Dom Minasi interview
Dom Minasi is an innovator in the field of improvisational Jazz. He is also a composer, arranger, educator, author, producer and an owner and president of CDM Records, an independent record label. He is very well known musician in “avant-garde” jazz scene and it was a pleasure to make an interview with him; not just regarding his latest project, but we also talked about some of his early releases…
1. Hi Dom, how are you?
I am fine, thank you, Klemen…. and thank you for this interview.
2. I’m really glad we can talk about your music. Tell me how did you first got involved with music? When you were 15 you already had your own jazz trio. Please tell us more about your teenage years.
When I was 14 I joined my High School Swing Band, which was also a Jazz and Dance Band. The guys in the band loved to play so much, that often we would rehearse at someone’s house after rehearsing at school. The first time we did this, I arrived early at drummer’s, Mike Simonetti,’s house. He put on a Johnny Smith record. It was Moonlight In Vermont. I never heard guitar played like that before. A few weeks later, I read in our local New York City newspaper
That Johnny Smith was performing at Birdland (famous NYC Jazz Club). I begged my father to take me. He did. We sat right in front. When I saw him play I was amazed and I knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life! Birdland had what they called a peanut gallery. Which meant if you we underage you could sit in the back of the club (peanut gallery) and have a soda. I started going there on my own. There were always two groups. I saw the greatest musicians in the world perform: The Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Billy Taylor, Miles Davis with John Coltrane – and the list goes on and on. It was the kind of education you just can’t pay for today. Soon after my first visit to Birdland, I put together my first trio. We rehearsed once a week, worked on tunes and building our repertoire. Since that time, I’ve always had a trio, even when I worked for other people.
3. Around early 70’s George Butler offered you to record two albums for Blue Note. The first one is called When Joanna Loved Me and the second one is I Have The Feeling I’ve Been Here Before. Please tell me about recording this two albums.
I think I have to tell you the story leading up to that first.
I played a concert in NYC in 1972 with a quintet. It was a packed house and the music went over very well. There was a journalist by the name of Louis Mc Milam in the audience. He wrote a small but glowing review about the group and then he interviewed me separately. During our conversations, he suggested I should record an album. I told him I had no idea how to go about it. He told me to call a friend of his at Blue Note. I called and was told to make a demo which I did . One of the songs was When Joanna Loved Me. I submitted the record. In those days, demos were made on discs.
A few weeks later I heard from him. He loved the music and was giving it to George Butler. It took a year, Then one day George’s secretary told me George wanted to see me. As I waited in the outer office, I could hear my demo being played. A few minutes later Horace Silver came out and shook my hand and told me how much he enjoyed my playing. I was in shock. Here was one of my heroes telling me he liked my playing. A few more minutes later George called me into his office and offered me a contract. It took two more years to get into the studio, but finally I recorded my first album. It got tons of radio play in New York. Six months later blue Note moved to Los Angeles. George brought me out there to record the second album. It became a major project with orchestrations and lots of musicians. After I Have A Feeling I’ve Been Here Before came out, I left Blue Note. Which will lead me to your next question.
4. Later you were not so much involved with jazz music, why is that so?
Yes that it true. I loved jazz, but I did not like the business of Jazz. I had three managers who did absolutely nothing for me. Blue Note did not do a good job of promoting and they wanted me to play music I didn’t like. They needed someone alla Donald Bird and the Black Birds playing a kind of ‘rock jazz’. I wanted to play more in the lines of John Coltrane. It was not a good fit, and I let it be known I was not happy. Soon after they dropped me. A year later I was about to sign with Mercury Records when they switched producers on me. The new producer started to tell me how and what to play. I walked away and went on to teaching, composing, arranging. I still recorded, but only as a sideman.
5. In the late 90’s you started recording again. Starting with “Finishing Touches”, “Takin’ the Duke Out” and many others. Would you like to tell us about these recordings? How did your music changed throughout the years in your opinion?
Finishing Touches came about because drummer Jay Rosen kept pushing me to start recording again. I truly did not want to get involved in the business of jazz again. But Jay and a few others were very insistent. I finally caved in and made a demo tape for Bob Rusche and CIMP Records. Little did I know that Blaise Siwula, the co-leader of another group I played with (Dialing Privileges) sent in a recording of our group to CIMP too.
Bob said yes to both groups. In February 1999 I recorded one record as a leader and one as a co-leader. I got stung by the bug again, but this time I wanted to have total control over everything. My wife Carol and I started CDM Records and our first recording, Takin’ the Duke Out came out in 2001.
For this recording I put together a new trio with Ken Filiano on bass and Jackson Krall on drums. After three rehearsals we recorded ‘live’ at the Knitting Factory, NYC, in front of a packed house. Because of years of playing Duke Ellington’s music, I wanted to give five of his most recorded songs a different slant. After the record came out, the reviews were great and we kept on going. Each record had a its’ own special theme. Goin’ Out Again ( 2002) introduced me as more of a free player and composer.
Time Will Tell (2003) showed off more of my composing and an inside-out approach to playing. I always wanted to record an organ album because of my days in the eighties leading a group with Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ.
Quick Response (2004) was born. To answer your question, my music changes as I grow and change, I’m always striving for the next level – and I have have many different sides and each recording represents those sides.
6. Let’s talk about your project from 2006 called The Vampire’s Revenge…It’s really an ambitious album!
Yes it is. I loved the Anne Rice Vampire Books and I wanted to write something that I thought would be in the Vampire genre – long before any of the movies & TV shows appeared. It actually started with a piece I wrote titled The Vampire’s Revenge that I recorded with Blaise Siwula. In 2002. That title inspired me to write a short story. Based on that story I wrote the music. The Vampire’s Revenge has 22 musicians and a conductor. The music is through-composed with lots of improvisation. I used the best of the best downtown players and my favorite engineer, Jon Rosenberg. It is a recording I am especially proud of. It made the ‘top ten’ lists of major jazz journalists. Many were is shocked because of the atonality and dissonance of the music, but I needed to do something totally different and I think I did.
7. On your next album The Dom Minasi String Quartet’s Dissonance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder you went in a totally different music direction, don’t you think?
Yes I did. I always had the idea that a string quartet would be different with guitar in it. The guitar takes the place of the second violin or viola. I originally had a group called DDT that was composed of guitar, bass and cello. When I wrote the arrangements for The Vampire’s Revenge, I used DDT with Ken Filiano-bass and Tomas Ulrich-cello and I added Jason Kao Hwang on violin as part of the string section, Due to necessity, a lot of the music from Vampire’s Revenge needed to be re-arranged for smaller groups which gave me the idea for the string quartet. In 2009 I started recording for Turkish record company. Re:Konstruk Records. My first release with them was the Dom Minasi String Quartet’s Dissonance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder. This again is through-composed music with a 21st century slant towards classical music. Later that year it was picked up by Konnex Records.
8. Your latest three albums are Blaise Siwula-Dom Minasi ‘Live’ At The Matt Bevel Institute followed by The Dom Minasi Sextet’s The Bird, The Girl and The Donkey and your very last piece is Looking Our Looking In. Tell us about these releases, Dom.
Besides being a close friend, Blaise Siwula and I have been playing together since 1996. We started with a co-op trio, Dialing Privileges with drummer John Bollinger as the third musician. A few years later it became a duo. Blaise and I played many gigs together. In 2003 we did a southwest tour (USA). The concert was recorded at the Matt Bevel Institute in Tucson, Arizona. We decided to release it in 2010 with re: KonstruK Records,. The Bird the Girl and The Donkey was a jam session I recorded with Blaise Siwula-alto, Ras Moshe-tenor, Albey Balgochian-bass, Jay Rosen-drums and myself on guitar.
The recording came out so well that Umut Calgar put it out on re:KonstruK Records. The fun part of that recording was writing a short story as the liner notes.
About my last recording…..Because I like playing ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, I thought it was time for me to put out a solo recording. Each day I would record a new piece without warming up. I wanted the music to sound fresh and new and think I accomplished that with Looking Out Looking In.
9. What are some of your future plans?
Re:KonstruK is releasing a duo record I made with the legendary Karl Berger and look for another duo recording with genius Anthony Braxton coming out some time in 2012. I am hoping to bring one of my groups to Europe this year. I am continuing to compose and play as much as possible..
10. Thank you very much for taking your time! Would you like to share anything else with your fans perhaps?
Yes. If your readers go to my website (http://www.domminasi.com) they can learn more about me and my music and see many videos of my different groups. If they go here; they can read the True Story behind The Vampire’s Revenge
Thank you Klemen.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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