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Massimo Moriconi


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by Alessandro Arcuri

One of the bassists that wrote Italian’s pop music history, from his jazz beginnings with Romano Mussolini, Armando Trovajoli, Nicola Arigliano, until his work as a sideman with artists such as Mina, Fabio Concato, Fiorella Mannoia and international stars like Lee Konitz, Tal Farlow and many others, and even the likes of Jerry Lewis and Liza Minnelli, could not avoid passing on his musical gifts with also an intense teaching activity. Massimo is, in fact, one of the most active teaching musicians, both with his instructional methods and with a good number of students, at the Music University in Rome, and the “%musica” school, also in Rome. As this was still not enough, the prizes he won as best double bassist and best studio bassist (“Guitar Club” magazine – 1995) and best Jazz/Fusion bassist (“Chitarre” magazine) make him a presence, in Italian’s musical panorama, as solid as his own bass lines.

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 arrangements? 

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 it? 

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 the player. 

AA: and the line of work you find in pop music? Is it totally different? 

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 ones, right?

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. 

MM: yes, absolutely. 

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 instance? 

MM: 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” is yours! 

MM: they’re all mine. They never wrote me a bass part. 

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, inside. 

AA: and the end result is the instant composition of a bass line. 

MM: exactly. 

AA: I noticed, looking at your web site, that you almost exclusively use Manne basses. 

MM: yes. 

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 Italian brands. 

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… 

AA: so touch is the most important thing. In fact I saw that you stress this topic a lot in your teaching.   

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 thing. 

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 see it. 

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


Alessandro Arcuri

Read this article in Italian

    Read this article in German





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