How did the three of you meet?
I met Michael in the early eighties when he and Hedges hooked up with Windham Hill Records. We played
together for the first time at the Berklee School of Music Theater in a concert that became the live Evening with
Windham Hill recording. Ever since, whenever we found ourselves on the same bill, we would play something
together. A few years back, i called Michael and asked if he would be interested in putting a trio together with
a percussionist. Michael had just done a gig with Chris in L.A., and was very enthusiastic about his playing.
So, I arranged to meet Chris by inviting him as a guest to a concert I was playing in southern California.
At the end of the concert,I came out to the lobby to schmooze with friends and fans. After everyone else had left,
there was this guy standing very patiently to the side. I simultaneously realized that he must be Chris, and also,
that I had spaced and forgotten to put him on guest list. It was a somewhat awkward beginning, but I've since
learned that Chris is a very patient and gracious person, and unlike myself,he has an amazing, encyclopedic memory.
I first heard Alex's music at Michael Hedges, apartment in Baltimore sometime around 1980. Michael and I were working on demos of his music to send to the then newly-formed Windham Hill label and Alex had one of the first records on Windham Hill. Michael played it for me so I could get a feel for what the label was all about and I remember enjoying how Alex's sound fit in a very cool place between folk, jazz and chamber music. I can't remember exactly when we met, but Alex was kind enough to ask me to play on a tune of his at one of the first big "Evening with Windham Hill shows we did in Boston in 1982.
What a pleasure!
I was asked to be part of a trio at a performance at G.I.T. in Hollywood, CA. Bassist/composer Steuart Liebig had recommended me. (THANK YOU Steuart - do me a favor and do a GOOGLE search on Steuart and check out his great compositions and playing). The bassist for the gig was Michael Manring. I knew Michaels work but never had the privilege of actually working with him before. I played drumset and tabla on that gig, we exchanged contact information and a couple of months later he emailed to say that Alex de Grassi wished to form a trio with Michael and they needed a percussionist.
Michael recommended me and Alex de Grassi and I contacted each other. He was performing a solo gig in Los Angeles and we hooked up the next day to play a little bit. The three of us have been playing together ever since, whenever schedules permit.
When we all got together they asked if I had any tunes that we could play through, I brought them in, and to my surprise they liked them and put their unique and very personal stamp on them.
How long have you been playing your respective instruments?
I started playing trumpet at eight. I was twelve when my mother brought home a guitar for my brother. Within a week I had appropriated the guitar. I gave the trumpet to my brother's friend.
I started playing bass guitar in 1970, when I was nine. I fell in love with the sound of the instrument and talked my parents into letting me rent one. They finally bought it for me on my tenth birthday for the steep sum of $50. I guess they could see I was pretty into it!
Drum set since I was 13, tabla, marimba, and piano since I was 18. A long, long, long time, and I still don't know anything.
Who are you main musical and non-musical influences?
I was big on folk and blues as a young teenager, but i also soaked up a lot of rock and jazz. I really wanted
to bring together the sonorities and rhythms of various folk styles with the expanded harmonies and more involved compositional/improvisational structures that jazz and classical music offer. As a composer, I'm
always inspired by visual design or a story. Literature, architecture, geography,and people are endless sources of inspiration.
Anything and everything I have ever heard, musically speaking
and non-musically speaking - my folks and my familia.
Like Chris, I feel I'm influenced by everything that has meaning to me -- the music I love, of course, but all the Arts, philosophy, mathematics, food and nutrition, history, culture, etc. The people in my life are very inspiring to me, especially my family.
Why do you play altered tunings?
Alternate tunings allow you to find voicings and combinations of notes that are not possible in standard tuning.
They also emphasize some overtones that gives resonance and a less tempered intonation to the instrument--
the guitar can actually sound louder. Changing the string tension also allows for different textures and articulations.
But, more than anything else, it scrambles everything I know intellectually and allows me to play with that sense of
discovery I felt when I first started playing.
Although I experimented a bit with altered tunings when I first started playing bass, hearing what guys like Alex were doing with it inspired me to delve into it seriously. Altered tunings on bass are a bit different from guitar, but in any case, it,s a way of exploring the vast timbral and expressive territory the instrument has to offer.
Who are your favorite guitarists?
As a teenager, I was inspired by Paul Simon, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightning Hopkins, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, John Fahey and Leo Kottke. I like Egberto Gismonti and Ralph Towner as much for the composing skills as for their great playing. The Assad duo are truly amazing, Nels Cline, G.E. Stinson and Henry Kaiser do some very interesting stuff with electric guitar. Hungarian guitarist Sandor Szabo is doing some great stuff on steel string acoustic.
Who are your favorite bassists?
I have great admiration for those who have helped to make the bass what it is and for all of my peers who continue to search for meaningful expression on the instrument. Nevertheless, I kind of live in my own world and my main focus is in exploring the kinds of colors and possibilities that have been my passion over the last 20 years or so.
Who are your favorite drummer/percussionists?
I continue to learn so much from everyone and everything I do, musical and/or otherwise.
John Bergamo always said not to lock yourself up in a practice room with a metronome and work on stuff but rather do it when you are walking, driving, skating, whatever, so that it is your LIFE and your MUSIC will reflect your LIFE and vice versa.
The list in my head of influences continues to be never ending and this site would be full of just names for many musical reasons.
Okay, Okay I hear you...
I hesitate to make a list because I know I will leave someone off and feel badly about it, but here is a
partial list the 4Williams are my first drum set influences - William Ward(Black Sabbath) William Bruford
( Yes, Earthworks, Bruford etc.)and William Cobham(Mahavishnu, and countless others)and Tony Williams
(MIles Davis and a million others)Then there is of course Jack de Johnette, Barry Altschul, Lenny White,
Clive Bunker, Drumbo, Artie Tripp, Richard Kuma,Bobby Caldwell(the drummer, not the singer)
John Bonham, Artie Tripp, Paul Motian, Terry Bozzio, Gary Husband, etc, etc.The first tabla player
I heard was Alla Rakha, (1973)the first tabla player I saw was his son Zakir Hussain,(1976)Trilok Gurtu,
then of course my teachers Pandit Tarnath Rao, John Bergamo, Swapan Chaduouri, etc.,etc.
Who are your favorite musicians?
Wayne Shorter, Bulgarian Women's Choir, Gustav Holst.
Silvestre Revueltas, Charles Ives, Charles Mingus, John McLaughlin, Jack de Johnette, Paul Motian, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter etc.,etc.
How much of what you play is improvised?
Most of what we play has an arranged melody or rhythm as a starting point. We use that structure as
a structure to improvise both on and off the chart. Sometimes its a individual soloing, and the freer stuff
lends itself to a group improv.
It depends on the composition some of the pieces have "harmonic" frameworks which we utilize for the
improvisations,some of the pieces have no harmonic frameworks at all and and based on "melodic motifs"
or "rhythmic motifs."We tend to stick to the structures even when there isn't one.
There is a jazz tradition of improvising that involves creating melodies over a specific harmony. It's a pretty deep world and we're all students of that canon, but we like to work with other kinds of improvisation, too. Many different forms of improvisation are possible in music, even when all the notes, phrasing, tempo and dynamics are indicated in the score.
How do you know where to go next?
I'll tell you afterwards.
It,s all about listening. We listen very carefully to each other -- not just to the notes, but to intentions and ideas -- and we try to react and interact in ways that are supportive, collaborative and evocative.
it really depends on the composition, how it starts and where it is going and who is doing what at the moment.....or not
Why do you sit on the floor?
What is a sympitar?
From luthier Fred Carlson
The SYMPITAR is a six-string, acoustic, steel string guitar with the addition of sympathetic resonating strings, similar to those found on instruments such as the Indian sitar. The sympathetic strings on the sympitar are uniquely configured to run inside the neck, allowing the instrument to be played like a normal guitar. Once tuned to the desired pitches, the sympathetics sing along when their notes are played on the main strings, creating an etheric, mesmerizing accompaniment. Although over time a player may develop techniques to control the response of the sympathetics and best integrate the unique sound into their own personal style, no special skill is necessary. That's part of the magic...they just sing along.
Sympathetic strings have been used on instruments for hundreds of years, and by many different cultures. Some of the more familiar instruments that feature the use of these "strings that sing along" are: the Indian sitar, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and the early European viola d'amore. The Sympitar represents a unique use of these magical, ringing strings on a contemporary acoustic guitar. The sympathetic drone strings of the sympitar run inside the neck, in a special channel fabricated of epoxy graphite material (which also serves to stiffen and strengthen the neck). They run beneath the fingerboard and pass below the sound-hole, inside the instrument, where they can be accessed for tuning. Their sound is transferred to the top via a small bridge located midway between the "main" bridge and the lower edge of the sound-hole, on the underside of the top. In India this bridge is called the"jiwari" bridge; it has a flattish surface that the sympathetic string buzzes slightly against, making it more audible and lending a distinctive flavor to the sound produced. There is an internal damping mechanism for the sympathetic strings, operated by a small lever protruding from the upper left side of the sound-hole.A small movement of this lever with the thumb of the right hand easily turns the sympathetic strings on or off. The .007" diameter steel strings are anchored to the main bridge by the ball end. Replacement of sympathetic strings is accomplished by threading the new string in through it's tiny hole in the main bridge, then pulling it through the neck with a special tool. Because there is very little wear on sympathetic strings, they rarely break or need replacement.
I build each Sympitar as a custom instrument, tailored to the needs and desires of the individual customer, but based on a model that I have developed over 12 years of experimenting and refining. The basic Sympitar has 18 strings: the standard 6 of an acoustic guitar plus 12 sympathetics. I prefer an asymmetrical body shape that creates a visual feeling of motion, allows for a graceful cutaway to give easy access to the upper end of the fret board, and has a physical balance that is comfortable to the individual player. The exact dimensions, shape and materials can be adjusted for an individual's needs in terms of tone, comfort and aesthetics.
Recent improvements in Sympitar design include a removable access panel in the back of the instrument, to facilitate adjustment of sympathetic strings, internal repairs and installation or adjustment of pick-up components. The Sympitar is available with separate electronic pickups for the two sets of strings (main and sympathetic) for lots of exciting possibilities in mixing and enhancing the sounds in an amplified situation, or when recording. There are many options for customization, including: body shape, size and materials; neck specifications; number of sympathetic strings; flat or arched top; pick-ups; carvings/inlay/ornamentation; custom case, etcetera.
What is a hyperbass?
From Joe Zons
The Hyperbass is the first instrument of its kind, designed specifically for altered tuning. One year in the making, the Hyperbass is Michael Manring's signature instrument, developed in conjunction with and for this virtuoso bassist. The Hyperbass offers limitless altered tunings and an extended range of playability and sounds for the player interested in exploring new directions in bass.
Each version features a three-octave fretless neck and heel-less extended cutaway. A book matched curly maple top laminated to a poplar body core gives this bass a full, rich, transparent sound.
All basses feature three-octave fretless fingerboard, deep extended cutaway, book matched Curly Maple top, black hardware and single humbucking pickup with ZP2-S active electronics.
What is tabla?
The tabla is the most common and popular drum used in North Indian music today. It consists of a pair of drums, the higher pitched drum is known as the tabla, the lower pitched drum is known as the bayan, though both are known collectively as tabla. The tabla is made of wood and has a head made of stretched goat skin. The skin is stretched by leather straps that run down the side of the drum over cylindrical blocks of wood which are used to tune the head. Finer tuning is done by striking the rim of the tabla with a small metal tuning hammer. The tabla is traditionally tuned to the tonic (SA), dominant (PA) or sub-dominant (MA). The bayan is traditionally made of metal, originally ceramic, also with a stretched goat skin. Both drums have a black spot made of manganese or iron dust pilings(SYAHI).
Chris plays the same tabla he has had since 1978 when he first started his studied with Pandit Tarnath Rao, (he has also studied with Leonice Shuinemann, John Bergamo and Swapan Chadhouri) with some minor changes. His tuning straps are made of nylon, instead of leather, due to the dry southern California climate, a change recommended by his first tabla teacher, and his colorful tuning pegs are cut from a Mexican walking cane instead of the traditional dowel.
What is kanjira?
The Kanjira is one of the most ancient percussion instruments. It is a secondary accompaniment to the mridangam. It is similar to the Western tambourine and consists of a circular wooden frame about eight or nine inches in diameter and three to four inches in depth. A lizard skin is stretched over one side forming the playing head while the other side is left open. There are three or four slits in the frame which contain small metal discs which jingle when the kanjira is played. The kanjira is held in the left hand and played with the palm and fingers of the right hand. Water is sometimes sprinkled on the stretched skin to reduce its tension. Variations in sound are produced by putting pressure on the skin near the outer rim while playing. The kanjira is not tuned to any particular pitch. Unlike the mridangam and the ghatam, the same kanjira can be used for any pitch.
CG plays a kanjira made by REMO, with a synthetic head, his real kanjira is too fragile to take out on the road.
What is an mbwata drum?
The LP Udu® Drum Mbwata is a vertical, dual chambered, 18" long drum. The lower 12" rounded chamber produces smooth, deep bass with dry tones. The smaller, flat 8" chamber creates sharp, "wet" sounds with bright tones. The top hole in the upper chamber and the side hole in the lower chamber, as well as the textured surface, combine to add many different sounds to this drum.
Chris plays it in the style of the South Indian clay drum known as Ghatam.
The ghatam, one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India, is a mud pot with a narrow mouth. From the mouth, it slants outwards to form a ridge. Made mainly of clay baked with brass or copper filings with a small amount of iron filings, the size of the ghatam varies according to its pitch. The pitch can be slightly altered by the application of plasticine clay or water.
Playing position: The pot is usually placed on the lap of the performer, with the mouth facing the belly. The performer uses his fingers, palms and also his nails to produce different sounds. Occasionally the ghatam is turned around so that the mouth faces the audience and the performer plays on the neck of the instrument. The ghatam can be moved to different positions while being played. Occasionally, the performer will, to the amusement of the audience, toss the instrument up in the air and catch it. The ghatam is capable of very fast tempi in rhythmic patterns. lt is usually a secondary percussion instrument played with the mridangam.