Interview - Roberto Occhipinti

Roberto Occhipinti

Roberto Occhipinti has performed and recorded with a range of artists such as jazz legends Sam Rivers,Tito Puente,Jane Bunnett , popular music with Gorillaz,Andrea Bocelli, world music with Afel Bocoum and Jamey Haddad, and contemporary usic with Steve Reich,Tan Dun and Elliott Carter. He has recorded 4 critical acclaimed discs of his own music for Alma /Universal and has produced albums for Hilario Duran, Dave Young, The Gryphon Trio, Michael Occhipinti and Bass Virtuoso Joel Quarrington. He continues to perform across Canada and internationally. He was artistic director for the Pan Am 2015 Music of the America's project with pianist Danilo Perez. Current projects include performances with Uri Caine and as a member of Under One Sky, a Global Jazz ensemble led by Jamey Haddad.

What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?

Try to keep learning, Follow you own curiosity and always respect every musical genre, whether you like it or understand it. Music is a very precious and personal expression, it's what makes us human and it can be hard to accept that  other people don't like what you like and vice versa. You can't like everything  but do try and keep an open mind. The same thing applies to versatility. Respect the genre enough, work at it and you will become a versatile  musician, but only if it really interests you.

If you are doing it for the money , but not really liking it, don't complain, do something else and let someone who really does like do it instead.

You can't fake the funk, pretend to swing , express a melody like an opera singer , if you don't really like the music itself.
Same goes for Classical, Punk, Reggae, world or whatever else  kind of music you come across.

There is also no shame in devoting your self to one kind of music either , if that's what you really want to do. I've done a lot of different music over the years and when I get tired or bored (short attention span) I move on to something else, but my main focus and  underlying interest has always been playing jazz, whatever that is.

What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?

A hard choice to make , as the bass is a social instrument and there are so many great records to hear a bass functioning as part of a group so I'll limit this to some bass Soloists  and ask that people check out who influenced them.

    1.    Jaco Pastorius-Solo
    2.    Bill Evans, Live at the Village Vanguard with Scott Lafaro
    3.    Joel Quarrington's Garden Scene

Can you share some practice ideas? What should aspiring bassists focus on? What worked/works for you? I realize this is a very broad question that varies with individuals' needs, but I'm looking for some general ideas, and in particular what worked for you.

John Patitucci has a great line: “The 2 non-negotiables for a bass player are great time and great pitch" and those are  the 2 things I'm constantly working on. The best thing to take care of the pitch aspect is a bow.

I practice with the bow to really be honest about intonation and as a side benefit , a fluid left hand and some deep work on sound. I highly recommend my friend Joel Quarrington's new book  The Canadian Bass technique for one of the most insightful and practical method I know of today.

As for rhythm, a metronome and a mirror are you friends.   I like to take any scales or exercises i'm practising and do things like displace the beat (not always on purpose)  to make them even more of a challenge ,  so that I can feel the inner beats and subdivisions the way  a drummer does. Mike Downes has a great book for working on these things too.  

When you are in control of your time feel, everything becomes so much easier and your basic musicianship can only improve.

Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?

Basically the same answer as I stated earlier. Try and take a scientific approach to whatever you are doing.  Step away to get some perspective ,slow it down and examine the problem, whether it is technical, musical or personal.

Accept the struggle and use it as an opportunity to learn. It's a life long trip and the more that you learn,  you realize how little you really know. The great Cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he kept practising at the age of 92 and he responded " because I feel like i'm making progress !!!"

Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?

Try to have a bass set up that is comfortable and efficient so I trust a really good luthier to help me out on this. For the string bass, I try to have it sound as great as possible without amplification. For that I use a variety of strings but the quest continues. I like Pirazzi strings but I'm using the D'addario  Zyex  right now. I'm a firm believer in getting by with what you can and trying to make them sound good with your hands, especially now when it is tough to travel with your own bass.
I then try to replicate that sound with a realist pickup, a DPA mic and a Grace felix preamp going to a Mark Bass amp if possible.
For the electric bass, I'm old school. I play 62 jazz bass with daddario strings ( cuz they are cheaper) and agin, try to get the  sound from my fingers.

What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?

I'm still  touring with Hilario Duran trio, and my brother Michael's various projects but I'm also going to doing some dates  and recording with Jamey Haddad in a new group and producing some discs for Alexander Brown, Dave Restivo, The Gryphon Trio and Nigerian vocalist, Sonia Aimey.
I'm also on Face book and Twitter.

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