A moment with Michael Manring
Hi Michael, what were the critical aspects of your
musical development (other musicians, specific books, getting to know a standard,
a personal revelation, a certain practice method, etc.) ?
Hi Bruno, thanks to you, three of my grandparents were musicians and there was a lot of music in my house when I was growing up, so I guess it was in my blood. However, there were several experiences I think were seminal in my musical upbringing. The release of album "Woodstock" was an important event for my friends and me. We had started to be interested in rock music, but all the information in the media about the event helped make the music more immediate and present to us. We all got instruments and started playing, and within a few years, music became the central interest in our lives. One essential aspect of Woodstock is that it was a relatively eclectic event, with arts as diverse as Richie Havens, Santana, The Who, Ravi Shankar, Sha Na Na, Sly and the Family Stone, etc. I think perhaps that openness set me on the path of a lifelong passion for all kinds of music. We had an excellent music program at the public high school I attended. That was helpful because those years of my life were difficult personally. I did well in school, but felt lost psychologically and philosophically. The bands at school gave me a kind of focus. After high school I went to Berklee College of Music for an academic year and there I got an excellent grounding in harmony, ear training, orchestration and music theory, as well as a chance to work with many, many different musicians. Shortly after Berklee I met Michael Hedges, who became a very close friend and collaborator. It was wonderful to have someone to share ideas with as we developed our personal approaches to music. Becoming the house bassist at Windham Hill Records was extremely fortunate because it gave me a lot of experience in performing and recording as well as a foothold in the music business. When I lived in New York I had the opportunity to study with Jaco Pastorius and that was a powerful experience, as he was my idol at the time. Bob Read, who produced my first album, "Unusual Weather" was very important in my development, because of his excellent musical skills and straight-forward, no nonsense approach. I was also deeply influenced by my friend, violinist, Darol Anger's fearless musical adventurism. Lots of visual artists, writers, philosophers, architects, choreographers, scientists, spiritual thinkers and filmmakers have had a big impact on me. Perhaps the greatest has been the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. I can think of many more, but perhaps that's enough for now! ·
If I want to go out and buy a CD of yours tomorrow, what do you recommend I listen to ?
I think the best selling of my recordings was the first one, "Unusual Weather," but many people tell me they like "Thonk" the best. My favorite -- the only one I like, really -- is "The Book of Flame."
Are there still musicians that you listen to who give you strength and energy? Could you talk about that ?
Yes, absolutely. Many of the musicians who inspire me these days are Indian, such as Mysore Manjunath, Kaushiki Chakraborty, L.Subramaniam, B.C. Manjunath, L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain, Trichy Sankaran, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ali Akbar Kahn, Rajesh Vaidya, U. Srinivas, Shankar Mahadevan, etc. The two forms of Indian Classical music -- Carnatic and Hindustani -- are very profound. They are roughly equivalent in depth to our classical music, but from a very different perspective. I also draw a lot of inspiration from artists I've been listening to for a long time. Some of these are: Morton Feldman, Pete Zeldman, Egberto Gismonti, Gyogy Ligeti, Sergei Babayan, Beethoven, Bill Evans, Paolo Angeli, D. Scarlatti, Harry Partch, Francisco Tárrega, Isaac Albéniz, Stravinsky, Henry Kaiser, Murray Perahia, James Brown, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Paul Galbraith, Ted Greene, Chopin, Terry Riley... many wonderful musicians.
Could you tell us something about your recent projets ?
I do a lot of solo shows these days, but I also play regularly with a few bands, including trumpeter Jeff Oster's group and Todd Mosby's New Horizons Ensemble. I have an open-ended duo with percussionist/drummer Christopher Garcia where we work with several other artists in various contexts. Lately we are starting to do some trio work with guitarist Tim Farrell. I also do a lot of session recording. Some recent projects include recordings by Neil Janklow, David DiLullo, Ralph Otteson, Dney Bittencourt, Raphael Groten, Bartosz Hadala and Henry Kaiser. But the big news for me is that I have a new solo bass recording that's almost done. i hope to have it available in a few months.
What basses do you play ?
I've been working with Zon Guitars for a long time. My main instruments are my signature Hyperbass, a fretted VB-4 and a fretless Sonus Elite Special.
Do you have a favorite one or do you practise different instruments according to styles and functions ?
I practice on all three of these regularly, but when I play with other musicians, the one I usually use is the Sonus. It's very good at performing a standard bass function, but is also very flexible and interesting to play.
Is your students musical experiment only with Jazz ?
I work mostly with classical, jazz and Indian music concepts because I find these lend themselves well to intense academic study. But I also enjoy learning about other musics as well, especially ethnic music from around the world.
Do you feel you have made yours keys in your musical journey, a special way to play a chord or chords groups ?
Shortly speaking what were your ways to make technique fade away from freedom of playing ?
Interesting question! Since I was a young man I have reflected on the place we stand in the history of music. In many ways, the progress of Western music can be seen as a process of harmonic development. It's open to discussion, of course, but this is thought to have begun sometime around the 17th century with perhaps a culmination of sorts being reached with the Second Viennese School or maybe in the Postmodern era. In any case, It seems likely that harmonic innovation is a less vital aspect of the current era, and that leaves those of us working today to find new, or at least, personal ways to relate to the harmonic aspect of music. I've developed an approach for myself that involves re-examining tonality in not necessarily pianistic ways. It's very much a work in progress and I won't bore you with the details, but I often summarize it by saying I'm more interested in resonance than harmony. As far as technique goes, I suppose it all comes down to whether you choose to see technique as an end in itself (I don't think that's necessarily as bad a thing as is often assumed) or as the means to some other end. I'm always trying to reach for certain sounds and structures that have deep meaning to me, so for me, the technique is a way to try to get there. If I am able, as you say to "make technique fade away" (thank you for the very kind implication!) I think perhaps it's because I'm always focussed on those more conceptual/emotional aspects of music.
Could you describe a typical week in your life (your interactions with other musicians, your courses, rehearsals, practice) ?
I don't think there's such a thing as a typical week for me! I work with a lot of different artists as well as by myself, so at any point in the year I could be home doing remote session recording, teaching privately or composing; I could be anywhere in the world playing shows as a sideman, a collaborator or by myself; I could be teaching a workshop or at a festival or in a studio; the genre I'm working in could be New Age, jazz, fusion, folk, avant garde, rock, chamber, funk or unclassifiable!
What is your preferred ensemble the trio or the quartet? Do you think a certain ensemble works best or does it depend on your mood ?
I would say it depends on my mood. I apologize if this sounds self-centered, but playing solo might be my favorite, simply because solo bass is not something that's been done very much, so I sometimes feel I might have something worthwhile to contribute. But I love having the opportunity to play with all kinds of ensembles.
Along the same line, do you have a favorite tempo? What keys do you like to play in?
I have no favorite keys or tempos. i like to mix it up!
Do you consider bass as a rhythm instrument or do you also find appeal in freeform soloing and chord-playing ?
Yes! The wonderful thing to me about bass is that it is both those things and many more. I've never been able to understand when bassists argue about what "role" the instrument should or shouldn't take. For me, what makes it thrilling is ALL the roles it can play.
Where do you think Coltranes experiment with two basses in one band could lead music?
I love playing with other bassists like you Bruno and I'm not sure why it's still rare for more than one bassist to be in a group. In my opinion, the character of the musicians in an ensemble is more important than what instrument they play. I was inspired to read how Duke Ellington composed with this philosophy.
What advice would you give to young musicians reading this ?
The music business has changed radically in the last 25 years or so and, sadly, I believe it's a more precarious profession than it used to be. I would hope everyone has the chance to participate in what I think can only be called the miracle of music, but unfortunately, I can't in good conscience recommend it as a single career path as i used to feel comfortable doing some years ago. But, as I say, I hope everyone has the chance to make music part of their lives and and my advice is listen deeply and broadly and to understand that music is deeply integral to who we are.
Do you think the internet can provide a forum for a musical counter-culture or open new possibilities for musicians, or do you think the web will alienate us even more ?
It's a wonderful, vital question and I think the answer is both! It would be hard to overstate the impact information technology has had on the world and on music in particular. I can say that my personal growth has been deeply enriched by access to the tools available to us now, but there's no doubt there is a down side that may be equally great. Now, more than ever, each of us must choose the place we want music to occupy in our lives and what the future of music will be.
Without getting into a deeply philosophical debate, do you think musicians have something to say about the worlds troubles: global warming, conflicts, economic struggles ?
Another wonderful question! It's only my personal point-of-view, but I have always seen art as absolutely vital and intertwined with society. To me, the arts are perhaps the most powerful way we have of processing ideas and emotions, and I believe concepts that shape history almost always find their first formations in art. For us musicians, since we're working in what some refer to as the most abstract art form (we could have a long discussion about this!), it can be tempting to veer into more literal ways of confronting problems in society. This is sometimes effective, but in my opinion, it's important for us not to underestimate the power of music in itself, even when it may seem hopelessly vague. As human beings we are driven much more by subconscious or semi-conscious processes than we normally assume. Music offers a way of speaking directly to these inner selves that ultimately govern and control the progress of the world. ·
This is a wonderful time! Thank you Bruno
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