Monday night at ISB 2017 features our winners from the Solo and Jazz divisions in 2015.  We thought it would be good to get to know them a little better. One of the things you’ll notice is that competitions aren’t just about winning. This is the time to meet your colleagues and start building those friendships that will last a lifetime.

Mike Forfia

Mike Forfia

How did you get into the bass? Was it your first instrument? I heard the high school jazz band play ‘Fantasy’ by Earth, Wind, and Fire when I was in 7th grade and the bass player, Jermail Porter, just blew me away. I thought if I started playing bass then it might help me get into the jazz band on my first instrument – trumpet. I made it into the jazz band my freshman year, but by then I had gotten so enthralled with the bass lines on Led Zeppelin II and Chicago Transit Authority that I wasn’t really interested in trumpet anymore. I switched to playing tuba in the concert band so that I could stay in jazz band, and also played tuba in a youth orchestra. I resisted the upright for a while, but started taking lessons during my senior year of high school.  

How did you first hear about ISB? Tracy Rowell started encouraging me to join in 2009. Peter Dominguez started encouraging me to join soon after that. Nicholas Walker encouraged me to join when he came to Cleveland to give a masterclass in 2011. It seemed like a club that all of my heroes were in. My first convention was in Rochester in 2013.

What was your experience like at ISB 2015? It was a transformative experience, more like what I would imagine a retreat to be than a convention. It was familial, energizing, and humbling, much like I had experienced in 2013. At first I was reluctant to apply for the competition for fear it might undermine those qualities, but it turned out to be an incredibly valuable part of the experience for the friendships and perspectives that it shaped. Immediately after the competition ended we had about 45 minutes where the judges gave us some critical advice. Among the many insights they shared, I remember them telling us to look around and keep in mind that we all would be colleagues (not competitors) for the next 40-50 years. That mentality radiates from the elders at the conventions and the leadership of the ISB, and it is what I feel truly separates the ISB convention from any other convention experience.

What are you looking forward to at the upcoming convention? I am mostly looking forward to hunting down Tracy Rowell, Peter Dominguez, and Jeff Campbell and picking their brains as much as humanly possible. I’m also super excited to be working with the Gaelen McCormick and the Young Bassists program. I’m presenting a concert with some special friends of mine and I am I am (nervously) looking forward to sharing that music with the bass community. I am excited to have my mind blown about five times a day at the concerts, lectures, and jam sessions, and to drink gratuitous amounts of coffee with my bass friends. If I can pull myself away from the big bass hang, I will certainly be exploring some hiking trails around Ithaca as well. 

Do you have any new projects or things we can help you promote? I do. Thanks for asking. I’m currently working with Ike Sturm at “The First Church of Jazz”, Saint Peter’s Church in NYC. We have a community jazz workshop that meets once a month, a monthly jazz jam session, weekly concerts, and the Jazz Vespers service which has been going on every Sunday since 1965. My group will be leading the music this Sunday, March 12th. There is a fantastic performing arts prison ministry that I’ve been working with once a month called Shining Light (, and their work is definitely worth a look and a listen. Also, a record that I was on with the Bobby LaVell/George Caldwell quartet recently received a 4-star review in the March issue of Downbeat, titled “Accord” and that is available online for folks to listen to. 

Sam Suggs

Sam Suggs

How did you get into the bass? Was it your first instrument?

My first love was piano, which I studied from a young age – but as far as string instruments go, I switched from cello to bass in middle school in order to play traditional jazz alongside my family of music-lovers at our gatherings! I fell in love with classical music during my time in the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra and the Saratoga Springs School of Orchestral Studies before entering Northwestern to study with Peter Lloyd who guided me towards a deeper understanding and passion for the instrument.

How did you first hear about ISB?

My former teacher in high school, Paul Bresciani, had won a prize at ISB in the 80’s and inspired me to participate in the convention competitions when I was younger – my first ISB experience was competing in one of the young bassist competitions at Penn State in 2009. I’ll never forget hearing Joel Quarrington and Mark Dresser that week. They really burst open my naive ears and redefined what I believed the double bass could do.

What was your experience like at ISB 2015?

At ISB 2015, it was so fulfilling to present an extremely personal program and receive affirmation from the solo competition after many years of preparation. More importantly, I was able to spend some much needed quality time with mentors who have inspired and influenced me greatly over the years. And the after-hours party was like a dream in which people from different chapters of my musical life happened to be collected altogether in the same room in the spirit of celebration.

What are you looking forward to at the upcoming convention?

My family is from the Finger Lakes region – and Ithaca is one of the most beautiful places to be in Springtime – so I’m looking forward to the refreshment of the landscape paired with the inspiration of the presentations and performances, as well as catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, and bringing some of my students to ISB for the first time!

I’m also very excited to present some new music in my recital on the 5th – I’ve commissioned a new solo work by my good friend Michael Laurello, and I’ll be presenting my construction of the lost Haydn Concerto alongside some other original compositions that I’ve been working on for many years.

Do you have any new projects or things we can help you promote?

Nothing at this moment – feel free to check out my youtube page.