Mitch Friedman has been a Bergantino Artist for a few years now.
Holly Bergantino is excited and proud to offer you a glimpse into how Mitch Friedman got to where he is today.
Holly Bergantino: Where were you born and raised, and how did you end up in Brooklyn, NY?
Mitch Friedman: I was born in New Hyde Park, NY on Feb 2, 1987, and after living in Fresh Meadows, Queens, with my parents as a baby, we eventually settled in a house in Smithtown, Long Island. In 1996, when I was 9 years old, my family relocated to Coral Springs, in South Florida, which is where I really began my musical journey. In high school, we relocated to Tamarac, the next town over, but my dream was to always return to New York to “make it” as a musician. South Florida was always a very music-heavy place, with tons of great players, but I couldn’t really envision a career for myself there. Symphony orchestras were folding, I didn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t grow up playing Latin music, so that scene seemed like an impossibility for me, and with the exception of the hardcore/punk/rock local scene, which I wasn’t into, it felt like the beach-bar scene was all that awaited me, and I wanted more. I also envisioned myself as a studio musician, and it didn’t appear like there was a lot of that kind of work happening down there. Or if there was, I didn’t know how to find it.
I auditioned at several out-of-state universities and conservatories for classical double bass performance with the hopes of getting into NYU, and they not only accepted me but gave me the largest music scholarship in the history of the school, which was crazy. So in 2005, I moved back to NYC, and lived in Greenwich Village, which was incredible. After living in a bunch of different spots around Manhattan for the next few years, I eventually moved to Brooklyn, and I’ve been there ever since! I love Brooklyn. Every neighborhood is vastly different, and all the great food and culture you can imagine is here. I now get why some people never even think of leaving!
What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?
My dad was an amateur guitarist, and I grew up with him playing around the house all the time. He gave me one of his guitars after we moved to Florida, and I dove into music head-first. The following year, I heard the album “Traveling Without Moving” by Jamiroquai, and I had the realization that bass was one of the driving forces of all those great songs and my ears just seemed to be tuned to those bass lines. When I got to middle school, I joined the orchestra, and both the sheer size of the double bass and the fact that nobody else wanted to play it drew me in. Trying to get good at it felt like a game. It quickly seemed like I had found my “thing.” Before I knew it, I won the spot of principal bass in the all-state orchestra. Around the same time, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had released their album “Californication,” and I became obsessed with the idea of playing bass guitar. I bought a cheap fretless Carlo Robelli, assuming it would be similar to the upright, which it kinda was, and between the two instruments, I was hooked. Bass became the main focus in my life, and becoming a rock star like Flea was all I could think about. As I got deeper into different kinds of music, I realized how bass was really the foundation of everything. Tying rhythm together with roots and harmonies, I realized that pretty much every band needed a great bassist to be “good.” Eventually discovering guys like Jaco and Victor Wooten, it was clear that bass could even be its own thing, and the creative possibilities seemed almost endless. Still, it’s that locked in groove and pocket, which makes the song dance, that made me fall in love with music, and controlling it from the bass perspective just seemed like the perfect spot to be in.
How did you learn to play?
After maybe a year or so of teaching myself double bass, I was invited to audition for the Florida Youth Orchestra, which was a collection of some of the best young classical musicians in south Florida. When I got the audition music, I couldn’t even read it! I had never seen eighth rests or half rests before, and they looked like ancient hieroglyphics to me. My parents found me a private teacher, an incredible Juilliard grad named Jackie De Los Santos, and I began having weekly lessons with her. I continued to study with her until I left for college. Bass guitar was my secret passion, and I pretty much taught myself how to play, learning songs from my favorite bands by ear and applying what I was learning on double bass, since the electric felt like a toy in comparison. Every morning before school, I would sit on the couch with my fretless and play along with every music video that would come on TV. It didn’t matter the genre or the artist; I would just play along until I figured out the song. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was probably the best training I could have done on my own.
I was extremely fortunate to meet an insanely talented bass player in high school named Adam Lucas, who introduced me to Jaco, Wooten, and Herbie Hancock. Adam taught me a lot of the more intricate techniques that I probably wouldn’t have figured out easily on my own. He played guitar in a band called Way of the Groove, which featured Jaco’s sons, Felix and Julius Pastorius on bass and drums, and I got to jam with them a number of times and had Felix show me note for note how Jaco played a lot of his tunes. It was awesome, and looking back on it, I didn’t even realize how fortunate I was at the time. Sight reading was always one of my best “things,” as I always made it like a game, and that also prepared me for future work as a session player. My mantra was always “never turn down an opportunity,” which led me to all different kinds of musical experiences, and it still does to this day. I didn’t ever want to find myself in a position where I felt like I couldn’t “cut it” in any musical situation, and that thought process has allowed me to be prepared for anything with confidence.
Are there any other instruments you play?
So like I said, I started on guitar, but I’m not really that great. I can play chords and solo well enough for recording, but I would never feel confident playing guitar live. I can also play cello decently well, but again, I’m not that great. Bass has really been my main thing, and I never strayed too far from it. I always wanted to be great at piano, but I’m so bad, it’s not even funny. At NYU, I was required to do four semesters of it, but it was beyond embarrassing, and I even flunked two of those semesters. It was bad. But my rule is, if it has strings, I can probably figure it out! I also sang a lot of backup vocals over the years for different acts, but it’s been quite a while now since I’ve crossed into that territory.
You have quite the career that began at a very young age. Can you share some of the highlights you are most proud of?
When I was 13, I got to perform at Carnegie Hall with the Florida Youth Orchestra, which was an incredible experience. That same year, a violinist friend’s mom approached my dad at a Florida Youth Orchestra rehearsal and asked him if he was interested in a gig that her son wasn’t available to play. It was a trio gig playing light classical background music for Donald Trump, at his dinner table at his famous Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach. We decided to do it, and with the help of my teacher Jackie, I was able to put together a folder of about three hours’ worth of music. I played the cello parts on bass. I hired two great violinists who were in high school, and we performed under the name The Palm Trio. We got to meet Donald, who was nothing like the man we see today on TV, and at one point, he even got up from his table of guests and asked us if we were hungry. He personally went into the kitchen and came out a moment later, awkwardly carrying a huge tray of cheese and veggies. He told us to let him know if we wanted anything else. At the end of the night, we were each handed checks for $750. I had never seen so much money at one time, and my dad and I decided to keep going with it.
The Palm Trio continued to gig around south Florida for the next five years, with my dad as our manager, performing at senior living facilities, wedding ceremonies, cocktail hours, and coffee shops. We were sort of a novelty act because of our ages, myself being the youngest and playing this huge bass, and we must have done close to 500 gigs before we disbanded when I left for college. We even got a record deal at one point for a Christmas album and sold thousands of copies. When I was 15, I became principal bass of the Florida Atlantic University orchestra, and was the only musician there still in high school. That same year, I also joined my teacher Jackie as co-principal of the Boca Ballet, doing a whole season of the Nutcracker, becoming the youngest musician ever employed by the company. I was technically too young to work at the time, since you have to be 16 to work in Florida, so they paid Jackie for me, and she gave me the money.
The following year, my high school symphony orchestra won a Grammy for a recording we did of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.” A Grammy showed up at school a while later, and we were told that we could get individual Grammy’s with our names on them for $2800 each. Some kids got them, but my family was way too broke to afford that, and I just forgot about it. Years later, I met a woman who worked for the Grammy’s, and I asked her if that was a real Grammy or just a scam by the Grammys to make money. She told me it was absolutely real, and even if I didn’t buy one, I was still an official Grammy winner! It was a weird way to win a Grammy, but I’ll take it!
The summer before I left for NYU, I was invited to live in Vaison La Romaigne, France, for a couple of months, at an inn for traveling musicians. I got to tour around the south of France playing chamber music at 6th and 7th century cathedrals, and it was a mind-blowing experience, having never left the country before. I realized that touring was an incredible way to see the world, and it became one of my main focuses after I got to NYC.
How has your playing evolved over the years and have you made changes from the start until now? Can you tell us about those changes?
My playing has absolutely evolved over the years. In the beginning, it was about playing as hard and as raw as possible, a la Flea. As I got more into Jaco and Wooten, my focus became more on technique and solo playing. There was even a time when I felt more comfortable slapping than I did using my fingers, which seems crazy now. When I got to NYC, I learned VERY quickly that nobody wanted to hear that. Bass was all about supporting the song or the band, and it took me several years to really bang that way of thought into my head.
As I started to gig in NYC’s downtown hip-hop scene several years later, I discovered “Voodoo” by D’Angelo, and my whole world got turned upside down. I traded in my active jazz basses with round wounds for vintage P-basses with flat wounds, and I never looked back. I would never say technique isn’t important, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to record over a reference track a random producer played bass on and I felt like their reference track was infinitely more tasteful for the song than anything I would have instinctively come up with. So, as I’ve gotten older, the whole “less is more” thing, which I used to roll my eyes at, has really become my mantra. Finding that perfect medium between what’s tasteful for the song, while still implementing my little flavor and making it unique, is the ultimate goal. Guys like Anthony Jackson really do that unbelievably well, and it’s absolutely an art form. To serve the song perfectly, yet as soon as you hear the bass part, you go, “Oh, that’s for sure AJ.” It’s so easy to overplay, and I often listen back to recordings I’ve done from years ago and just put my head in my hands. So I guess evolution-wise, that’s always my goal: to be ever more mature in my playing, while still being able to be me.
What are you working on now?
Years ago, I was doing a lot of touring, but suddenly, my main band at the time, Soulfarm, began to significantly slow down for some reason, and my main touring act, Crystal Bowersox, an American Idol runner-up whom I served as musical director for a couple of years, no longer had the label support to continue taking a band on the road. I had recently purchased a condo in Brooklyn, and now I was sitting at home all day wondering how I was going to eat and pay this mortgage. I was even flying back to Florida for months at a time in between gigs just to save some money, mooching off my mom. It sucked. You don’t realize that when you start touring all the time, people sort of forget about you in NYC, and they either assume you’re still out on the road, or other guys steal your gigs, but it’s not like most of them paid that well to begin with, anyway.
The thought of returning to the club scene, playing multiple nights a week with all different artists for $100-150, for two rehearsals and a gig, just seemed daunting, and I’d be busting my ass for not enough money. Sure, there’d be some great music, but I had bills to pay! I didn’t know what to do, and for a minute, I really thought this was the end of my music career, at least doing it full time as I had been for years. Just as I was preparing to rent out my condo and move back to Florida to go into real-estate or something of the like, I got a random phone call from a Hasidic Jewish guy in Brooklyn. He told me he had seen a video of me on YouTube, and he wanted me to join his wedding band. I had done a handful of Jewish wedding gigs back in the day, but they were pretty brutal. I’d have to lug my amp, my bass guitar, and my upright for the cocktail hour, and a stand, where I’d be given a giant book of songs and have to flip through them at random via numbers being thrown up by hand. They were insanely loud, and I often couldn’t really hear anything I needed to, and I’d go home exhausted with my ears ringing. But I needed the money, and I told him I’d be there. It seemed times had changed, as I no longer needed an amp, my upright, or a stand, and everyone was now on in-ear monitors and given iPads, which were controlled by the band leader. All I needed was a bass and a good preamp/DI. I could now hear everything, and the quality of the music had gone up exponentially. I loved it. Not to mention, it paid incredibly well. Within a week or two, my phone was ringing off the hook with all kinds of contract and gig offers, and before I knew it, I was the main bassist in the scene, working five nights a week, playing with at least ten different bands. Then came the big concert gigs, as well as the studio work, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been featured on several platinum-selling Jewish records. I had become THE guy.
It’s been almost seven years now, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve met some of the best people I know, there’s virtually no egos on stage whatsoever, and everybody just wants to have a good time, sound great, and get paid. What more can a working musician ask for? Over the years, the business has gone through a bunch of changes, and the freelance thing has sort of shifted into set bands, but I’ve still maintained just about the same schedule while playing with one main band, and popping in with three or four other bands whenever my main band isn’t working. Concerts have slowed down a bit, but there’s still a decent amount of recording work, and I’ve never been busier. It’s really been a blessing, and it has allowed me to not only stay in NYC, but carve out a nice little career niche for myself.
My passion project for the last few years has been a vintage video game music big band called ConSoul with a bunch of my friends who are all incredible musicians. We don’t really make a lot of money, but we’ve done some great gigs at comic-cons and video game music festivals, as well as some incredible live-stream concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have a ton of great content on both Spotify and YouTube. I’m also attempting to design the ultimate tube/class D hybrid bass amp that doubles as a preamp/DI with a friend of mine who’s a brilliant amp tech, but it’s been extremely challenging and is going to cost me a lot of money. It’s definitely worth it, but this whole pandemic/quarantine thing definitely set me back a bit. I’m hoping 2021 will be a kinder year, and I’ll be able to make some more headway on that front.
I’m also writing a book! Definitely uncharted territory for me, but it’s shaping up to be sort of a “do’s and don’ts” of being a pro sideman in the 21st century, as well as my story of all my failures and accomplishments over the years. I’m really doing it just because I wish I had read something like it before I made the decision to be a musician professionally, not necessarily to discourage anyone, but maybe help clarify certain things, and help others avoid some mistakes I’ve made and get a better sense of what the music business is like these days.
How’d you find Bergantino, and can you share your thoughts on our bass gear?
I first discovered Bergantino in maybe 2002-2003 at a local south Florida music store called MAE. I had recently learned about higher-end boutique gear from reading Bass Player magazine, and I had my eye on both the Bergantino HT322 as well as the Epifani UL-310. MAE had them both, and I spent a whole day A/B-ing the two. I was blown away by both the massive low end as well as the clarity of the HT322, but ultimately, I chose to go with the Epifani, as it was much lighter in weight, and I thought it would be the better choice for gigging without a car in NYC when I eventually moved there. After arriving in NYC, I started hanging out at Rudy’s Music on 48th Street, and fell in love with the Bergantino HT115. It’s maybe the nicest-sounding single 15? cab I’ve ever heard to this day. When the Bergantino NV series came out, it felt like the NV215 with that 6? mid-driver rather than a tweeter was made for me. I still have mine, and it’s an incredible cab, especially with a big, fat tube amp, like my old Trace Elliot V6.
I had an endorsement with Euphonic Audio for several years when I was doing the most touring, but after getting into the Jewish wedding scene, I stopped using amps completely and sold off all of my gear. My main rig now is a collection of super high-end tube preamps/DIs. I wanted to play at home and have a rig just in case a gig came up that I’d need an actual amp, and I discovered the perfect solution. The now discontinued Bergantino IP112/EX112. With a 1000-watt power amp built into the cab, I could go XLR in from whichever preamp I wanted, and get the exact sound I was hearing in my in-ears but live through speakers. For smaller gigs, I could just bring a pre and the Bergantino IP112, and for bigger gigs, I could bring the Bergantino EX112 as well. The clarity and low end from just two Bergantino 112s was mind-blowing, and they’re my favorite cabs ever. I even almost bought a second rig just in case something happens to them! I’ve been incredibly impressed with both the new Bergantino forté and forté HP heads, and the whole upgradable features via USB is incredible. I know a lot of guys who swear by their Bergantino B|amps, but I’m honestly the worst with technology, and I just need simple stuff that I can plug and play, but I really can’t wait for some kind of Bergantino DI pedal eventually that I can use on my in-ear gigs! So, get to work, Jim! Just kidding! But seriously….
Tell us about your favorite bass or basses.
I’ve had so many basses over the years, it’s insane. I even started a little business when I was 19, buying and selling vintage Fenders around the world. That enabled me to own and play some of the most incredible basses on the planet. My first unforgettable bass that I loved for years was an all-original ’69 Fender P-bass that I toured around the world with. It was just perfect. Not even sure why I sold that one. For a few years I was an Alleva-Coppolo artist, and had some incredible basses, including one made for Jerry Barnes of Chic. Eventually, I became a Fodera artist, and went through maybe six or seven incredible Foderas. The holy grail was Anthony Jackson’s personal Presentation 6 #9. I had never even played a 6 before, let alone a 36” scale bass, but it just felt and sounded so incredible, I knew I had to make it my main axe. I toured with it for several years before it had an untimely accident, and I had to sell it, broken, to a collector. Still a tough one to think about. I went through an incredible Hofner phase and had some really rare ones, but eventually, I got back into the vintage Fender world, and have owned some of the most incredible pre-CBS P-basses ever made. I’ve sold most of them now, with the exception of Shoshana, my prized all-original ’61, which is one of the greatest basses I’ve ever put my hands on, and I still do most of my recording with. I also got to own an incredible ’52 P-bass (serial #0038) for a couple years, with that infamous Tadeo Gomez neck, and just owning a piece of history like that was incredibly cool. These days, I mostly play my Olinto basses, which are handmade in Brooklyn by my good friends, Mas Hino, Isaac Baird, and Jimmy Carbonetti under the La Bella strings brand name, and they’re the closest feeling and sounding boutique P-basses to pre-CBS basses I’ve ever experienced. They’ve made me a ’55 copy, a ’59 copy (which is my main gigging bass), a 5-string copy of THAT bass, and a copy of Shoshana, my ’61, that’s about to be finished. About a year ago, Jimmy made me a “signature model” bass under his Carbonetti brand name that we call the Constantine. It’s a 30” scale hollow body 4 string featuring a roasted alder body, mahogany back, roasted ash heel block, flamed maple top, roasted maple neck, and a roasted Birdseye maple fingerboard that morphs into a floating pickguard design, which I’ve never seen before. Three custom wound humbuckers, a 5-way switch, giant turquoise inlays, and a super unique, never-before-seen string-through method, where the strings come up through an open hole on the top of the body, allowing the use of standard length strings despite it’s short scale size, really make the Constantine a one-a-kind instrument. The coolest part was right after it was finished, we were visited by the one and only, Willie Weeks, who fell in love with the bass and asked to have one made for him! I couldn’t think of a better way to validate it! To know that a legend like Willie Weeks, one of my all-time bass heroes, will be using MY signature bass is just mind blowing!
Who are your influences?
Originally, I was obsessed with Flea, but I can’t say Stu Zender from Jamiroquai and Rocco Prestia from Tower of Power weren’t also tremendous influences. My dad was a huge TOP fan, and I was raised listening to cassettes of them in his car. They were even my first live concert at 3 years old! By high school, it was Jaco and Wooten, as I fell in love with both Weather Report and the Flecktones. I still think Jaco’s work with Joni Mitchell might be his best, especially the album “Mingus.” Stanley Clarke soon followed with Return to Forever as did Paul Jackson with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. I even wrote two music theory papers in college dissecting RTF’s record, “Musicmagic” and Herbie’s record, “Sunlight.” The Headhunters’ records WITHOUT Herbie are incredible as well. Nathaniel Phillips from the band Pleasure was also a tremendous influence on me throughout college, but after I dropped out and got more into hip-hop and neo-soul, I became obsessed with players like Pino Palladino and Meshell Ndegeocello, and I eventually fell in love with James Jamerson, who I consider the greatest bass player of all time.
The busier I became as a working bassist, I admit that I kind of stopped listening to music like I had done in the past, which I sometimes regret. I really stopped caring about what other famous bass players were doing, and trying to come up with my own stuff and style became more fun to me. Several years ago, I got really into Steely Dan and their songwriting, and after hearing Anthony Jackson on “Glamour Profession,” I went down the AJ rabbit hole. I never quite understood his soloing, to be honest, but his groove work and bass line writing on all those Chaka records is holy ground, in my opinion. Most recently, I discovered an old defunct band from the late 70’s/early 80’s called Pages, and both the bass playing and songwriting of Richard Paige really blew my mind, not to mention his singing! At this point, I’m really open to what anybody is doing. After a certain point in skill, pretty much anybody can get the job done. It really becomes a matter of taste and personal style, so I feel like I can always learn something new from watching and listening to others! Sometimes, I’m so sick of hearing myself and my “bag of tricks” that it’s super refreshing to hear somebody else’s take on something, even if they’re not super famous.
I know you also work with La Bella Strings as director of Artist Relations for their Olinto basses. Can you tell us more about that?
About 12 years ago, I got my first string endorsement with Black Diamond strings, a small mom-and-pop string company out of my home state of Florida. They make GREAT stuff and gave me basically a 50% off deal on whatever I wanted. A couple years later, my good friend Tim came to visit from Hong Kong, and he brought me a set of La Bella’s new Rx nickel rounds to try. I fell in love with them. When I started playing my 36” scale 6 string Fodera, I needed custom length strings, and Tim told me to reach out to La Bella to see if I could get the Rx nickels in 38? winding. That’s how I met Eric Cocco, who is the VP of La Bella strings. He not only offered to make me custom sets of strings, but he offered me an incredible endorsement deal. I signed the contract and went to go meet him at the Guitar Shop NYC, which was on Orchard Street at the time. I had met Mas Hino once before at a party, but I didn’t realize he was the head luthier at Eric’s shop. We all hung out and instantly hit it off.
A few years later, I had a really scary incident while flying with my beloved ’61 P-bass, and I decided it was time to find another bass for my fly dates. I remembered that La Bella was making these Olinto basses, but I had never played one before. I asked Eric if Mas could make an exact copy of my bass, and he told me he could, but I should come down to the shop, which was now located in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, and try out this red Olinto bass they had just finished. It was so incredible, I bought it on the spot, and it quickly replaced my ’61 as my main bass. It sounded just as great, and the neck was unreal. After buying another few used Olintos, I decided to put in an order for a custom one, and it was the first one they had made with roasted body and neck woods as well as Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard. To this day, it’s maybe the nicest Olinto I think they’ve made, and it’s been my main bass for 4 years now and counting. Eventually, I pushed Mas to make me their first 5-string, and now it’s a production model.
I was convincing so many friends and players to get Olintos, that it just seemed to make sense that I start working for the shop in some capacity. I now manage the Olinto Instagram account, as well as take and process orders, and deal with new customers as well as those on our artist roster. It was always a dream of mine to work with an incredible bass gear company who made stuff I truly believed in, and to work with such magical people like Mas, Eric, Jimmy, and Isaac is a dream come true. How many people get to say their co-workers are some of their best friends? We’re still an incredibly small company, and I think a lot of people don’t actually realize that, or even how small of a company La Bella strings is, but we’re constantly coming up with new ideas, new models, and I hope to continue with these guys to watch it grow. They’re really making the best pre-CBS spec P-basses on the planet, and if anybody would know by now, it’s me! What’s really special is just how much passion these guys have for what they do. It’s truly inspiring.
Favorite thing to do besides play bass and eat sushi?
Ha! Well, anyone who knows me knows how serious I am about sushi. I even jokingly told a friend recently that at this point, I really only play music to support my sushi habit! The quality of some of these omakase places we have here in NYC is staggering, and I’m kind of happy more people aren’t hip to it or don’t want to spend that kind of money so I can always make reservations! I even took a trip to Japan this past year and blew an ungodly amount of money just eating my way across some of Tokyo’s most famous spots to see how it compared. As incredible as it was, I was happy to learn that some of my favorite spots in NYC are right up there with the best! If you love sushi and you haven’t tried places like Omakase Room by Tatsu or Sushi Noz in the city, you’re really missing out! But great food of all kinds has always been a huge hobby of mine, and NYC is one of the greatest places to eat in the world, hands down. We have the best of everything! I’m also a tremendous nerd when it comes to gaming, anime, and comics, so whenever I’m not gigging somewhere or eating sushi, that’s most likely what I’m doing. Many people don’t know I was a sponsored long boarder at one time, but unfortunately, I gave it up in fear that I would injure myself and ruin my career playing bass. I still miss it sometimes. I’m also a classic Florida beach bum at heart, so anytime I’m not working during the summer, you can most definitely find me at the beach or in the water!