Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mike Baggetta 13 questions

Photo by Michelle Arcila
Mike Baggetta is one of his generation’s most original jazz improvisors and composers. It has been said that his performances are totally compelling (Jazz Journal, UK), his melodic sense is truly beautiful ( and that each piece he performs creates new worlds of 
possibilities (The Hartford Courant). I enjoyed it! - Derek Bailey, Guitarist

Baggetta has had the pleasure of performing and/or recording with Tom Harrell, Conrad Herwig, Dick Oatts, Adam Kolker, Brad Shepik, Steve Cardenas, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Jamie Baum, Tony Reedus, Cameron Brown, Dominique Eade, Bill McHenry, Matt Wilson, George Garzone, Joseph C. Phillips’ Numinous Ensemble, Tyshawn Sorey, Ron McClure, Joe Fonda, Kevin Norton, John Lindberg, Bucky Pizzarelli and Ruth Brown among many others.

He has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, The Kennedy Center, Town Hall, Merkin Concert Hall and many other leading concert venues and festivals worldwide. Baggetta has also taught for leading music programs throughout the U.S. either as a visiting guest artist or as a seasonal faculty member. These include the New York Summer Music Festival at SUNY Oneonta, California Institute of the Arts, Berklee College of Music and the National Guitar Workshop to name a few.

Originally from Agawam, MA, Baggetta’s musical studies have been insightfully guided by Ted Dunbar, Vic Juris, Stanley Cowell and Jim Hall. Baggetta has released three full albums of original works for his quartet on the Barcelona-based Fresh Sound New Talent label, and also co-leads the duo ensemble TIN/BAG with California trumpeter Kris Tiner. Both groups have had great critical success and have performed for numerous appreciative audiences across the country. Mike Baggetta has also been a recipient of an ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award for his compositional talent and is an endorsing artist for D’Addario Strings.

 Which was the first musical sound did you play?

I grew up in a household with a lot of music being played on the record player and the radio and my Dad played guitar semi-professionally, so I was always being exposed to a lot of different types of music from an early age. I started playing music when I was in 4th grade taking violin lessons at school and then I started playing trombone in middle school, eventually leading to the guitar some time before high school. I had always messed around with the guitar though since it was around the house, but really started to take it seriously then.

“He bends and twists notes, mutes certain strings with different objects, moving beyond the influences of Derek Bailey & Eugene Chadbourne and into his own unique world... Like Fred Frith, who has obviously invented his own approach and vocabulary of sounds while solo guitar, Mike Baggetta has also come up with his own distinctive universe of guitar language and communication.” - Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

So, why do you love the guitar?

I think the range of the guitar suits my internal musical voice. I also really love how many different types of sounds that you can get out of the instrument, its so expressive. Not just harmonically speaking, but just the sheer number of ways to even start the string vibrating is amazing. And of course all the harmonics and difference in timbre from picking location, etc. Being able to harness all the sonic possibilities in the guitar is a really never-ending proposition and is a really wonderful and gratifying challenge to me.

What do you expect from music?

I don't expect anything from music. I know that I expect a lot from myself in regards to music though. I have to focus in on the music whether I'm composing or performing, not lose sight of my goals and be able to trust my abilities and knowledge in the moment for their to be any kind of reward for me.

Kris Tiner: Trumpet Mike Baggetta: Guitar Brian Walsh: Clarinet Harris Eisenstadt: Drums and Percussion

Which work of your own are you most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of the continuing development that my work shows over the past several years. I think that as a whole, what I have as a body of work up to this point shows that I am an artist that has been and continues to seek his own voice in music. That I am not afraid of developing or evolving my approach to music. I will be most proud if, after all is said and done, one can look back at my complete output and know that my musical ethics have remained intact throughout. I guess I am most proud of my commitment to making honest musical statements whatever that means to me at the time.

Which was the last record you bought with your own money?

Matt Mitchell - Fiction

What’s the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?

Well... I think a lot of that has more to do with the one who is playing the instrument. Everyone has preferences depending on what they want to do, but I have heard amazing music played on very 'cheap' instruments. I think being able to find the strengths of an instrument is a really wonderful skill. After all, if you can find a way to use an instrument to do something that none other can, that is really beautiful. My solo prepared guitar album Canto was recorded entirely on an old off-brand Encore semi-hollow guitar that may or may not have been made out of wood, electronics were very low-quality and didn't work right, neck was kind of warped.. But, I was able to investigate that instrument and pull out some sound that I could never have gotten from my Gibsons, etc.

 Mike Baggetta Quartet in Brooklyn, NYTuesday, Dec. 4 - 8.30pmShapeShifter Lab

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene? 

I think the main challenge for all artists is to maintain their integrity by being selective about where they make their music available. The era of putting your music out on every available platform (some for next to nothing) has, in my opinion, greatly devalued the idea of music to the greater population, in the hopes that it would reach more people and lead to sales or other promises of 'visibility.' I think by being selective and making your music 'less' available one can send a message that it is actually quite special and valuable and hopefully gain back some perception that music should not be 'free' and readily available whenever someone wants it to be.

The most challenging thing though is trying to figure out how to get the free download and piracy/fileshare sites to respect the intellectual property of the artist/composer, and realize that it is wrong and illegal for them to gain economically, through their ad sales and traffic, off of copyrighted material. That is the number one issue by far...

Define the sound you're still looking for.

This changes minute by minute, but it is definitely something internal!

Kris Tiner: Trumpet Mike Baggetta: Prepared Guitar

Do you play electric and acoustic? Do you approach the two differently?

I do play both and love each type of guitar equally, though I do seem to spend most of my time on electric these days. I think it would be a mistake to approach them as absolute equals. Sure, the general way you make sound come out and play music on each is relatively the same, but the actual manipulation and control of the tone comes from understanding how they produce their sound.

Part of what I love about playing electric is that you are also playing the amplifier to a large degree. Its like adding a whole other instrument into the mix, another thing to be sensitive to and adjust with accordingly. The acoustic can usually translate one's touch though in a more immediate, sensitive and dynamic way. For instance, practicing timbral techniques on acoustic has lent me greater control on the electric. A really great electric guitar and amplifier can have the same effect, but those are usually the hallmarks of a well-made acoustic instrument to me.

Saturday night in NYC at the Bar Next Door! We had a great debut gig last weekend in Brooklyn and are looking forward to sharing more music with you all before the end of the year. If you are in or near NYC this weekend, please make a reservation for Saturday night and come down to listen and say “Hi!”

What's your preferred device in the sound chain? 

A difficult and possibly unanswerable question! There are so many pieces to the "tone-puzzle" that it's impractical to narrow it down in such a way. I have found over the past several years that there are tonal and sonic differences in absolutely every component that is goes between the string and the sound you hear.

Of course its entertaining to change these things out and see what you like, but I always come back to reminding myself that a lot of my favorite music was made on just whatever was around and available at the time. That's not to say that it's not important to try and find things that work best for you, but I think sometimes people get more focused on trying things out and stuff like that instead of actually realigning their focus back to the making of the music. So, I guess my favorite part of the signal chain is still the imagination!

What are your motivations for composing?

I try to write quite a bit because it helps me focus my own musical intent. I find that writing songs or larger pieces is a great way to distill what is important to me musically and present that as a cohesive outline, usually for improvisation. I really value improvisation and that is a large part of the reason I play with the people that I do, because I value their individual voices as improvisors. There are so many great musicians out there, but, of course, some will speak to you more than others in an approach that you can relate to, or want to learn more about.

A lot of the pieces are written because I want to work on something specific, but I don't know of a piece of music that has already been made with them. A simple example would be like "I wish I could play in 5/4 time at a very slow tempo without getting lost." So, I set out to write a piece built around that. Its a process for me though because I don't ever want these to sound like exercises, that would be boring and terrible to play and listen to.

So the real work usually comes in crafting a beautiful song around a seemingly unexciting idea! Actually this example here is what came to be the song called "Camp" off of my last Fresh Sound New Talent recording. "Source Material." The most gratifying type of composing for me though comes with those rare pieces that just get written quickly as a thought I was lucky enough to capture in a fleeting moment...

What quality do you admire most in a musician?

I most admire any artist that values honesty to their creativity and aesthetic sense above all. I am not interested in what is fashionable or artists that are fitting in the mold of what is deemed popular at the time. Sometimes these paths cross of course and one can usually tell if an artist is really being themselves if you're sensitive enough to it. I definitely also respect any artist that can commit themselves fully to their work. Lastly, I admire greatly any artist that can also maintain a sense of humor through all of this and not take themselves too seriously, even if their music is, and remember that it is fun to make music!

What’s your next project about?

I always seem to have many "next projects" that could happen! I have two new albums upcoming that I am looking forward to though. The first would be my new quartet album, our 3rd for the Fresh Sound New Talent label, called Thieves and Secrets which should be available in a few months. This is with my long-standing band featuring Jason Rigby on saxophones, Eivind Opsvik on Bass and George Schuller on drums. The second is a new live album with my duo TIN/BAG with trumpeter Kris Tiner. This will be out a little bit later in 2014, but we recorded it at a great concert in a wonderful out in Bakersfield, CA this past spring during a west coast tour and we're really happy with the level of the music and our interaction on this one...

But there's so much more that I do and would like to release, its just a matter of finding the outlets and ways to make it possible. I have a duo with saxophonist Jeremy Udden, I have a trio - though we haven't performed in a little while - with cornetist Kirk Knuffke and drummer Jeff Davis for which I had arranged a lot of Erik Satie's solo piano music, I have various other trios that I've written a lot of music for as well as many improvised groups with a lot of other wonderful musicians. Sometimes the music and playing feels so good that I want to find a way to record and release a lot more material somehow...


Press Quotes for Mike Baggetta

"…some performances stood out… The electric guitarist Mike Baggetta played a measured, shimmery, almost surfy solo that I wanted to take home and study."
- Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

"Mike is one of the best young improvisors on the NY scene!"
- Vic Juris, Jazz Guitarist

"When Baggetta solos, his penchant for unspooling melodies in interesting, less-traveled directions is clear. His works feel more like contemplative musical voyages than the merely technical displays that can sink jazz efforts… a sophisticated, often beautiful listen, the product of a fertile musical sense that hails from the jazz world but employs a much broader palette."
- James Heflin, Valley Advocate

“…comparisons will be made to Bill Frisell and Ralph Towner, but that’s certainly not all there is to Baggetta. While he shares some stylistic elements and sense of space with both, he goes his own way more often than not.”
- Jeff Wanser,

"Blessed with a refined approach and solid technique…Mike Baggetta has the potential to break the mold of post-John Scofield plectrists."
- Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide

“Mike Baggetta is an inventively melodic and thoughtful guitarist who says a lot in ballads or free jazz flights without ever assaulting the listener with maudlin sentiment or tsunami-like technical displays filled with sound and fury signifying nothing”
- Owen McNally, The Hartford Courant

Press Quotes for the Mike Baggetta Quartet
“Source Material” (Fresh Sound New Talent), the new album by the guitarist Mike Baggetta, suggests a busy variety of postbop, but not one without room to breathe.”
- Nate Chinen, The New York Times

“…an excellent guitarist. Baggetta’s tunes are innovative… In the hands of these musicians, each one becomes an evocative journey.”
- Ron Netsky, Rochester City Newspaper

And Begin Again cover art

"Rare is the young musician who fuses avant garde and postbop mettles so effortlessly - Small Spaces is a refreshingly unsafe approach to modern jazz."
- Clifford Allen, All About Jazz NY

"…beautifully recorded… a talented quartet of musicians who are willing to take the occasional risk while not losing sight of melody…"
- Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz

There, Just As You Look For It cover art

Press Quotes for Tin/Bag
"Radiant… there’s an open, intensely emotional quality to the duo’s playing… spare, haunting, with hints of modernist avant garde gestures."
- Andy Hamilton, The Wire (UK)

"Excellent… trumpeter Kris Tiner and guitarist Mike Baggetta explore abstract yet jazz-derived realms of expansive lyricism and liquid melody… both deeply relaxed and totally engaging."
- Time Out New York

Canto cover art

"Careful listening is always evident as the two play off of each other, whether shadowing lines or counterbalancing densities and textures of the freely evolving pieces… What stands out is the tension the two create as they shape the improvisational forms with the juxtaposition of raw extended technique and resonating tones and hanging harmonics… the two maintain a taut, insightful approach to duet interaction."
- Michael Rosenstein, Cadence Magazine

"Kris Tiner and Mike Baggetta deliver an attractive album of duets and quartet improvisations that resonate with a fragile harmonic maturity typically unheard in the work of such young, occasionally impetuous artists… Never overstepping the other’s bounds, they provide subtle contrasts and complements to the others statements. Sparse, melodic and understated, And Begin Again offers a different side of these young and up-and-coming artists talents."
- Troy Collins, All About Jazz