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Dave Douglas: Music, Commerce and Culture Wars

By Published: June 26, 2006
AAJ: "Elk's Club is my current favorite on this record. It's got a theme that's sly and rather lovely at the same time. The song's got some tight stop-time and some tough unison stuff that Donny has no trouble with. Like a lot of your stuff, it's got a structure that produces some fascinating soloing where you can really hear the soloist—in this case, Donny, Uri and you—veering through the harmonic framework.

DD: I was writing this one in a hut up in Banff National Park [in Alberta, Canada] and while I was working on it, I had this really strange experience. I struggled with that free part in the middle. I wanted it to be this kind of groovy tune that would be, all of a sudden, just derailed, like you'd lost the trail. It just goes into another key, like, whoa! Very destabilizing. Yet I wanted to have it all happen in this very cyclical, subtly-multi-tonic harmonic situation.

And as I was writing it, I wanted to go out of the hut, take a break, so I went out—and there were these three elks outside the door of my hut. And they're kind of nasty animals. Cecil Taylor used to go up and work up there and he said running into an elk in the evening was like being in Alphabet City, New York in the seventies. It was calving season and, you know, they warn you when you get there: "don't confront the elks. So the elks clearly didn't want me to leave the hut. They were like, "what are you doing here? So I was trapped for a little while and that's how I finished the tune. It was kind of like they wouldn't let me go until I had finished it.

AAJ: Very aggressive muses.

DD: Yeah. And hence the title. One thing that I think is interesting about the way that we can play now is that you can create these non-metrical, nonmathematical situations and relationships, that have a non-logical, nonlinear reality and interaction—but they don't have to stay there. This is something we learned from what everyone did in the sixties, all that free music. Now we can take it into a context where's it's interacting with all kinds of other things.

AAJ: Let's talk about "Invocation. This one feels like an epitaph for something. Whatever it is, I'm for it.

DD: That's really nice to hear you say that. I wrote it for a series of rallies and benefits against the war in Iraq and then subsequently raising money for and for the Kerry campaign. It was kind of the invocation piece that we would play at the beginnings of these shows. And despite me writing the tune and playing it at these benefits, the war happened anyway. And W. won again. I used to assume that everybody who was into jazz and creative music was on the progressive side of the political spectrum, and I now know, from having been outspoken for a number of years, that that's not true.

So I don't assume that everyone reading this is going to agree with me—and I think that sometimes, within the progressive community, there's just an assumption that everyone is going to agree. And they're not! So I think it's important to make the arguments cogently about what facts are out there on the table—and I'm not going to do that in All About Jazz, because even if I told you, it would probably be excised.

AAJ: It wouldn't be, actually.

Dave DouglasDD: It's a conversation that needs to happen. I've had so many people come up to me and say, "oh, just shut up and play! We don't want to hear what you have to say! I'm like, "well, okay, good, but I'm a citizen of the world, and we all are—so everyone should be talking about it. People are dying, and I don't see where we get off pretending like everything's okay. That's very upsetting to me.

But, if I may continue on my mini-rant [laughing]—after Bush won, or "won for the second time, I had a kind of reassessment, as many people did, of my involvement in movements for social justice and political action. And I felt that in terms of my contribution, what I know how to do is music. And I know how to organize music and concerts and musicians. So that was also what went into getting much more deeply and committedly involved in the Festival For New Trumpet Music. I felt like, for me, that was a political act.

Okay, maybe I can't get Bush out of the White House. But I can give a voice to all of this diverse music that deserves to be heard. I mean, that says volumes about who we are in this country! So that's why I've worked so hard on that festival—because I feel that voices are getting left out. History is getting erased. So it becomes even more important to tell the story of the creative music and the new things that are happening, to make them just as vibrant as the story that we read about Chris Botti in JazzTimes, or whatever.

Wow, I got off on a tangent.

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