Feeling like ‘zero’ resets all your mental structures until you can discover who you really are in music.
There is an Italian proverb that is often heard: “Cambiano i suonatori ma la musica è sempre quella.” (Literally, the musicians change, but the music remains the same.) When one speaks of the cradle of Italian music, eyes always turn to the southern lands, and this never changes, wherein the most basic tunes of the canzone that highlight classical films, adorn the opera or spice up folk serenades essentially trace back to Neapolitan music. It is no surprise, therefore, that its amicable neighbor, Apulia (or Puglia) shares the well-deserved credit. Puglia, rich in its cultural history outlined by its powerful ties with the Mycenaean Greeks, the Kingdoms of Sicily and Spain, Turkey, and enhanced by emigrations from Africa and Eastern Europe, is also highly revered for its abundant nature—groves of olive trees bordered by the Adriatic Sea that boasts one of the country’s most romantic coastlines—all attesting to the luxurious savory of its cuisine.
Where nature, food and culture abound, music likewise, is enlivened by the spirits of this region, and has expectedly inspired such respected figures as the singer Matteo Salvatore, opera composer Umberto Giordano, tenor Tito Schipa, and jazz singer Nicola Arigliano. From Puglia’s folk Pizzica dance, brass bands, the Valle d'Itria Festival in Martina Franca to other numerous classic, folk and jazz festivals in this Mediterranean nest, a contrabassist from Bari has been spreading his tunes all over Italy and the rest of Europe, to North America and across continents for over 30 years. Full of life, positivity and versatility, Giuseppe Bassi ranks as one of the top double bass players in Italy. His diverse range of melodic approach from avant-garde jazz to funk to classic and traditional folk has made him a popular choice in music festivals and band collaborations with world musicians, including Billy Drummond, Greg Osby, John Hicks, Mal Waldron, David Liebman, George Garzone, Tony Scott, and many more.
From mid-November to the first week of December this year, Giuseppe will be ready to storm the clubs in Tokyo, Saitama, Fukushima, Gumma and Niigata as he introduces his ATOMIC BASS TRIO with the graceful pianist Sumire Kuribayashi and captivating drummer Sebastiaan Kaptein.
Giuseppe: The first time I saw Sumire was during her piano solo concert in Andria close to Bari. Her music instantly touched me. She has the charisma to take the audience to a wonderful world that is simply hers. I met Sebastiaan for the first time in Taipei, Taiwan, when I had the fortune to play with him. After that concert together, I always waited for the occasion to play together again. And, here we are finally, together, with this great drummer who possesses immense sensibility and taste for beautiful sounds. I really love these two great musicians and I am very excited and grateful to play with them.
The Japan tour would be the first occasion for Giuseppe to launch his ATOMIC BASS concept. Perhaps, it is more than a coincidence that his vision of an “atomic” expression stemmed from his love of Japanese culture.
When I was a child I grew up watching Japanese cartoons: robot shows like Great Mazinger, UFO Robot Goldrake (Grendizer), and Steel Jeeg. I really loved these characters and still totally love them. In my music I play the bass as the engineer of the music itself—like the football director of the music. I really love the sound of the bass because it is deep in the night and gives calmness and peace. When I think of the word “atomic” I always think of something very strong, like a super power or Superman. I remember that since I was a child I really loved Godzilla and thought about his heart, feelings, and his loneliness. The bass is a very big instrument, and the music it produces transmits a great language of love—very strong, very intense, and very radioactive.
With my music I could write a love song for Godzilla (that actually I wrote for the Atomic Bass trio). The bass can also sing a lullaby for people who may do unpleasant things during the day, such as not respecting nature and the environment, but during the night they have their own fears, and are totally fragile. Music can change the behavior of people—to let them become better. That’s why music has truly a great power, and therefore, it is “atomic” for me: the synonym for the greatest power.
The tsunami that occurred in Fukushima seven years ago was very huge. The disaster led to the reactor explosion, causing radiation that had become very harmful for the health of every creature. That atomic radiation produced dangerous and very bad results, but the atomic radiation of music is good, curative, and full of love. The meeting between these two types of radiations is like the meeting between David and Goliath. I’m sure that music could give new colors and new scents of love to all those places where the fear of death exists. This death could become gentle and lose its negativity. Atomic Bass signifies this new prospect—the prospect of love. It is only a dream, but musicians and artists live this life dreaming every day and in every moment.
When it comes to dreaming, Giuseppe had something else lurking in his mind when he was a child. Being a musician didn’t show him the stars until the later stage of his life.
I never decided to become a musician. Originally, I wanted to become a judge or a lawyer. I even worked in insurance for a few years. However, I started to study the piano when I was six years old. Then, when I was twelve, I started to study the electric bass. There were many kinds of instruments in my home because my father loved to buy instruments. Soon, I fell in love with jazz music, and the passage to the double bass became necessary. I was 13 years old then. I started to play the instrument since I was around 17, and I began to do a lot of gigs increasingly. One day, I thought that I had to split my activities and devote myself to music completely. I decided to play music only when I understood that I was able to survive by just playing. I never left the double bass. I went on to study the double bass at the Niccolò Piccinni Conservatory in Bari then taught at the Conservatorio di Musica Cosenza. Throughout my career I met many great bass players: Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian McBride, and more, but basically like many jazz musicians, I was self-taught.
Like many jazz musicians, indeed, Giuseppe found his greatest inspirations mostly from the U.S. where in New York he had also spent a great deal of his life.
My first personal encounter with music happened, thanks to my father, who every week, would give me a vinyl record as a present. I was around seven or eight years old then. I started to listen to music being played on great stereo components by Sansui. One of my first discoveries was Count Basie. His music was like a “warm breeze” of a first jazz recording I ever listened to, where he only played blues with his great orchestra. It was a triumph of the swing. I also started to listen to piano trios. The first was the Monty Alexander trio in Montreux, then Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, and others. I think that I was so touched by the characteristics of jazz, particularly in blues and the swing.
Then, I had a chance to go to New York, which I consider my town. For some reason I found similar features between New York and Bari. There is the harbor of New York and the sea around Bari; the people are warm and crazy, and possess good energy. Above all, here, music was everywhere—all kinds of music, like from every type of culture. The first time I landed in New York was actually “traumatic” for me because suddenly, I truly understood for the first time in my life what it means to be a musician in New York. After watching the first concert in the city as a spectator, I wanted to leave the world of music and the double bass. And so I did. I stopped playing for about a month. The performance level of the youngest double bass player in New York was far superior to mine. Later, I learned that this “trauma” had been felt by thousands of musicians throughout the music history in New York. I lived there during the best years of my life as a musician, although the place also gave me the most terrible ache of my life. In the end, I learned that New York could really support the lives of musicians. I collaborated with all the greatest jazz musicians there like Lew Tabackin, Joe Magnarelli, Bill Goodwin, Joel Fram, Helen Sung, Bill Mays, Don Friedman, Bobby Durham, John Hicks, Rashid Ali, and others. At the same time, I worked in a recording studio for pop music.
Living in another country changed my approach to the study of the bass and helped me to understand the direction of my choices. My life in New York allowed me to find myself because the competition among each other is amazingly strong. Until you understand that about New York, you are basically “zero”, and New York really can’t offer you its energy. Feeling like “zero” resets all your mental structures until you can discover who you really are in music.
However, Giuseppe remains a Pugliese by heart. His world life experiences have molded his mental and emotional capacities, but at the same time, constantly keep him close to his Mediterranean roots.
Puglia is one of the most beautiful Italian regions. King Frederick II and the Spanish kings bestowed so much richness to Puglia that made our culture very deep in the Italian sense, from the food culture, historical attractions, to the beauty of the sea. Agriculture and fishing are well developed. Our land is full of olives trees. Generally we are very warm and simple people, and are always thankful for all the beauty around us. In this sense, we easily immerse ourselves in this beauty. The quality of life is very high and the cost of living is very low, compared to, let’s say, northern Italy. Perhaps, all these things influence the arts and cultures of Puglia. Musicians can sing all the forms of beauty in those aspects. We may experience difficult situations with poverty or immigrations from Africa, but generally, for us these are parts of our values. Emigrants have always populated Puglia for many centuries, thus, our richness can be found in the diversity of cultures and philosophies. All these factors influence music through every kind of encounter. To be a Pugliese is truly a wonderful experience. It means to feel the entire world from Puglia and to be given the possibility to understand and perceive different kinds of people—good or bad. This perception helped me a lot when I was in New York. It’s always beautiful to tell stories through music, and Puglia has many grand stories to tell. Music also interprets the outlook of life, and for the Pugliese people who are immersed in culture, nature and human relations, our lives are strongly influenced by difficulties that also impact our everyday lives. All these things exude a unique character.
Thus, from his native southern region to the Americas and next, to Asia, Giuseppe is ready to orchestrate a truly “atomic” extravaganza.
I would be very happy to share my long path of recorded music to the Japanese people. “Apatura” was my first recording in 1994, which was recorded with superb Italian musicians. After the release, I listened again to it and realized that I truly enjoyed that music Of course, the technique and musical level at that time were quite low, but the feelings and the honesty drawn from the music were alive. I believe that the best approach for musicians is to try to be themselves, be totally naked and ready to put all their good feelings and love into their music. For me feelings are the most important things in my life. I was very lucky to develop a spirit of leadership in music, to write and compose at an early stage. I felt the necessity to play my music to explain my feelings. My latest albums are documentations of my encounters and experiences and deep thoughts about life. I love to record very intimate music, as I have done for my last two albums that I recorded for the Japanese label Alboré Jazz records.
For the upcoming Japan tour, I hope to be able to spread and receive love and all the good feelings to the Japanese people through our notes. Actually, I feel many common things between Japan and Italy and we will try to play these common factors through our music. I am hoping to taste the greatest Japanese ramen, and to meet Naoto, the farmer in Fukushima. I would also like to cook great Italian food for all my Japanese friends. I wish to establish beautiful friendships with the Japanese people and to express my love for my country. I am very fascinated by the great Japanese culture and history. At the same time, I will try to show the beauty of my country as well by playing the music that I wrote while I was imagining Japan. In this way I could show a typical way of thinking by Italians. I’m sure it will be a great encounter.
I would like to thank all my friends who support this project: Alma Reyes, Sumire Kuribayashi, Sebastiaan Kaptein; and special thanks also to Donatella Altieri (Intergea), Angelo Deleonardis (Cricket Productions) and Associazione Italo-Giapponese. Likewise, a big Thank You to Antonio Moscatello, journalist and expert writer of Japanese culture who will take us into the deep history of Japan. I thank all the people of my lovely country (Bari) who continue to support the “Atomic Bass”.
Atomic Bass Trio Japan Tour
November 26: Lydian, Awajicho, Tokyo
November 28: Village, Kiryu, Gumma
November 29: Magie Noir, Fukushima
November 30: Bird, Shibata, Niigata
December 5: OurDelight, Warabi, Saitama
December 9: Keystone Club Roppongi, Tokyo