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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).
About Christian de Mesones
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