Take Five With Dan Dorff
Meet Daniel Joseph Dorff:
Dan Dorff is a drummer, percussionist and keyboardist who specializes in styles ranging from jazz, blues, gospel and folk to rock, pop, afro-cuban, brazilian and other dance genres. The depth of Dan's musical interests has sparked a performing career that has led him to 4 continents and over 25 countries and keeps him in demand as a performer, arranger and producer.
He has toured, performed, and/or recorded with: Daniel Martin Moore, STOMP, Deal's Gone Bad, the Toasters, Haley Bonar, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Nick Lachey's Team Cincinnati on NBC, Don Rickles, Rusty Burge, Harry Pickens, Ben Sollee, Bill Cunliffe, Steve Hoskins, Tessa Souter, the Jazz Circle, Dick Sisto, Brad Goode, Mike Scharfe, Bob Bodley, Art Gore, Dave Samuels, Roy Haynes' Fountain of Youth Band, Marcus Strickland, Bud Shank, Slide Hampton, Bill Watrous, and Dave Liebman.
As a percussionist, Dan specializes in Afro Cuban, Brazilian, and West African music and instruments. He has employed these styles and instruments as a dance accompanist with the Hubbard Street Dance Company, the Merce Cunningham dance company, Sean Curran, Maureen Fleming, Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Company, Judith Mikita, Shellie Cash, and Constance Dinapoli of the Paul Taylor Company, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Cynthia Riesterer and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Interlochen Arts Center, The Aspen Santa-Ballet, the Interlochen Faculty Dance Ensemble, and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
In addition to his career as a performer, Dan has served as Music Director, Pianist and Choir Director for Saint Agnes Church in Cincinnati; Music Director of the Over the Rhine Steel Drum Band, and Music Director for the Portland Percussion Project.
Dan currently resides in Chicago and works from his home in Logan Square as an arranger, producer, composer, and teacher.
Teachers and/or influences?
I've always been around music and musicians. My father is a guitarist and singer and ran a small recording studio in my hometown in Ohio. He and his brothers were all working musicians and listening to them rehearse in the studio adjacent to our house was as routine as mealtimes. I was introduced at a young age to Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson and Horace Silver. Dad, a guitarist by trade, had an infectious love for the harmonic vocabularies of the great jazz pianists. (imagine him laughing wildly while punching at the imaginary keys) Not surprisingly his love for the harmonic language of jazz drew him to their sources in french impressionist composers such as Ravel and Debussy as well as Chopin, Liszt, and Scriabin. Armed with these sounds I worked to imitate them at the piano. I was also inspired by the artists that came to record at dad's studio. Great Cincinnati area musicians such as Cal Collins, Kenny Poole, Art Gore, Jimmy McGary, John Von Ohlen, and Steve Schmidt visited regularly. Later John Von Ohlen, best known for his work with the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands as well as Cincinnati native Rosemary Clooney became my drumming guru during my years in College. Rusty Burge my primary teacher who I studied classical music with, also shared my love for improvisation and expanded my musical horizons immeasurably.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I can't recall my first inspirations to be a musician. It was always completely obvious to me where my interests lay and doing anything but music for a living seemed absurd. I always thought of it as a noble pursuit and something that somehow transcended everything else. This idealistic view of my vocation as a musician, though it gets bruised and battered daily in the runaround of conceiving, practicing, marketing, and selling mine and the music of others is stronger than ever.
Your sound and approach to music:
As a jazz drummer, I wear my influences on my shoulder and have become more and more comfortable with the idea that referencing the sounds of other great artists (in my case Jack DeJohnette, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Baby Dodds, etc.) is helpful, indeed necessary to developing my own sound. My earliest inspirations as a drummer, unlike most drummers I know were the more painterly jazz drummers, such as Jack DeJohnette or Paul Motian. I was obsessed with the limitless colors available to me as a drummer and saw these colors being discovered by these great drummers in the context of the Keith Jarrett Trio, Ornette Coleman, and Pat Metheny. Chick Corea's Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was like a lightning strike to me. Bill Stewart's playing with the Pat Metheny Trio was also something of a eureka for me, then I heard Max Roach and realized who was the REAL father of that style of melodic drumming. The formidable harmonic talents of these frontmen (Metheny, Corea, etc.) was so perfectly balanced against the complementary skills their drummers shared with them that it seemed to me that this music was the greatest artistic achievement possible. Better than a Frank Lloyd Wright house, more perfect than a Calder mobile. I loved the logic of written music, and studied it from my early piano lessons, Bach minuets and two part inventions; to my later forays into the Chopin etudes and Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. Singing in choirs from a young age had a gigantic impact on me. Performing things such as Orff's Carmina Burana and the Britten War Requiem allowed me to inhabit these great musical structures in ways that I couldn't do with records.
Though these great pieces of music were incredibly inspiring in their own way the jazz trio was a place where all of these great sounds could be achieved in their own way spontaneously Though I wouldn't realize it until much later, my interest in language classes in school ran neck and neck with my love for improvised music. I was fascinated by spoken language; the sounds of words, the logic of syntax and grammar was the only thing that really interested my in school other than my musical studies. Language is something that we riff on every day, therefore it is no surprise to me now that I had such a voracious appetite for improvised music.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
watching the tour manager bribe a Serbian border patrol officer with merch at 5 in the morning was interesting.
My favorite venues... well they've all got their charms and blemishes. Terry's Turf Club in Cincinnati has the best burgers ever made, and we couldn't play hard enough for the regulars. People came to hear us do what we do, not to hear us pander to what we think their tastes are. (a skill that has sadly become second nature to most jobbing bandleaders) That was my favorite regular venue.
I recently played a festival in Lausanne that wins the overall prize for hospitality/ sound/ audience... monitors were perfect, 12 thousand people showed up, and the aftershow meal was mindblowing.
CDs you are listening to now:
Sam Cooke - Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963
Jean Ritchie - Sings the Songs of her Kentucky Mountain Home 1952
James Brown - Say it Live and Loud
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Struggling economically, thriving artistically.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
I don't get too hung up on the word "jazz." There are many musical threads intertwining and cross pollinating these days... We shouldn't get to hung up on words and what is or isn't a certain thing... that's a job for writers and critics, not me.
What is in the near future?
Working on a trio album that will be a follow up to NOW! which I finished last year. I am also working on a Folk music project that involves members of my immediate and extended family.