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Antonella Mazza - September 2006

Originally from Calabria in southern Italy, Antonella Mazza studied classical and jazz bass under the direction of Ezio Pederzani at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan. In addition to her bass studies at the conservatory, Mazza received training in sound design and earned a master's degree in ethnomusicology from D.A.M.S. Mazza has also completed instruction with John Patitucci as well as clinics with Bruce Gertz and David Clark from Berklee College of Music. Today, Mazza is recognized as one of Italy's acclaimed bassists, and her playing has been featured on international tours, recordings, and numerous television appearances alongside some of Italy's most notable pop and jazz musicians.

In this interview, Mazza talks about her background, playing as a freelance musician, teaching, the Italian bass tradition, and much more.

Could you tell us how you got started as a bassist?

Antonella Mazza I've always loved music, and as a young child, I listened to everything we had available in our house including pop, rock, music on the radio, and my mother's favorite band, the Beatles. I received a guitar as a present from my dad, and I was so eager to learn everything I could about the guitar. I remember asking everyone to show me different chords. It was like discovering a new world or opening an enormous book. My friends and I would listen to music for hours and dream of becoming stars. We put together a Beatles tribute band, and everyone wanted to be John Lennon so I played the part of Paul McCartney.

When did you begin studying bass in a traditional fashion?

I started out as being self-taught until I was accepted to the music conservatory. There I found an excellent teacher who, fortunately for me, played classical and jazz music on both acoustic upright as well as electric bass. He would have me practice for an hour with the bow, and then he'd have me play pizzicato over a blues in F on the upright. Following that, he would also have me pick up the electric bass and practice a song by Earth, Wind and Fire. I had a lot of great experiences at the conservatory. I learned a lot about music, not only about bass. I got to play with so many fantastic musicians such as Bruce Gertz from Berklee College during the Umbria summer jazz clinics and John Patitucci at the Roccella Jonica Jazz Festival. At the same time, I was studying ethnomusicology at the university. Thanks to an award, I was given the opportunity to leave my hometown and move to Milan where I continued to study under the guidance of Ezio Pederzani, the doublebass chair of the Teatro alla Scala. Today, my studies continue with jazz arranging.

Who has been the biggest influence on your playing?

I fell in love with the music of Charlie Mingus when I heard him play. I didn't understand exactly what I was listening to at the time, but it really sparked something inside of me. The same thing happened to me when I heard Jaco's self-titled debut recording. I was just a young girl with long blond hair and a pink bass, but the sound of this music and the bass was very powerful.

Can you tell us about the bands you are currently playing with and the kind of material you perform?

I'm a freelance bass player so I get the opportunity to play with a wide variety of musicians in many different musical styles. I have definitely spent more time playing sessions with other artists than I have on my own projects. I just recently finished a tour with a great and famous Italian pop artist called Ron and playing on a television show on the national RAI channel with a fantastic rock band. I also perform with one of Italy's true jazz icons, Lino Patruno. We performed at the Blue Note in Milan to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a jazz artist. I have recorded songs for a young and talented Italian singer called Seba, with whom I have also performed live. I'm currently writing music for a piece about the poet Rilke. It's a very unique gig because I will be on stage playing upright while two actors read poetry. I'm also writing a solo bass arrangement of the Mahler Suite No. 2. In addition to this, I have my jazz quintet, "Tribute to Duke." I'm very fortunate because I get to play a lot of music.

How did you get your intonation together on acoustic upright?

I work on intonation on upright every day. It can be a struggle for a lot of bass players. You have to have excellent technique and good ears. I don't really have any secrets. I just work on a lot of traditional, fundamental exercises including scales and basic intervals.

How do you typically record your electric and acoustic upright basses?

I'm a very simple person, and this is reflected in the way I play and record. For the electric bass, I normally record directly to the mixer, and sometimes I use a SansAmp. I really like the natural sound of the bass. The upright presents more difficulties. I generally record with a Neumann or another good microphone that I place in front of the instrument. I never use a pickup to record the upright especially if I have to use a bow.

Do you offer private instruction, and if so which subjects do you teach?

Yes. I teach with great passion. I've had so many excellent teachers that have taught me, and I try to do my best to instruct my pupils in the same fashion. Every student is different. Some of the basic concepts are the same for everyone, but each person is different in their approach to music and the goals they want to achieve. I don't like to impose specific notions. I love to discuss music and find the best solutions or adaptations for that particular student. Not every student wants to become a professional musician. Sometimes students just want to have fun with music. As a teacher, I personalize every lesson according to each individual student, and my main goal is to achieve a great result for every situation. Students can also study with me in a traditional fashion in order to achieve more of an academic result.

Are you working on any new projects that will be released soon?

Antonella Mazza Yes. I've finally decided to record my own studio CD as a leader. Half of the material on this recording will consist of original compositions, and the other half will be arrangements of other songs that I've been working on. I'm writing a lot of scores and doing the pre-production at home, but I'm sure this will change a little when I'm in studio to record with other musicians because I really believe in interplay. I'm hoping to complete it by the end of this year.

Thanks to a collaboration with an Italian magazine called InSound, I discovered a passion for writing. I write a monthly column called "Music and the City" in which I talk about music, musicians, problems, lifestyles, and all the things that occur in a musical environment. Eventually, these articles will be gathered for a book that I'd like to do. There are so many good recordings that you can buy, but there doesn't seem to be much information available about the musicians themselves.

What can you tell us about the current music scene in Italy?

Right now, we seem to be going through an unusual musical period in Italy. There aren't many good jazz clubs, but there are disco clubs everywhere if you like that type of music. The independent scene is full of punk and rock bands, but it seems that people have somewhat forgotten about the pleasure of listening to music and the arts in general. The Italian government requires musicians to pay a lot of taxes which doesn't help, but there are a lot of very talented, young musicians with incredible ideas.

How would you describe Italy's bass tradition?

The classical doublebass is one of the oldest traditions we have in Italy. From Dragonetti, Isaia Bille, and Giovanni Bottesini, great classical bass players have contributed amazing literature for the instrument. This is the real Italian bass tradition. In jazz, we've had a lot of superb musicians from the classical genre crossover to become great jazz performers. In the last twenty years, the role of the electric bass has expanded greatly, especially in Italian pop music. There are so many talented musicians on the scene including solo artists and jazz performers such as Rosario Bonaccorso and Paolino Dalla Porta.

As a role model for young female bassists, do you have any advice you could share that might help them reach the level you've attained?

Besides telling everyone to practice every day, I can just share my story and experience. The level I have reached is only a starting point. I don't really think about being a female bassist. It's just a matter of tradition. Females discovered bass later than males, but we are catching up fast! In Italy, I am one of the first professional women bass players so hopefully I've opened a few doors for other females in the future. It is definitely becoming more common to see women bass players in bands, but I don't think it matters all that much if you are a male or a female who is playing the bass. All that really matters is the music sounding through the amp. You should be judged according to the quality of the music, not based on your gender.

I would just like to tell girls that you don't have to act like a man in order to play bass. I remember the first time I was playing in a classical orchestra. I tried to demonstrate how strong I was by denying any help and carrying my upright by myself. The director saw that I was struggling with it because I was all sweaty and wearing a dirty dress. He reminded me not to forget about my femininity because sometimes females think they need to act too much like men in order to be accepted in a male world. Being a female bass player is difficult, but we can also do it with stiletto heels on! Even though I'm a bassist, I'm still a woman, and I would like to spend my life doing normal girly things such as shopping for clothes and shoes. The legendary Carol Kaye has been very inspiring as a female bassist because not only has she enjoyed a great career as a musician but also a normal life as a woman.

What do you enjoy doing when you aren't playing bass?

I love to cook, and I'm really good at it. When time permits, I enjoy having friends over to cook traditional food from my region. I don't really have much of a social life or hobbies so I spend much of my days practicing. I also read quite a bit. I'm really passionate about horror literature written by Lovecraft, Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, and Katy Reichs. Of course, I love to shop, and I also love to go to the beach. While growing up, I could see the sea from the windows of my parent's house. It was a non-stop source of inspiration, and it continues today.

Selected Discography

Antonella Mazza
Solo Recordings
Live at Ca' bianca

With Soulstance:
En Route
Act One
Truth, Simplicity & Love

With Triacorda:

With Seba:
Quadri d'autore

With Stiv:
Parola di Vongola

With Luca Gemma:

With La Crus:

With Lorenzo Valla:
Gospel Fusion Vol. II

With Roberto Cacciapaglia:
Incontri con l'anima


Warwick Streamer Stage II "Pink Barbie" 5-String Fretted
Warwick Streamer Stage II Blue 5-String Fretted
Warwick Triumph Electric Upright
Sirleto Doublebass With Underwood Pickup

Amps & Cabinets:
Markbass TA501
Markbass SA450
Markbass Standard 151HR
Markbass Mini CMD 121P

La Bella Hard Rockin' Steel
La Bella Super Steps

Evidence Audio


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© 2006 The IIB