Global Bass Online February 2002
by Alessandro Arcuri
I noticed that you started out both on classical and electric; did you begin
with the elctric bass, at first?
Massimo Moriconi: yes, playing rock
AA: because of the Beatles, I guess.
MM: no, because of almost everyone, Jimi Hendrix,
Santana, the Cream…
AA: and then you went to the conservatory? [L.
Refice conservatory in Frosinone]
MM: yes, I begun, but never finished it, I went there
only for five years, because I also had to work and I couldn’t manage it all.
AA: but your classical training did help your
professional approach on bass, didn’t it?
MM: well, not that much, because conservatory studies
are quite mechanical, there’s little music in them; a lot of double bass
technique, yes, but musically speaking, classical music is something you read,
whereas on modern music you compose, when you improvise a bass line or a solo,
for instance, and therefore they are two different things.
AA: this is something a lot of graduated double bassist
told me, that’s that the moment they really understood music is when they
begun playing jazz.
MM: absolutely true. Jazz or even pop music, non
written out, anyway; I happen to meet, because I hold many seminars, a lot of
musicians, even graduated ones, that really remain astonished after they see a
guitar or piano player playing chords just by reading symbols.
What classical studies lack is harmonic analysis,
knowing what you play, that is. Of course from a certain level you meet some
classical musicians, and I mean the great Italian ones, with whom I got to work
with, that love jazz and pop music, and they even play it well. The problem is
in conservatories, where the teachers don’t consider everything that today
there is in music.
AA: since you spoke about Italian jazz, and since you
played with Romano Mussolini, Armando Trovajoli and so on, I noticed, listening
to some songs, that there’s a very recognizable component, in Italian jazz;
what can you tell me about it?
MM: well, there’s a Mediterranean, Latin flavor;
Italy has a strong personality, musically speaking, there are a lot of good
musicians, with a very personal style.
AA: many of them also worked on soundtracks and film
scores, like Trovajoli, for instance.
MM: yes, but they all started on jazz, also the
showmen. I played for eighteen years with Lelio Luttazzi, who hosted Mina at
“Studio Uno” show, and he played Erroll Garner tunes. Also Peppino di Capri
and the singer from those years, they all
loved standards. There was this strong culture in Italy, back then.
AA: and did you noticed a jazz influence in the
soundtracks from the fifties, the sixties and the seventies, with their complex
MM: absolutely! The tunes that have been written right
in the fifties and sixties have become standards, now, like Gorni Kramer’s
ones. There was a strong sense of melody in those tunes, and we’re kind of
losing it now.
AA: were they modeled after the American standards?
MM: I’d rather say after Neapolitan songs from the
eighteenth and nineteenth century, that are truly pieces of art. We have an
immense cultural heritage, and we know little of it.
AA: is it because of that that you say we’re losing
MM: we’re losing it because melody is fantasy, as
opposed to harmony which is an exact science; with all these information we get
so fast, nowadays, even who’s playing is doing it by memory. So there’s less
fantasy. Bands are less recognizable, now. Twenty years ago you got bands that
ranged from Genesis to Yes, each with its own sound and melodies, now it’s all
leveled out. You pull records out of a groove over a single chord, with some riffs, you see? Not only music, but
all the arts are kind of leveled, now.
AA: speaking about your job in film scores, with all
those carefully crafted arrangements, did you get written out parts?
MM: of course, an arranger is supposed to get every
instrument written down, so there were all the “black dots”, it was all
written down. Anyway I always got to add something; I never red a part without
adding something. I love reading a lot because I don’t feel it’s different
from playing, or what you consider as “playing”, which is creating, isn’t
it? To me a written part can be broadly interpreted.
AA: even if you follow it closely?
MM: absolutely, because you can’t write down music,
you can write the notes, but dynamics, sound, embellishments… those are up to
AA: and the line of work you find in pop music? Is it
MM: in pop music? Well I speak about Mina because for
me it’s the top….
AA: but you find very complex arrangements also in that
situation, don’t you?
MM: no, absolutely not, it’s all improvised; first or
second take. I only have chord symbols.
AA: chord symbols and rhythm parts?
MM: no, no, those are up to us, it’s twenty years
that we work with her, so we just hear the song and we play it as we feel it,
which is the top, for me.
AA: so you only listen to a demo and then it’s all up
to the feel you get with the other musicians, whom I think are always the same
MM: absolutely, especially because of that… there’s
Danilo Rea, who’s also been into it since twenty years ago… we’re always
the same ones.
AA: so the search for cool harmonies is up to the
arranger, while everything else is up to the musicians.
AA: because listening to some Mina’s tunes you can
hear some complex harmonies, some extended chords, and I got the impression that
it was all kind of “imposed” from above.
MM: absolutely not, but that happens only with her.
AA: exactly! And in situations like with Audio 2, for
I always pulled
out my own bass lines, with them, but it’s a different level… still giving
credit to them, their line of work
is kinda halfway. Something comes from the arranger, who’s already got some
ideas for the songs, but for the bass parts it’s ten years that I play what I
come up with. That’s something that really pleases me.
AA: so the bass line on their hit “sono le venti”
MM: they’re all mine. They never wrote me a bass
AA: on that tune you play an ostinato, a “hook”, a
line that makes you instantly recognize the song.
MM: yes, it’s really played for the song.
AA: when you have come up with something, do you have a
kind of “bass riffs archive” or do you mix different influences?
MM: something I never loved to do is to pull out bass
lines from records… it’s incredible, I know it’s not cool but it’s true.
AA: you mean learning songs?
MM: exactly. But I did listen to them.
AA: so it’s unconscious, because after all those
times you heard them…
MM: right, right, because what I play is what I
listened to, but I never think about something precise, I mix everything up,
AA: and the end result is the instant composition of a
AA: I noticed, looking at your web site, that you
almost exclusively use Manne basses.
AA: even though you’re an Italian bassist, an
therefore it may seem obvious that you use an Italian made instrument, it is
not, because of the huge worldwide competition against the two or three major
MM: you see, I believe that the instrument is not
really important, once you’ve put on a fresh set of strings. The sound comes
from the strings and your hands. If you listen to the very same bass, played by
ten different people, you hear ten different sounds. If it doesn’t go out of
tune and if it doesn’t produce hum, it’s enough… nowadays all the
instruments are almost at the same level. Now I’m gonna get a Music Man, from
2002 on, and it’s an instrument I
really love, because it’s quite peculiar, so here… I’m gonna use one of
those, also… but just think that ten years ago I was playing Peavey basses,
that nobody knew, back then. If you want you can tell the difference between
active and passive basses, but apart from that all basses are beautiful…
so touch is the
most important thing. In fact I saw that you stress this topic a lot in your
MM: yes, because it would be like reducing music to
notes only, or speaking to words only. Because if I [adopts a computer-like voice]
startototalklikethiswithnopausesordynamicsfromdawntosunset, I could tell
wonderful things but… it would be like playing and thinking exclusively about
the notes. Notes are the last thing to worry about… I mean, they are just
seven… it’s dynamics that count, your intention, the ideas, the sound and
most of all how you follow the tempo.
AA: so, in your classes it’s the most important
MM: absolutely, because when I teach I immediately make
the student play music, and playing music right from the start doesn’t mean
technique exercises, but pulling off something like “bo-ba-bom, t-chak, ba-bom,
tak, bo-ba bom…”, that’s not technically challenging but you have to get
it in time, and with the right sound. Starting off and playing music once you
have the instrument in your hands, that is. If you do technique exercises, if
you do just scales, you’re not playing music, and when you try to apply your
exercises to music they don’t work, because music it’s a mix of many things,
that you have to consider right from the beginning.
AA: sure… I saw that, compared to other bassist I
interviewed, you’re the one that’s most into teaching.
MM: well, I really love teaching, I’ve been doing it
for fifteen years now; I made the first Italian instructional videos, five of
them; then a 460 pages book, with two CDs, another one last year, a rhythm
course… it all comes from my job.
AA: did you do stuff both for electric and double bass?
MM: yes, but I have a small number of double bass
students. Last year I had ninety students in school, in Rome, and just two of
them were playing double bass.
AA: so is double bass generally seen as a Jazz
instrument, in your opinion?
MM: no, no, it’s also used in Pop music. Well, maybe
it’s just that I’m lucky because I got to work with Mina and Fabio Concato,
and they’ve made me use it a lot… but still I think it’s quite common to
AA: so why this lack of balance between the two?
MM: because it’s an instruments that sells absolutely
nothing cheap; you spend months just to pull out the notes, and it’s
practically a physical challenge.
AA: do you notice some influences between the two
roles? I mean the electric bass and the double bass’ ones? Or do you consider
them as two different things?
MM: I think about them as three different things,
considering also the fretless electric, because it has no sense using the
fretted bass to play some riffs and then trying the very same thing on a
fretless. So they are three instruments for which the difficulties are
psychological, rather than technical, I mean getting close with the instrument
and letting it guide you to different approaches in music. Just think that you
can’t play Heavy Metal on a double bass…
AA: and, for example, if you come up with a bass line
in your mind, can you decide on which bass you could play it better, afterwards?
MM: sure, first I sing to myself something and then I
decide with which instrument it would be better rendered.
AA: going back to the teaching subject, what’s the
advice you give to a young bassist that wants to use the instrument at his best?
MM: first of all don’t trust the teacher that teaches
what he can do, because a teacher shouldn’t show you things, but instead he
should show you how to do them by yourself. That grants you your own personality
on the instrument, and it avoids a “cloning” process of the teacher
him/herself. It’s often a personal, other than musical, matter. It’s a great
responsibility that is not held in the right consideration too often. And
don’t assume you’re getting paid by the note. So first learn your
instrument’s role, that if it’s to do “bum, bum, bum”, that’s what you
ought to do, because it may fit in that particular tune. Because you make music,
and that’s what is important.
You can visit Massimo’s web site at www.massimomoriconi.com
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