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Youngstown bassist Unc D delivers the energy of the Ohio funk and jazz scenes to streaming audiences

Bandleader Dante Basista performs as Unc D with Thin Thicket, Damon the Soulful Samurai, Nathan-Paul, Jeziel Chavez and Luke Fitzwater, translating his popular jazz-hip-hop fusion recordings for a live audience. [Nick Creme]
Bandleader Dante Basista performs as Unc D with Thin Thicket, Damon the Soulful Samurai, Nathan-Paul, Jeziel Chavez and Luke Fitzwater, translating his popular jazz-hip-hop fusion recordings for a live audience.

Bassist Dante Basista spent a decade as a “side player” before starting his project Unc D in 2019.

Basista has released a prolific amount of “jazztronica” music under the Unc D moniker, fusing improvised instrumental music with beat making.

Despite being an independent artist with no record labels funding his ventures, Basista has released one song per week since summer 2022.

Thirteen of those releases have landed on Spotify editorial playlists, where music specialists from the streaming platform hand-pick songs and place them on popular themed playlists.

His abstract, surreal tunes pull elements from Ohio’s jazz and funk scenes.

With more than 600 minutes of music released in the last three years, Basista continues introducing the jazz sub-genre to thousands of listeners worldwide.

Collaborating in the local jazz scene

Unc D stands for Unctucous D, which Basista said means “slippery and oily” and also refers to being a con artist.

“Because there's a lot of, musically, kind of slippery stuff, like there's a lot of post-production,” Basista said. “And even though we might look like jazz superstars, it's not necessarily like that all the time. Nobody thinks we're jazz superstars.”

Independent artist Unc D has released more than 600 hours of music since June 2019. His most recent ventures involve an experimental ringtone project and inventing the "mumble jazz" genre. [Tommy Waters ]

The “we” Basista refers to is a large, fluid pool of musical collaborators that flesh out the experimental Unc D sound.

Collaborating artists include regional jazz and funk musicians like Nathan-Paul and Tommy Lehman.

“My main producer, Thin Thicket, he works at Spirit of the Bear and Labra Brothers, and we record everything in Youngstown at his place,” Basista said.

Basista began making his own music with GarageBand on an iPad that he uses to this day.

“I would just make these beats that were, you know, me laying in my bed at three in the morning, putting them together,” Basista said. “And then I would add instrument by instrument.”

Basista said he would travel to musicians’ houses or the hallways of Youngstown State University with his iPad to capture instrumentation or room sounds.

“That was my studio. I didn't have any other way to record something, but I wanted to make this music,” Basista said.

The first track he recorded and released independently made it onto a Spotify editorial playlist and has approximately 250,000 streams.

After meeting Danny Svenson, also known as Thin Thicket, Basista’s eyes were open to the possibility of making and performing music on a larger scale.

“We've done festival gigs where we bring his gear out,” Basista said. “Then over COVID, we really hit a stride because I couldn't really do anything else besides go into the studio.”

Unc D frequently collaborates with producer Danny Svenson, also known as Thin Thicket, who works with The Labra Brothers, Spirit of the Bear and more.

Gaining a sizable online audience

Basista found his creative motivation during the COVID-19 pandemic, releasing dozens of singles, EPs and box sets on streaming platforms.

His songs, which blend traditional jazz elements with hip-hop and electronica, have reached thousands of listeners through Spotify’s curated “ State of Jazz”, " Jazz Funk" and “ Jazztronica” playlists, among others.

“I’m a jazz outsider. I'm not educated in any music in any way. I received a great musical education on saxophone as a youngster… [but I] never took any collegiate music theory classes, never took a bass lesson. So I'm always trying to bring jazz to the non-jazz audiences, in a sense,” Basista said.

The artist has been able to release so much material by planning far ahead for more ambitious projects, like an upcoming 52-track box set, and releasing first takes of songs.

“There's a lot of stuff that we kick right out in the studio,” Basista said. “There's no second, third takes. There's no 15 times to get a vocal right.”

He said he works on multiple songs at once. Since he isn’t tied to a major record label, there’s no pressure to create a “masterpiece,” and he can release music when and how he wants.

“I think it's more important to have somebody listen to your imperfect track than it is your perfect track," he said.

Basista does have dreams of working with major labels if it means he can collaborate with big-name artists.

“Like, like if I signed on Blue Note Records, you get to use their musicians,” he said.

Basista is a part-time musician but has amassed an average of 93,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

He said it’s important to share the music you’re working on, even if it’s not completely finished or polished yet.

“Make somebody's day, and make your own day, by sharing your art,” he said. “Show somebody, and I guarantee you they're not going to think it's not good enough.”

Expanding and experimenting  

Aside from his fresh take on jazz, Basista has spent the pandemic experimenting on other music projects, such as creating cell phone ringtones.

He would spend a few hours in the studio cutting short tracks and loading them onto old flip phones.

His idea for the project was to create a subscription service where he records new 40-second clips of original songs that are placed on each cell phone, like a flash drive.

“There's so many cell phones that are out there that people are just throwing away,” he said. “We'll send you a phone loaded with all kinds of media, and then you send it back to us at a certain time.”

Basista and Svenson began releasing those ringtones on Spotify this year under the moniker Mofidelity.

Basista's latest endeavor mixes jazz and scatting with autotune and hip-hop flows, which he calls “mumble jazz.”

I'm a jazz outsider... so I'm always trying to bring jazz to the non-jazz audiences, in a sense.

- Dante Batista

He will release his album “MMBLJZZ” Sept. 9.

It features eight tracks that were recorded live in the studio throughout the summer of 2022.

“What we do is we make this whole backing track of 808 drums and my bass recorded and keyboards, and then we perform as a band over that,” Basista said. “And then I do the Auto-Tune with the soloing. So it's kind of using hip-hop production with jazz.”

Basista has been releasing singles from the mumble jazz album all summer and has already gained more than 100,000 streams on Spotify.

The tracks fuse the high-brow perception of jazz with elements of mumble rap, which Basista said is closer to what many younger music fans are listening to.

Over the summer, Unc D performed several live concerts throughout Cleveland. Several of these sets were recorded, and Basista plans to use the recordings to put out three albums between September and December 2022.

“I have two goals with this: One, to make our paid performances paid studio sessions, and, two, to directly connect the experience of our Spotify listeners with our live audience,” he said.

Basista will put out several more albums this year ranging from his iPad jazz recordings to a tribute to Auto-Tune pioneers.

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