state of bass,
life, family, and the idea of being the best player you can be.
First, Congratulations on such a beautiful disc, Michael!
I really enjoyed listening to the tunes, and you’re a wonderful
Thank you so much, Brent. Coming from you, it means a great deal to me.
The CD was 20 years in the making from both a compositional and technique
standpoint. Some of the original tunes started as “seeds” a long time ago.
They had been performed in different incarnations through the years. The chordal
pieces were also started in 1979 when I began my whole Chordal Approach
technique and started writing and arranging for solo bass.
When was it that you decided to become a musician, and how did your
parents handle that?
Also, please tell us a little about your upbringing and childhood.
That is such an important question. My parents were very much into the arts. My
grandmother was a professional pianist, my dad was a violinist and my mom had a
terrific sense of rhythm. I still remember with great embarrassment her teaching
me how to dance. She was so fluid and graceful. I, on the other hand, lumbered
around trying with every bone in my body to find the rhythm. She must have
taught me something! My parents were very supportive, even when I was playing in
high school cover bands. They never really heard me play seriously until my
senior recital in college. It really blew them away. It gave of us both a
renewed sense that I was doing the “right thing”.
has been shown that positive arts experience as a child is the primary reason
for an interest in the arts as an adult. My parents gave this to me in
abundance. Our house was filled with old jazz recordings from my Dad. My older
brother and sister were listening to The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, the Stones
and all the music of the 60’s. It was a wonderful time. I grew up in the
suburbs of New York City. We were always going to shows, museums, performances
and New York Mets games (just thought I’d throw that in). My mother was an
educator and instilled a love of learning in me. They taught me how to take
to enjoy the journey. What else could a kid ask for?
to enjoy the journey. What else could a kid ask for?
While we’re talking about the disc… Where does the title, “Big
Droppin’s” (there has to be a story behind this!) come from?
I was hoping never to have to answer that question. It was my wife’s idea. She
is a wonderful person, who works very hard and allows me to “tinker”. She
gives our family the security that allows me to be an artist. She also is a bit
irreverent. I am not doing too good of a job getting around the question, am I?
We took our son to the circus. Well, there was this elephant. Need I say more?
- Big Droppins! It has kind of been a joke around our house ever since.
These songs are my “bass droppins” so to speak. They reflect 20 years of
work, nourishment, inspiration, experimentation success and failure.
During our recent telephone conversation you had a few really great
things to say about saxophonist Paul McCandless, and how he ended up on the
Could you recount that for our listeners?
Also, please tell us about the Charlton School.
The ensemble pieces that include Paul were written with him in mind. I had
always envisioned Paul playing them. We had met a few times, years ago. Once
when I was booking music, I booked Oregon. A few years later we met when I was
driving the Flecktones around town prior to one of their shows. We also have
some mutual friends. Yet, I did not really feel that I could approach him about
playing on the disc. I called a violinist that I used to play with, Betty
MacDonald looking for a Paul McCandless sound alike. She came right out and
said, "why don't you call him?" Now, why didn't I think about it? I
got his number from a mutual friend, Michael Manring. The rest is history.
other great thing (besides the CD) came from this. It turns out that Paul's
wife, Robin is an electric bassist and she teaches music at a residential school
for "at-risk" boys in the bay area. I teach music a few days a week at
The Charlton School, a residential school for "at-risk" girls in
upstate New York. We spent a great deal of time talking about our programs, the
way that we teach, the syllabus and the nuances of dealing with our unique
population. My contact with Paul McCandless has rewarded me in more ways that I
could ever have thought of.
is important that I mention The Charlton School. As any kind of an artist, it is
important to have a support network. Charlton fulfills part of that role.
Besides a salary, Charlton has allowed me to use the recording facilities (many
of the basic tracks for the CD were done there). Charlton is another place where
risk taking is allowed. I can develop programs and ideas that are new and
innovative. I also have the "permission" to fail. Failure is a
wonderful thing. It allows us to grow.
Let’s talk about your approach to composition, and let’s also talk
about a few of your pieces that appear on “Big…”
Perhaps because I am a bassist, I tend to write from a harmonic standpoint.
I’ll sit at the piano or with a bass and come up with the harmony. I am not
very good at “working” at it. I usually need some sort of inspiration. When
I am inspired the writing comes naturally. Songs like “The Hunter” on Big
Droppins were written in about 15 minutes. I also give a great deal of freedom
to the musicians I am playing with. I think they know what they’re doing on
their instrument much better than I ever could. I remember, as a Berklee
student, I would be forced to play bass lines written by pianists. The nature of
the bass will dictate different bass lines than a piano. If I let Paul
McCandless play what he feels rather than what I tell him to play, the song will
be infinitely better. The melodies that I wrote for Paul, Konstanin Tsuykin, the
pianist or Tim Reyes, my guitarist were but mere sketches. They had a great deal
of freedom to explore the nuances, phrasing and note choice. “T-Off” was
originally conceived as a minor, dark, funk solo bass tune. It was inspired by a
great Michael Manring clinic that I attended. When I decided to make it an
ensemble piece, I brought in Tristan Luke (Sullivan) on drums and Tim on guitar.
Tim’s interpretation really changed the flavor of the tune to more of a Latin,
funk groove. The final version of the song was not how I imagined, but it was a
great deal of fun playing it and I love what has become of it.
is another piece with Paul McCandless. Although I had sketches of this tune for
quite a while, it never really came together until this particular ensemble
recorded it. We recorded it as a trio of bass, drums and piano and sent the trio
recording to Paul. He added his part later. I think “23Elul5761” is such a
sad song. The title is the Hebrew calendar date for September 11, 2001. It
really speaks to the profound sadness that I think we all feel.
tunes where the melody is a bit more defined (usually the ones that I play),
like “Little Sister”, I really have to work on the creation of the melody.
Having a looper really helps in melody development. I can record the progression
and develop melodic ideas over time. Using the looper also helps in developing
solo ideas, as well.
How did the disc come together, and how have you come to play with the
great musician’s on the disc!
Originally, I had decided to make a solo bass record. Not to be confused with a
bass as leader, I mean totally solo. Any of the multi-track bass parts would be
done live with the looper. Luckily, I came to my senses. Creating this record is
not really about whether or not I can play solo bass or create multi-tracked
bass pieces in a live setting. Creating the CD was about putting the best music
that I could on that CD with the great players who share my vision.
many communities across the country there are great players. There are also
players who do not get the recognition they deserve. My drummer, Tristan Luke
(Sullivan) is an amazing musician. He knows every note that is played in a tune.
He knows how the guitar player or keyboard player is voicing a particular chord.
His listening skills are amazing. We’ve worked in a blues/funk band for the
past 4 years or so. Konstanin Tsuykin, the pianist, came to the US about 10
years ago. He has a Masters Degree in piano performance from University in
Russia. He was only allowed to bring out $200 when he left. He had to sell
everything that he had in order to leave. He chooses to perform very little.
He’s got a church gig on Sundays and is one of the most in-demand teachers in
the area. He is also a great bassist and guitarist as well. Brian Melick, (AKA
“Uduboy”), the percussionist, is a master of the Udu drum. In fact, he
literally wrote the book (and
video) on playing the drum. I wanted to have a bass and Udu duet, but we ended
up with Congas. Brian and I go way back. It is always a joy any time that I get
to work with him. Tim Reyes, on guitar, is one of the wonderful NYC jazz
guitarists. Tim ended up in upstate New York, for a few years, where we had the
opportunity to do some work together. Like many NYC players, Tim doesn't drive.
Working with him was always a bit of a hassle, as someone (usually me) had to
drive him to gigs. To hear Tim's soulful approach to the guitar made it all
worth while. I already accounted for my tremendous luck in getting Paul
McCandless to play. He has such a unique voice.
The solo performances on the disc are wonderfully played, Mike.
Tell us about your approach to that facet of your playing.
It started in 1979. I had heard a rumor of a Buffalo based bass player who was
doing solo version of “Misty”. I never knew who it was, but to this day I
wonder if it was Billy Sheehan. I thought that it would be a cool challenge to
try it. It was pretty successful. I soon realized that there was so much that I
understood about music and the theory behind it but was never able to play it,
to embrace it, to REALLY understand it. It started me on the quest of The
Chordal Approach. For those who have never heard what I do, I play the bass
line, harmony and melody simultaneously. It could be reminiscent of the music of
a Joe Pass or Stanley Jordan (although I don’t tap that much). In recent
years, I have instituted the Boomerang Phrase Sampler into the mix. The
“Rang” is a looper. It allows me to play a line, stack harmony, melodies,
solo, counterpoint. There are a number of examples of this on the CD. From the
Jazz standards of Autumn Leaves and The Shadow of Your Smile and Jaco’s Three
Views of a Secret played in a chord-melody style to Footprints and the title
tune, Big Droppins performed as a multi-track recording. I also use the
multi-track idea within an ensemble. On Song for My Father, I have 3 bass parts
and 3 percussion parts, On T-Off and Little Sister, I use multi-tracked bass
within the ensemble setting. All of the multi-tracked bass pieces I perform live
using the Boomerang. Although the ‘rang is a wonderful performance, practice
and development tool, it just doesn’t have studio quality sound. Therefore I
just multi-tracked the bass parts on those tunes.
After along association with Fodera (as long as I can remember) you’ve
recently begun playing Michael Tobias’ MTD basses.
What prompted the change – other than change itself – and talk with
our readers about your relationship with MTD.
Two things happened that precipitated the change. I really wanted to cut down on
playing clubs while still getting to perform and I wanted to focus more time on
what I do best, which is spreading the word of bass. I really enjoy giving
Master Classes and teaching to groups of dedicated students. I have had these
experiences both at The Bass Collective and at The National Summer Guitar
Workshop. A friend of mine travels internationally giving clinics for Taylor
Guitars. They are wonderful clinics that while promoting Taylor, also provide
very helpful information to an attentive and dedicated audience. That is what I
am trying to achieve. I started looking for a company that makes wonderful yet
affordable instruments, a growing dealer base and a desire to spread the word
about their instruments. Unfortunately Fodera does not fit that description. I
am forever indebted to Fodera for their support. Fodera basses are some of the
finest basses in the world, but they don’t have the dealer base or a line of
affordable instruments to make such a relationship possible. I have 2 small
children (6 and 2), a house mortgage and all the trappings that come with
adulthood and responsibility. There comes a time in each of our careers that we
have to look out for our future and our families. I did not have to look far.
Michael Tobias, who lives and works about 75 miles from me, makes wonderful
instruments, has an affordable Korean line (the Kingston, Heir, and soon to be
released Saratoga), has a growing dealer bass and was interested in working with
me. I could still quench my thirst for a beautiful hand made guitar (my 435 is
on order) and play, perform and record with a wonderful yet inexpensive bass,
the MTD Heir.
You also have a long-running affiliation with BASS
magazine’s Chief Editor, Jim Hyatt.
What’s happening at
I have contributed a regular lesson column along with selected interviews since
May of ’98. It has been a real pleasure for me to share my thoughts and
knowledge with our readers. I have been able to meet some great players and
become friendly with a few of them. I have given advice and gotten much myself.
Anytime you are in the public’s eye you have the opportunity to share your
thoughts and, more importantly, get new ideas, musical and otherwise, from
others. Developing these relationships has been both personally and
for BASS FRONTIERS. The magazine is run and written by players’ not corporate
magazine publishers. The impact from real working musicians adds a reality to
our magazine that I think is unique. We are not driven by newsstand sales but by
the issues and players that really mean something. It drives me a bit nuts when
you see a player like Fieldy on the cover of a bass magazine. What has he
contributed to the language? Why hasn’t Edgar Meyer ever had a cover? The last
issue of Bass Frontiers Magazine was a cover story with Chuck Rainey. I cannot
see a sales driven magazine putting Rainey on a cover now. Too many young
players have NO idea what he has meant to all of us. It took way to long to
credit James Jamerson for his contributions. As long as magazines deal with the
“flavor of the month” we will lose the historical and musical relevance of
the players who DESERVE the cover spot.
You’re also well known as the author of “The
Chordal Approach” book.
Talk with us about some of the things the book covers, and please let our
readers know they can obtain a copy of the book.
The book was designed to make bass players better musicians. It attempts to give
players a practical and theoretical look at harmony and the way in which both
bass lines and melodies exist within that harmony. It also promotes new
techniques that allows bass players unprecedented freedom of expression and the
possibility to perform in new settings with the bass taking on a much greater
role in the ensemble. I’ve gigged with a bass and trumpet duet for example. In
this setting I would be responsible for harmony, bass line and rhythm.
Chordal Approach is a book of theory and practice on the art of developing a
chordal and chord-melody style of playing. I’ve done this with the two most
popular jazz forms, the 12 bar blues and the 32 bar “Rhythm Changes”. There
are 2 main sections to the book. The first part looks at the blues in a chordal
style, complete with reharmonization techniques such as the substitute
dominants, II-V’s, harmonizing a bass line and more. The second section does
the same with “Rhythm Changes” – the chords to “I’ve Got Rhythm”
except it covers the material chronologically. It begins the way Gershwin might
have played the changes and progresses, via reharmonization techniques, to the
way Charlie Parker might have interpreted the changes. In the second half of the
book, I add some new techniques, as well.
book is available at some of the better bass stores around the country such as
Bass Alone in San Diego, Bass Northwest in Seattle, LA Bass Exchange in Los
Angeles and more. Most dealers can also order the book from my distributor
Charles Dumont & Sons. You can also get the book directly from me at www.michaeldimin.com
and at one of my favorite websites bassbooks.com.
Beside the new MTD instrument, what are some of the other instruments in
Particularly, where did you get that incredible fretless sound that is
featured on the disc?
Also, let’s talk about your rig.
The fretless is a very old, pre-“buzz” Pedulla. It has to be 23 or 24 years
old. Mark Egan measured it up against one of his Buzz basses and it has almost
the exact same dimensions. That bass is irreplaceable. It has a feel and a sound
that is so perfect.
recently thinned out the bass stable a bit. I sold a Warmouth Jazz that I had
built and my 1985 Fodera Monarch. It was hard to get rid of the Fodera. I sold
the Fodera and the Warmouth to make room for an MTD 435 that I recently ordered.
Mike Tobias has promised that the bass would be stunning. It will have an Ash
body and a Myrtle top. I spent some time with Mike picking out the wood for the
top. There are so many great basses out there and part of me would like to own
them all, but I feel very lucky to have a wonderful, old Pedulla, the MTD Heir
and a new MTD 435 on the way.
rig consists of a Walter Woods head, an Epifani T112, The Boomerang Phrase
Sampler, an EBS Bass IQ and a Fodera Model 2000 preamp. The combination gives me
wonderful sound in a very small package. It is perfect for small to medium size
gigs. In larger venues I can add another Epifani T112 or use the rig as a stage
monitor. I’ve always joked, “I don’t get paid to play, I get paid for
cartage.” On solo gigs I will set up the Pedulla fretless on an Mbrace Guitar
Stand and run both basses through a 6 channel Behringer mixer. I will connect
the Boomerang to the effects out and return it to its own channel. I can then
use either or both basses to create the loops, mix the loops independently of
the basses and use both basses on a song without having to actually change
instruments. I could have gone the difficult route and tried to play 2 basses at
once ala Michael Manring.
You’ve been an “out of residence” instructor at The Collective for
the past few years, and teaching plays a big part in your life.
What is your approach to teaching, and what are “the essentials” in
your study program?
My gig at The Collective has been presenting Master Classes. I also teach
privately and at the National Summer Guitar Workshop. Teaching is a twofold
process. A good teacher must provide sound technique and theory information.
More importantly, however, a great teacher will provide motivation and
inspiration as well. It is not enough to walk a student through the Mel Bay
series of books. As teachers we must identify the wants/needs of the students
and create a program that teaches fundamental skills and inspires the student to
be self-directed in their learning. Teachers must also introduce the students to
some of the possibilities on bass that they might have never dreamed of. We must
teach students all aspects of being a musician, not just being a bass player.
Students need to know melody, harmony and rhythm; they must know how they fit
within an ensemble; how to relate to each instrument. We must give them the
confidence to succeed the self-esteem to take risks and the freedom to fail. For
each student the mix is different. It is up to the teacher to recognize this and
develop an individualized program that meets the students needs.
What’s next for Michael Dimin?
Besides actively marketing gigs, CD sales, book sales, I am in the process of
writing Volume 2 of The Chordal Approach. It will have actual chord melody
arrangements. The licensing process to use the songs can be long and tedious. I
am also planning a book on teaching arts to at-risk youth, either alone or with
a theatre teacher I work with. I also have a vision for a new CD, modern poetry
and bass as duets. I first have to sell a lot of Big Droppins CD’s before I
can attempt a project like that.
I am looking forward to working more with Michael Tobias on promoting his
instruments and meeting and developing relationships with more players out
Let’s have your “if I were stranded on a dessert island…” top 10
discs, books, and other items!
Also, who is your favorite composer, and how have they influenced your
Wow, top 10 is so hard. My tastes change so often, but let me give it a shot. In
no particular order, I guess I would choose the following recordings, Bill
Evans’ “Live at the Village Vanguard”, “John Coltrane & Johnny
Hartman”, Eberhard Webber’s “Silent Feet”, “Jaco Pastoruis”, The
Beatles, “Abbey Road”, “Stevie Wonder At The Close of A Century” (Box
Set), Tower of Power’s “What is Hip”, and “Bela Fleck and the Flecktones”.
There are two books that I would also need to have, “Standing in the Shadows
of Motown” and Kenny Werner’s “Effortless Mastery.”
think my favorite composers are Bach, Mozart, Bartok and Mingus. It is a weird
group but each of their music has had a profound effect on me as a listener.
When I listen to certain musicians or composers it seems that they reach me on a
deeper level. My goal is to reach people on a deeper emotional level.
Do you have a list of musicians (living or dead) that you would like to
spend, or liked to have spent, time with?
I would have liked to meet the Jaco of the early 70’s, before he was ravaged
by mental illness. I met him at the height of his craziness and it was very
disappointing for me. His genius was just too much. I would have loved to meet
him when his music and his vision were still pure and his enthusiasm for
creation knew no bounds.
What constitutes a “good gig/clinic/session/etc” in your opinion?
When you have fulfilled your role for that gig. Each gig comes with a different
objective. As a session player, you need to subjugate your own ego and play what
the artist or producer wants, nothing more, nothing less. If you are performing
live, it is all about the audience. Did your music reach them in some way? If
you’re playing dance music, were they dancing? If you are playing a dinner
gig, where you entertaining without being intrusive? If you are giving a clinic,
master class or lesson, did you inspire that student to take the next step?
Clearly defining your goal in each situation, helps to determine it you are
successful. I think too many young musicians are in it to gratify their own ego.
That attitude gets old rather quickly.
What do you feel bassists need to study most?
Everything. Soak it all in, use what is appropriate and store the rest for a
later time. Learn theory and slap; learn playing with a pick and all the
melodies of all the tunes you play. Study the work of Victor, Jaco, Stanley,
Bootsy and James (and any others you can think of). Learn to be open to new
ideas, new music and new settings. Feel the freedom to flop on your face and
never get too cocky when you’re groovin’ like there is no tomorrow. Be a
What touches you most about music?
Music has the power to make people laugh and cry. Music has the power to alter
your emotions. It has the power to heal and the power to make us remember. Music
can allow us a moment to escape. Music can alter our lives!
Is there anything you would like to say in closing to our readers?
I say to all bassists. We DO NOT need any more bassists, we DO NEED musicians!
baby! Thank you, Mike!
“Big Droppins” is the disc to buy, folks! UPDATE: Check out "There Are No Accidents" also on his site.
Visit Mike at: http://www.michaeldimin.com
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