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Adam Nitti - January 2002

Quickly becoming one of today's premier electric bassists, Adam Nitti successfully balances mind-boggling displays of technical wizardry with art. Nitti possesses an advanced level of virtuoso technique, talent, and a vision for his music that most bassists only dream about. Adam has made it perfectly evident that he is not only one of the most technically proficient bassists on the scene today, but he is also one of the few bassists that can balance his chops with skillful songwriting. You may already be familiar with some of Adam's work. If not, it won't be long before you will be. As a bassist, composer, and clinician, Nitti's extensive list of credits and performances are a testament to his ability. In November, 2001, Nitti released his third project as a leader, Evidence, and after just one listen to his latest solo outing, it will become more than evident to you why Adam Nitti is at the cutting edge of contemporary bass innovation. Nitti is the Artistic Director of the Bass Department at the Atlanta Institute of Music in Atlanta, GA. As the department's head administrator and chief instructor, he has authored eight volumes of bass curriculum there. Adam is a touring clinician for SWR amplification systems, D'Addario strings, and Warrior Instruments. Adam is also a first-call commercial session player in Atlanta, and his playing has been featured in literally hundreds of corporate commercial spots such as Coca-Cola, Atlanta Braves, Disney, IBM, Cartoon Network, Atlanta Hawks, Home Depot, and the U.S. Marines.

In the interview that follows, Adam discusses a number of subjects with us including his earliest influences and musical experiences as a teenager, his gear, his latest solo project, Evidence, teaching at the Atlanta Institue of Music, his upcoming instructional DVD, playing sessions, his sweep arpeggio technique, and much more!

Adam Nitti Could you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in Rochester, New York, on September 21, 1970. When I was six my family relocated to Florida, and we spent a couple years in Sarasota living with my aunt and uncle before moving to Orlando. When I was fourteen my father got a new job that moved us to Atlanta, and I have been there ever since.

How did you become involved with music and why? Was electric bass your first instrument?

My musical experiences began at an early age. My mother's side of the family was musically quite talented, and I quickly became interested in learning how to play an instrument. By the time I was five years old, I had already accumulated a toy drumset and acoustic guitar. By the time I was eight, my parents had decided to enroll me in piano lessons to further nurture my desire to play music. I studied classical piano until I was thirteen, but then I became bored with the music I was playing. At that time, I was more interested in rock and roll than anything else, and I made a decision to try and start a band with my buddies. Although my parents were reluctant to let me quit taking piano, they graciously agreed to buy me a synthesiser which I insisted I needed for the "band." We fooled around mostly playing covers by Rush, Led Zepplin, and Van Halen, and I always enjoyed learning the keyboard parts by ear. But when our bass player decided he would rather play guitar instead, I quickly volunteered to try and learn the bass parts too. That was the beginning of my bass playing. At first, I juggled both bass and keyboard parts like Geddy Lee (my hero at that time), but by age fifteen I decided to forgo keyboard playing and make the bass my only axe.

Were you self-taught or did you study formally under someone? What types of instructional materials or methods did you focus on early in your development?

I was always fortunate enough to have pretty good ears and an ability to pick things up pretty quickly. My entire time studying piano was under the supervision of my teacher, and she always did a great job of balancing the "fun stuff" with the things that required a little more focus such as sight reading and theory. Just as was the case with most of my peers during my early teens, my only bass teachers were my albums and tapes. I tried to learn as many songs note-for-note as possible. I learned a lot from the musicians I was playing with too. Often I looked to the guitar players to show me new scales and shapes on the fingerboard. It wasn't until I was seventeen that I started taking real bass lessons from a player named Russ Rogers. At the time he was teaching at an earlier version of the school that I teach at today, the Atlanta Institute of Music. When I was in college I studied music theory for some of my electives and also played in the upper level jazz bands. College was where I was first exposed to the concept of improvisation. I was a jazz performance major at Georgia State University for a short time before I made the leap to starting a career in music.

Which bassists have had the most influence on you and why?

Although there are many, I think I would have to cite John Patitucci, Jaco Pastorius, and Dominique Di Piazza as my three biggest bass influences. I have always been drawn to the more melodic players, and for me, those players are some of the most melodic of all time. I believe their playing also possesses a quality that is a bit more intangible. There is a level of spirituality and emotional content that has really drawn me to them as players and as individuals. I also really like Marcus Miller, Gary Willis, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, and lots of upright players, as well.

What equipment are you currently using?

My main basses right now are Curbows. I'm mostly using an International Exotic model 6-string and a Retro II model 5-string. I'm also using a Music Man Stingray 5, a Mike Lull Modern 5, a '64 Fender Jazz, and a Yamaha TRB 5-string fretless.

My amplification is SWR. I am currently running 2 SM-900 heads, 2 Goliath III 4x10 cabinets, and a Goliath III Jr. 2x10 cabinet. In the studio I couple tones from this gear with an SWR Interstellar Overdrive tube preamp.

I also use D'Addario strings. On all of my main basses I am using Slowounds, but on my fretless basses and my Fender Jazz I am using Half Rounds. I prefer their medium soft gauge sets, using the following string gauges: .032, .045, .065, .080, .100, .130.

I'm also using Planet Waves cables, an Ensoniq DP/4 processor for various effects when needed, and an HHB Fatman tube compressor.

You just released your latest solo project, Evidence. For those bassists who have not had the opportunity to check it out, can you tell us a little about that project? What will be hearing? How can someone go about obtaining Evidence?

For those who are already familiar with my music, they will find that Evidence is a slightly different type of album. Harmonically, it is not as complex as, say, the Balance record. I didn't want Evidence to sound like the typical bass player's album. I wanted it to be a collection of songs that could be appreciated by almost anyone. I wanted there to be a lot of diversity on it. You won't hear the bass playing the melodies or a bass solo in every tune. However, there are some new techniques and approaches that I have been working on for quite some time that occupy significant space on the record. The theme of Evidence evolved out of several trying experiences that I had been through since the release of Balance. Evidence is about gaining the understanding that there is a carefully engineered plan behind every event that we experience in our lifetime, whether good or bad. These events mold and shape us, and enable us to grow both emotionally and spiritually, and likewise raise our level of wisdom and discernment. Evidence specifically reflects particular hardships and struggles that I had to endure in order to come away from them with a deeper understanding. Anyone who logs onto my web site can listen to sound clips from the record and hear a sample of what I'm talking about. It can be purchased from my web site, Audiophile Imports, Guitar Nine, and CD Baby.

You have been the head bass instructor and author of the bass curriculum at the Atlanta Institute of Music for many years now. For those bassists who are interested in honing their skills by attending a school of music, can you tell us a little about the school and what a person will learn if he/she would enroll there?

The Atlanta Institute of Music offers an accredited one year certificate program in either bass, drums, or guitar. The program is performance-oriented, and it focuses on equipping a player to fit into a variety of musical situations by presenting a well-rounded curriculum. Students in the bass program are enrolled in courses covering such subjects as scales, styles, reading, technique, improvisation, and even music business. Also, all students take part in weekly performance classes that have them performing on a stage with their peers in order to develop good communication skills and musical interaction. The year-long course is divided into four quarters, but students who work a majority of the week can opt for a half-load program. Financial aid is available to those that qualify, and we even assist with job placement after graduation. Those who have more questions can call A.I.M. or log on to their web site for more information.

In your private lessons, what sort of direction do you try to give your students? What aspects of bass playing do you try to stress the most?

I try to deal with each student individually. Because not everyone comes from the same background, it is important to try and create a plan of attack that is "custom-fit" to the student. Frankly, my goal as an instructor is to get each student to a level where they become their own instructor and not need me anymore! I try to give them as many tools as possible that will allow them to continually evaluate their skills by setting a series of short term goals aimed in a particular direction. I place a lot of importance on technique, improvisation, reading, and time keeping.

Do you currently have any instructional methods available? If so, how can a bassist who wants to learn more about your technique go about obtaining them? Are there currently any plans for an Adam Nitti book of transcriptions or an Adam Nitti instructional video?

As a matter of fact, I am currently working on my next project which will be an instructional DVD. It will be the first of a series dedicated to learning how to improvise. I can't estimate the release date at this time, but it is my main focus right now. I am also planning on releasing a book series covering similar materials but that won't be until after the video is released. I have talked with some colleagues about also releasing some transcription books but haven't finalized anything yet. The problem is that I have a limited amount of time, and unfortunately I have to be the one to create each element, from beginning to end. I am trying to find a way to streamline this approach by hiring others, but I haven't yet figured out how to make it all fit sensibly and still be economically viable.

You've been a long-time clinician for SWR amplification and D'Addario strings. What do you cover during your clinics?

My clinics are comprised of about a 50/50 split between performance and education. I play a lot of tunes from my records as well as several bass solos. I try to tie in fundamental educational elements that every level of player can understand. It is important to me to try and balance the flashier elements of a clinic with the more practical. Most of us don't make a living just playing bass solos!

You are also a first call session player in the Atlanta, GA. area. What type of material do you get called in to do? Is there an aspect of your playing or style that is a key factor in helping you land those type of gigs?

I do a lot of commercial sessions, mostly stuff for radio and television. To a slightly lesser degree, I also do album sessions for original artists and songwriters. Most people who hire you for these types of sessions aren't looking for a bass "stylist." Your primary responsibility is always to play as supportive a role as possible. It is rare that I will get called for a session that requires me to showcase chops or melodicism. Being a good musician is all about being sensitive to your environment. Sight reading skills are obviously beneficial for these types of gigs. Sometimes you will go into a session and the producer will already know the exact bass part he/she wants played. In most cases, they will have the part charted out for you, and if you can't read it, you probably won't get called back. There are also instances in which there are no charts to read, and those sessions are some of the most fun. In these situations, a producer may only have a road map to follow and leaves the composition to the players on the session in realtime. Obviously, this is where improvisational skills and interaction come into play.

Adam Nitti You are a very busy bassist! How do you maintain a balance between teaching at the Atlanta Institute of Music, your clinic tours, sideman gigs, and your own solo gigs?

To be honest with you, I have made an effort in recent years to leave more time for "doing nothing." For me personally, the balancing act doesn't exist so much among the different musical things I juggle. It's more the challenge of balancing my musical responsibilities with the other parts of my life. If I had music and nothing else, I don't think I would be as happy as I am today. The older I get, the more I realize that my musical influences are comprised of just as many non-musical things as musical. My spiritual life, wife, hobbies, family, dog, and other non-musical parts of my existence are influencing me as much as anything else, and I depend on those things to keep me "whole."

Lets talk about your technique. Do you have a daily practice routine? If so, could you run us through it? What essential aspects of bass technique or music do you focus most of your attention on? What are you studying right now?

I don't really utilize a set practice routine anymore. Instead, I just focus on my problem areas and the application of things that I have already learned as a player. I think for most players, we go through different stages in our development that requires us to focus on different things as we get better and better. These days I find I don't really have to spend as much time on technique anymore because I spent so much time on it in my late teens and early twenties. Now it's more a matter of maintenance. On the other hand, there are a lot of harmonic concepts that I'm trying to phase into my playing now that are extremely challenging. So, it all depends on where you are in your journey. For a lot of my students, I have created a well-rounded practice schedule that covers a variety of topics. But in all cases, I try to make sure that my students are also spending time "practicing playing", or in other words, taking the time to apply what they have learned in their performance situations.

On your solo projects you've demonstrated a complete command of some of the most mind-boggling slapping and tapping chops that have ever been captured on tape. How did you develop those techniques to such an advanced level?

Wow. Thanks so much for your kind words! People ask me all the time what I practiced in order to execute those techniques they are hearing in my solo pieces. The truth is, I never really spent any significant time working on the techniques themselves. Instead, I composed music that utilized those techniques in order to kill two birds with one stone. What I'm saying is that the compositions themselves dictated what I had to pull off in order to play the tunes, and it is a matter of consequence that my chops ended up getting developed on their own. I try to stress to players that if they just spend their technique practice time playing individual exercises over and over just to train their hands, they won't necessarily be learning how to make actual music with those techniques.

One of the techniques that a lot of people have associated with me has been my use of sweep arpeggios. It's very similar to what you might hear a guitar player do, but instead, I use my thumb and index finger as a pick for both downstrokes and upstrokes, respectively. I use triad based and seventh chord based arpeggio forms as a basis for the technique, but I also use the fingers of my right hand to add upper extensions to the forms. An example of this technique can be heard on the opening track of the Balance record, titled, "Skitzo." The entire two bar intro is comprised of sweeps. I also make use of this technique on the tracks, "Millenium" and "The Divine Wind" off of the Evidence record. It's a great sounding technique, but I have to be very careful with its placement. It is not something that can be used in any song. This is where musicality comes into play. There are times when particular notes and approaches are more appropriate. Otherwise, they lose all of their power, gravity, and musicality.

Could you describe your compositional process for us? Do you have a particular approach to composing? Do you write most of your material on bass?

I don't really use any particular approach for composing. Sometimes a song will evolve from a bassline I have written. Other times I like to compose on keyboards. Still other times I may conceive an entire piece in my head before even considering instrumentation or specifics. It all depends on what I am influenced by at the time. In all cases, however, I try to give as much attention as I can to melody. Melody is very important to me as a writer. It is what keeps your songs in the listener's head.

How do you approach soloing? When you are soloing are you thinking in terms of patterns, scales or what?

This is a tough one to answer in a paragraph, but suffice it to say that I try and do as little "thinking" as possible. I try to reserve all of my thinking for the practice shed. On a gig or on a session my intention is to let go of all of that specific knowledge and just react to the musical experience that I am taking part in. Now, I'd be lying if I said I never resorted to any theory-based movement or compatible harmonic concepts when I improvise. But, the basis of my playing style is dependent on my ears more than anything else.

Who are your favorite bassists today? What are you currently listening to?

As I mentioned earlier, my influences are some of my favorites. But, I also like a lot of the players that have more recently started to gain higher levels of exposure. I like Matt Garrison a lot. He has a unique sound. I've loved Oteil Burbridge's playing for a long time, too. Right now I'm really getting into the music of Nikka Costa and Jill Scott. I don't know their bass players, but they sound great. I'm still having a tough time listening to the radio, so in the meantime I'm searching for new music to check out.

Where do you see the state of bass in the next 10 years?

Well, I think it's obvious that the amount of talent that's eminating from the younger players today is even more astounding than it was ten years ago. Even though the electric bass is, relatively speaking, still a young instrument, I think it is incredible where it has been taken already. It seems to me that there are more and more innovators popping up as time goes by. I just wish that there was more room for musicianship to have a place in mainstream music. Hopefully that will change more in the years to come, though. I think that in ten years we are going to have a whole new set of bass heroes, and I think that the differences among them and their styles will be even more diverse than that of the bass heroes today. But, I also think that the music of the times will have an undeniable effect on players' actual perceptions of what a bass hero is, and I am sure it will be different from our evaluation means now.

What is next for Adam Nitti? Are you working on any other projects at the moment? Are there any future tour plans for the Adam Nitti band?

The big focus right now is twofold. I have a new record to promote, and I have a video to make simultaneously. I am assembling sponsorship right now to tour in support of the Evidence album, and my wish is to also be able to leave the country and tour some parts of Europe. Sideman gigs for me right now are at a lower priority, but I always stay open minded. I have turned down a couple of things already so I could release Evidence on time. I'm going to try and limit road work right now to my own group and projects. SWR has already begun to book clinics for me in 2002, and I will begin in New Jersey in March. I hope to bring a band with me for most of those.

Do you have any interests outside of music?

I am very much into martial arts. It has been an incredible builder of strength, confidence, focus, and determination. I also enjoy tinkering with cars, a hobby that I picked up from my father. Most of all, I really enjoy spending time with my wife and family, though. They keep me sane!

What advice would you like to you give to an aspiring bassist and the viewers of the IIB? Where would you suggest for them to start, and what areas of study would you suggest they focus on?

I would tell players not to get too caught up in modeling themselves completely after another player or individual. One of the biggest mistakes we make as aspiring artists and as humans is the mistake of evaluating our own successes based on others' successes, alone. I speak from experience on this one, and it can be a very hard road. I have been fortunate enough to so far attain some level of international notoriety as a bassist over the years but in the past was not able to enjoy or appreciate any of it because of my attitude. I was never satisfied because I was always comparing myself to someone that I thought was "farther along" than me. It is good to be motivated and driven but never at the expense of your own appreciation for what you have. Life here is very short when you look at the big picture. Aim high and strive to be better and better, but make sure you never forget to stop every once in a while and savor the journey. You will live a much fuller life, and you will be empowered to influence people in a positive way.

Do you have any closing thoughts or anything else you would like to mention that I may have overlooked?

I just want to thank Cliff Engel and the IIB for the tremendous opportunity to share with your readers. I really appreciate it!

Selected Discography

As A Leader
Adam Nitti & Liquid Blue

Bass-Talk 7: Lords of the Bass
The SWR Sound

With Angie Aparo
The American

For more information on Adam Nitti, visit: