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A Fireside Chat With Dave Douglas (2003)

By Published: April 19, 2003
AAJ: Translating a studio invention to a live audience presents formidable challenges.

DD: It's a rearrangement. It's a complete rearrangement. If you have ever been to see an electronica show, you know that very often, it is just a guy sitting on stage with a laptop. That's not really what I am interested in doing. I want to play a little bit of horn because I love it. I think this album, Freak In , is very deceptive in that it is maybe the most complicated sounding album and yet, it is the most simple, musically. What the tunes actually are is pretty basic. They're really standards in a sense. What we are doing is taking the barebones music and turning it into something else.

AAJ: Every Dave Douglas album is Christmas morning.

DD: That is certainly my goal, but there is also a risk to that. That you are going to lose people. For me, it is really an experiment every time and a true experiment means that you risk failure.

AAJ: Have you failed?

DD: There is a couple records here and there that if given another shot, I might approach it a little differently. I am proud of all of them. I think they all work. And I don't really sit around listening to my records, but every now and then, I will hear something and if I had that to do again, I would approach it a little differently. As far as my own playing, I am never satisfied. I always wish that I could play better. So much about what I do is really about the whole band and the whole music.

AAJ: And those bands have featured two of the most maligned instruments in the history of music: the violin (Mark Feldman) and the accordion (Guy Klucevsek), both of which have had numerous allusions to the devil.

DD: Yeah, I couldn't do it without them. I have the greatest respect from Mark and I have learned so much about music from working with him. I don't think I could have written what I have written for the violin without having that relationship. Guy is very special in a different way. Guy, I think, is the only human being I have ever heard play the accordion that way. It is a much more delicate kind of instrument to bring into a band. Guy has this incredible sensitivity to the flow of the music, but he has also got a sense of sound that is very, very special. It is very pure and very malleable.

AAJ: Apart from your fortieth birthday celebration, this year also marks the tenth anniversary of the Masada group.

DD: That is right. It has been so huge for me. John (Zorn) has been such a great friend and so has Greg Cohen and Joey Baron. It is a really special relationship and I have learned so much from John, I wouldn't know where to begin.

AAJ: The majority of the Masada recordings have been live.

DD: I think it is really hard to make a good live album because so much of your energy when you are playing live is focused toward the people that are there in the room with you, that specific audience, that specific town, in that specific hall, on that given night. To my ears, sometimes that doesn't translate to a CD that is going to be listened to in a lot of different places and times. So it takes a very special moment sonically and musically to make a successful live album.

AAJ: During the upheaval at RCA, you recorded El Triology, a lost recording of Dave Douglas.

DD: You can order it from Downtown Music Gallery ( If you go to my website (, there is instructions on how to get that record. It is out there. It is available. It can be gotten.

AAJ: These are fragile times. Any parting words?

DD: I'm disturbed by this idea that real politics, that in order to be big boys and understand the ways of the world, we have to be willing to drop some bombs. Because I think that overlooks what really happens when you drop bombs, that a lot of innocent people die. Even though our thinly elected President says that it is his last resort, it really does not seem to be his last resort. It seems to be what he has wanted to do all along and that is very, very dangerous for all of us who travel, for all of us who live anywhere in the world. He is running up a nuclear confrontation with North Korea at the same time, which I think he is trying to keep as quiet as possible. So that makes me think, 'What else is going on while we are all paying attention to this confrontation with Saddam Hussein?' So I would hope that first of all, we can avoid this war and that people pay attention to what this man and his friends are doing. Don't get me wrong, I say this in the most patriotic way. I think I am the biggest America lover there is. Any country that gives you Anthony Braxton and Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill and Bill Frisell is the best that there is.

I am a huge patriot, but I want to see the country do things in a proper way and in a way that affects that world that we are all a part of. There is a lot of feuding going on in the music world too, specifically in jazz, people attacking people. I would just make a plea that people spend more time listening to music and less time trying to put people down. It is ridiculous because what I see all too much and all too often is a blatant stereotyping of various musicians. Whether it is putting down the 'young lions' or putting down Dave or putting down somebody else. It is this whole old thing of putting people into a box so that you can write them off. Anyone who really loves music should take another listen and try to understand who someone is as a person and why they are doing what they are doing. I feel that more and more within jazz, there are these parochial battles that are really fantasies. I think most listeners are happy with the range of things that is going on. Everybody that I see when I go on tour seem to be thrilled that they can hear Tim Berne and Ellery Eskelin and me and Don Byron and Steve Coleman all in one world of music. I would just say a little more listening and putting on the records, checking them out.

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