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Dan Willis: No Longer a Divided Artist

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The approach to jazz versus the approach to classical is no less serious or intensive. It's a little bit different of a swing to the eighth note, as far as I'm concerned, but it's still art.
dan willis You'll have to look long and hard to find a better tenor saxophonist than Dan Willis.

You'll have to look long and hard to find a better oboeist than Dan Willis.

Dan Willis is a wonderful soprano saxophonist. He's a terrific English horn player. His bass clarinet and piccolo playing is fine. He's more than competent with more obscure ethnic instruments such as zirna and dudek.

Perhaps most importantly, Dan Willis is a great composer. But instruments, and the musicians that play them, get pigeonholed. The oboe, says the conventional wisdom, belongs in classical music. So for the most part, Dan Willis played the oboe and English horn in contemporary classical, classical, and chamber music settings. On his jazz recordings (Dan Willis Quartet, 1998, and Hand to Mouth, 2001, both on the A- Records imprint) Willis stuck to tenor and soprano sax. Both recordings are good, featuring both Willis' fine compositions and some great New York players such as drummer John Hollenbeck, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Drew Gress.

But Willis' 2007 CD Velvet Gentlemen is even better than his previous recordings. The compositions are excellent, the group interplay is wonderful—but that was true of his other records. But on Velvet Gentlemen, Willis has found a way to integrate all that he is—tenor player, oboe player, English horn player, and so on—into his jazz work. The result is a jazz music imbued with the sonorities and rigorous compositional strategies of contemporary classical music (not that there isn't some rock in there as well). Willis is all over the CD—playing all the abovementioned instruments and more, overdubbing himself when the music calls for it. But the music is nonetheless utterly about ensemble playing: Everyone in the group has something interesting to play at all times, making the music almost infinitely dense. The recording's limpid mix and the players' lightness of touch make it just as listenable. Velvet Gentleman is a record that stands up to many repeated listenings.

I spoke with Willis about his new recording and found him to be thrilled by his creative breakthrough. With his third CD, he's really become the sum of his talented parts, and he knows it.

Chapter Index
  1. Velvet Gentlemen Background: Erik Satie and Quantum Physics
  2. Velvet Gentlemen: the Musicians
  3. Velvet Gentlemen: Overdubbing Dan
  4. Velvet Gentlemen: the Songs
  5. Practicing on Many Instruments
  6. Working with David Chesky
  7. Working in Pulse




Velvet Gentlemen Background: Erik Satie and Quantum Physics

All About Jazz: I want to talk about Velvet Gentlemen, your fascinating new recording on the OmniTone label. This is your first since your sextet set Hand to Mouth, which was recorded way back in 1999.

There are a variety of elements involved in this music. The group is a sort of sextet, except that it isn't a sextet, really; it's really a group that you expand to fit your compositions, the extra members all being you overdubbing horn parts in the ensembles or simply changing instruments during the pieces. This greater array of woodwinds—oboe and English horn, especially—is new on your recordings, which just featured tenor or soprano saxophone previously.

There's a unique sound to the voicings, to the way the group plays, and to the actual sound of the recording—it's not always about complete instrumental clarity. The Rhodes and guitar occupy similar areas at times, and the horns blend in all sorts of ways in the back range of the sonic spectrum. There are plenty of clear lines, but it's often as much of an overall sound as anything. I also think that while I hear all sorts of musical influences here beyond jazz, I think on this recording those influences are the most absorbed and the overall music, the most developed and original.

And of course, there are the influences on the compositions—being your interest in French composer Erik Satie, your use of serialist techniques, and last but not least, your interest in quantum physics.

Dan Willis: Yeah, quantum physics was an inspiration and a point of departure. It was just something that got me thinking a little bit differently about music. It opened my mind to greater idea than, ah, swinging eighth notes and dominant seventh chords—just thinking there was a whole universe of sound out there. And the more I read about quantum physics, the more I thought, "Wow, they could be talking about music here. There are so many similarities.

AAJ: Why so long between recordings?

DW: A number of things had happened. I had been in a car accident and it wasn't really, really bad, but it gave me whiplash. So I had a pretty bad neck injury, and I really had to change around the way I approached playing—not being quite as physical and just taking care of myself a little bit better. It made me reexamine life in general. For about a year, I wasn't really able to play the way I was accustomed to playing, so it gave me a lot of time to sit and think and read, go to acupuncture, meditate, exercise. There was a good year or so that I was not really playing; I was playing to make a living and pay the bills, but creatively, it was all on hold.

And I found myself wanting to find some new avenues for what I was hearing compositionally. I was getting back into studying classical music a little bit more and trying to find a way to combine what I had always kept separate, which was my oboe playing and my saxophone playing. I was just letting things happen. And when I was going to acupuncture, I was listening to Erik Satie pretty much every session I was there.

AAJ: That was the music the acupuncturist played in the office?



DW: That was the first thing she played, and I thought, "I know this from studying this music in school. But I wasn't aware of all the piano pieces. Anyway, lay there for an hour and meditate and listen to Erik Satie, and it really becomes ingrained in your psyche. While it was music that I had always loved, here I was hearing it in a different way: I was hearing it in a healing type of way, and it was giving me really beautiful thoughts. So it inspired me to look at composition differently and want to bring the double reeds into my compositions more.

AAJ: What was it you were hearing in the Satie pieces that inspired you?

DW: The simplicity of it. Sadness, happiness, hopefulness. But mostly that simplicity of line and how beautiful things can be simply stated. And from a jazz point of view, taking something very simple and being able to morph that either compositionally or during improvisation—it's a great springboard. The more I listened to this music, the more I began to think of Erik Satie as a sort of jazz musician—thinking that if there was some way to have a conversation with Erik Satie, what would his thoughts about music today be? How would my compositions be influenced by our conversation? Crazy thoughts like that.

But ultimately, [it was] the simplicity of the line and the beauty of simply stating things, and the idea of taking that to another place through improvisation.

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Velvet Gentlemen: the Musicians

AAJ: Tell me about the musicians you chose for this recording. You've got Chuck MacKinnon on trumpet and flugelhorn, Pete McCann on electric guitar, Kermit Driscoll on electric bass on some of the pieces, Stephan Crump on electric or acoustic bass on the others, Ron Oswanski on Rhodes and some accordion, and John Hollenbeck on drums and percussion. Plus all the instruments you're playing here. McCann and Hollenbeck have been on previous records of yours, but the others haven't. Just in terms of the instrumentation, what attracted you to this sort of group lineup?

DW: The idea of the reeds and the double reeds is always in my mind. So I thought, "What complements that sound? The reed sound of the accordion is always something that's attractive to me. The paradox of an electric guitar with oboe—while it seems insane, electric guitar distortion originally came about from an amp actually falling on the ground and the cone being torn, and someone saying, "Hey, that sounds like a saxophone! You know, that really reedy, kind of bright sound. So I saw a good connection there. As for the Fender Rhodes, getting a little more sustain out of a keyboard instrument than you do with piano attracted me. I'd explored those organ sounds on my second album, but I wanted to explore that a little bit more.

In terms of Kermit Driscoll on the electric bass, I'd been listening to Kermit's playing since I was in college and going to hear him play with Bill Frisell, and I got to know him a little bit when I played with him in John Hollenbeck's band. I thought he'd be a great addition to the band, since he's such a great jazz musician as well as being such a great free jazz musician.

I've known Chuck MacKinnon since we were kids. He grew up on the West Coast, but we met playing in the McDonald's All-American Marching Band in high school [laughing], and we immediately became friends because we had similar jazz interests. We met back up in the New York area, and we've been playing together ever since. This is the first time he's recorded in my group though.

I've been playing with Stephan Crump since I first moved to New York. He's a little bit younger than I am, but we've played in several bands together. I played in his wife's band—[singer/songwriter] Jen Chapin, who's the daughter of Harry Chapin. I thought it'd be great to bring him in since he's got a great approach to the upright bass. He's classically trained but he grew up down in Memphis, so he's got kind of a unique outlook towards jazz.

I really wanted to bring people together that I knew who had a pretty good classical background and would be able to bring those sensibilities into a jazz and free-improvisation setting. That, and the fact that they're all my friends, helped me to decide on the configuration of the band. First and foremost was that a lot of these guys do play many different instruments, so I knew that I could kind of pick and choose the colors that I wanted, knowing that they played all those instruments very well.

AAJ: I'm not saying that this is delicate music, but there is a delicacy to the way this group plays. It's not exactly like the way I've heard any other band play, and it's obvious that they are all pretty mindful of your intentions behind the compositions.

DW: Yeah. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that they're all very good composers themselves, and at times, bandleaders. So they know what to do when they're in the sideman role. We didn't have to talk too much about the music; we played some of these things together quite a bit, some only a few times before we recorded. I really don't have to give a whole lot of direction other than "intensity. Like, "I want it smaller here, and this needs to be a whole lot more intense. Other than that, it was very collective, and I do find that to be the best way to work. If you don't tie people down, they can really contribute a lot, and you get to hear how they're being influenced by the music.

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Velvet Gentlemen: Overdubbing Dan

You know, we recorded this music about three years ago, and I'm still very happy about it. I still get a good feeling from it.

AAJ: Oh, really? The music was actually recorded in 2004?

DW: Yeah. I took quite a bit of time with it. Because we were adding so many instruments with overdubs, I wanted to make sure it was mixed very well so that nothing would be covered up. A lot of the background figures were these independent lines, and I wanted to be sure they came through. So I basically took about a year to mix the album.

AAJ: Well, it's got a fantastic mix, and that was obviously a very painstaking process. There is a lot happening in the music.



DW: Yeah, it took a year. And then it took about a year for OmniTone to get the record out. But I'm still very excited about how it sounds, and I've begun writing for the follow-up album, which might actually be some arrangements of Satie's music. Because when I let people know that this album was inspired by his music, they've all said, "Well, I'd love to hear what you'd do with his music. I've had an overwhelming response, and it's always been in the back of my mind what I would do with this music—how I would arrange these things for my group. So all the ideas are there; I just have to get them down. So maybe we'll begin recording that soon.

AAJ: In terms of the added horns you play on the tracks, how did you manage that? I mean, you've got these live group performances and then you filled in the spaces by overdubbing with the extra horns, but sometimes there will be two upfront, important sax parts, and you had to know that those spaces would be filled when everyone performed the first time.

DW: Well, I didn't tell the band I'd be doing that. I didn't want them to be worried about making space for something to be overdubbed later; I just wanted them to play naturally, and then I'd worry about that other stuff. I had a pretty good idea what those lines would be, but I didn't really write anything down until I started recording. I kept that process pretty organic. I had an idea of the lines and the direction and the shape, but I didn't write it down. So once I started working with one line, I'd add a second or possibly a third.

AAJ: So none of the players had to play around a hole to be filled in later. You just worked with what you had recorded, whatever it was.

DW: Exactly.

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Velvet Gentlemen: the Songs

AAJ: Let's talk about some of the actual songs on the record. I love "Gentle Soul. It's got that lovely flugelhorn melody over Kermit's elegant, rockish bass, prodding kit work from John, and a couple of your saxophones. Kermit's bass part is so steady but interesting at the same time, and I really hear him under that soloing from Chuck. The overall sound of the recording and the way the instruments fit and work together really reminds me of Daniel Lanois' production work—the blurring sounds and studio warmths.

DW: This piece was written for my older brother Timothy, who passed away in '85. He was severely mentally retarded and passed away shortly before his twenty-first birthday. That's something that I carry with me, and I think about him pretty much daily. This song was just inspired by the gentle way that he was. He could not communicate very well, but he had his own way of communicating, and we all knew what he was saying when he was communicating with us. It was a very interesting and special relationship, and I wanted to somehow convey that feeling and dedicate a song to him.

The flugelhorn has a large part of the melody, and that was also inspired by my father, who was also a trumpet player and who passed away in '97. So all these things kind of came together for one emotional outpouring.

AAJ: "Place of Enlightenment has Stephan on acoustic bass and Ron on accordion. I hear oboe and bass clarinet in its lovely, odd theme. This one's got that gauzy quality I notice all over the music here. The instruments sound tonally blended and yet at the same time, distinct— if that makes any sense. I love John's almost tabla-like pattern on percussion and the swaying, groaning quality of the voices that support the lead melodies—alongside your tenor and Pete's guitar solo. Any thoughts on this one?

DW: The idea for both "Place of Enlightenment and "Gentle Soul was that it would start in a smaller place and then every chorus was going to escalate. We didn't speak about how it would exactly, but I wanted each person to take into account going into their solo that they would be handing it off to the next person, and that that would be another escalation. That was really the only performance note that I gave to the band.

In the case of "Place of Enlightenment it was very important to me to have the original line of the melody—also an escalating figure—keep coming back in different permutations with each instrument, whether it be a retrograde or a retrograde inversion of the line, where, as the line goes up, the background might be continually dropping down. I wanted those to crisscross and overlap and kind of influence each other, so you have one line come in and the second line going in a different direction. I knew where those lines would meet up would produce a really interesting effect—especially when you're combining the timbres of the double reeds.

I think I started with two bass clarinets and an English horn and then it switches to two English horns and a bass clarinet. I'm kind of doing a Duke Ellington thing where he would have instruments of a lower timbre playing higher than instruments of a higher timbre; that produces a very unique effect. And there are some nice little rubs with the double reed, the accordion, and the electric guitar. That was a sound that I'd been looking for and not hearing, and I knew I could do something different with that.

AAJ: Those sort of retrograde inversions you were talking about, are those serialist compositional strategies?

DW: Oh, yeah. Exactly. It's stuff that I learned while studying composition and arranging at Eastman. I remember my teacher saying, "Here are the rules, but don't be afraid to explore using different instruments, different ranges. Bring what you learn in your classical studies to jazz, and vice-versa. For me it's all about experimenting with all I've learned—seeing where that can take me. At this point in my life, I don't really have an interest in doing anything that sounds like something that someone else explored or tried to do. I'm going to try to put my own spin on it. And I've found that using the double reed instruments and some of the ethnic instruments puts a different light on things. It makes you think about the melody and your approach to it differently. So I'm just throwing it all out there!

AAJ: Well, it must be difficult to play musics that are so separated from each other and have that sort of decided for you by the instrument you play. You know, oboe goes with chamber music; saxophone goes with jazz. It must be nice to have found a way of using all the instruments you play together and actually have that improve the music.

dan willisDW: Yeah. It's kind of a luxury and it's exciting too. When I was doing the overdubbing, I would have some ideas written down of what I thought I wanted to do. Then I would listen back in preparation to do the recording, and I'd be like, "Oh no, we have to have a suona play there. Or, "That's going to need a zirna. "Gentle Soul had to start with a duduk. It just hits you like a lightning bolt what a song needs. And it's great when it works. When it works, it's like, "Yeah, okay! On to the next one.



It's just a process where one thing will lead me to another, at least with the ethnic instruments. With the double reeds, I kind of have to have an idea ahead of time what I'm going to do, just so the instruments stay out of each other's way and it doesn't become a cacophony—which can also be good, but not if that's not what you're looking for.

AAJ: Yes, accidental cacophony is just bad.

DW: Yeah, you have to be really careful with two oboes and an English horn in a jazz setting [laughing]. You can be quick to offend.

AAJ: You can be quick to offend yourself.

DW: Yeah, exactly!

AAJ: "Closed Loops in Time is notable for its delicate layering of little, repeated phrases— little loops of musical information. At the same time, with Stephan on electric bass and that Rhodes vamp phrase, it's got a seventies rock feel. I'm not even sure what instruments of yours are in the ensembles— bass clarinet for sure. The voicings of the ensemble parts are particularly orchestral, and it feels very composed.

DW: Yeah. All of the backgrounds—well, of the tunes that I use backgrounds on—are coming from a classical approach, a more linear approach, as opposed to just voicing, voicing, voicing. It was really important to me that each instrument have its own line, and for that line to be important and come from the melody in some way. And you're totally dead-on in that I was looking at it from my orchestral, classical experiences—bringing that into the jazz vein. And thank God [laughing] it worked! I thought it would.

AAJ: I like how up above, you do have those individual, orchestral lines, and below, you have that up-tempo groove. Two different worlds blur together pretty successfully.

DW: The whole idea was, you know, "Closed Loops in Time —that's a quantum physics reference about time travel, so the tune has a groovy, seventies, spacey thing going on. I've been so happy with how it came out, like when the backgrounds come in, and some of those little interlude things. I did approach it from a classical perspective, with a really pronounced sound and vibrato, and I wanted that to be in complete juxtaposition to that kind of seventies, groovy feeling. I'm very happy with the way it turned out.

AAJ: Well, these are tunes that stand up to a lot of listenings. You can listen to them repeatedly and get something new out of them.

DW: That's been the response I've been getting. People have said things like, "Yeah, I listened to your album, and then I started it over and listened to it again. That's as good a compliment as you can get! This was a real exploration of bringing together all of these worlds that I've kept separate for so long, including things that I was almost afraid to bring into jazz. If it doesn't work, people will be pretty quick to let you know. But I'm very happy with the response I have gotten to the album, and I can't wait to start on the new one.

AAJ: Yeah, it's like when you have those two groups of friends that you're nervous about bringing together at your big party. You don't know if they'll get along, and it's always a relief when they do—if they do.

DW: That's so right. You worry about it, but then you come to find that we're different but we're really the same. The approach to jazz versus the approach to classical is no less serious or intensive. It's a little bit different of a swing to the eighth note as far as I'm concerned, but it's still art. I've always loved classical and I've always loved jazz. That's the way I was brought up. I don't really hear that going on that much in jazz now—bringing the two art forms together. People are pretty adamant about keeping them separate. Occasionally you do hear of some crossover type of things.

AAJ: Yeah, but often the people who do those sorts of things get crucified.

DW: It often isn't done right because their exposure to one of the two styles hasn't been that great, so they don't really know what they're doing. I'm pretty confident about bringing those two worlds together at this point, and I wasn't too worried about doing it.

AAJ: I just think that music is music. Some things don't work together, but that should be the only criteria—whether it works or not.

DW: Yeah. My favorite artists are the people who are just constantly searching for something to make them think differently, or inspire them, or challenge them. That's what I like in music.

AAJ: Tell me about the short improv pieces interspersed on the CD: "Nothing is Real, "Uncertainty Relation, "Grandparent Paradox. Were these just some of the improvs you recorded? They certainly somehow maintain the atmosphere and intent of the composed pieces.

DW: We actually recorded playing free for a good twenty minutes. Each section was of a different length, and there was a clear delineation from section to section where we were thinking differently. We never really spoke about how we were going to play, but you could hear how it changed. There's one thing where John and Kermit were playing in five; there's another where it was in seven, and we never talked about that. It was just a free exchange of ideas.

What I did was just edit those sections apart from each other and make them their own compositions. It really worked out well. But again, I think that playing this material together for a number of years—some of it anyway, since some was pretty new—kind of put us all in the same head space. So the improvisations really do reflect the compositions that we were recording before and after, and that's the beautiful thing. And a very special thing. I can't really tell you much about each improv individually because I'd be speaking for the other guys. But they needed titles, and I thought they did relate to the idea of quantum physics and time travel, so I tried to title them appropriately.

AAJ: The improvs also work in terms of the whole CD, because a lot of the composed pieces on the record are pretty long and quite complex. So to have these shorter bits interspersed between them really breaks up the record well.

DW: Yeah. It provides a nice balance. Because "Velvet Gentlemen is well over ten minutes. Having these little vignettes between the longer compositions is a nice little refresher for the listener.

AAJ: Speaking of free playing, "3:10 Local seems to combine order and chaos. It's got those looped, repeated phrases of soprano saxophones and bass clarinets quoting the bass line, I think from Miles Davis' "Great Expectations, and what sounds like a free center with everyone improvising; although there's a structure to that as well—there's a sort of nebulous call-and-response of trumpet and tenor.

DW: This tune started with Kermit just stating that "Great Expectations theme, then we played freely with, as you said, the call-and-response and then the total dismantling of the groove, having it fall apart. Then Kermit brought it back again towards the end.



And that was how that song stood. Then I took it home and started messing around with the bass line and layering up different permutations of the bass line on top of each other—again, going back to the serialism thing. So the melody that first comes out on the bass clarinet is the melody stretched out. The sopranos and, later, the oboes and English horn play the melody four times faster, I think, than the original speed of the bass line. So there's all this overlapping and layering and stretching and shortening of time. Those are the compositional elements of that one. I found that when I stretched out the melody of the bass line, it made this beautiful, languid phrase—I just loved it. And it all started with the bass line.

AAJ: So you were essentially composing on top of a recorded performance. I understand it now—or, you know, I think I do.

DW: And watch—now when you go back to listen to it, you'll hear all those things. Not that those things are terribly important. They might make it sound more interesting—or they might make it [laughing] sound less interesting. These are ways of composing that I was actually a little scared to explore, because up until the point of recording this album, I had pretty much just written song forms or extended song forms. So it took something for me to really stretch my ear on some extended compositional work. I mean, "3:10 Local was an eye-opener for me. And there's no turning back now.

AAJ: So this is a working band. You're going to make another record with the same players and you play the music out.

DW: Yeah. We just performed the other day here in New York and had a great time with a great turnout. Whenever these guys are available, I'd like to do something. Of course, they all have their own bands and their own careers going on, so scheduling is really the hardest thing at this point. I just have to schedule it far enough in advance that everyone can make it.

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Practicing on Many Instruments

AAJ: I'm interested in the discipline it must require to stay competent on all the instruments you play: obviously tenor and soprano sax—soprano alone is a very demanding instrument—but also English horn and oboe. These are hard instruments to play well. How do you find the time to practice them all? Do you practice them all regularly?

DW: I guess I'm going to admit that no, I don't. Planning ahead is, again, really important for every project I'm involved with. I do have to take into account—if I'm playing oboe or English horn—several days in advance of really getting physically ready to play whatever I'm going to have to play, whether it's classical or jazz music. Equipment's another thing—making sure that oboe reeds or English horn reeds are ready to go for that specific situation that I'm playing in. Sometimes, with English horn, you're asked to play in a jazz setting that's a lot louder than the chamber music setting you're more comfortable playing in. So some minor equipment changes have to be taken into account.

I spend a lot of time in my basement studio getting my act together for whatever's around the corner. If it's a recording project, then I'm practicing that music and getting those instruments ready for that. If it's my own thing and I'm practicing to maybe find something or discover something, then that might be relegated to either the tenor or the oboe, because those are pretty much my primary instruments. Everything else is an offshoot, and I can kind of get that together relatively quickly in a manner of speaking.

AAJ: So you pretty much live by your calendar.

DW: Exactly.

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Working with David Chesky

AAJ: Tell me about work with composer/pianist David Chesky.

DW: I had known about David's jazz work and his label [Chesky Records] but was not familiar with his contemporary classical writing. I was working with David Egar, a cellist who I'd met playing in Michael Brecker's Quindectet. Michael's music was, needless to say, very challenging; it was a glorious band and it was very exciting. It took a lot to get that music together quickly, and David and I, who had just met, were talking about the different projects that we do. He said, "I've got this project coming up in the summer. It's going to be really, really difficult music. I wonder if you'd be interested. And this was a concerto by David Chesky. He said, "It's very difficult music but you're going to love it. And it was difficult and a great challenge—I did not sleep well the week we recorded.

It was scary in a really good way. It really pushed me further and deeper and really opened up my ears. And I had some great conversations with David that week we were recording. He's a fine jazz player as well, and we talked about the frustration we were both feeling about not hearing these greater sonorities in jazz that we hear in classical and contemporary classical music. We talked about maybe getting together and doing a project in the future. But playing his music and hearing that jazz influence in his classical writing opened up my ears and was just a wonderful experience for me, and there is definitely that influence on this new record of mine.

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Working in Pulse

AAJ: Tell me about your work in Pulse.

dan willisDW: Oh yeah, Pulse. Pulse is a group that I'm really proud of. It's a collective of six writers and a group of musicians. The group is string quartet, two brass—tuba and French horn—and two reeds. Plus, we play whatever they feel like writing for, usually vibes, percussion, maybe a keyboard instrument. But that's the basic instrumentation. Pulse has been together for almost two years now, and we do a concert probably four times a year. Each concert has a different idea behind it; the last one was called "Eloquent Light and it was all based upon photography. The writers would be inspired by photography, by some piece of photography, say, and they'd write a piece inspired by that.

For the next concert we do, we're going to change around the instrumentation of Pulse; Ben Kono and myself will be playing ethnic instruments. I'll be playing duduk, zirna and Sinai, and Ben will be playing shakuhachi and Chinese flutes. We'll have a koto player, someone will be playing some kind of computer laptop, and I think there will be two percussionists. So this will definitely be a little more world-influenced, but it's really coming from a compositional direction as opposed to an ethnic traditional direction. It's very exciting because you never know what you're going to get handed to play, and the musicians are a large part of the process of putting it together. It's a really nice community of musicians and a really nice project.

AAJ: Okay, you're going to do that Satie stuff with the same band that's on Velvet Gentlemen. Any other plans for this year?



DW: I'm going to Guatemala. I've put together a group and we're going to be presenting classical music, kind of in the same way that Baby Einstein, another group I was involved with, would present classical music—in a more simple way so it can reach children. It's a child outreach thing, and this lovely woman who runs the university down there got me thinking about this because she wanted Baby Einstein to come down there. I said, "Well, there's really no Baby Einstein performing group, but I could put one together. So that's how it got started, and we'll be down there performing soon.

We'll also be doing some of my jazz compositions down there with the same group. So that'll be exciting. Also, John Hollenbeck's band has a European tour in the fall, so we'll be out doing that.

Selected Discography

Dan Willis, Velvet Gentlemen (OmniTone, 2007)

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, A Blessing (OmniTone, 2005)

David Chesky, Area 31 (Chesky Records, 2005)

Jason Robert Brown, Wearing Someone Else's Clothes (Sh-K-Boom Records, 2005)

Barry Manilow, 2 Nights Live! (Stiletto/BMG, 2004)

Gotham Wind Symphony, Music For Children—And Those Who Listen With Them (Wack Cylinder Recordings, 2004)

John Hollenbeck, Quartet Lucy (CRI Blueshift, 2001)

Dan Willis, Hand to Mouth (A-Records, 2001)

Dan Willis Quartet, Dan Willis Quartet (A-Records, 1998)

Shawn Colvin, Holiday Songs and Lullabies (Columbia, 1998)

Photo Credits

All photos courtesy of Dan Willis

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