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Michael Dimin


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by Brent-Anthony Johnson

At the young age of seventeen years, Michael Dimin heard two albums that would forever change his life’s course.  The first, was Weather Report’s “Heavy Weather”, and the second was the eponymous recording of the, then, twenty-four-year-old Jaco Pastorius!  For the past nearly 30 years, Michael’s study of the basses has taken him to a better understanding of the unique and beautiful relationship between melody, harmony and rhythm.  His deep understanding of the concept of complete musicianship led him to Berklee College of Music in 1979, and has more recently placed him behind the teaching podium of NYC’s The Collective, where he is a frequent visiting instructor.  

It 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 Chordal Approach.”  

A 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!

I 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 Dimin’s “23Elul5761”.   That particular tune defines the interplay on this wonderful release!  

The 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.  

BAJ:   First, Congratulations on such a beautiful disc, Michael!  I really enjoyed listening to the tunes, and you’re a wonderful musician.  

MD:  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.  

BAJ:  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.

MD: 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”.  

It 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 risks and to enjoy the journey. What else could a kid ask for?  

BAJ:  While we’re talking about the disc… Where does the title, “Big Droppin’s” (there has to be a story behind this!) come from?  

MD: 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.  

BAJ:  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 disc.  Could you recount that for our listeners?  Also, please tell us about the Charlton School.  

MD: 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.  

One 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.  

It 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.  

BAJ:  Let’s talk about your approach to composition, and let’s also talk about a few of your pieces that appear on “Big…”  

MD: 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.  

“23Elul5761” 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.  

On 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.  

BAJ:  How did the disc come together, and how have you come to play with the great musician’s on the disc!  

MD: 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.  

In 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.  

BAJ:  The solo performances on the disc are wonderfully played, Mike.  Tell us about your approach to that facet of your playing.  

MD: 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.  

BAJ:   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.  

MD: 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.    


I am a Product Specialist/Clinician for MTD. I will be performing clinics and Master Classes to support his dealer network. I really feel that the Korean made MTD’s are one of the best basses you can buy for the money. They play beautifully, are impeccably made and sound great. It is an honor for me to represent them.    

BAJ:  You also have a long-running affiliation with BASS FRONTIERS and that magazine’s Chief Editor, Jim Hyatt.  What’s happening at BASS FRONTIERS?  

MD: 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 professionally rewarding.  

As 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.  

BAJ:  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.  

MD: 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.  

The 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.  

The 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 and at one of my favorite websites  

BAJ:  Beside the new MTD instrument, what are some of the other instruments in your stable.  Particularly, where did you get that incredible fretless sound that is featured on the disc?  Also, let’s talk about your rig.  

MD: 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.  

I’ve 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.  

My 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.  

BAJ:  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?  

MD: 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.  

BAJ:  What’s next for Michael Dimin?  

MD: 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.  

Mostly, I am looking forward to working more with Michael Tobias on promoting his instruments and meeting and developing relationships with more players out there.  

BAJ:  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 writing?  

MD: 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.”  

I 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.  

BAJ:  Do you have a list of musicians (living or dead) that you would like to spend, or liked to have spent, time with?  

MD: 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.  

BAJ:  What constitutes a “good gig/clinic/session/etc” in your opinion?  

MD: 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.  

BAJ:  What do you feel bassists need to study most?  

MD: 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 sponge.  

BAJ:  What touches you most about music?  

MD: 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!  

BAJ:  Is there anything you would like to say in closing to our readers?  

MD: I say to all bassists. We DO NOT need any more bassists, we DO NEED musicians!

Yeah, 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:  


Brent-Anthony Johnson is a bassist/composer/arranger/instructor living in the Denver Metropolitan area. He co-leads the group Sonal Anu and the premier release is scheduled for December 2001! Stay tuned to Global Bass Magazine for more information. His website is at





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