Global Bass Online October 2001
“A New Vision and a New Heart”
To many fans of
adventurous jazz music and more specifically, it’s low end portions, Dominique
DiPiazza is looked upon as having turned in the greatest one-off performance in
electric bass history, his virtuoso turn on John McLaughlin’s Que
Allegria. Recorded in 1991 and released in the Spring of 1992, it
contained, literally at its center (track 5 of 10 of the CD, or, if you were a
cassette holdout, the ending of side one) what was, up until that point, (ok,
excepting Jaco’s recorded output) arguably the quintessential two minutes in
the instrument’s short history- the neo-classical display of technical
mastery, lyricism, and emotion- “Marie”. The remainder of the album
highlighted Dominique’s contributions very strongly, including the title cut,
which featured a melody doubled on bass and a long, astoundingly fluid solo
section for Dominique. Successive world tours followed with the trio, a format
McLaughlin has revisited throughout his career with resident trio percussionist
Trilok Gurtu and a dizzying array of star bassists, beginning with Jeff Berlin,
who was in turn succeeded by Jonas Hellborg, Kai Eckhardt and finally Dominique.
John moved on to the next
thing, while fans the world over waited patiently, but expectantly, for
Dominique’s next offering. None came. After a period of a couple years,
whether you were a player, or an intense follower of the scene in magazines or
via the internet, you noticed the question starting to pop up, consistently, and
repeatedly, “Does anyone out there know what happened to Dominique DiPiazza?”
Not a person I spoke to
did, until last year. Matt Garrison, John’s last bass player (in the Heart of
Things project), who I had the pleasure of interviewing for this site, knew. He
told me what Dominique had been up to, and that indeed, he was still playing
music, and strongly encouraged me to follow up. Matt, who is a walking personal
rolodex of virtuoso musos the world over, kindly gave me an email
address, one of those old numerical ones, which never panned out. Finally, early
this year, news came that Dominique was visiting the west coast, which led to a
mysterious French cell phone number, which got me a correct email address.
Success! Unfortunately, Dominique was out west for a period of only a few days
before his return to France, and did not return to the states until this June.
The opportunity to actually make face-to-face contact would mean an impossible
road trip, so emissaries were put in place to do the work for me.
Hence, the following list
of “Thank Yous” to all who made this happen, starting with Matt, (who would
have done the whole thing himself if he weren’t on the road with Herbie) who
basically hooked me up with the following folks. We’ll start with San
Diego’s John DiMaggio of Bass Alone (www.bassalone.com), and move back east to
the Bass Collective
and Warren Brown of the collective proshop
who generously coordinated and donated playing space for Dominique and young
phenom (he’s 22) Janek Gwizdala
an incredible bassist in his own right, who initially agreed to ask all my
questions, but displayed the mind-blowing maturity and good sense to just to sit
and play with Dominque. This segues nicely into the final acknowledgement,
Dominic Chiaverini, (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dominique’s good friend and fellow
bassist, who did the meat of the work on this one, methodically asking all my
questions and adding a few more of his own for good measure, providing the
source tape for this interview.
So here’s the
revelation, which will be explained more below. After the tours with
Mclaughlin’s trio, while utterly at the very top of his game, Dominique elected
to leave the music world for a period of time. It turned out to be seven years,
during the first four which he did not touch an instrument! The positive,
uplifting part of the story, is that he did so out of personal choice,
not because we lost him to some tragic, yet, all-too-common, diversions of the
jazz life, such as drug or alcohol addiction, or domestic family strife. Nor did
the jazz world lose him due to the harsh realities of the music biz -
increasingly unresponsive and unenthusiastic towards prodigious instrumental
music. No folks, Dominique left music to become a Pastor, which he is today, at
a church in southern France. He conducts bible studies, plays music in church
weekly (or more often), and with his church, focuses on work with orphans
throughout the world. Family and his duties as a pastor are preeminent, with
music coming next, which is the way he wants it- how refreshing is that?
Dominique summarized his thought process regarding this shift profoundly and
succinctly earlier this year, on the excellent French jazz site Jazzbreak, with
the following exchange:
you have stopped music for about 7 years, to turn yourself toward religion...
what motivated you to start playing again?”
Dominique DiPiazza: "First, I would like to say that I did not turn myself toward religion, but toward God... It is not easy to explain in a few words why I came back, because I would have to also explain why I stopped... but it was the time. There is a time for each thing, like the Bible says, and it was the time for me to stop, to dedicate myself a little to the writings - now it is true that I am also a Pastor, so I have two activities - and it was the time, in my walk with God, to start again, with, of course, a new vision and a new heart.”
He picked up the
instrument again in 1997, an effort which has recently resulted in, believe it
or not, the release of one of last year’s top fusion CD’s, as evidenced by
it’s capturing the equivalent of a grammy in France.Front Page (CD
Emarcy/Universal 549045-2) consisits of the dream power trio of Bireli Lagrene
(guitar), Dennis Chambers (drums) and Dominique on bass, and includes a guest
appearance by McLaughlin himself. Contributing to Dominique’s cloak of mystery
in America, this cd is only available as am import, with the two best sources
being Audiophile Imports (www.audiophileimports.com) and Amazon’s French
version. Dominique was light years ahead of his time, anyway, so it comes as no
surprise that his playing hasn’t missed a step. The funny thing is, Dominique
is emphatic that his playing has improved since the release of Front
Page, and I wouldn’t doubt it- as Janek said to me, the day after playing with
Dominique, “He is executing things on the bass I did not believe were possible”.
One request to all reading
along. When reading Dominique’s replies, keep in mind he speaks more than a
few languages very well, and speaks English with the classic French accent, but
deliberately. Somehow this contributed to, for me, making the interview all that
much more profound.
AAJ: From my experience
in this country, anyway, most people think you appeared on only one release
“Que Allegria” by John McLaughlin. Every year, every month, on the “Bottom
Line” a bass players forum, or “One Word” John McLaughlin e- digest, or on
“Fusenet”, the fusion lovers digest, people ask, “What happened to
Dominique?” You most definitely captured the interest and imagination of the
fusion and bass lovers community with only that one release, and it has lasted
for the intervening ten years. How does that make you feel, that so many people
have so enjoyed and been so influenced by that single release?
Of course, it is a great
honor. To take myself back to that time, of course, I was extremely happy, as
every musician is when they work extremely hard to make something happen-and you
have a kind of acknowledgement. So, of course you are happy for the great
encouragement. But now, I have a totally different view of it.
AAJ: We will eventually
get to the beginning, but please indulge me for a moment by telling the fans and
readers about your seeming “disappearance” from the music world. At any time
during your hiatus did you quit playing music altogether?
Yes, I quit the music
“business” for seven years. I did not play at all for the first four -I did
not touch an instrument. I sold everything… no musique! I left to
pursue the study of God, the study of religion, and am now an Associate Pastor.
AAJ: To precede the
questions around what happened, perhaps you can first enlighten us as to what
that deep religious commitment means to your music, during the periods preceding
your decision to leave music, and now, subsequent to it. Certainly, your past
playing reflects a commitment to the musical craft and a burning spirit within.
Has the intensely spiritual period, coupled with your “musical sabbatical”
accentuated the music?
Of course, because, in a
way, I rested. Since I did not play for so long I rested my ears. Now, I am more
AAJ: Does this concept
of this “devotion” to the Lord and to being a pastor carry over into the
compositional realm and how you approach music now?
In a sense, yes…in a
sense. I can break it down into two sections. The instrumental part is what it
is, eh…but when I write songs- for instance I am going to do a record in
Europe with a French singer- I am thinking about God or the Bible or the grace
of God, or look there for inspiration. But when I play, when I improvise,
I just play. For instance, I have a repertoire I play on guitar, that I
play at church. When I play hymns or spiritual songs, of course-this music was
created to make you sing and lift up your spirit and help you to sing about God.
So there’s Christian music and then there is jazz...they are totally
different. But still- my playing is the same, only my heart is
different. Another major change is that maybe I have returned to or
reinvestigated the more melodic approach, with more conventional harmonies, like
I practiced when I first started playing. I do not like music that is too
aggressive or too altered sounding. Through the years, more aggressive or
altered sounds found their way into my music and playing, but now I have gone
back to the source; melodies, harmonies with a sweeter resolve...you know...not
as heavy, lighter rhythmically, more syncopated and quick feel-wise.
AAJ: How do you, or any
musician, hope to evoke religious (or any) imagery or feeling into the music? Or
does this even enter your mind when composing?
When there are no words or
no lyrics, there is no message, per se. You can say whatever you want. As
always, I can play a tune for one person and it will evoke something totally
different than in the next. That’s the great part… not a problem.
To get specific with
religious thoughts, you have to have the words, I think. I got saved by
listening to lyrics coming from the word of God. One has to go the words, the
text, for that. But the music helped me to listen to the words-the message- and
it helps others. When Jesus came, he did not play harp-or guitar or bass-just
the words. Ah, that is a good one (laughs).
AAJ: Your solo project
appeared out of nowhere this year. Did you have this concept and these tunes for
quite a while, now, or is this is something you’ve only worked on relatively
recently? This project sounds like a band project, not like a one CD
Oh yeah. This is a
collaboration. But we had this group back in the early 90’s (91 or 2) at a
festival in France (Agrillon).We were supposed to make a record and do a tour
AAJ: So, who initiated
the current get together, the current Front Page recording and tour?
Honestly, I can say that
the true story is that I received the promise of God that this would happen,
years ago, after the festival appearance, and during my leave from music, when I
was working in a factory. I kept in touch all along with Christian Pegand (www.christianpegand.com)
who is a producer and John (McLaughlin)’s manager. This culminated with one
call, when I said, “I am ready to do a record now”, and he said, “OK!
Tomorrow I will call Dennis and Bireli!” That was it!
AAJ: Tell us about some
of the more memorable moments in the making of the record or the tour.
We recorded in southern
France, not far from where I live. It was all memorable, with 23 dates in
Germany, Czechoslovakia, France, Austria and Belgium. In terms of what the fans
like, I think they really enjoy the part of the show when Bireli comes behind me
and I play walking bass while he plays a solo-all on one bass! And we switch
while he walks and I solo! I enjoyed playing
guitar on the tour, as well. I have been working on guitar again for the last
I really thought our last
gig was the best. It was near
Nice...in a place called Grasse, and John McLaughlin was there. He didn’t
play, but he joined us afterward, and he really enjoyed the show. He seemed very
into it and happy to see me playing once again. He said that it was
“killer!”... for him, at that moment, the best trio around in terms of
In fact a lot of gospel,
Christian music, flamenco and some black gospel music. Black gospel music is
very good music that I had not listened to before. In conjunction with the
flamenco, I have gone back to my first influence, Gypsy music. I was raised in a
Gypsy camp by my second father, Manouche. So Django Reinhardt-type music is a
huge influence. In fact, I will be performing at guitar week in Corsica (www.festival-guitare-patrimonio.com)
-all the gypsy players are there, along with Robben Ford and Paco de Lucia. I
will be performing on bass, solo and guitar, solo…both on Gypsy night. I’ll
be conducting master classes as well. This is the first time that I’ll be
playing publicly on guitar.
In a way I don’t want to
listen to a lot of music or be deeply influenced by it. This all contributes to
keeping fresh. Better to walk in the park and really hear the
birds, you know what I mean?
AAJ: Tell us about your
Most of the time I just
sing melodies and write it on bass or now, on guitar, from there.
AAJ: Are you quite
conversant/knowledgeable in music theory?
I am self-taught and know
theory and chords from ear and from taking stuff off of records and transcribing
by memory...not writing. I had, and still have, my own way to work on that. It
comes from recognizing all the intervals and ear recognition of chords. I am not
a sight reader but I read a little bit, especially on bass clef of course.
AAJ: What about the
availability of your disc? Is it an independent release or on a European label?
Do you know the easiest way to obtain it in the US? Europe? Japan? Who is
responsible for marketing it?
Right now, it’s only
Europe, but I keep hearing it will get a US release. It won the equivalent of a
Grammy in France. To get it now, the internet is the only option in the US.
AAJ: What kind of
recording technology did you use on the date?
I used one track direct
and one track through my Warwick amp head. Very simple. Right to hard disc.
AAJ: Tell us about any
music you already have completed that may have been left off of this recording
for another day and why.
There is plenty more;
hopefully, some of it will get onto a solo album.
AAJ: Any other things
you want people to know about your upcoming solo cd project?
Not much yet, except I
have the musicians in mind, a French piano player and a percussionist that are
unknown in the states, and that it will very likely have some guitar. I tune the
guitar just like the bass, in fourths. I took everything from the bass and
brought it to guitar-and it worked. I always worked on the bass like a guitar
player would have worked on guitar. The only problem playing everything I can
play on bass on the guitar was learning the picking technique.
AAJ: Where can people
look for info on your appearances/schedule?
Right now, all my
appearances are in France. A lot of teaching and master classes. The main gigs
are trio gigs with Louis Winsberg (http://www.louis.winsberg.com,
Winsberg is a monster guitarist and a founding member of French fusion
supergroup Sixun) and Stephane Huchard (Huchard is a …uh, monster
drummer has played with Tania Maria as well as Winsberg and Jean Pierre Como-a
keyboardist also formerly of Sixun).
AAJ: Now back to the
beginning. How old are you and where did you grow up?
I’m 42 and grew up in
AAJ: How did you get
into music? When did you take up music?
My stepfather was a gypsy
and I always listened to gypsy and flamenco music and eastern musics, such as
Indian and oriental music. I originally started to play guitar in 1975 with
African musicians from Cameroon, in Lyon, and played a little bass with a pick.
I picked up a little bit of the African sixteenth note style, and can say that
this is why I really enjoyed what I heard Jaco doing later with sixteenths. It
was that thing that captured me first in the Jaco style. At 19, I heard Jaco and
sold my guitar and decided to work harder on the bass. Before I knew Jaco’s
stuff I could play loads of bebop phrases on guitar. I had a big II-V-I
vocabulary, working on Django, Wes and George Benson lines.
AAJ: Let’s take an
aside here and tell us about how you brought hybrid classical technique to the
bass. Explain your technique, using the thumb and index finger exclusively, to
I am not classically influenced at all and cannot play classical guitar. People think I can do that because of my right hand technique. It’s a coincidence. I heard a lot of incredible music and had a lot of phrases in my head, but did not know how to execute them. I knew that great players used their fingers. I did not realize they played with more than two. It’s something I developed with the phrases in mind, and it has worked for me. After a while the right hand started to influence the left a bit, as well, but I never thought about the technical aspect of the right hand. I wanted it to serve the music. I used to listen to a lot of Coltrane, Charlie Parker, all the greats. To reproduce what I heard, I had to find something.
AAJ: I notice you use
conventional technique for walking lines.
Yes, but now mainly I walk
with the sun (laughs).
AAJ: Who were your
influences as a musician, and more specifically, on bass.
Django, Wes, Jaco, Benson,
some Holdsworth, Paco, of course John (McLaughlin), I listened to a lot of Bill
Evans, and on acoustic bass, Nils Orsted-Pederson.
AAJ: Tell us about
those periods of what you feel, were of most intense growth as a musician.
Honestly, the year between
19 and 20 is when I grew the most, practicing at least 10 hours a day.
AAJ: Ok, then what? I
know you did a recording with pianist Pierre Como of Sixun in 1989, called
Padre. Was this your first recording?
No. We are close friends
and were so at the time we made this record. I knew all the Sixun guys and
played a lot with Paco Sery, their drummer. They are my friends. I have worked
with many other European musicians, including Laurent Cugny, Didier Lockwood,
Michel Petruccciani, Gil Evans and Joe Diorio.
AAJ: I know you did
another cd with Louis Winsberg. Are the Como and Winsberg cds still available?
For the Como cd try
Audiophile Imports or French sites, also www.jazzvalley.com. So
does Louis. The Winsberg CD is still available. It’s called Camino and
Stephane Huchard is on that as well.
AAJ: So, what events
precipitated your joining John McLaughlin?
A guy who was a columnist
enjoyed my playing and asked me for a cassette so that, perhaps, he could give
it to McLaughlin, who he was supposed to interview at the Nice Jazz Festival. It
was a cassette of the trio playing at the Sunset Club in Paris- myself, Louis
Winsberg, with a drummer called Tony Robinson. It had a solo on there I was
really proud of. So, John got it. The story goes that he put it in a basket on
the bus. Evidently, the bus driver was not into jazz and was looking for some
different music to put on. He saw this new cassette, and thinking it was rock
and roll or pop, put it in the deck on the bus, and it started right up on my
killer solo. My number was on the cassette so he phoned me. I thought it was a
joke because he spoke French with an English accent. I thought it was Stephane
Huchard, who had done similar things before. I said, “Oh, you got me, huh?”
Then, I started in as if having a conversation with Stephane, saying, “So,
Stephane did you know we got another call to play somewhere else?”- you know,
something like this. Then John gave me the name of the journalist that gave him
the cassette and it was then I knew-and apologized. John asked me to come meet
him the next day. So I did, but I was afraid, you know, because he was a great
influence. He came to pick me up at the airport and I am thinking to myself,
“Who am I that John Mclaughlin would pick me up at the airport?” (laughs).
So we played at his house. I was very comfortable with upbeat songs like Giant
Steps or a jazz blues. I was young and proud, you know. After a while, he gave
me a 9:8 thing, and I started sweating-then 15:8. I started sweating more
and thought, “This is not going to happen. I lost the thing.”
But in fact, he was not so
beyond that. He judged the potential and gave me six months to work on it,
during which time I worked on my time every day and shedded his recordings.
Finally, I met Trilok and we scheduled a rehearsal, I was sweating...I was so
green. Finally, I got the gig. I could get papers, do the tours, get some money.
We ended up doing around three hundred gigs...world tours.
AAJ: Tell us about what
must have been those two great years with John and Trilok.
Oh, just an honor to work
with them. Learning so much, including endurance and professionalism. Working on
rhythm. John encouraged me to develop my style in the trio idiom, to develop my
chordal playing. You know, great musicians, like they are, help young musicians,
like I was, to really develop their full potential and become what they are,
really. I mean, this is one way to recognize a great musician. McLaughlin asked
me to play solo bass-like “Marie”- it’s because of him I developed this
aspect of playing. I learned how to play a melody and play and feel the notes
and to play tricky hard passages, like unison lines. It was a very happy time
for me, developing as a player and touring around the world-great places, great
venues. But, still, for me, something was missing.
AAJ: What about playing
with some of the top drummers in the world, such as Dennis Chambers, Trilok or
Well, they are all
bringing something different. A challenge that helped me to really keep moving
and to play right on time and to develop rhythmically.
AAJ: Now that you’ve
come back into the jazz world, do you want to keep doing your own projects
(either with Front Page or others) or would you rather play with some other
I don’t know what is
going to happen with the future of Front Page. I know I am going to do a solo
thing. I’m not looking for a leader at this time.
AAJ: What about
I really don’t see this
happening as I am very family oriented. I have a beautiful family-my wife,
Rosita, and a ten year old daughter, Cha-Cha. I also have my duties as an
Associate Pastor. And more importantly, I am not interested, you know. When I
was younger perhaps...but now I do not want to miss...to miss life.
I know that to play
music, you know, fully, you have to pay a price…and most of the time
what I have discovered is that it’s the family that’s the price to
pay...it’s what suffers. I see a lot of people going through divorce,
etc...it’s a choice...it’s a decision.
AAJ: Is there anyone
you haven’t worked with would you most like to?
Keeping what I just said
in mind, I would remain open to something really special. Not being a US citizen
impacts some of this as well, but things are changing in that regard. By and
large, I just don’t think the same way I did ten years ago. I am not looking
for money or to get a name. I just want to enjoy music and earn my living from
it in conjunction with other things. I never wanted to play any pop music,
anyway. I was always a purist in that regard, and now that I am a Christian,
that element of my musical personality is even stronger.
Finally, beyond the names
of people I’d play with, I am more interested in who they are. If there
is one key thing it’s the relationship. I no longer just want to make
music with anybody. Even if it’s a great musician, I need to know who
they are, their very heart.
AAJ: Tell us about any
projects in the pipeline we may not have touched on.
I’d like to get more of a multimedia presentation up on the
web, including interactive lessons. A system where I could offer lessons by
email, for a reasonable price, with mp3’s and music to share. I am also
working on a method book and have interest for an instructional video.
Reprinted with permission from AllAboutJazz.com.
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