Bassist Michael Visceglia – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson…
Who are you, and what do you do?
I am Michael Visceglia, and I knew that I wanted to be a professional bass player from the time I was 13-years-old. My first concert tour came when I joined John Cale’s band, when I was 22. Since then, I’ve performed and/or recorded with: Jorma Kaukonen, Flo and Eddie, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Phoebe Snow, Avril Lavigne, and many others.
I’m currently the bass player in the Tony and Grammy award winning Broadway show ‘Kinky Boots’, and I have also written a book called, ‘A View From the Side’ , which is about the lives of bassists. The book featues interviews with Marcus Miller, Will Lee, Victor Bailey, Tony Levin, Jeff Berlin and several other great contributors to the craft of bass playing. This book will be published and distributed in early 2015.
Who are your primary musical influences?
My musical influences are anything by Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, James Jamerson, Eddie Gomez, Will Lee, Aaron Copland and Maurice Ravel.
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
Over the past year, the music that has had the largest influence on me has been primarily classical music. I find that classical music compels me to focus on exacting execution, melody, and dynamic – which is a universal necessity in allowing music to express the full range of emotions.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
My personal musical voice is very melodic, prinarily. I think of singing as I play. The sound that I love, and strive for, is warm and round. I primarily use Jazz Bass-type bass guitars, and my two main instruments are a Lakland Joe Osborn J Bass, and my all-original 1962 Fender Jazz Bass. I always keep both pickups all the way up to give me that high fidelity warmth that I love.
Describe your musical composition process.
I hardly ever compose by myself. I find that I work best when I have someone to contribute with me, and to bounce ideas off of. I’m a great “music doctor”, in that I can hear where a song needs to go and come up with sections, bridges, and connective material that help realize the piece. I believe more people should compose collaboratively! Too many solo artists (particularly in pop/rock music) have glaring deficiencies in their melodic, harmonic, and lyrical ideas that could be helped through collaboration. My philosophy is “curb egos, and get out of the way, for the sake of the music.”
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
Today’s culture, I believe, is growing more stagnant with each passing year. Great music is being actively marginalized by lowbrow corporate interests and lowest common denominator thought process within pop culture. I like to surround myself with real art when I can control it. In my private time, I feel it’s necessary to constantly be uplifted with great music and art. I listen to jazz, classical, and sophisticated singers, all the time, when I’m alone. I read a lot, and I try to immerse myself in the best that civilization has to offer. I don’t watch television… but do discriminately watch movies. I think it’s critical that we constantly remind ourselves that there is beauty in the world, because most popular culture is decidedly un-beautiful.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
If I wasn’t a professional musician, I think I’d be a writer, actor, or animal activist. I believe that animals are a pure expression of creation and they show us a direct reflection of our humanity. Animals add to our sense of empathy and they can teach us a lot about who we are.
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
The greatest sacrifice I’ve made by being a musician is the realization that I was never able to reconcile parenthood with my itinerant lifestyle. Both my wife and I made a conscious decision not to have children. I don’t regret that choice… But, I do acknowledge that it is a supremely human experience that we’ve put out of our lives.
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
Because I work so much, at so many different things, I don’t have a standing practice routine. But, when I practice, it’s usually a combination of left and right hand exercises. I also spend a great deal of my practice time reading, and playing through chord changes. Regardless of who you are, or where you are in the bass world, the committed player is always improving. Right now, I’m working on improving my slap technique, which is a useful tool to have – as long as it’s not overused.
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
Being a musician, to me, is a very serious calling. As well as the diligent work ethic that’s intrinsically connected to it, it also demands that you are an “open” person, by nature. We need to be open to embracing diversity, not only in music, but also in philosophy and culture. This exploration and openness will definitely make each one of us into a more sympathetic, connected, and loving person. Which, in turn, makes each of us a better musician. Being a musician makes me feel like I have a chance to actually contribute something positive to the world. It gives me the opportunity to leave behind a legacy.
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
Like any language… the language of music should be a natural part of a players skill set. I believe that language is one of the most important aspects to being human. Any spoken language, when not imbued with the importance that it has, can be used to impart distorted or hurtful messages. Great language skills, like poetry, can distill a large amount of human emotions into a few selected words or phrases. Just like spoken languages, musical language is the best way to convey the intent and emotional content of the composer. It is also the only truly universal language that any musician around the world, despite their different spoken language, can communicate with. It is an exacting language and should be taken as seriously as any other part of your musical arsenal.
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
All music, in my opinion, is a reflection of influences that are personal, cultural, political, religious, gender, etc. As such, the best music made is finely tuned to these influences. It takes a sharp eye, and open ear, and an open mind and heart to create beautiful music. Through introspection and study I’m keenly aware of my inner feelings, as well as outer worldly affairs. Great music, as with any fine art, refracts these influences and feelings into a finely focused medium that can universally tap into the seemingly random in order to evoke higher realms of human existence. To me, a great musician has to be aware, either consciously or subconsciously, of this interaction and not be exclusive – but inclusive of all that he or she experiences to use as references in their music making.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
The idea of music being “commercial” is a funny thing to me…! Each generation, and each recording executive, or critic, has their definition of what that means… and they are usually wrong. Commerciality has, apparently, taken the form of imitation. We’ve come to the point where a lot of supposedly commercial music sounds exactly the same. It adheres to previous formulas of popularity and monetary success – to greater or lesser results.
My feeling is that there is too much music in the world today, and it has become a disposable commodity. Anyone literally can make a recording, and social media gives everyone a platform to promote and sell their wares. Whatever is left of the record industry plays a numbers game – where demographic studies (more than artistic substance) define what, and what isn’t, “commercial”.
Mainstream media does nothing to help this situation. TV and radio are just the propaganda arms of the corrupt music industry, in this regard. In my mind, they have it all wrong.
People are now inundated with mediocrity, and record sales are at the lowest point in history. Meanwhile, people are artistically malnourished.
The most commercial projects that I’ve either been involved with, or been made aware of in my life, have always been the most “authentic” ones. The artists with real and true voices, either vocally or instrumentally, are always commercial… and they are the ones who garner fan loyalty, longevity and staying power. Sure, there are celebrity sensations that sell lots of product. But, real artists with unique and authentic voices are always commercial. They might not get the opportunities in the current restricted recording and touring environment… But, that is the fault of the powers that be. Given the right opportunity, true artists will be more commercially viable, percentage wise, than the pop celebrity who has found the lowest common denominator to indulge the masses.