Dom Minasi: A Matter of Time
I Have the Feeling I've Been Here Before was by all accounts an egregious, stereotype-substantiating instance of an ignorant corporate label meddling with its artists. "They gave me this Hollywood studio orchestra and these lavish arrangements. When I soloed, I tended to go out, and they took it out in the mix." They wanted jazz music, but commercial, watered-down jazz music. It was indeed a case of déjà vu. Minasi had had this same experience just a few years earlier: "After high school, I became a full time musician, and the first group I played with, the guy said, 'You play too far out.' You gotta remember, I was hanging out at Birdland. This is how I thought everybody played. I had to relearn how to play tonally, or inside."
Surprisingly (or not, considering how much effort had gone into making I Have the Feeling... docile and anodyne), the radio stations adored it. "Oh, I got tons of radio play. The record was the top played record in college radio stations throughout the country. But you couldn't find an album anywhere, not even in New York." Airplay but no availability. Red carpet treatment but no creative license. He'd had enough.
"I was not interested in the business of jazz," says Minasi. Though that didn't prevent him from giving it one last shot before retreating. "I did meet a couple people in the record business, and I was all ready to go with Mercury. And then they started to tell me how to play..." Frustrated, he ran through the door and tried bolting it from the outside. The suits could keep their cash and their fancy studios. He'd never set foot in that space again, not if it meant becoming a part of that manipulative, greedy, awful machine. And with that decisive action, he traded a life of potential fame under someone else's thumb for a life of complete independence and total anonymity. Hence his protracted disappearance from the public eye.
On the bright side, however, Minasi's long hiatus gave him plenty of time to compose. "The time wasn't wasted. I didn't do a lot of jazz gigs in the '80s. I got my chops together and I wrote a lot of music. You wouldn't believe how much music I've written. My drawers are filled with music, and I'm always writing more. I love to write and I love to compose. The reason why I'm like that is... The guy who did it all for me was Roger Kellaway," a pianist whose résumé features stints with Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer and Kai Winding, not to mention the theme music to the popular TV sitcom All in the Family. During one meeting, Minasi watched in disbelief as Kellaway sat down at the piano and produced a complex new composition in a few minutes. "I just stood there with my mouth open. I went home from that and started writing and writing and writing."
Some time later Dom went with his wife to see a Broadway production entitled Red Shoes. "One of the lines in there, the producer says to the composer, 'Why are you composing on the piano? If you get away from it, it opens it all up.' It was one of those moments where the light goes on. I said, 'I'm not composing with the guitar and the piano anymore. All my music I'm going to write in my head.'" This might partly explain why Minasi's guitar playing doesn't evoke comparisons to other guitar players, in contrast to the way, say, Biréli Lagrène can be likened to Django. Minasi himself admits to making an earlier conscious effort to steer further away from fellow guitarists. "I had all these major influences. I was influenced by Chuck Wayne, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery. One night my friend would say to me, 'You sounded like Jimmy.' The next night he would say to me, 'You sounded like Wes.' I said, 'That's it, no more guitar players.' I just stopped and I started getting into horn players." As if to bear this assertion out, Trane and Dolphy get due credit on Time Will Tell with the homages 'John' and 'Waltz for Eric.' Minasi even took advice from a vibraphonist, Harry Shepherd. "Harry could play in, out, anything, and it was always amazing. I said, 'Harry, how do you do this?' He said, 'Every night is Carnegie Hall.' I haven't had a bad night since."
Contrary to easy assumptions, the post-Blue Note years were not lean ones. "I made a good living," says the guitarist with a hint of pride. He taught. He performed now and again. He developed workshops for children. After dropping out of school when he was younger, he returned to get his degree. "But my friends kept saying, 'Oh, you gotta do this. You gotta record.'"