Her mother loved opera; her father loved rock ‘n roll. But Brazilian-born bassist Amanda Ruzza grew up experiencing and enjoying different types of music. She began playing bass professionally at age 13, and has gone on to become a well-established player, both on stage and in the studio, who can handle many musical genres, including jazz, latin, rock and country.
Besides her own band, the Amanda Ruzza Group, Amanda has also done session work, as well as performed live with such acts as Jill Sobule, Arturo O’Farrill and Japanese Pop Star Senri Oe. I recently asked Amanda about her work with not just those acts, but also with a Grammy-winning engineer-producer, as well as how she learned to play bass, and a couple of questions about football [the soccer kind] and food.
GGM: My first question for you, Amanda, is simply, how did you learn to play bass guitar?
Amanda: I was spending some time in Santiago, Chile. One day, I walked around the city for an hour or so, and ended up in a shopping plaza. In it, I found a Rock N’ Roll music school called Panzer Rock. I entered the place and talked to the people who worked there, including the owner. He was also the founder of Panzer, a killing Chilean Metal band. After 30 minutes of chatting with the people in the school, I, without even thinking, told the owner that I had $50 American dollars, and wanted to take music lessons every day for the next 2.5 weeks. He replied right away: “Absolutely!” – even though I knew that having something like 15 lessons would have cost much more than US$50.
He asked me: “So what instrument would you like to learn?” – I thought about it for a second and remembered that it had been four years since I’d been begging my parents for permission to play drums. I thought to myself… ”If I can’t be a drummer, I might as well be next to him or her; I’ll be a bass player!”
Fifteen minutes into my very first music and bass lesson, I totally fell in love with the instrument and knew that that was it…I had to and needed to be a bass player! I came back to Brazil and told my dad that I learned how to play the bass, and the people at the music school said that I was ‘talented’ at it. He got me the cheapest Brazilian made P-Bass in the market. The neck was all twisted and the strings were very far away from the fingerboard – the instrument was barely playable. Yet, it felt so good, so fun. I felt that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And…funny, this is still how I feel after all these years…BASS ROCKS!
GGM: Before bass guitars came along, there were upright double basses. A lot of jazz musicians, past and present, have played them, but have you also ever played, or at least learned how to play, one of those?
Amanda: I own a beautiful upright bass, and I practice it once in a while. I must confess, I’m not very passionate about it. Maybe it’s because when I was growing up in Brazil, you had to be some sort of a millionaire to own an upright bass: just the strings would cost around US$800, and the super-cheap plywood basses would sometimes be more expensive than a nice car.
I never had an upright bass while growing up, and never developed the passion, muscles and technique for it. I ended up spending more time playing Brazilian-style nylon string guitar and keyboard. No excuses, though, but I just feel that’s not for me.
GGM: Next, I’d like to ask about your time as a bassist for the female country band Mustang Sally. Given your diverse musical tastes, were you already familiar with country music before taking on that job?
Amanda: Country Music, or Música Sertaneja, is one of the most popular music genres in Brazil. Also, since I’m from São Paulo State – something like Nashville, TN, the place where all the country music is recorded and produced – I feel that I learned it by osmosis. While living in São Paulo, I recorded many Brazilian country music records, some of them were actually played on national FM radio, and my bass lines were part of the top 10 most played tracks of the month in the country. Plus, I played with many Brazilian bands that had an American Country music repertoire; the style wasn’t new to me.
GGM: Mustang Sally toured extensively, including many US military bases worldwide. How does playing before the troops compare with playing in clubs, theaters, etc.?
Amanda: Playing for the US troops was and still is one of my favorite gigs. No words can describe how emotional I felt when 7,000 soldiers expressed their gratitude for hearing my bass playing, after their extensive boot camp basic training in Fort Knox, KY. Or, after performing and hanging with them at Camp Lejeune [US Marine Corps base in North Carolina], the week before they were sent to Iraq. The US Military was one of the most fun and appreciative audiences I ever played for.
GGM: One producer you worked with, Grammy winner and native Brazilian Antonio “Moogie” Canazio, has also engineered recordings for such greats as Eric Clapton and Barbra Streisand. What was it like working with him?
Amanda: I worked with Moogie at Mosh Studios in São Paulo. Sony Music Japan flew him from Los Angeles to engineer this Japanese-Brazilian album, Osny Mello’s production. I remember feeling super shy around all the famous people in the room. One of the executive producers flew from Japan just to observe the recording.
Moogie was super cool. He had this beautiful happy positive vibe in the studio that made everyone feel comfortable. He paid a lot of attention to detail and was always focused on making sure that every take sounded perfect – in terms of sound and execution. Moogie is a master of listening and getting the best out of people, and I learned so much from observing his Modus Operandi.
GGM: In addition to recording and performing your own material, you have also been in demand for both recording sessions and live gigs with other acts. How do you manage to strike this balance of both commercial and artistic endeavors?
Amanda: It’s fun! I believe that my life would be boring if my original music would be the only thing I’d do. I’m a bassist! I was born to support people’s music and love doing it – just like a defender in soccer works so hard all his or her life to pass the perfect ball to the striker. That’s what makes the player so happy: that the striker can be properly served and…shine!
With that said, I try to find a balance among all the projects that I’m involved. Currently, besides playing and writing music for my group– we’re about to have a fun show in May at the Blue Note. I’ve been producing the debut album of Sérgio Galvão, an amazing and innovative saxophonist from Brazil. Plus, I’ve been doing steady recordings for funk, pop and dance music producers, while playing in a large variety of bands, from pop and R&B to jazz or African music.
But to answer your question, I never think of the projects that I’m involved as ‘commercial’ or ‘artistic’ works. I love being a musician so much that I don’t think about ‘balancing’ things; I try my best to embrace projects that I believe will fulfill my soul. I see my gigs as fun activities, not as ‘jobs.’
GGM: One act that you’ve worked with is Jill Sobule, who put in some good words for you on a few press interviews. How did Jill find out about you?
Amanda: Jill Sobule asked guitarist Alex Nolan to hire a bassist and a drummer for a few shows here in New York. Alex called Allison Miller and me for one rehearsal and a gig with Jill. Right away, during that first rehearsal, the four of us sounded great as a band. Jill named the band Dinah Shore Jr. and kept calling us for other gigs besides that initial one. I think that the reason why Dinah Shore Jr. is so awesome is because both Alex and Allison are excellent musicians. They are so good at listening to a singer and playing what the music calls for.
And Jill is one of the most creative human beings I’ve ever worked with. She’s an incredible artist. Every note and every word in her compositions has a strong message, and for every musical and lyrical message, there are specific grooves and bass lines that can only be executed if the player knows the lyrical and musical meaning of the song. I feel that every time I share a stage with Jill, I become a better musician, just because of how good and amazing she and her music are!
This upcoming summer, I’ll be playing some fun shows with Jill and the other Dinahs (Alex Nolan and Allison Miller), including a show at the Highline Ballroom with Julia Sweeney in New York, and a Women’s festival in Michigan.
GGM: Of course, you’re currently based in New York. Would that city’s “melting pot” image be considered a better fit for your brand of music compared to anywhere else?
Amanda: New York is the best place I could ever be! I grew up in São Paulo, a culturally rich city in Latin America. Many migrants from the North East of Brazil, plus immigrant communities such as Lebanese, Italian, Japanese, among others, populate it. While growing up there, I fell in love with my country’s music, but I also couldn’t stop listening to rock, jazz, Cuban, African music, and so much more.
The magic of New York lies within the fact that any musician can play with the authentic rock, jazz, Cuban or African musicians, among others. Everyone is here; all styles and cultures are represented in this city. New York City is the best ‘music school’ for any musician, and I feel so blessed to be able to be here!
GGM: In late April and late July, you will be playing a couple of New York area gigs for a project called “Miles to Miles.” Can you explain what that’s about?
Amanda: Jason Miles is a marvelous keyboardist and producer. I’m currently part of two of his many projects: Global Noize, with a new album to be released this June, and “Miles to Miles: In the Spirit of Miles Davis.” The latter is based on celebrating Miles Davis’ music from his early electric phase (“In a Silent Way” and “On the Corner”), plus some of Jason’s original music. It is a really fun band, with [drummer] Clarence Penn, [trumpeter] Ingrid Jensen, and [saxophonist] Jay Rodríguez. We will be performing at the end of April at the Blue Note, and I can’t wait for this gig!
GGM: Finally, Amanda, I have a couple of fun questions for you. First, your Twitter page says that you’re a soccer fan. That’s understandable, given how deep the love is for soccer in Brazil. But do you believe this saying about soccer: “Os ingleses o inventaram, os brasileiros o aperfeiçoaram” [Portuguese for “The English invented it, the Brazilians perfected it.”]?
Amanda: Yes, I believe in this saying because in Latin America, a place with so much poverty, soccer is the only thing most people are able to do. It’s a national passion that goes beyond a social, economic or racial status.
Everyone plays it, everyone watches it, and 90% of casual conversations are about it. We say that Brazil has 190 million soccer coaches, as everyone has an opinion and can elaborate an entire game [or] coaching plan for a team. For us, soccer is not just a sport; it’s our biggest obsession and national pride.
GGM: And your Twitter page also says that you like chocolate and cheese, though, I would surely guess, not both at once. Would either of those be your idea of a “comfort food”?
Amanda: Chocolate and cheese can be great together – what about chocolate fondue? For me, they both go beyond ‘comfort food status.’ I could live my entire life with just these two things. Besides that, I’m passionate about trying different cheeses and chocolate brands from a culinary perspective.
More than just eating such, I love trying new types of cheeses or chocolates, while thinking how they were made, what’s so great about them, analyzing their texture, etc…
It’s also fun to go out in New York and try new cheeses and chocolates from small independent local shops.
Yes, Amanda Ruzza certainly is a diversified bassist, not just musically, but also when it comes to trying out her favorite foods.
The first of Amanda‘s two live appearances at New York City’s Blue Note as part of Jason Miles’ “In the Spirit of Miles Davis-Beyond the Cellar Door” will be on April 27. Amanda will also play a gig with her own band at the Blue Note a week later, on May 4.
For more about Amanda Ruzza, visit www.amandaruzza.com . You can also like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/amandaruzza and follow her on Twitter @amandaruzza. Also, you can check out some live video of Amanda on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/ricenbeans27.