Interview with Jason Mendelson of BassStringsOnline.com Part I of III
Interview with Jason Mendelson of BassStringsOnline.com Part I of III
First of all Peter I would like to thank you for the opportunity to tell my story. I appreciate your site and what you are doing for the bass community!
You’re very welcome! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
What was your first instrument?
My first proper instrument was an acoustic guitar. I started by
listening to radio and watching peoples’ fingers on MTV. This is how I
learned to play at first!
How old were you when you started playing music?
I started playing when I was 6 years old. I learned by ear and watching
TV. Eventually I was able to picture what I was hearing and started
shredding all the Rock & Roll on MTV.
Were your parents also musicians? Brothers/sisters/other relatives?
No true musicians but my mother always sang around the house. My
sister studied voice and was always singing. We had a piano so the
occasional “Chop Sticks” was played! My grandmother played the piano
when she was young and she took me to my first Jazz concert. For
“after school care” my mom would drop me off at the local music store
and I would literally sit there all day chatting with the guys behind the
counter and playing guitars. The guys at the store liked it as I
would inspire parents walking in to get their kids started playing.
So I guess you can say I was hanging out with other musicians from a
very young age, always watching and listening and taking any advise I
Sounds like there’s a joke in there 🙂
In Junior High School I was the guitar player in Jazz Band (This was
7th Grade). The bass player was kicked out of school and the band
director sent me home with the schools 4 string electric bass. I
picked it up right away. The charts were basically left hand piano
basic “Big Band” charts but it had chord changes, so I put two and two
together and figured out when the chart said C7 and the notes were C /
G, thats what you should be doing! I had fun with bass but I wanted
to be Steve Vai and would practice shredding on my Ibanez Jem 777.
Interesting! I had a very similar path to bass. Many of start on guitar and then gravitate to the low end.
Who was your first significant bass teacher?
The one and only Dr. J.B. Dyas! I first learned about Dr. J.B. Dyas
as he was the director of Jazz Studies at the New World School of the
Arts (NWSA) in Miami Florida. This is a performing arts high school
that you must audition to get into.This was the High School I dreamed
of attending. This school was great, it was open to anyone in “Miami”
so people would travel as far as 40 miles to go to High School every
day! There were different departments, Visual Arts, Dance, Theater,
Musical Theater, and Music which had Vocalists, Wind Ensemble,
Orchestra, Jazz Big Band and Jazz Combos. I auditioned during 8th
grade and was accepted. While I attended there were never more than
430 students total in all 4 grades of High School! You know the movie
FAME? It was kinda like that! From 7:30-AM to 1:00-PM it was
academic study, then from 1:10 till 3:45 it was our arts classes (then
I stuck around till 6-PM every day playing in the different combo’s
etc… The arts classes were done at a College level at Miami Dade
Community College (MDCC) and some got college credit as well. It was
an amazing experience and I was very fortunate to attend a school like
this. Everyone was an artist of some kind, it was really wild.
So back to Dr. J.B. Dyas, he was the director of Jazz Studies at MDCC
and an instructor for NWSA so I took lessons with him to hopefully get
an “in” while I was in Junior High. Our first lessons were on guitar,
learning to comp chords, read music etc… One day I had the schools
bass with me because I thought it would be cool to show him some of
the “Jazz” charts we were playing. After playing some bass for him he
said to me and my mother “Jason is good on guitar but he is gifted on
the bass.” From this day on it was nothing but bass in the lessons.
I got this $400 5 string Bass that was called GTX and started shedding
bass all the time. Eventually I sold my Jem777 and got an Alembic
Elan 5 string since Dr. J.B. Dyas’s Alembic Spoiler was making me want
one so bad! We spent the year before high school and the 4 years of
high school studying music together. Private lessons in and out of
school and my routine outside of school.
Dr. J.B. Dyas also said I should get into playing upright so I picked
one up and was self taught until I got to high school when I had my
first classical bass teacher.
Dr. J.B. Dyas is currently the Vice President for Education and
Curriculum Development at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
I wanted to be C.C. DeVille, Slash, Steve Vai, etc… I didn’t know or
want anything else! When I got into Jazz I would walk through the
isles in the CD Store (yes they had CD stores before!) and would look
at pictures… A picture of this guy with a beat up bass on the cover
of “Live in New York volume 4” changed my life… Bass as a solo
instrument???? I am all about that!
Is there one teacher in particular you credit with your professional success?
It would have to be Dr. J.B. Dyas. He taught me how to professionally
manage jazz combo’s and how to be a proper musician on the gig etc.
My freshman year of high school I had a Jazz Combo that I managed
called “Gas Money”. We were gigging nearly every weekend and during
the week at restaurants. If I got asked to play a gig and I was
booked, I was hiring players from University of Miami to go out and
play for me!
Did you go to college for music? If so where did you go to college?
Undergrad? Grad school?
My high school experience was basically at the College Level. In 1997
I auditioned for a program called “Grammy in the Schools” which was
put on by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences
(NARAS). There were Regional Grammy Bands which where scattered
around the US. There was one in Miami Florida at University of Miami.
Every Monday Night was Grammy night and I was playing in the Grammy
Big Band. Everyone in this band gets to send an audition tape to be
in the National Grammy Band. I was fortunate enough to be one of two
bass players in the United States to go to the National Grammy Band in
New York City and play at the Grammy’s and record at the Hit Factory!
What an experience. Musicians came and did clinics with us, Wynton
Marsalis, John Faddis, and others I can’t remember them all! I met
Victor Wooten while I was walking through the lobby of the Grammy’s.
I showed him I could play “Classical Thump” and he tried on my bass
(Ken Smith BMT6EG) he told me, “You should put wheels on the bottom of
that thing and use it as a skate board!” So this was all during High
I auditioned for Berklee College of Music in Boston and got accepted
with a hefty scholarship. I completed the program at Berklee received
my Bachelors of Fine Arts from Berklee.
Wow! Some really great experiences!!
What was life like for you after school of when you first began
freelancing? Did you immediately get a full-time playing gig?
Since High School I was always juggling gigs. After my first year of
College I actually took a year off and moved to Iowa to work with
Chuck VanHaecke (a drummer I met at Berklee who just graduated) and
guitar player Josh Brainard (original SLIPKNOT guitar player and
played on the first album (the dude in the leather mask with the
zipper). We had a metal / electronic band that unfortunately never
took off. While I was there Josh got called by Ross Robinson
(producer of Slipknot and many more) to play guitar and write songs
for a metal Vanilla Ice album. Ross asked if Josh knew a bass player,
and well, there I was! So the band was Josh Brainard, Roy Mayorga
(Drummer of Soul Fly at the time) and me! We spent 3 days at Sound
City studio’s in Los Angeles writing songs and recording them (Nirvana
Nevermind and so much more has been recorded there). Three made the
album Vanilla Ice Bi-Polar; Nothing Is Real, Mudd Monster and Primal
Side. These tracks are all on YouTube.
I ended up going back to college to finish when I found out my
scholarship would be forfeited if I spent more than a year out of
school, so packed up and went back to school. I tested out of so many
theory classes and other classes that I was able to graduate with the
same people I started college with.
While at school I was gigging around Boston, some club dates in New
York, and I also got really into electronic music and was DJing at
various clubs and venues all over the place hopping flights on
Thursdays coming back on Monday for class. My senior year I started
producing Drum n Bass and Break Beats with DJ RAP one of the pioneers
of Drum n Bass music from the United Kingdom. I produced under the
alias “SLaPiNFuNK or KONVERTER.” Soon after I graduated she told me
she was moving to Los Angeles and she is so sorry we would have to
part ways as production partners. I said, “I just graduated college, I
can move to LA!” and that’s how I ended up in L.A.! We put out a 12″
record together…. DJ Rap & Konverter “Out There” and “Music in Me.”
We also did music for a Twix commercial, we did a bunch of stuff…
The tracks can be found on YouTube as well.
What is your current practice routine like?
I am really disappointed when I think about how much I do not practice
these days. I fiddle around to keep my chops up but time is against
me when it comes to practicing. When I was younger I used to practice
for 6 hours a day. Warm-up exercises, Reading, Learning Jazz
Standards (one a day, head and changes and in all keys), reviewing,
transcribing. My jazz tune vocabulary is nothing near what it used to
be but it is still there.
I have a little bit in the past, no time for it now. At the same
time, I would feel bad teaching as everything I teach would be things
I learned from people who are still alive and teaching the same stuff
to others. In the future I see myself teaching more though. Always
happy to give free advice!