From KC and the Sunshine Band to Kanye West, bass has been strategically used by artists to create emotion, rhythm and movement. Given that the bass, in many instances, serves as the foundation for a song, bassists are commonly some of the more diverse and talented musicians of a band or group. Giovanni Giusti is one such bass player making waves across multiple regions and target markets through his ability to transcend cultural tastes and language barriers, from touring across China to playing across the seas on an MSC cruise. The talented artist’s repertoire is all encompassing, from jazz to modern pop, and has allowed him to obtain a truly diverse array of gigs. We had the opportunity to ask Giusti about his journey in becoming a worldy musician, as well as learn about the life of an artist constantly on the road.
What is it about the bass that inspires your passion for music, as compared to choosing a different instrument to master?
Giusti: In that period when I was a kid my father, a former jazz drummer, was holding private, professional jam sessions in his house. One of the resident bass players was really into fusion and his playing was very upfront and groovy, so I immediately noticed the bass and its role and loved it. Like many young kids I initially chose guitar, but eventually a bass player friend of mine showed me all his favorite bass legends – first of all Jaco Pastorius – so he finally convinced me to switch to the bass.
Given that the bass essentially provides the foundation of a rhythm/groove, when you are playing live shows do you feel that you are able to connect with audiences through your playing, and dictate the general atmosphere?
Giusti: Absolutely. I always try to connect with the audience and transmit the energy that the music evokes. As a band you want to raise and lower the energy to create different moods and emotions. As a bass player, together with the drummer we can affect each other’s playing and finally the entire groove and band’s style. I will also build a dialogue with keys and or guitar players and, depending on the style of music, I can affect the harmony of a song as well and have an impact on the band’s sound and mood.
What led you to achieving the opportunity of performing theater concerts for the Chinese government?
Giusti: I got the gig with Sunbeatzz thanks to my colleague and friend Jernej Bervar, who is also the guitarist and musical director of the band. Me and Jernej played and collaborated together for some time, and I believe my style and playing was a good fit for the band. So, when at some point they were looking to fill the bass player chair, he asked me to take it.
At the end of the Sunbeatzz tour before the theater concerts, both me and Jernej worked as session players for Gabrielle Goodman, playing in some masterclasses that she held in Kunming. Eventually after that, together with Gabrielle’s piano player Maxim Lubarsky, we were both hired to be part of the band that played those concerts with Goodman and Yazhi Guo.
What was going through your head while performing these concerts, especially knowing that your playing was being streamed by millions across China? How were these shows received?
Giusti: I remember we had just one rehearsal to prepare the shows and arrange the music. Of course I was nervous; the first show was kind of “break-in” for the second one with politicians in the audience and national streaming, which went very well and had long standing ovations.
Can you tell us a little bit about any solo projects you are currently working on or have planned later this year? What types of sounds and genre styles should we expect to hear?
Giusti: I’m planning on making some music that reflects my influences as a bassist and musician. I’m still in the development and composition stage, but I would say that it should mostly be instrumental / improvisational music, mostly jazz-fusion and funk / r&b. Since I’ve been mostly a session musician until now, what excites me is the challenge of being the composer, producer, and band leader at the same time other than the joy of making your own music.
Which performances stand out to you as being the most memorable either due to the quality of the performance or the energy of the crowd?
Giusti: That’s a hard question to answer, since there are many different elements that can make a performance emotionally memorable, like a particularly inspired performance where that strong connection with the music, your bandmates and the audience is happening, playing in a large or prestigious venue, playing for a prestigious artist, or all of this. For sure the two theatre shows that I played in China were definitely memorable for the venue, audience and prestige. Especially the second one where we played for an audience that included the chinese government of the city, and the show was streamed nationwide. In that show I performed with American r&b artist Gabrielle Goodman and traditional chinese music star Yazhi Guo. In my music life I also had many of those “lightbulb” moments where you feel that you and the band achieved a particularly good performance and the music was really happening.
As an artist, are there any major differences between performing in a country like China versus the US?
Giusti: From a schedule perspective it’s not that much different. In China we traveled from one city to the next every 2-3 days with train or flight, and we were lucky to have a very good management that always booked top quality hotels and restaurants, so we always had a good time. We would arrive at a city in the morning, go to the hotel, have lunch, relax, and then go to the venue for early soundcheck before the concert in the night. In some cities we had music school masterclasses so we would stay 2-3 days. The band had excellent success with packed venues and enthusiastic response. Chinese people are very interested in western music, people and culture: we were stopped by people who wanted to take selfies not only after the shows but even when walking in the streets.
Personally, I love Chinese culture and the traditional values of peace, respect and kindness on which it is based. I was really impressed by the way they treat guests and foreign people.
Is there any advice you would give to aspiring young musicians in regard to business skills and getting consistent work?
Giusti: After many years, I realized that what makes the difference to me in a performance between a good and a great musician that can both deliver, are time and tone/intonation. I find this to be particularly true especially for drummers, bassist and rhythm section players in general, who build the foundation of the music that needs to be solid and groovy.
Whenever you’re building repertoire, improvisation, language or technique, practicing with a metronome or drum machine is crucial for a bass player, and I believe good tone also partially comes as a consequence of that. Being confident with clicks/drum machines – and more in general, with your time – will also help you a lot in recording session situations. As of today I perform and practice always focusing on time and tone, so this is what I would suggest to younger bass players.
Another aspect to consider, if not the most important, are human skills, or “you” as a person and human being. Today there are many incredibly talented musicians that are lacking some or all of the ethical, human and social skills that are needed to be able to collaborate with others not only in the music business, but I would say in any job or situation in life. I’ve been often in the situation or have seen turning down exceptional players because they were not professional or they weren’t fully able to play for the band or for the music, in favor of a par or even lesser player who was more professional, or was a better choice overall because of their people skills and the ability to play for the gig.
Be in time, be available, be reachable and communicate properly with your colleagues, respond to emails/texts/phone calls/messages etc, be honest and also be able to say “no” when it’s the best thing to do. In general be a good, positive person that people like to have around, no matter if it’s your gig or you are a session player. I think that with today’s high competitive world, people skills and good ethics, and an easy but reliable, professional personality are what makes the difference in deciding between two musicians that can both deliver.
Which musicians whom you have played with have been the most influential on your career? How are you able to effectively and smoothly collaborate with such an array of personalities and talent?
Giusti: My father was a former jazz drummer, founder of “Quartetto Di Lucca,” and after retiring he eventually organized high level jazz jam sessions, with top local jazz artists. In my early years at one of those sessions I had the opportunity to play with top Italian jazz artists like Stefano Bollani, and that has been definitely one of the first lightbulb moments in my life, realizing the importance of connecting with and performing for the audience, no matter what genre or music style you’re playing – something that I believe Bollani is a true master, other than a being a world-class musician.
In Italy I later had collaborations in the pop/rock music scene with bands and artists that participated at the Sanremo Festival, the most prestigious festival and music contest in Italy transmitted on national TV.
In all these different contexts and genres I always tried to play coherently to the style of the music and the various personalities of the band. In some occasions you have space for solos, to stretch or to be creative, in others you have to play for the song and be faithful to the bass part.