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Take Five with Christian de Mesones

Christian de Mesones By

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About Christian de Mesones

Christian "Big New York" de Mesones has been playing bass guitar for decades. At 18, he graduated from the world-famous Bass Institute of Technology (now the Musician's Institute) in Hollywood, California where he studied with such greats as Abraham Laboriel, Pat Martino, and the late Tommy Tedesco.

He performed with bands based in Hawaii, Hollywood, New York City, and Richmond, playing a wide variety of musical styles (hard rock in Oahu in 1981, and heavy metal with Twice Shy, a staple of the New York Metal scene in the mid-eighties).

Moving to Richmond in 1995, he entered the urban music scene, laying tracks for hip-hop artists, and playing R&B, Caribbean, Latin, and smooth jazz with various groups. Opening for artists such as Marion Meadows, Chuck Brown and Roberta Flack, he entertained record breaking crowds.

In 2006 his smooth jazz band Groove Skool played the Capital Jazz Fest and began drawing standing room only crowds in numerous other shows in the Mid-Atlantic region. Their album, Limited Edition, received international airplay.

He has released three popular singles independently. In 2018 Spirit rose to #12 with a bullet on the Smooth Jazz Media Base chart.

Due out in July, his genre busting 2019 album, They Call Me Big New York, fuses the funk, R&B, jazz, rock and Latin elements he embraced in his long and colorful career. Several tracks feature a collaboration with West Coast singer/songwriter Debora Galan.

Instrument(s):

I play 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 12-string electric basses.

I have always collected basses. I currently own ten and am working on a new design for another. My instruments are like a family to me. Some were purchased because I admired the design, not intending to play them live, like my Gene Simmons Axe and my Gavelston Double Neck. Others I bought after trying them out in a music store or conference and falling in love with them. I think the variety has improved my skill and aided my creativity.

Three of my basses impact me most right now. I am a Warwick endorsee and own a 4-string dirty blonde thumb bass that I absolutely love to play. It is a limited model—only 200 were made. The body is extra light, making it easy and fun to slap on. My 6-string Alembic Epic is always on stage with me. It's the bass I play for everything other than up-tempo funk tunes. I use it to write the majority of my songs, on most of my recordings, and also when teaching. My 7-string fretless Conklin gives me a different sound. It's great for certain solos and studio work, giving me complete control over the tones, since my fingers are the only thing that cut the vibrations short and create pitch. I can utilize all of the tones and microtones that exist between notes, which permits an infinite amount of originality and compositional possibilities. It helps me consider tags, melodies and harmonies for other instruments to play. The fretless also allows me to play sliding harmonics, which can be quite beautiful when playing a ballad.

My custom 8-string Kramer and 12-string Dean Rhapsody can be heard on two tracks ("The Train" and "Dekalb and Flatbush,") on the Groove Skool Limited Edition album. What sounds like a clavinet is actually those basses with a wah effect from my Zoom B2U pedal.

Teachers and/or influences?

Let's start with well-known and respected bass luthier Ken Smith. Before he went into business building and marketing electric bass guitars, he was a NYC session man and Broadway pit musician. At age 17, I found his name reading the Village Voice and studied with him for a year.

He taught me reading through exercises from the F. Simandel method books.

At age 18, I entered the Bass Institute of Technology in Hollywood, California (now the Musician's Institute). Faculty and visiting artists included legendary musicians such as Tommy Tedesco, Pat Martino and Louis Johnson. Other influences came from Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, Bill Dickens, Jeff Berlin, John Entwistle, Geddy Lee, Greg Lake, Gene Simmons and Abraham Laboriel.

Other musicians that I've worked with throughout my career also left a strong impression. Jaared Arosemena, Lori Williams, Keith Slattery, David Bach, and Wayne Patterson are among them. Their skills and professionalism astound me.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I knew I wanted to be a musician after attending my first concert at age 15 in 1975. It was a rock concert—the band was KISS. That show left an indelible mark on me. It was the first time that I actually heard the bass guitar separate from the other instruments. Gene Simmons' tone was distorted and buzz saw-like, which got my attention. After that night, there was no turning back for me.

Your sound and approach to music.

My sound is ever evolving. Like an illustrator, I begin with a blank canvas, lay down a foundation of color with my chords and melodies, then invite other artists to enhance the work by adding nuance and highlights that supplement the foundation.

Your teaching approach

After introducing a foundation based upon reading and rhythmic exercises, I teach my students the art of creating in the moment. I emphasize learning how to write their own phrases, as opposed to only learning established patterns, which can hinder the overall growth of a bassist.

Your dream band

Pat Martino—Electric Guitar; Tommy Emmanuel—Acoustic Guitar; Bobby McFerrin—Vocals; Milton Nascimento—Vocals; Debora Galan—Vocals; Arturo Sandoval—Trumpet; Jaared Arosemena—Soprano Saxophone; Eddie Baccus, Jr.—Alto and Baritone Saxophone; Adam Ben Ezra—Upright Bass; Lenny White—Drums; Phillipe Saisse—Vibes and Piano; Cory Henry—Hammond Organ; Paulinho DaCosta—Percussion; Steve Reid—Percussion; Eddie Jobson—Electric Violin/Keyboards; Caroline Campbell—Violin; Tina Guo—Electric Cello; Rob Maletick—Tenor Saxophone; Hans Zimmer—Band Director

Road story: Your best or worst experience

While transitioning from Richmond, VA to the DC area, I took a brief hiatus from performing live. My first comeback show was the Capital Jazz Festival in Columbia, Maryland, with a band that I created specifically for the purpose of entering a competition they used to have for new artists. It was held on the Symphony Woods stage, early on Saturday morning. My wife had encouraged me to enter. I didn't have a band at the time, and she simply said, "create one." So, I did. Several musician friends came up from Richmond and joined new musical acquaintances I had made upon my arrival to the D.C. area. In about two weeks we had formed a band and written three songs together. The immediate musical chemistry was quite remarkable—one that I have not experienced since.

Artists were required to submit a video entry, and we were selected as competition finalists. Other finalists were Ragan Whiteside, Matt Marshack, Sound Doctrine, and Ken Ford. The first-place winner won $5,000 and the opportunity to play on the main stage on Sunday. Ragan Whiteside had an awesome performance and was the recipient of the first-place prize. We were excited to have made the finals, considering how quickly everything came together. It gave us the opportunity to play at a festival and be critiqued by renowned artists such as Kirk Whalum. It was a learning experience, as well as an opportunity to make new friends and lasting industry connections.

Once on stage, it was as if no time had passed at all. I am well-known for my high energy on stage, and this event was no different; however, right before the first note was played, I heard the seat of my pants rip, which meant I was unable to bend or turn around and face the band for the duration of the performance.

The band created for the Capital Jazz competition was Groove Skool. Soon after the Capital Jazz competition, we began performing regularly, and eventually, we were lucky enough to find a home at K2 Restaurant and Lounge in Woodbridge, Virginia, where we played dozens of times between 2008—2015. This venue treated local artists like royalty, considering how difficult it is for local talent to be well-treated and well compensated. It gave us an opportunity to further develop our signature sound and promote and sell our original music.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

This is the most difficult question to answer, because it is impossible to select only one. Since I must choose, I am going with Lenny White, Adventures of the Astral Pirates, because it is a multi-dimensional compilation that includes a bit of everything I love—rock, funk, jazz, fusion, gospel and R&B.

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

The most important thing I am contributing musically is my unique vision of what a smooth jazz live performance can be. I push the envelope with my setlists. While my instrumentation is traditional, I like to double, or even triple certain instruments to highlight the theme for the show. Additionally, my compositions are representative of all of my musical experiences, which gives an edge to my sound that transcends the typical smooth jazz formula.

I play mostly original compositions, which can be risky for an artist. My originals are a significant departure from popular smooth jazz, since they almost always cross genres. Some songs are Latin Jazz, but still have R&B, rock, and/or funk influences. Others are very urban sounding tracks with traditional-style smooth jazz instrumentation and rock or pop melodies. I have composed what can only be described as a smooth jazz power ballad that is a tribute to my wife, and I have also written a two-part Latin Jazz "opera" dedicated to my father. Playing these songs live, and having the audience respond to them the way they do, gives me a satisfaction that playing covers could never provide.

Smooth jazz audiences have become accustomed to hearing songs they recognize from Sirius XM Watercolors and covers of R&B favorites, so it would be easy to load my setlist with these songs. When I do include covers in my sets, they must be meaningful to me, and to the theme of the show, and must highlight the chosen instrumentation. I have been known to throw in a rock cover from time to time, such as Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4," which is an amazing song to play when you have the right horn section. Even if we perform a popular cover, it may have a gospel ending, or we may do a mash-up with another song. If the occasion is right, I might include an extended drum solo akin to those you experience at a rock concert (allowing the rest of the band to take a break).

And we always have call and response segments and singalongs with the audience. The gist of all of this is that I am a storyteller, and I use a combination of strategies and approaches to take the audience on the journey I envisioned when I created the show—rom the selection of the accompanying musicians, to the setlist, to the order of the songs in the setlist, to the points during the show when I talk to the audience. Every detail is strategic, because the audience deserves the same attention that I am expecting to receive from them in return. I may have to adjust as necessary on the day, but I love sharing personal experiences and anecdotes with my audience when appropriate, and I do everything in my power to keep them engaged and ensure that they are thoroughly entertained.

Did you know...


I got my start in Heavy Metal and played with the most popular hard rock acts of the '80s at the legendary L'amour Club in Brooklyn, dubbed the "Heavy Metal capital of the world" by Rolling Stone magazine.

The first jazz album I bought was:

The first jazz album I bought was Birds of Fire by Mahavishnu Orchestra, in 1973.

Music you are listening to now:

Angel: Helluva Band (Casablanca) UK: Danger Money (Polydor)
Dave Samuels: Live at the Blue Note (GRP)
Arturo Sandoval: Danzón (GRP)
Caribbean Jazz Project: Caribbean Jazz Project (Heads Up International)
Lenny White: Adventures of the Astral Pirates (Elektra)
Groove Skool Band: Limited Edition (Independent)
UK: UK (Polydor)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

The state of jazz today is troubled. It is very difficult for new or relatively unknown jazz artists to have their music heard by those beyond their loyal fanbase without shelling out large amounts of money that most fledgling musicians don't have. The support once provided by labels and radio is largely nonexistent, so musicians are constantly looking for ways to attract attention to their projects. Social media and streaming have been a gift and a curse, allowing those with the tech know-how the opportunity to reach new market segments, but making it difficult to protect your intellectual property and be paid appropriately. While the music is vastly different than it was just ten years ago, I don't see that as a negative. I'm a proponent of breaking the rules and pushing the envelope. The music industry as a whole has changed, and continues to evolve, in a way that is largely detrimental to anything other than mainstream music, and jazz happens to be amongst the genres most in danger of being lost.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Many of yesterday's jazz musicians had the opportunity to learn their instruments in an educational setting, but these electives are in danger of being eliminated. It is incumbent upon us to be proponents for keeping music education alive. With that being said, one must be willing to adapt to the change that is occurring at a lightning-quick pace. Creating excitement in your musicianship is key, as well as maintaining a strong focus on branding. Your vision should be on par with the pop and hip-hop artists that successfully navigate today's growing social media climate. And inviting and collaborating with up and coming artists can allow for a one of a kind musical experience for your audience, while engaging new followers on a personal level.

Grade school arts programs, especially music related programs, are disappearing, since standardized test results became tied to federal funding, and the focus for schools became the core learning areas, such as reading and math. Arts are now considered "enrichment" subjects, and thus are the first to be cut when funding is an issue. It is not uncommon to encounter entire school districts without music or arts teachers, or adequate funding for supplies and instruments. Often, if teachers do not take it upon themselves to integrate music and arts into other areas of the curriculum, the students will not have any exposure to these subjects at all, which actually puts them at a disadvantage.

Arts have been found to have huge benefits to students of all ages. Systematically learning how to read music and choosing an instrument during your formative years has an impact that goes beyond the desire to become a professional musician. Statistics show that young students who participate in music education do better in math, are less likely to drop out of school, and experience a whole host of additional developmental benefits. The strongest and most talented musicians, producers, and performers I have encountered in my career as a smooth jazz artist are products of grade school arts programs. My formal training began at the post-secondary level, and I often envy musicians who had the opportunity to experience music education in grade school. These musicians approach their craft differently and it is a pleasure to learn from, as well as create and perform with them.

What is in the near future?

I am in the process of finalizing my upcoming release, They Call Me Big New York, which is my first solo project, coming out in July. After Blues Alley, I have a performance at Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel, Maryland and the Jazz Legacy Foundation in Hampton, VA in November. I'm already working on music for the follow-up to my debut solo release. I will also continue to teach and hold clinics.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

This may sound simple, but my biggest fear these days is my hands cramping during a song. I have to work diligently and take lots of precautions to try and alleviate that risk, but they don't always work, and I have had to get creative in the moments when this has occurred.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"In the Waiting" by Vicki Yohe. This is a beautiful gospel song, and I have always loved the lyrics.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I'm not a whistler or a singer. As narcissistic as it may sound, I am usually humming melodies to my own songs, to try to improve something that I'm working on, or come up with something new.

By Day:

I am school bus driver for Prince William County Schools, and I teach bass guitar at A2G music in Woodbridge, VA.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

A rock musician, of course.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I would love to have dinner with my maternal and paternal grandfathers. My maternal grandfather was a mandolin player in Bulgaria. I would love to talk with him about his musical experiences. My paternal grandfather was an aristocratic landowner in Peru. It would be amazing to learn family history from him and talk with him about my dad.

What role did your family play in the development of your musical career?

I have been writing songs since I was a small child and was always drawn to music. I grew up in a music—filled household with parents and siblings who introduced me to a wide variety of music at an early age. My mother exposed me to artists like Yma Sumac and Raphael, a Latin vocalist. She played lots of Broadway show soundtracks, and always played Barbara Streisand. I believe I know every Barbara Streisand song to this day. My sister turned me on to Stravinsky's Firebird and Jesus Christ Superstar. Later in life, she introduced me to Milton Nascimento, which had a profound effect on me. My father listened to a lot of Peruvian folk music and would dance with my mother in the living room, with a handkerchief in one hand, and his other hand behind his back.

My brother had the biggest influence on me musically. He introduced me to King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Black Sabbath, and later, The Isley Brothers, George Duke and Mahavishnu Orchestra. As early as I can remember, I was allowed to walk to the corner record store in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My mother would give me a couple of quarters and I would buy 45 rpm records, which were considered singles. I learned what I liked by listening to what was being played in my household, what was on the radio, and what I saw on American Bandstand. After high school, I obtained a teaching certificate from the Bass Institute of Technology, and began my professional musical career.

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