We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristian Witanto and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristian, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
My family, peers and faculties here at Berklee inspire me everyday. My second eldest sister, Shiella Witanto, studied illustration and graduated from Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Her passion and persistence in her pursuit to become the best illustrator/artist she can be is highly contagious and it shows that talent and hard work will get you to where you want to be. Being part of the Berklee Indonesian Community for three years has changed my life, learning from my senior Indonesian and international friends from my freshman year about almost everything from musical knowledge to everyday life has been the best situation for me to be in and I’m thankful for the friendships we’ve made and the camaraderie with my same-batch peers. I’ve had the honor and privilege of learning from the best faculties and musicians here at Berklee. Spending the last three years learning from one of the best bassists in the world, Mike Pope, has been the most fun I’ve had learning the bass. I owe him my life for his guidance, care and love over these years. Learning jazz composition from the likes of Ayn Inserto, Bob Pilkington, Daniel Ian Smith, Joe Mulholland and Nicholas Urie among others, has been an eye-opening experience in terms of finding your own musical identity, and having faith through the relentless journey of experimentations, failures and successes.
As for musical inspirations, I owe a ton of gratitude to the Yellowjackets (Jimmy Haslip on the bass), Tribal Tech (Gary Willis on the bass), Billy Childs, Jaco Pastorius, David Foster, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Tower of Power (Rocco Prestia on the bass), and Vulfpeck (Joe Dart on the bass) among others for showing us all how they do their business when playing the bass or composing. A special shoutout to the Mumford & Sons: I discovered their music when I was around 14 years old (and almost nobody among my high school friends back in Indonesia have heard or been interested with their music). Their energy and passion on stage playing music that they believe in is what I was most surprised about, and it sparked the fire to pursue music as a profession.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am in love with playing the fretless bass. It took me some years to convince myself that this instrument can become my sort of bread-and-butter. For context, I’m a full-blown funk, soul, R&B and jazz fusion guy. In funk, for example, some if not most funk bass players master the slap bass technique (thanks to the legendary Larry Graham, Louis Johnson and Marcus Miller among others). However, somehow I feel less attached to the slap bass when compared to the moment I discovered the music of Gary Willis with the Tribal Tech. Their funky tunes titled “Face First”, “Canine”, “Nite Club” among others really opened my eyes and I remember thinking, “I want to be like Gary.”
Although legends like Gary himself, Jaco Pastorius and Steve Bailey have made their careers with the fretless bass, it is a more uncommon instrument compared to fretted basses, while its capabilities are highly underrated: a warm tone, lyrical melodic approaches, and most importantly the way harmonics can be utilized in the fretless is the game changer.
Perhaps my biggest musical hurdles have come in the aspects of composing and arranging. My first two years in Berklee presented different challenges, but none more problematic than getting lost in what you are trying to accomplish in your compositions or arrangements. I spent most of my first two years at Berklee arranging music for the Berklee Indonesian Ensemble, and I’m thankful to this day for those experiences through mistakes and accomplishments. The arrangement I’m most proud of has to be the arrangement of “Kampuang Nan Jauh di Mato (Home So Far Away)”, which is a traditional folk song from West Sumatra, Indonesia. I really resonate well with the message of the song, which is that no matter how much success one can reach, we should never forget about where we come from, and through the struggles we must fight through and prevail. Being an Indonesian studying music in Boston is an opportunity I’m eternally grateful for, and this arrangement in a way symbolizes prevailing over all the trials and tribulations that life presents. I really took my time in arranging this piece (biked to Carson Beach several times to arrange with my laptop, an underrated spot to write music!) and for the first time I was truly happy with how the music came out.
(link to the live performance: https://youtu.be/jFUZQ1k9rdo)
In the professional setting, I learn most about the value of respect, that you have to earn the trust and respect of your peers and it won’t just be given to you, that respect is a mutual thing where a professional work environment won’t ever reach its potential when there’s no respect between you and your colleagues, and that respect encompasses every aspect of professional setting: time, work ethic, communication and loyalty.
All in all, whenever I’m working with other musicians, I always try to be myself: be humorous when need be, and most importantly bring my bass playing, arranging and composing skills to the table.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In Boston, honestly you can spend around three days and be able to visit the best parts of Boston. First of all, the fall weather is the best, and the tree leaves turning brown, red or yellow is the best view other than the city itself. I enjoy biking around Boston, so I’d invite friends visiting Boston to bike around and I have three route options: biking along Charles River, biking to Carson Beach or to bike in Cambridge where you can visit Harvard and MIT. The public transport here in Boston is pretty convenient to navigate around as well, other nice spots in Boston would be the public parks in Downtown Boston, as well as the suburbs (Allston, Cambridge and Brookline). Boston is also an underrated culinary city, most options are available here. Boston has the best pasta available in the North End area, nice Chinese food restaurants are available in Chinatown and Allston, and so on. Sadly, there are no Indonesian food restaurants available in Boston, the closest one would be a nice, homey Malaysian food restaurant named Selera Bunda.
Perhaps the best quality of Boston is that this is a major sports city in the US. I am a full-time Celtics fan (maybe with an obsession at this point, oh well..) and my advice is for all of you to watch at least one Celtics game live in TD Garden, or experience the legendary Fenway Park and watch the Red Sox fighting it out. I heard that the Red Sox are at a tough spot currently, while the Celtics are a major contender at this point. Boston fans all know that the most important thing is winning (Rest in Peace the legendary Bill Russell) and I’m having the time of my life being a Celtics fan living in Boston!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My family, first of all. My parents and two elder siblings never gave up love and support on me through ups and downs, and they mean the whole world to me. I’d love to honor my beloved faculties whom I’ve had the privilege to learn from: Mike Pope, Lincoln Goines, Chris Loftlin, Danny Morris, Mimi Jones, Marko Djordjevic, David Fiuczynski, Ed Tomassi, Jim Odgren, Gustavo Agatiello, Ayn Inserto, Bob Pilkington, Nicholas Urie, Daniel Ian Smith, Joe Mulholland, Mitch Haupers, Peter Kenagy, Rick McLaughlin, Jackson Schultz, Manuel Kaufmann, Arnold Friedman, Orlando Cela, Ross Bresler and Jan Donley. Another special shoutout, this time to my high school teachers back in Indonesia: Paulus Oktorisa Tjandra, Robert Matthews and Daniel Christianto. I owe them a ton of gratitude for believing in me from when I first picked up that rusty four-string electric bass in the high school music room. My first performances with the bass was possible thanks to them and I will continue to cherish those memories going forward.
Instagram: kristian.witanto (https://www.instagram.com/kristian.witanto/)
Linkedin: Kristian Witanto (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristian-witanto-7b7532190)
Facebook: Kristian Witanto (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004915367005)
Youtube: Kristian Witanto (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWBDJdOd6e0cNvMkTiim9RoenahzIV9Ib)
Images by myself, Owen Nathanael, Speve, Joshua Gani