Global Bass Online March 2000
The World of Adam Nitti
You know the sort of record I’m talking about.As bass players, we search long and we search hard for albums that feature our bass playin’ heroes. Sometimes some of the greatest ones can go almost unnoticed. Look how well hidden the absolute genius of players like John Paul Jones or John Entwistle has remained for years. Only those listening really closely caught what they had to say.
Today however, the time has never been better to shine, if you have something to say that is truly different. New technology now allows the artist to reach directly into the heart and the whimsy of the listener. The excuse/reason of being lost in the mix no longer exists, so when a bassist decides that now is the time he wants to say something, it had better be something worth saying.
The ‘competition’ is fierce, if you view it as competition, and you’d better. Manring, Wooten, Bailey, Mark King, Dann Glenn and the list goes on. More are added every day, and it ain’t pretty. These guys are Monster Bass Players. As Orin Isaacs says in his interview in this issue, Victor Wooten ‘reset the bar’. To operate in this rarified air you have to all the tools, the drive, the focus and perhaps even a touch of God’s grace. It isn’t about a 1000 notes a second, it isn’t about the slap technique or hammer-ons and all that crap, because that is only technique, and that only holds the interests of the ‘tekky’ for so long. “Tekky’s are notoriously fickle too. Even if you outstrip you own record on your next album, someone may have already beaten you to it. Ta-da, you now own 50,000 copies of your own album!
So if you want the listener to play your album more than once or twice, you have to offer more. If you want your listener to do something even more daring, such as buy your next album, you have to take a chance, and make the Big Stretch. You have to work all that technique, all that flash, all that noodling into a format that people can not only digest, but are motivated to return to time and time again. Your music has to say something more than the fact you can slew 10,000 notes into a bar. So what if you can? All that mile a minute speedster stuff has been done already anyway. Why not try something 'new' and put your personal signature, your individual mark in the context of a song, an Actual Song, with a beginning, a middle and an ending? What a great way to express your individuality! That’s right, it has to say something.
It all comes down to the irrefutable fact…You have to have Balance.
'Adam Nitti has this figured out already. His creations are actual songs and not mere platforms for his ego. If he were to choose, he certainly has all the necessary ‘stuff’ to Yngwie Malmsteen you to death…if he should so choose. You would never get a word in again (or a note for that matter), but that’s not Adam’s style. His newest release, Balance, is that perfect amalgamation of technique and taste. But check it out yourself, excerpts from this new CD can be found at our GLOBAL BASS STATION page. No, not now, at the end of this brilliant article!
As well, Adam has a remarkable web site, the URL of which we will display at the end of this article. It contains bass lessons, some great links and tons of fascinating insights into the way Adam thinks and goes about his craft. It will also give you a lesson in humility when you download a few of his wave files.
The worst part of all this is that Adam is not conceited. In fact, if anything, he refuses to call his skills his own, instead referring to his Creator as the Source of all his success. That alone should drive any egomaniac right round the bend. How can you attack or dislike someone who does that craft simply for the love of the craft? And he does it so well! There’s that sense of Balance again!
So, this is part where you meet ADAM NITTI.
GB: Years ago, I recall walking into a music sotee and I full to the teeth with rock star ego. I wasn’t in there to buy a thing, I was in to be ‘seen’. I was in to pick up a bass and impress all the little kiddies. Problem was though, on that Saturday, long ago, someone had already beaten me to it. Actually, it was much worse than that! He was twice the bass player I was and I don’t think he was 14. He was one of the kiddies!
I knew that at that point I had but two choices. Either pack it in, or go home and practice, practice, practice. Twenty-five years later, I still remember that day very clearly. Now however, I realize that it was the day that I learned that we are always just beginning. There will always be someone better than you, and someone who is more of a novice than you.
Needless to say, I no longer view myself as a rock star.
ADAM: That is a healthy attitude actually to take, I think, I don’t know that we truly ever master anything. It’s a situation where we may embark on a particular journey, in a certain direction, but I don’t think we ever truly ‘get there’ on this earth. You can make marks on people and they can be impressed with how far you’ve gone in a certain area. I kinda say the same thing, I’m always learning, I’m still a student. The only thing I am not a student on is experiences that have already past.
These were your experiences?
ADAM: Yeah, exactly. Everything else is a work in progress.
One of the things that I noticed when I went to you BassLesson.com site is that when you write, you do it in an inclusive fashion. You write it such that you will say “I have made these mistakes”, or “this obstacle has affected me”, and “maybe what I am talking to you about today as a student I will take back to my own playing”. It provides a very nurturing ‘we’re all in this together’ learning area. It is also very rare.
ADAM: I appreciate you saying that.
Now some of these questions are a bit sophomoric, they have to be to set up a picture of what Adam Nitti is about. Am I right in saying you started playing bass when you were around 10?
ADAM: Actually 14, that was when I really ‘officially’ took it up. I was playing classical piano before that.
Was that your idea, or Mom’s and Dad’s?
ADAM: Ah, that was Mom’s and Dad’s. I think I started that between the ages of 9 and 10. That grew eventually into something that I despised because well, you know, it’s the classic story about your parents making you go to piano lessons. When you’re young and you’re just starting to listen to Rock `n Roll, and you just don’t see any relevance between Classical Music and what you are interested in.
I really wished now that they had forced me to continue doing that stuff, because I was pretty accomplished for my age. I kinda threw away all concern for that, because I wanted to do the ‘rock thing’. But they did kinda help me bridge the gap and allowed me to hold onto the keyboard elements by being nice enough to buy me a synthesizer. When I got the synth I thought ‘Oh neat, here’s an application to show what I know, and here’s how I can use whatever keyboard chops I have to play these songs I like’. Of course, back then it was all about playing cover tunes. One of the bands I played with, with all my best friends, lost a bass player because he wanted to switch to guitar, so I say ‘Hey, let me try that out, I’ll do both!” I did that for a couple of years, but by then I had grown to love the bass so much that that became my main instrument and keyboards become secondary. Although I still do 90% of my composition on keyboard.
Considering your level of expertise in chordal work on the bass, why not compose on bass?
ADAM: Yeah, I can easily compose on bass, but I find that what comes out is very different from the way I compose on keys.
It shapes the way the song develops?
ADAM: Definitely, and this is getting away from me being a bassist, but as a composer or writer, I don’t like to be steered too much by what I want to put in a song on bass. I would rather it evolve as the piece of work that it was intended to be. I don’t want it distracted or tainted by what I feel will be a great bass line. It’s a form of discipline, I think.
It is a discipline, but it might also be misconstrued by some, and put some bassists up in arms, in that you seem to view the use of piano as a clear window to creativity, and the bass as a filter, so to speak.
ADAM: That’s an interesting way to put it. The way I think about it really is that harmonically I think that everybody should just try to pick up a little piano. (Editor’s Note: A grand piano if you’re really in shape?)
It’s one of the most powerful instruments, and one of the greatest instruments to go about for improving on others as well. Because first of all, you’ve got the concepts of independence (of both hands and feet), you’ve got the concept of harmony and melody all built into one thing, you’ve got the reading of keyboard instrument music, which is a more challenging task. You can do arrangements on piano using the huge range of octaves. From bottom to top. To really audition parts and try out where different instruments may lay in a certain piece of music.
You’re saying it might be easier for you to create a horn line and identify where it will fit in the big picture on the piano?
ADAM: Exactly, so that’s it. I am not saying piano is better, but for me compositionally, I think it allows me to concentrate on the song as a whole as opposed to from my role as the bass player. If somebody hires me to play bass on something that is very different, of course, I have to think, ‘how can I retain my personality and still satisfy the needs of the song?’ And that’s my attitude. When I am writing for me, it’s different. I want the song to be first.
When I sent out multiple e-mails all over the world announcing this new magazine, one of the most vehement responses I received was from a gentlemen who said that if we were to do this, we should do it right. His version of ‘right’ was to only talk to the traditionalists, only the Rhythm Enforcers that held down the 4/4. A lot of people feel that is the only true role for a bass player, and in light of that might find that you stray a bit out of that arena perhaps a bit too much for their liking. It’s a touchy area. It always will be.
ADAM: Well, this is a topic we could discuss for an hour alone. My perspective on that, and I would never want to offend anyone, but what I find is, this is partly the media’s fault, if we have to point blame at anybody. But people always have choices, all the time. I can definitely identify with this argument, because I’ve been on both sides. I understand where people are coming from.
Here’s the problem…you’ve got people like Victor Wooten; people like him who are in that class of technical brilliance and excellence. And they are flashy, let’s face it. Even though, and I know this for a fact, Victor has paid his dues, he knows how to lay back, he knows all those things. His name has mostly been built on his flash. And that’s not his fault, that’s just the way the media has perceived and portrayed him.
What has happened is, guys like him, like Billy Sheeham used to catch so much heat about his playing, and the fact is that Billy Sheehan helped to change bass playing, I’d put him in the same class of influence in bass history as Jaco. Yeah there may not be as many people who necessarily follow in his (Billy Sheehan) footsteps if you were gonna run the numbers, but he still made such an impact and he got just so much heat. It was like ‘Oh this guy might as well be a guitar player!’
It was still the fact that he had treaded on undiscovered territory. What I’ve found is that the longer I play, and stop me if I start babbling, because I have A LOT to say about this… I think that what has happened is that guys like that have been pushed to the forefront of the media because that’s what sells magazines. The kids, the numbers say, that the kids that listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus, those are the kids that buy records, those are the kids that buy magazines. Those are the ones engaged in this…I’m not gonna call it idol worship, because they sincerely appreciate the player and they love what they’re doing. And so they’re following them.
And the magazine subscription department follows the kids!
ADAM: And then you get the working class guy, who never intended to work hours every day on the ‘flash’ stuff, they’re paying their bills playing bass, and they’re doing what the bass was originally intended for. No problem. But I think that guys have gotten so bitter about the fame and I’m not gonna say fortune, because even guys like Victor are not rich by Hollywood standards. They’ve gotten so jaded by that, that suddenly they turned their cheek, and it’s exactly like what you’re saying, it’s like you run into this vehement opposition to what’s going on.
Unfortunately, there have been some figures in the bass media that I feel have delivered mixed messages. The whole topic of what are and what aren't considered important facets of bass playing have become quite confusing. Players are heralded for their technical prowess or pyrotechnic soloing ability and then put on the covers of magazines. The aspiring player is influenced by this and feels he/she needs to be flashy to be a good player. Then you open these magazines, and you have players in positions of influence bassically downplaying these things in print and dismissing the value of the technical or melodic, altogether. These players' intentions are positive, but when they speak in extremes, I think sometimes they forget just how influential they are. Impressionable students adopt these extreme philosophies and then dismiss the pursuit of particular skills that could make them much better players. Obviously, the truth lies somewhere in between. Established players and teachers in my opinion, have a responsibility to encourage practical pursuits and valid approaches to becoming a solid player; but at the same time they also have a responsibility to encourage players to strive for excellence in all areas of their playing and to be as open minded as they can. No single player or group of players has the 'best' approach. You've got to 'be a sponge' and soak up everything possible that will help you grow musically and spiritually.
Sounds like Elitism wanting to rear its ugly head. It appears everywhere in human nature. If I have something you value, you can’t have it, because it makes me valuable.
ADAM: It’s horrible. And then there’s guys and I’ll include myself in this too, because I’ve experienced this. When I go to do my bass clinics, when I fly out to a region I haven’t been to before; people’s first impression begin with what they’re hearing from me on stage. And that I have learned the hard way, particularly when people aren’t as familiar with your name. Here you are, being presented by whatever company or whatever store, being presented to the bass playing public, as a person who supposed to have earned this ability to go and do these seminars and clinics.
The minute someone doesn't know who you are and they see you’re face on the promo and they go to your clinic, I call them ‘arm folders’ (Laughs). They’re the type who stand in the back and very discriminating and they’re not sure what they’re gonna think of you yet, but they sure will have problem slamming you if they have a any difficulty figuring out where you stand right away. If you go out to those things and you don’t win those people’s respect early on, then you have lost the whole crowd.
Is that a tension you still feel whenever you do these clinics?
ADAM: Well, the reason I don’t ever worry about that stuff is I thank God for bringing me to a place with self confidence where I am not concerned with that anymore. But being a businessman also, I know that I have to do two things. Clinics are two-fold. My clinics are both to entertain and to educate. If the entertainment factor is gone, it becomes a ‘yawner’. It won’t be because what I am saying isn’t interesting, it’s because, as I said, the peoples attention has not been captured.
When I do these things, whether it is a clinic or a performance, early on I have to make sure that I win that respect. Unfortunately, the thing that ALWAYS wins in that sort of situation, is the flash. It’s not my choice, but that’s what you have to do sometimes. You have to kinda realize that if you don’t have their respect, they are not gonna take you as seriously.
It’s a fine line that I have to walk. You’ve gotta do enough to keep peoples attention, but you’ve gotta tell the people at the clinic…“Look, 90% of what you’re seeing today is not the stuff I use to pay my bills”. I am lucky enough to be able to share this with people on my records, but when I get called to do an HBO commercial I am strictly riding the pocket, doing almost nothing but roots. With a tone that is sometimes almost inaudible, because I have a responsibility to HBO or whoever else has hired me.
Do you use a once a day or once a week discipline for writing? Once every day, once a week or something like that?
Some use that method with method being the operative word. They set aside time, book reservations with co-writers, and they just DO IT!
ADAM: I have a lot of respect for those people, but I just don’t work that way!
Who found whom? Curbow or you? (Curbow is a custom luthier producing world class instruments and Adam endorses them.)
ADAM: The Curbow thing, the situation was that I was playing another manufacturers basses. I was using those, and a friend of mine was working in a music store. I stopped by and Greg Curbow was there peddling his wares, and this guy (who’s now the guitarist for Sheryl Crow, of all things!), he called me and says, “Man, you gotta come down here and see his stuff. It’s nice stuff.”
So I drove down there on my lunch hour, I still had a day gig, met this guy, and thought his stuff was incredible. But none of his stuff really fit me, or felt really comfortable. Little things like string spacing or body size, or whatever. I kept his card, and he heard me play some. We established a bit of mutual respect that day. I was really ready to pursue more of a relationship with the other company that I already had a few instruments from already. But their attention was steering more towards mass production, because that’s where their money was being made. They had enough on their plate with just that. I was offering to play for them at NAMM shows, but that never panned out.
Yeah if they can’t keep up with production anyway, and you did clinics for them, then you would sell more product for them, and they would even be more screwed! What a conundrum!
ADAM: (Laughs) Right, exactly! So, once I realized that that company couldn’t do the extra promo on the basses, I don’t know, after one day, I decided 'why not try to cultivate something a bit more expansive’. So I called up Curbow and we had a long conversation. And we shared a lot of the same visions of growing with other. He’s a very small company too.
He also has the time for you, the attention, and the right attitude?
ADAM: Yeah, so I had a few basses built on specs that I had provided and although that particular arrangement with him is a non-exclusive one, it’s a lot more waxed than loose, it’s still been one that has been real nice. I’ve been able to sell a lot of basses for him, and he’s done a lot of nice work on my instruments for me.
Bass -wise, what do you have and use?
ADAM: Now, actually, I recently did some spring-cleaning. How I have the fretted and fretless 6 strings, plus I have one five string which is his Retro Model. I’m figuring out right now what I am going to do next. I’m also a Yamaha artist. There’s some talk about a custom instrument with them.
Like Gary Willis has done?
ADAM: No not a signature model, necessarily. What had kept me from working with them in the past was that they really didn’t have anything that fit me. All my Curbows are my main basses, then for other studio work, I’ve got some other things…a Yamaha, an old Fender and a G & L.
Was the use of the Jazz bass brought from your appreciation of Geddy Lee (who also used them for a period of time).
ADAM: Actually, it was more at that time because of Marcus Miller. But Geddy at that time was a huge influence, that’s for sure. Also Geddy used the Rickenbacker, so I went out and bought a white 4001.
Where you able to get anywhere near ‘that sound’?
ADAM: No, it was never quite the same.
Of course, here’s the part where we come to how you set up your sound. You use Curbows, but how about your amp configuration and speaker combo? Your sound is a clear and distinct top and bottom end. Do you opt for the ‘happy face’ EQ?
ADAM: Well, not in the literal sense. The bass reacts that way. I use an SWR pre-amp. For “BALANCE’, most of what I did was I ran through my pre-amp section of my SM 900 and out of that and into the board. Since then, I’ve gotten an SWR Interstellar Overdrive Pre Amp and that has now completely replaced the pre-amp section of my SM 900. I just use the 900 for power. The Interstellar Overdrive is an amazing amazing piece! It’s the coolest thing they make. But not many people know about it yet.
As to the cabinets you use, still SWR's, but a 4 by 10 and a 2 by 10. Why only 10's and not some variation including 12's, 15's or 18's?
ADAM: The 10’s react faster to transients than the larger speaker. It’s actually a fallacy that 10’s do not have the bottom end. The physics of it from what I’ve learned through my experience at gigs, is that when you are adding up the surface areas of all the speakers, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s 8’s, 10’s, or 15’s, it’s the TOTAL surface area that matters. The thing about 10 inch speakers that I find is so great is like, when you listen to a cabinet like a GOLIATH 3 and the way it’s ported. You can get really slamming slamming low end out of it. But what is beautiful about that is that if you get farther than 10 feet from the cabinet, YOU CAN STILL HEAR IT!
In the past, I have experimented a lot with bi-amping. I’ve used a 2 x 10 along with an 18. At high volumes, and I was using a lot of power, it was a great sounding system. But when I stepped away from my rig I didn’t hear any low end any more (Editor’s Note: See article by David King in the issue addressing the same points).
That was kinda the last straw for me. I said from now on I’m just gonna go with full range cabinets, and regardless of how I would play, or how I’d place them, I would still have the same thing coming out of both cabinets. That’s kinda where I have arrived. Over the years as well, the SWR Goliath cabinets have really improved. The ‘3’s have a lot better bottom end response than the ‘2’s and the ‘1’s.
My favorite thing about the SWR stuff is that when you plug into it and set all the controls perfectly flat it sounds like your bass. There’s a lot of other rigs out there that when you plug in, they are so colored that you have to EQ the rig to get it back to where you actually hear your bass. I figure if you spend a lot of money on a bass and a lot of time listening to a bass because of the way it sounds, why not start there. It’s what you do in the studio. That’s what I like about SWR’s stuff.
This would account in some cases as to why a live band seldom if ever sounds like they do in the studio.
ADAM: Yeah, exactly!
You use a term called ‘thumb trailing’. Is this anything reminiscent of Al DiMeola using the heel of his right hand to mute the strings, persuading them into a more percussive voicing?
ADAM: If I understand what you are talking about with him, that’s more of a technique to achieve a particular sound, whereas Thumb Trailing for me is more of a theme for my right hand that allows me to always keep things clean and muted.
In turn not having all these strings resonating? Particularly with a 6 string bass!
Where you intimidated by 6 string when you first moved to it?
ADAM: The Big Intimidation was moving to five! The transition from 4 to 5 was a nightmare. Moving to the 6 was cake compared to that. I was pretty confident with my technique on the four string at that time, but when I got a 5 string, it was like starting over. My low string reference, which was my anchor, had completely moved! It was completely different. That really threw for a loop! That’s when I had to reinvent my approach technically. Once that was taken care off, 5 to 6 was easy for two reasons. One, I had developed this Thumb Trailing thing going for me, and I had the same low string. My point of reference as an anchor was intact; it was still in the same location.
For you it was just a 5 string plus.
ADAM: Exactly, and you know, that’s how I thought about it at the very beginning. My opinion is that the best all round bass, is a 5 string. As you know, most of the time, we’re not called upon to be chord comping people or soloists, so if I have a gig that is not my own original stuff, if I’m doing a side man kind of thing, or a session, the 5 string is usually the one I reach for first. I think that there you have the most range. When I do clinics or I perform, if I’m playing fusion gigs where I know I am going to have more of a lead role in addition to my usual supportive one, than of course I bring the 6 string. The 6 is what my sound is defined by. But in the philosophy of things, I believe the 5 string is the best all round bass. I am amazed in fact, that so many 7 strings have been sold as there have been. That really blows my mind.
I asked him another question, as to where he actually met Victor Wooten. He thought and thought about it, and it seemed to take forever to answer. On and on the time went, and suddenly the line went dead. I called Adam back and couldn’t get through. After about 6 tries, he picks up the phone and says. “Warren, is that you? Hey, what happened?”
I said that I thought he was just being really pensive and thoughtful about his answer until the line went dead. He laughs and said he though I was doing the same thing! Then he said that the line just went dead, and he thought, ‘Was it something I said?’ We mutually agreed we had just experienced weirdness, laughed and decided to move on.
ADAM: I didn’t ever hear a click, it went utterly silent.
I know, I asked you about when you had met Victor, and I thought, ‘should I say to Adam it’s not really important where he met Victor?’
So did you ever have an answer? Did you ever find out where you met Victor Wooten?!?!
ADAM: To the best of my recollection we both met initially from concerts and maybe got to know each other better at NAMM shows. Over time I got to know him a little better to where I could ask him if he would be into playing a track. We’ve remained friends since.
When I speak to various artists, they often describe ‘maturity’ as learning to play fewer notes. How do you feel about that? And where do you feel you ultimately fit in the big picture?
ADAM: Well let me specific about that. For me, it was more of a thing of where I had practiced so much of the flash that I neglected to pay attention to the other stuff. So I was kinda trying to run before I could walk. So once maturity started to take it’s toll, (although I don’t know if I’ve reached any form of maturity at this point), it was more of a thing of getting fired from a few things and understanding why. I realize that I should have been spending more time on those things. I still had full intention upon keeping what I had worked so hard to develop over the years, but I had to direct my practice and my studies back to where I was able to communicate on a more straightforward musical level. A more roots oriented level with respect towards music.
Well, what do you know, there’s that balance thing again !
You can check out Adams site and bass lessons at…
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