Pushing Jazz and Funk Frontiers: An Interview with Bassist Mitchell Coleman Jr.

Pushing Jazz and Funk Frontiers: An Interview with Bassist Mitchell Coleman Jr.

Written by Andrew Daly

How many jazz fans have we got out there? I've always felt jazz is best served in the fall and winter. But in this instance, spring works, too.

There's something about the tranquility of specific pieces of music that pair with somber gray skies and gentle breezy winds. Picture this; you're nestled on your couch, maybe with a book. Or, perhaps you're just relaxing, eyes closed, breathing deeply, letting go of the stress while masterful, improvisational, mind-opening art pours into your ears. Sounds kinda nice, right? Of course, there are many of us who give total concentration to the music, which can be especially rewarding when listening to jazz.

Over the last several years, I've gotten pretty heavily into jazz. For a long time, I was circling the wagons and dipping my toe in the proverbial pool, which at the time, mainly consisted of Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and a taste of Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts." These days, I am all over the map. I've developed a taste for hard bop and fusion, but I love free and soul jazz the most.

To that end, bassist Mitchell Coleman Jr. has touched on it all. Coleman is the type of musician who can take his bass, and with a few idiosyncratic plucks, blow your head wide open, then bend your brain in ways you could have never imagined. Once I heard his style of bass playing, which I'd call a blissful combination of gritty funk, freewheeling jazz, and deeply soulful bluesy goodness, there was no going back for me. I love traditional jazz music – which Coleman covers – but I also like my music a little weird and off-the-beaten-path. Maybe you will, too.


Busy at work on a new album of tracks inspired by the memory of his late mother, Mitchell Coleman Jr. dialed in with me to discuss his history with the bass, his approach to songwriting, the skinny on his latest music, and a whole lot more.

Andrew Daly: What first inspired you to pick up the bass?

Mitchell Coleman: I was always very drawn to the sound and feel of bass in the music I was listening to. It was the one link in music that made me interested or not. If there was a strong bass presence or bass solo, It got my attention. Well, one day, while at a friend's house in Connecticut who played bass very well. I got the bug to play, and it never left me. I was drawn in when my ear heard the sound that moved my funky heart and the source of it (bass guitar). I was sold.

AD: Who were your primary influences, and who influences you most today?

MC: In the beginning, I was inspired by my friends Greg Carrington and Kevin Weaverbey, who inspired and taught [me as] a willing student. Later as I developed and matured, my inspiration came a lot from the exceptional musician and producer Marcus Miller and his collaborations with Miles Davis. This showed me the fusion of funk and jazz combined, which drives me to this day.

Jaco Pastorius inspired me to seek the possibilities of where the bass as an instrument can go, and the creative breakout of [the bass from] the traditional box. I am greatly inspired by Victor Wooten (of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), his freedom of expression, and his outlook on music theory as a language. Stanley Clarke for writing music around the bass guitar and being an ambassador for bass players everywhere. When his album School Days came out, I wore out the cassette trying to learn that stuff.

And, of course, Larry Graham, father of the thump! He is the genesis of thump funk, and [also being able to] sing while being this funky (in Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station and with others) is insane, but what an inspiration. Lastly, the great Lewis Johnson brought the funk mainstream with collaborations with the dude, Quincy Jones, and many more.


Mitchell Coleman Jr. Courtesy of Olivia Long PR.


AD: Describe the evolution of your bass approach.

MC: I work daily to increase my knowledge and understanding of my craft. Whether learning more theory or just working out techniques, this helps me develop confidence. I seek to be able to perform when required. I plan to take this as far as my abilities will allow. And hopefully, it will translate to the audience.

AD: What songs do you like playing most live?

MC: I enjoy funk and jazz fusion; I can move an audience with the funk and take them on a journey with the jazz all aboard! No specific songs come to mind; I don't have a favorite song, but I enjoyed playing "Glide" because of the funk drive and the message to keep on. No matter what the world throws at you, let it "Glide" on by.


AD: Are you working on new music?

MC: I am presently working on an album [dedicated to] my mother, who passed away from breast cancer. She was a great inspiration and light of my life that I would never allow to be extinguished. This is the inspiration and drive for this latest project. And through this project, I hope to inspire others as she has and continues to. She encouraged me to show up in life and make sure I die empty. In other words, do all you were meant to do.

AD: How would you describe your signature sound?

MC: As a child, I often listened to Mark Adams from the funk group Slave. I have always been drawn to very strong bass lines. As I developed, I always incorporated that dominant bass presence in everything. Later I learned to calm down and work with studio engineers to listen to everyone, which allowed me to have more of a conversation musically. But I have a powerful presence while playing and make sure you, as an audience, leave with funk residue that will last for days.

AD: Which basses are you using now? Do you prefer vintage or new?

MC: I am playing a Sadowsky bass because of the feel, sound, and dedication of Roger Sadowsky to create a very playable instrument with a neck that fits my hand perfectly and has the sound I seek. But I also play the Fender Jazz Bass; the sound is unmistakable and preferred by most studios. I also play the Jaco Pastorius Fender Jazz Bass, a fretless 4-string bass.

Depending on the song, the vintage instrument sounds a bit warmer, while the newer instruments are much brighter due to their active electronics. But as I use [a particular] instrument more and more, I can make it do what's required through hand techniques and manipulation of controls. My desire is for one bass to do everything I need, pretty much.

AD: Do current trends alter your style and technique at all?

MC: Current trends do play a part in what's played due to the fact you have to sell to an audience. But it can be done without compromise if you stay true to the message you are trying to deliver. Only the package may change; the message remains the same. I am funky; wrap it any way you want.

AD: Is creating new music for a world with such a short attention span challenging?

MC: Music for me comes from within; I don't worry about others' attention spans. If I can deliver the music from my heart, my part is done, and the discovery becomes their treasure. But the challenges don't come from outside for me. Only within there is the true battle. I believe social media and promotions play an incredible role in keeping the audience's attention, and my PR team at The Sound of L.A., has been incredibly helpful.


AD: What's next for you?

MC: Well, now I am working on the Dedication album for my mother and continuing to develop my skills as a musician and business owner. I plan to continue to be inspired and be an inspiration to others. To be a light in dark times and to encourage all to leave here empty.


Header image courtesy of Olivia Long PR.

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