Lisa Mezzacappa

Bass Guitar, Composition, Improvisation, Jazz Improvisation, Upright Bass

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from $40.00 / 30 Minutes

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Lisa Mezzacappa is a San Francisco Bay Area-based composer, bassist, bandleader, and producer. Called “one of the most imaginative figures on the Bay Area creative jazz scene” by The Mercury News and “a Bay Area treasure” by KQED public radio, she has been an active part of California’s vibrant music community for nearly 20 years. Mezzacappa’s activities as a composer and bandleader include ethereal chamber music, electro-acoustic works, avant-garde jazz, music for groups from duo to large ensemble, and collaborations with film, dance and visual art. 

Recent projects include avantNOIR, a suite for sextet inspired by noir fiction; Organelle, a chamber suite for improvisers grounded in scientific processes on micro and cosmic scales; Glorious Ravage, an evening-length song cycle for large ensemble and films drawn from the writings of Victorian lady adventurers; and Touch Bass, a collaboration with choreographer Risa Jaroslow for three dancers and three bassists. Current projects include a suite for sextet inspired by Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics stories about the origins of the universe; the new duo B. Experimental Band which performs original compositions for improvisers bimonthly in Oakland, CA; and premiering in 2020, The Electronic Lover, an opera podcast created in collaboration with writer Beth Lisick.

Mezzacappa has released her music on the New World, Clean Feed, NoBusiness, Leo, and NotTwo record labels, and her work has been supported on the national level by the MAP Fund, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund, and the Andy Warhol Foundation; and by Bay Area funders the Wattis Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, and Intermusic SF. She has been artist-in-residence at the Cité International des Arts in Paris, Fr; Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Headlands Center for the Arts and the Banff International Jazz Workshop. She was a participant in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, a program of American Composers Orchestra and the Jazz Studies Institute at Columbia University.

In addition to leading her own projects in the US and Europe, Mezzacappa has performed as a sideperson with heroes such as Fred Frith, Marco Eneidi, Rhys Chatham, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Mark Dresser's SIM Bass Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell, Ned Rothenberg, Myra Melford, Vinny Golia and many others. These days, she plays often with Rob Ewing’s quartet SIFTER, with David James’ GPS, with the Nathan Clevenger Group, with Ian Carey’s Wood/Metal/Plastic, with Cory Wright’s Green Mitchell trio, and Randy McKean’s Bristle, in addition to the ongoing, lifelong collaboration duo B., with drummer Jason Levis.

My teaching experiences over the past fifteen years have ranged from formal classroom seminars with university graduate students, to ensemble classes with student musicians at Bay Area colleges, to hands-on workshops with high school students and amateur adult musicians, and private instruction in acoustic bass, composition and improvisation.

My primary teaching is focused on a small group of (predominately female) acoustic and electric bass students, from middle school age through to adult. Some play in their high school jazz bands and orchestras, others are adult beginners working to be able to join a community ensemble. A couple are poised to begin careers as professional musicians. As I have often found in my life as a bass student, bass lessons are a mix of technical problem-solving, inspiration, and “musical life-coaching.” My students and I speak about self-confidence, about gender dynamics in the classical and jazz worlds, about ageism on the bandstand. My goal is to help them become complete and confident musicians, ideally lifelong students who I have given the tools to follow their curiosity, develop their voice, and communicate their ideas in any musical contexts they might find themselves in. I tailor their lessons and assignments to help them become strong, solid, bass players but also flexible, imaginative artists. This intimate mentoring experience, with individuals at very different stages of their lives and musical careers, with unique aspirations and concerns, is something I hope would serve me as part of the Mills faculty.

In university settings, I have prepared formal lectures on improvisational practices and key artists and creative movements; taught improvisation to beginning improvisers; coached jazz-trained improvisers in developing their voices in free/nonidiomatic improvisation contexts; and worked with student ensembles to select, arrange and rehearse compositions for performances. This often involved creating listening and composition assignments, and mentoring/critiquing student work as it was in development.

I have also often visited students at UC Berkeley and Mills College in the San Francisco Bay Area as a guest artist in their classes, sharing my work and process as an improviser and composer, and inviting students into the messy, complex process of creating and presenting multi-dimensional  works as an independent artist. They have performed and arranged my compositions, and I have coached them in projects that mirror my own artistic life as part of the Bay Area music community: creating live music scores for experimental film and video; composing, rehearsing and performing graphically notated pieces; harnessing extramusical sources like literature or visual art or science, into original works; and combining notated music and structured improvisation with game pieces and conduction techniques. I hope that all students I interact with come away reflecting on how to add rigor to their process of exploration; how to open themselves to discomfort and failure as part of their creative process; to treasure the joys and struggles of true collaboration; and to maintain a critical perspective towards all the musical approaches and strategies they encounter.

I have also taught workshops as a guest artist in the UC Irvine Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology program; at the University of Nevada, Reno; CalArts; UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music; UC San Diego; Saddleback College; Wesleyan University; the University of Virginia; the CA Jazz Conservatory; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts youth mentoring program; and through the Jazz in the Neighborhood organization. I have collaborated with improvisation collectives in Vancouver, Canada (the NOW Society); Turin, Italy (Green Brotz); and Naples, Italy (Crossroads Improring), and the Bay Area (Thingamajigs Performance Group) to lead improvisation workshops in conjunction with performances of my music by their ensembles. When I first moved to the Bay Area, I taught small children how to play guitars and basses and drums at a local “school of rock,” Bandworks.

Advisory Board, International Society of Bassists

2016 Bass study with Joëlle Léandre
2005-2006 Bass study with Richard Worn
2003 MA, Ethnomusicology. University of California, Berkeley, CA
1998-2001 Bass study with Michael Formanek
1997 BA, Music. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
1994-1997 Bass study with Peter Spaar

My teaching  is tailored to the needs of each student - and I provide pdfs of all practice materials. I do recommend all bass students have a copy of the Simandl Bass Method too!

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