A Fireside Chat with Roberto Miguel Miranda
It is difficult to find loyalty in anything or anyone these days. CEOs are in and out of cuffs and court defrauding investors. Sports figures put on the jersey of a new team as often as you can say, "Show me the money." Actors, well, it is Hollywood and the fame would get to anyone. And musicians, fame and fortune call as well. But a sense of community still exists if you look for it in the most familiar of places, your own backyard. For years, longer than I have been on this earth, Roberto Miranda has been loyal to his community, to this music, and to his art, playing regularly with Los Angeles legends Horace Tapscott, Bobby Bradford, and Kenny Burrell. Miranda is a man of deep faith and even deeper conviction. Seemingly liabilities these days, Miranda has again stayed loyal to his beliefs and in the process led an uncompromising life worthy of mention and created music along the way that is both uncomplicated by trappings and rewarding in its down to earth simplicity. Finally, with a new recording for his many fans in my city, Miranda has stayed loyal to the process and continued a growth that makes him the best bassist in Los Angeles (who is not named Henry Grimes). Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Roberto Miguel Miranda, unedited and in his own words.
Fred Jung: Let's start from the beginning.
Roberto Miguel Miranda: My father was my first music teacher. I really loved my father deeply and I wanted to be just like him and that is how I started playing music. I started playing my father's instrument. My father is a percussionist and a singer and I actually started singing when I was twelve years old playing percussion and to this day, I still play the conga drums. My dad played all of the Afro-Latin percussion instruments, the conga, the bongo, maracas, clave, and to this day, he has a great voice, baritone voice. But I didn't sing too long and got real interested in percussion and played congas for the first three and a half, four years, I played conga drums. My brother and I had a band. He was the trap drummer and I was the conguero. When I was about fourteen years old, I took a music class in junior high school and I first walked in and asked for a trumpet. I wanted to study trumpet and the band leader, who I found out later, actually taught Charles Mingus and Buddy Collette, he said that all of the trumpet positions were taken and so I asked about guitar and he said that guitar wasn't an orchestral instrument, but that he could use some bass players. That was when I was fourteen. I took the bass for one semester and left it alone, didn't touch it again for three, three and a half years. Then one day, the bassist in the band that my brother and I had couldn't play with us any longer. His dad wouldn't let him play in the band anymore and so because I had had one semester of string bass, I played the bass. The rest is history.
FJ: That childhood affinity for percussion does reveal itself in your bass playing.
RM: Yes, absolutely. I have heard it in my own playing. I see it come out every once in a while. When funk bass came out, the cats started using their thumbs and really hitting the bass. I related to that immediately. Then I started thinking about it and realized that Milt Hinton probably invented funk bass way back when he first started playing because he has been doing that for years.
FJ: I also hear some Mingus.
RM: Let me say that Charles Mingus is one of the musicians who I spent many years trying to sound exactly alike (laughing). There were other bass players who influenced me very deeply, Paul Chambers, Scott LaFaro. Believe it or not, there were two bass guitar players who influenced me very deeply, Jaco Pastorious and Stanley Clarke. Stanley influenced me on both bass guitar and upright bass.
FJ: Los Angeles is held in very high regard when developing original improvised music is concerned.