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The Latin Bass Issue – David Pinto

David Pinto, Afro-Peruvian Musical Roots to the Maximum Expression…

BMM Please share with us a little of your personal background… 

DP My name is David Pinto and I am a Peruvian native best-known for my work as musical director, arranger and bassist with Grammy-winner Susana Baca, Diva of Afro-Peruvian song.  I have toured internationally playing over 800 hundred concerts, including The Kennedy Center and The Hollywood Bowl, Theatre De La Ville (Paris), Royal Festival Hall (London) and more. 

Currently, I reside in the Bay Area, where I produce and lead my own group, Syncopated Colors, as well as Azesu, Ashiqah Beat and Co-lead La Voz del Cajon & El Bajo. I teach at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA and have conducted the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts Latin Youth Ensemble, as well as clinics of Latin music and bass at The Conservatory of Nice, San Francisco State University, and more.

BMM What was your first bass, and did you come by it?

DP It was a German Klyra electric guitar converted roughly into a 4-string bass. As a teenager I started playing rock lead-guitar in my hometown La Perla-Callao. One day the best band in town asked me to join them as a bass player. At first I didn’t accept, but after thinking about improving my skills, on their 2nd invitation, I accepted. One of my new band-mates put bass strings on my electric guitar. Soon after that, my father bought me a real bass.

BMM Tell us about that very first day you had a bass in your hands?

DP My heart was with the guitar for a while more, but I saw the bass as a melodic, monophonic instrument, doing similar riffs like the lead guitar, but in the lower range, of course in a different territory, keeping the time & roots of harmony.

BMM As a bassist born in Latin America, do you find this to be an advantage or disadvantage?

DP It’s an advantage, because we can hear and learn to play the international standards and styles of music (Rock, Jazz, Funk, Reggae, Salsa, etc…), but we have our own tradition that we have been developing and ‘fusioning’ with different foreign styles. 

On the other side, we have a disadvantage when it comes to education, as we don’t have the academic structure to study music as the big countries do.

BMM What are your main musical and bass influences?

DP I’m so lucky to have been born at Callao, the main port of Lima-Peru. 

I started playing rock, as normal teenagers do, but there were so many styles of music around me. The sailors brought the first LPs of Salsa from NY; that’s the reason that in Callao people love Salsa and there are big festivals of this genre every year. Also in my country, there is a lot of Peruvian Creole music of course, and we also hear and play Cuban music; Mexican movies are so popular in Latin America and this is where we first heard performances of great Cuban artists. 

I grew up in this environment and it fed my musical language in my early years. I heard and played music of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, and more of those times. The first LP of Jazz I got was from The Peterson Trio, I became amazed with Ray Brown. After that I was very much moved and inspired by the music of Weather Report (Heavy Weather), with Jaco Pastorius on bass and Peruvian drummer Alex Acuña. Another big influence was The Bill Evans Trio, with the amazing Scott La Faro & Eddie Gomez. Also Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and so many more, the list is big.

BMM How do you define the music style you play?

DP I’m a Latin bass player, who likes to try to play and learn as many styles as possible. 

After my friend Oscar Stagnaro left our country, I took his post as a sideman and session bass player on the more important musical events & recording sessions in my country (first call). This situation taught me to listen carefully, as everything is happening in the magic moment of music; record with click track, develop a good sound and feeling. It’s a hard job, and takes time to get it. 

From Jazz, I love the Interaction; it’s like talking with your band-mates with notes, and you have to respect and support each other. 

On the Afro-Peruvian music style, I’m best know because of my work with Susana Baca. I developed my own special technique, listening to the lower notes (bordoneos).

From the acoustic guitar masters: Vicente Vasquez; Félix Casaverde and Carlos Hayre; The three of them RIP now.

From master Cajon players: Chocolate Algendones, Juan Medrano Cotito, Caitro Soto, Eusebio ‘Pititi’ Sirio. 

BMM How important is reading and studying music theory?

DP You can communicate faster; If you want to build a career as a sidemen and be one of the first called musicians, especially places like here in USA, time is golden, and there is usually no time to rehearse, as you go directly to the gig.

Of course reading and studying music theory is an important tool, but you always have to use your ears and eyes to pay attention to cues. Music is a professional career, sometimes more difficult than others (I studied engineering and can testify to this). 

I learned to play chords on the bass and to hear what is happening harmonically, and see the structure of the song, not only the note that is written. Sometimes it isn’t the root, it could be the third, the fifth, flat five, etc. You have to know this to create bass lines over the chord. Doing this helps you to compose and arrange, of course.

BMM What do you consider the differences that technology and the Internet have made for you as a musician, compared to the previous generations that didn’t have these tools?

DP Before the Internet, I was lucky to have the support of my elder brother Ivan, who came to New York about 40 years ago. He first loved Rock and then Jazz, and was my connection with this country, sending me LPs, CDs, music books, bass magazines, instruments, technology, videos, etc.

I had to listen to the music a lot to lift the chops, analyze them and improve my language.  Now with the Internet, there’s no excuse for me not to study, there are no mysteries. If you study and practice, you play. It isn’t a privilege limited to a few, it’s now open to anybody who wants it.

BMM Tell us about your gear.

DP A 6-string ‘93 Ken Smith with a Roland midi pickup & GI-20 interface; a ’69 Fender customized with a rosewood Jazz bass neck by Mexican Luthier Carlos Carbajal; an old 5-string Ampeg Baby Bass; an acoustic 5-string double-bass, re-designed by myself and Peruvian Luthier Antonio Huamani, with Realist pickup; a Gembri from Morocco, customized by myself & Huamani. I would like to comment on my love for my ‘83 4-string Alembic Spoiler, which was part of my sound for years in so many sessions, so beautiful an instrument that now is lost in Peru; I really miss it.

An F1 500 watt Markbass head, very light and tiny. An old Bag End little cab with 15” speaker. For a long time I used, especially with my Baby Bass, a Fodera 2000 Pre-amp, also an Art Studio V3 tube Pre-Amp.

With my fretless bass I use a multi-effect, an overdrive and EBS octaver. I have used Richard Cocco strings, and now Fodera strings for a long time. 

BMM Who are your favorite Latin American bassists?

DP The fathers of bass: Israel “Cachao” López; Bobby Rodríguez; Eddie Gómez.

Bobby Valentín; Sal Cuevas; Luisão. My close friends: Oscar Stagnaro; Ruben Rodríguez; Carlos & Carlitos del Puerto; Abraham Laboriel, and young, innovative, great players like Igor Saavedra and many others.

BMM Please leave some motivational and encouraging words for the next generation of Latin American bassists.

DP We have a mission to share our culture with the world, the 

richness of our roots, to express where we come from and where we want to go. 

We are influenced by our mixed culture in countries expressed by the Spanish heritage (who actually came blended with the Arabian culture for about 8 centuries), also other countries of the Portuguese heritage, who are also blended. They brought the African culture with their rhythmic approach, mixed with our native ancestors, giving a special and unique flavor to each country. 

Our music needs to stay current with the times, it needs to evolve. A good example of trying to make a new Latin American music is the group Azesu, and his first CD, Music of the Americas, which I am honored to support with the low range. Azesu.com

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