Don’t pass up opportunities to play with others

“Keep your ears open and learn something from everyone”

By Jon Liebman
Week of October 12, 2020

You play bass, right? At the very least, I’ll assume you’re learning to play bass.

Whatever your personal situation, what action would you say has taught you more than anything else, including books, private lessons, online instruction, etc., when it comes to learning bass?

The question came to mind during my conversation with The Company Stores bassist Michael Micucci, in an interview published this week on FBPO. In some ways, I saw myself in what Michael was describing, especially when looking back on my early days as a young student of bass.

Michael, who had a very different upbringing than the rest of us (you’ve got to read his story!), managed to forge a career for himself as a professional bassist, despite very unlikely odds. And he learned a thing or two along the way.

“The single most important skill in being a bassist,” Michael says, “is to synthesize and express the moment elegantly.” 

At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that. I quickly realized he was applauding the benefits of performing in a group setting – any group setting – as a means of becoming a really good bass player. 

According to Michael, “there is no single more important thing to do than to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to play with other people. It’s your job to pull all that together, the drummer, the guitarist, the singer…” 

He even embraces the challenge of making a bad band sound good!

“I mean, everything else you can learn in a book,” Michael says, “or from a teacher. But the ability to play with a bad quartet and make them sound good, that’s the most important job. That’s the most important skill.”

Being a relative latecomer to the bass, not having taken up the acoustic bass till the end of my freshman year in college, I can relate to what Michael is saying. When I was about 19 or 20, I got heavily into jazz, and found myself constantly surrounded by people who were so much better than I was. Maybe it wasn’t much fun for them, but I couldn’t help learning an awful lot very fast!

Nowadays, with the advent of technology, it’s truly amazing to have the means to make music by way of electronic communication, transferring files, or even “virtual” ensemble performing. At the end of the day, though, nothing beats in-person interaction when it comes to creating music. And learning music.

“I truly believe the only way to flex that muscle,” Michael says, “is to say yes to every reasonable opportunity to play. Keep your ears open and learn something from everyone. That has served me really, really, really well.”

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, you can check out my interview with Michael here.

The photo was taken “somewhere in Latin America” during the late ‘80s. I’m the guy on the right!

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