Jake: So it’s more or less an individual approach for each student?
Michael: Absolutely. One of the things I’ve found is that students vary so widely as far as their musical goals are concerned. It’s a little tough, because I always have things that I think they should work on, but it’s hard to really come up with a routine to guide them along as I think they should be, because everybody’s a little bit different. People often come to me with pretty broad goals, pretty serious goals, and I say, well if that’s your goal, here are the things that “I” think you’ll need to help you get there. There’s often a big chunk of stuff that I may present that they weren’t expecting, but again that’s dependent upon the student. I guess that’s more or less my general philosophy of teaching.
Jake: You’ve been very successful in a really tough market —that of the solo bassist. What do you feel are some of your stronger attributes as a musician, as well as a person, that may have helped that success along?
Michael: I think the reason I’ve been able to make a living at this is, well, I have almost no business skills. That being said, I feel I have a very positive attitude, a willingness to go out there and do it regardless of what that may involve, even sometimes when maybe it’s not a good idea to go out there and do it. So if somebody calls me from Guatemala and says hey, can you come out and play a solo gig here, I always seem to say yes. And if somebody’s says hey, can you work with this person, or with that person, I generally try to find a way to do it. And I think that’s really worked for me…wanting to play music, and not having a lot of preconceptions about how things have to be. So it’s allowed me to play in tons of different genres and doing a lot of different things that I’d never thought I’d do. That tended to open doors that I don’t think would have opened up if I wasn’t receptive to everything. A lot of the time I end up opening for the gigs, playing alongside someone I didn’t know about, or someone I didn’t have a strong desire to play with, but I thought I’d give it a try because there’s always the possibility that it could open up some doors to other places. If there’s anything I’ve done that I think has helped me, I think that would be it.
I can mention that at one point, when I was working with Windham Hill records, they used to do these seasonal records around Christmas time. The first one they did was very, very successful, and every year after that they would put out a call to all their players to submit their pieces, and I would always work really hard putting together these amazing bass quartet versions of Bach or something of the like, and they would say that’s very nice, but no thanks. I figured that I could probably do a reasonable job playing the kind of piano that they liked. For the record, I’m not a pianist. I’ve played piano all my life, but I’ve probably never spent more than an hour practicing piano. I have no chops at all, but I understand music, and I can make a pretty sound on the piano. But that is exactly what they wanted, and so on two of these records I played solo piano pieces that I wrote, and I made more money on those pieces than anything else than I’ve ever done. The point being that just trying to stay open, and going, I think I can do that, I can try, has been a way for me to be successful, because god knows I have no sense for being able to say, well, this is the way the business is going and it’s what I need to do, and I need to be really cunning about my business.
Jake: So if I can paraphrase, it’s your openness, musically, that has been the catalyst for a lot of your success.
Michael: I think so. Curiosity often outweighs the fear of embarrassment, because there’s been plenty of that. There have been plenty of times I’ve been on the stage going, oh yeah, I’d rather not be here right now. But that curiosity has always been a driving force for me. I’m continually amazed at how many people aren’t willing to go to things that are available, and easy, and close by, because so often for me it’s been so rewarding to take that step outside of the box and see what’s out there.
Jake: Do you have any plans for a new CD coming up in the near future?
Michael: Yeah, I’ve been desperately trying to find time to do another solo project. The plan I have for it is to be mostly solo bass, but I don’t think I’ll be quite as catholic about it as I was with a lot of other recordings I’ve done. The last one was about getting everything done in one take, which I don’t think I’ll do on this one. I have a lot of pieces already in mind, sort of sketched out, but they need to be cleaned up, and I need to learn to play them, which is always a challenge. It’s hard to find time to do that with all the other stuff I have going on. Generally, I work on my solo stuff during my downtime, when I’m not working on anything else. It’s been kind of nonstop as of late doing session work and touring, and other things in life that take time.
Jake: I would consider being that busy a “good” problem.
Michael: I would too.
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