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Gotham Gigs: A bassist following in his father's footsteps finds success in a chance meeting


MADE IN THE SHADES DiMatteo jokes that he's too stubborn to splurge for car service.

Playing to a packed house at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall always thrills bass player Jason DiMatteo, but he feels a special satisfaction onstage at the Duplex, Don't Tell Mama, the Metropolitan Room and other cabaret haunts where his father, a pianist who died more than 25 years ago, used to perform.

"We never had a chance to work together, so it's neat to be able to connect in that way," DiMatteo said.

His parents split when he was a preschooler. His father, Robert, went on to become a playwright and a performer on the cabaret circuit. His mother, Becky, raised him in Oregon, enrolling him in all the music classes she could afford.

"My mom really nurtured the music in me and deserves any credit that goes with it," he said.

You might have seen DiMatteo on the subway, maneuvering his 6½-foot-tall acoustic bass on stairs and sidewalks to save on specialty car service. "Some guys are too proud to take the subway. I'm probably too proud—or stubborn—the other way," he said. "As long as I'm strong enough and healthy enough to carry it, I will."

That grit has underscored his career. He moved to the Big Apple from Eugene, Ore., at age 18, set on becoming a professional musician. "I felt emboldened because I had visited my dad here a few times," he said.

He has steady gigs with five bands. In September he played a jazz festival in Sardinia, Italy, as part of Burnt Sugar, led by Greg Tate, a Village Voice critic.

Back in the 1990s DiMatteo was a struggling musician waiting tables when he saw a guy wearing headphones and dining alone. He decided to interrupt. It changed his life.

"I asked him what he was listening to. Next thing you know, he's asking me to sit down," DiMatteo recalled. It was Tate. "I'm getting yelled at by my manager, but we kept talking about music." Soon after, Tate invited him to try out for his band. He got the gig.

DiMatteo later vowed that any side gigs he did would involve music. Now 70% of his income is from performing. For the rest, he teaches at the Keylab music school in Brooklyn and the Jazz Project at Queens College, and he gives private lessons.

"I kept getting just enough work to keep me here" in New York, he said. The city gives him the chance to work with interesting talents such as singers Petula Clark, Bridget Everett and Valerie June.

"I've been here a long time," he said. "I've stuck it out, and I'm getting to do what I love."


Jason DiMatteo

AGE: 47 BORN: Riverside, Calif. RESIDES: Crown Heights, Brooklyn EDUCATION: Bachelor's in music performance, New York University; master's in performance and composition, Queens College. COST OF BUSINESS: His bass can fit in an SUV or van but nothing smaller—which means paying a higher car service fare. Traveling by subway can save him $80 to $100 per gig—even if it earns him dirty looks at rush hour. MUSICAL MENAGERIE: DiMatteo, his wife, Carrie, and baby Remi share a two-bedroom with three guitars, a stand-up bass, an electric bass and his father's spinet piano. ON BASS: He trained under the New York Philharmonic's Homer Mensch, known for playing the terrifying bassline in the movie Jaws.

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