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Take Five With...

Take Five With Mike Mainieri

By Published: July 30, 2009
Your sound and approach to music: I played acoustic vibes in the '40s, '50s and early '60s, until I began performing with the jazz/rock group Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs in the early '60s.

It was the first electric band I played with and frankly my acoustic vibes could not be heard above the roar of the band. Folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens was using a 'hot dot' pickup on his acoustic guitar and the idea struck me that it might be possible to glue a hot dot to every bar on the vibes at the nodal point which would amplify the vibes. After some experimentation, it worked and I was able to amplify the vibes through an amp, like an electric guitarist, and also employ various effects pedals.

In the '70s I, with the help of friends, invented the first midi pickup system. First, mono and then a later version were created which was polyphonic.

To this day I still use pickup systems to amplify the vibe. So my 'sound' varies. If the music of a recording or live performance requires an acoustic sound, then I only use 3 overhead mics (I play a Yamaha 3 1/2 vibe). But if it's a more electric setting then I use both overhead mics and my pickup system.

The advantage of using the DI from the vibes, is that I can send the feed from the vibes to the musicians monitors on stage, totally eliminating feedback which is a problem when using only mics. For the audience (or house sound) I use a combination of the overhead mics and the DI from the pickup system so that the vibes can just as loud as the el. guitarist or saxophonist.

Approach to music:

  1. Playing on someone's recording, whether it's instrumental music or vocal, is to be open in my approach to comping, playing fills or soloing;

  2. There is a huge difference in how I play on a Boz Scaggs or Paul Simon album than I would on a straight-ahead or fusion album. I can explain this in more detail in an interview.

Your teaching approach: I do some private teaching, although I'm involved in quite a few workshops when I tour. I do teach at my studio in NY to intermediate students and professional performing artists.

My approach varies accordingly. At clinics and workshops, I'll talk about my experiences as a performer, composer, arranger, producer and my record company, then devote some time to Q & A. Then I'll perform some solo pieces utilizing my interpretations of a standard or two and then work with a small ensemble or, in some cases, a big band.

In a masterclass I emphasize the importance of learning standards. Typically, young vibists will perform a Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
or Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
tune, which is cool. May I add that both artists are personal friends and I have a great respect for their work. But I get a better sense of a vibraphonist's harmonic and melodic depth by hearing them play "Lush Life" or "Body and Soul," etc...then we go to work!

Road story: Your best or worst experience: I guess one of my worst experiences was subbing for Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
on a long U.S. State Department tour in 1961. Buddy left the tour early and I played drums with the band for the remainder of the tour with one caveat, that we were introduced as the Buddy Rich band. We were one of the first jazz bands to play in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Iran.

Then a quite amusing incident occurred a few years ago when I finished a gig in Germany and was approached by a distinguished elderly gent from India who introduced himself and mentioned that he saw me perform in New Delhi, India in 1961. After complimenting me on the set we had just played he subtly added, "Yes, it was in Delhi that I saw you last, but I knew you were not Buddy Rich"!

Favorite venue:

Although the acoustics, bandstand and 'treatment' sucked. I'd have to say the old Birdland on 52nd St in NYC was my favorite place to play and hear music.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I really don't have a favorite, but a few lemons I'd like to have not recorded.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Red Norvo trio, Move, with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus. Although I had several 78s. My favorite as a kid was Hampton's version of "Stardust," with the Just Jazz All Stars.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I'm 71 years old and still performing. I'd say that keeping the Steps Ahead band evolving for 30-plus years has been rewarding in that I've involved over 40 artists as the band evolved.

Recently I was instrumental in reuniting a collective group that performed in the early '70s called L'Image, when we all lived in Woodstock, NY.

The band is called L'Image and includes Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Warren Bernhardt and David Spinozza. We've recorded a CD and will be touring Japan in early September, 2009, and an appearance at The Iridium Jazz Club in NYC from September 24-27.

Did you know...

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Download jazz mp3 “Like Someone in Love” by Mike Mainieri Download jazz mp3 “The Brat” by L'Image (Mainieri/Bernhardt/Spinozza/Levin/Gadd)
  • The Brat
  • L'Image (Mainieri/Bernhardt/Spinozza/Levin/Gadd)
  • 2.0
Download jazz mp3 “Don't Break Step” by Mike Mainieri