Take Five With David Bixler
Meet David Bixler: Alto saxophonist David Bixler has been active on the New York jazz scene for the last ten years. As lead alto with the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, he has toured the US, Europe, and Central America in addition to performing each Sunday evening at Birdland in New York City. His third release as leader, Call It A Good Deal, was released July 2006 on Zoho Music and received 3 1/2 stars in Down Beat. Increasingly active as a composer, his Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet debuted this past January with the South Dakota Symphony. Bixler has been a visiting specialist in saxophone at Montclair State University since 2004.
Instrument(s): alto saxophone.
Teachers and/or influences? David Baker; Eugene Rousseau; George Coleman.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I knew that is what I was going to do since I was a little kid. The possibility of making that piece of metal work has always had some kind of enchantment since I got it at age ten.
Your sound and approach to music: The sound is the most important thing. The non-musician doesn't know what the notes that you play are, but they connect with a sound. That's how we get over. I've tried to cop a tenor type thing for many years, which isn't that unique in New York City. My approach to music has changed. I was a hardcore pursuer of bebop in my college days, and now I'll check out anything. I think it's a good thing.
Your teaching approach: My approach is if the student is going to figure it out, he's going to figure it out on his own. What I can do is point to things and relate from my experiences. For example, do something if you want, but I found it worthless, maybe you want to try this. I don't have too much dogma in this way. Maybe you should ask my students.
Your dream band: My quintet as is. Scott Wendholt, John Hart, Andy Watson, Ugonna Okegwo. The dream part is regular opportunities to perform (and get paid - that's the pipedream part).
Favorite venue: I like Birdland. I've been playing there every Sunday for the past eight years. It's comfortable and I like to hang out there during the week.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Call It A Good Deal is my favorite probably because it's the most recent. I think it will always be like that. Since the point is to grow as a musician, the most recent recording will be reflective of that process.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I try to think of the projects I have as a whole, an entity. What I have that may be unique is what I bring to the package of writing for the group. One review said of my last disc that I treated the group like a chamber ensemble; that was right on.
I think one of the things that attracts me to jazz is the hope contained in the dissonance. You have so many talented cats writing and playing, somehow putting it together in, as we know, a world that doesn't place much value on it. I hope that my music reflects some of that.
Did you know... I spend much of my time and energy taking care of/hanging out with my four children, ages seventeen, fourteen, seven and four.
How you use the internet to help your career? I have a website and a MySpace page. It's good to have something to direct people to and a way for people to find you. If I had more time, I would probably spend more time with it.
CDs you are listening to now: Shostakovich/Emerson String Quartet - Shostakovich: The String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 2006); Bach/Friedrich Gulda - The Well-Tempered Clavier.
Desert Island picks: John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964); Handel - The Messiah; John Coltrane - Crescent (Impulse!, 1964); Miles Davis - Nefertiti (Columbia/Legacy, 1967); Anything by Bird.
How would you describe the state of jazz today? As a music, there is so much happening. I think it's great that there are all these pockets of stuff happening. I personally love the blurring of the lines - putting things together from these different pockets - that is what excites me. As an industry, for me, it's not so good. I'm on the outside of the machine, so making money is a drag.
One question I want to raise: Is there another art form where one wants to stay in the same place? Is there a school of writers that exalts Shakespeare and thinks that anything written since is garbage, or visual artists that only want to cop de Goya? You get my point. If you look at my desert island picks, you see where I'm coming from, but it has to go someplace.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Practically? An ability to eat and live. This would mean opportunities to gig and make meaningful money, but what is new. There are artists far better than I participating in the scuffle.
What is in the near future? I am doing a concert at Saint Peters on March 26, 2007 at 6 PM. It will feature music for five different ensembles that are not my quintet. I am also working on a saxophone concerto.