Musical Chops with Adam Nitti

Chris Tarry talks with Adam Nitti about technique, solo albums, and making it as a pro bass player!
Chris Tarry: Hi Adam and thanks for taking the time to chat with us here at Active Bass. You and I have known each other for quite some time now and it's great to get a chance to talk with you for Active Bass. Can you start out by telling us a bit about yourself and how you got started playing bass.

Adam Nitti: My mother's side of the family was the more arts-oriented side. My grandfather was a very accomplished violinist, pianist, and composer, and my grandmother was a very talented artist. Most of their 6 children were artistic in one way or another. I showed an interest in music at a very young age, and I can remember tinkering with my toy guitar and drumset constantly, always pretending as if I was playing in a band. My mother also played piano, and when I was around 8 years old she and my father started me on classical piano lessons.

I continued studying until I was around 13, and a year later I decided to take up electric bass so I could join my friends' rock band. At that time I was doubling on keys and bass, trying to emulate players like Geddy Lee of Rush who was one of my first bass heroes. I liked playing the bass so much that I eventually stopped playing keyboards in the band. Since then, I haven't turned back, although I still compose mostly on the keyboard.

CT: You use some very advanced technique on tracks throughout both your albums. What are some of the extended techniques you have developed over the years?

AN: When I was 16 I started to experiment with a sweep arpeggio technique that I eventually incorporated into my soloing. Some have identified it as a trademark of my 'style', but I don't know that I would ever say that, myself. It's just a neat-sounding approach that I worked to make more musical over the years.

I have also spent a lot of time working on a slap bass/classical fingering hybrid approach that will be featured in many tracks on my new record. It is kind of in the spirit of the 'open-hammer-pluck' sound that Victor Wooten has made famous, but taken in a different direction. My approach is not quite as aggressive; it combines slap thumb technique with traditional fingerstyle playing you might identify with a classical guitarist.

Beyond that, I've written several two-handed pieces that cover both harmony and melody on the 6 string bass. I'm still searching, though...

Adam Layin It Down!

Adam Nitti Live.

CT: Tell us a bit about how you approach composition. Do you compose on the bass or mostly use the piano/keyboard?

AN: Most of my writing is on the keyboard, but there are instances where I'll write around a previously composed bassline. It's really never the same approach for each song. I really like composing on keyboards, because it forces me to be inspired away from the bass. So often our hands get into ruts of muscle-memory, and we find ourselves re-hashing the same things over and over again. I really enjoy 'stabbing away' at the keyboard without necessarily thinking too much about the theory of composition. However, there are times when I'll hear the complete song in my head, and from then on it's just a matter of getting the parts recorded, piece by piece.

CT: With the succesfull release of two bass fronted albums is there any advice you can give bass player's out there wanting to release their own solo albums?

AN: I would say to keep your expectations low, and then enjoy the progress and/or success that follows. I don't mean that in a cynical way; Instead, I am saying to release the record that you really want to share, regardless of what you think might 'sell'.

Make a solo record that is true to your calling as a musician. It is very challenging to try and make your mark in the music industry as a bass player/frontman, but it can be done. People like Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller have helped to bring the bass more into the mainstream, and their music is enjoyed by many more listeners than just the bass community. I'm one of those people that will record and release just about everything I write. Of course, you have that luxury if you are recording records independently. It's different when you are working with a label. Usually they have a considerable say in what gets released if they are providing funding.

CT: Who are some of the players out there today that continue to inspire you?

AN: There are so many! As far as electric bass goes, I've been a fan of John Patitucci's since I first heard him with Chick Corea. I admire his compositional style as much as I do his bass playing. There is an incredible player named Dominique di Piazza that I have followed for quite some time. He is a huge inspiration to me; I was fortunate enough to cultivate a close friendship with him a couple of years ago. We have similar backgrounds both musically and spiritually. He is the most melodic electric bassist I have heard, and he is also an incredible person.

I feel a special connection to Jaco... He was my first 'bass idol.' When I was in my late teens I didn't listen to much else. He died on my birthday, and it was quite heavy at the time. I also love Gary Willis, Me-Shell, Oteil Burbridge, and the list goes on...

CT: You have also been playing quite a bit in a more mainstream pop setting while touring with Angie Aparo. What are the differences in your approach to the bass when playing this more standard sideman role?

AN: My role in Angie's gig is a more supportive one. The bass lines in his music are much more conservative, as compared to what someone might hear me play on any of my solo records. My job is to play what supports the song in the most effective manner. To be honest with you, though, playing Angie's gig is just as enjoyable as any other gig I have played, only for different reasons; I am drawing enjoyment from elements of bass playing that are more foundational, which is really what the bass is meant to be. With Angie Aparo, my approach is one that is more concerned with rhythm section unity and complementary tones that it is with interaction or adventurous playing. It's great knowing that what you are playing on stage creates an even stronger delivery of the artist's message to the listeners.

CT: Any advice for some of our Active Bass members on things to work on when wanting to become a pro player?

AN: As strange as it may sound, attitude takes higher precedence than your talent when it comes to establishing yourself as a professional player. A good friend of mine once said, "It's all about being a dude." As you work your way up the ladder, you'll find that people in circles of musical influence will already assume you can play. What a lot of players sometimes forget is that your personality and disposition play a key part in your getting called back.

If people enjoy your company, they will want you on the gig, even if you aren't necessarily the most 'skilled' player they could have called. By all means, don't stop trying to improve your playing. But when you interact with other players, writers, and producers, keep in mind that your positive attitude may give you the extra edge amongst your peers.

CT: What kind of equipment are you using these days?

Adam's Main Bass

6 string Curbow International Exotic

AN: My main bass over the last several years has been a 6 string Curbow International Exotic. However, when I'm on the road with Angie, I use a Music Man Stingray 5 and a Mike Lull Modern 5. I plug my basses into a TL Audio/HHB Fatman tube compressor, and I go out of that into an SWR Interstellar Overdrive preamp. I don't use the Fatman for compression, though. I use it for slight coloration of my signal: I slightly overdrive the input stage to get an extra bit of tube 'growl.' For power, I am using 2 SWR SM-900 heads, and I run those into 2 SWR Goliath III cabinets. In the rare instance when I am using effects, I'll use an Ensoniq DP/4. CT: How has features in Bass Player magazine, and on the SWR disc helped your career?

AN: They have helped immensely by allowing me to share my music and experiences on an international level. I am so appreciative of my sponsors: SWR, D'Addario, and the Atlanta Institute of Music, and also the publications and websites that have featured my music, lessons, or articles. If it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be selling my CD's to anyone else but my family and friends!

I also want to thank you, Chris Tarry, and Active Bass for showing an interest in doing this interview. Organizations like yours have helped to stimulate more interest in my music, and I really depend on the support.

CT: Man cannot live on bass alone. What are some of your other interests.

AN: I really enjoy martial arts, and try to integrate its philosophies into other aspects of my life. It helps my focus, and keeps me in shape. I also am really into working on cars-a hobby my father got me into. I'm not a mechanic, but I like to tinker.

CT: What's can we expect in the near future for Adam Nitti?

AN: I'm just about finished with my third CD. My target release is February, 2001. I have just become a columnist for Bass Player magazine, and I'll be authoring a column on technique each month. I have also completed the outline for my first instructional video which I am hoping to begin recording immediately after my new CD is completed.

CT: Thanks again for hangin out with us here at AB. It's great chatting with you and good luck with everything!

AN: Thanks so much for having me! I'm really excited about sharing with the Active Bass community.