Bassist Mitchell Coleman Jr. – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson…
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Mitchell Coleman Jr, and I am an electric bass player.
Who are your primary musical influences?
At the time I started playing bass, I was greatly influenced by Mark Adams from the funk group Slave. In the beginning, my musical approach could be defined as “unfiltered, take no prisoners funk”.
As I developed, I really got into Marcus Miller – especially after hearing his work on David Sanborn’s,“Straight to the Heart”(1984). I started to hear the music that touched me. I did not have the ear for heavy jazz, and did not know how to approach it. But then there was the collaboration between Miles Davis and Marcus Miller and the gap between jazz, and the funk I enjoy, was bridged and I started to hear a sophistication I did not hear before! Later, I got into Larry Graham (the father of the thump), Stanley Clarke, and Jaco Pastorius messed up all my barely-developed musical theory. Those days confirmed to me that although the musicians I mentioned are great, and can be used as wonderful references… You can only be who you are, and you have to find your own voice.
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
Lately I have been listening to Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul and Steely Dan.
I love the way these great musicians can take something seemingly “straight head”, and take it (musically) sideways – creating mood changes and taking listeners on a magical musical journey.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
I approach each musical situation like a conversation. Like any conversation I am having, there is a time that I will speak and express my thoughts and emotions… depending on the subject. While others are speaking, I am listening, showing interest and providing support.
Describe your musical composition process.
I usually approach the process it in I one of two ways. First, there is a bass line that comes into my head from out of nowhere. That is part of the process that I refer to a “the pregnancy”. This part of composing has to be released as soon as I can get into the recording studio. I refer to the second part of composing as “the sculpture”, and that begins as a drum groove that touches me somehow.
As I listen back, it starts to hint to me the bass line that belongs with it.
The overall process can vary greatly. Once I am satisfied with the foundation, I usually start building chord structures (for idea reference) and later, I’ll bring in keyboardists to add melody and structure. Others will be brought into the process depending on the direction the piece is going. As the composition is being structured there is a lot of listening, adding, and taking away. Finally, when the eyes close and smiles come… it is finished.
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
Growing up as a product of divorced parents… I was alone a lot of the time. So, music became a comforter and friend to me. But, being alone also allowed me to discover and developed my own musical voice.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
I think if I did not have a passion for music… I would be a Counselor!
I would like to help others discover and develop their passions.
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
During my development as a musician, and becoming an adult, you find out that bills have to be paid and your responsibilities have to be met. So, I had to set aside my passions for a while to develop other skills in my life. That sacrifice became a great Blessing for me! I am also an engineer with a great career that allows me to enjoy my passion for music to the full!
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
I started off playing everything that appealed to me as a bass player. Later, I would try to play the things that did not appeal to me. Naturally, I learned the songs that appealed to me faster! But, I learned more from the ones that did not.
I try to play something new every day by ear and then work on reading. Scales are also great for reference, and I am really getting into modes now – which seem to be the gatekeepers to the mood changes I love so much.
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
Music is truly a language, and being a musician allows me to express myself in that realm of conversation. I hope and pray for the continued growth of my vocabulary so the walls that separate me from those I admire so greatly will be further torn down.
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
Like any language, music allows communication. In order to communicate well… you must have something to say. More importantly… you need to listen to what is being said.
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
It’s funny… In music, I am playing with others and all of a sudden I may hear Larry Graham say, “Thump like this… or, like that!” Or, I’ll hear Marcus say, “Take charge here!” At other times, I’ll hear Jaco say, ”Mess them up with some harmonics here!” Why not pull from the best?
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
I believe music is very commercial. In everything from advertisements to movies, music plays the essential role. It brings the emotion to what we see. But the problem comes when they water down everything in order to appeal to the masses. Then the commercial aspect becomes negative. I think those who are true to their craft will be remembered, but sadly… not paid so well.