Dominic Duval: Follow Your Melody
“ A good song is hard to find. If you find one you like--sing it! ”
Bassist Dominic Duval is a mystery to manyeven to those interested in free music. Seemingly emerging out of nowhere in the mid-1990s, over the course of 15 years he has built a formidable discography, firmly establishing him as one of the most original and prolific bassists alive today.
His career is well-documented on more than one hundred recordings, including collaborations with Cecil Taylor, Joe McPhee, Mark Whitecage, Ivo Perelman, Jimmy Halperin, and many others. Duval's solo recording, Nightbird Invention (Cadence, 1997), added new colors to the sonic palette of double-bass, while his work for string quartet erases the thin border between modern jazz and chamber music.
As a part of Trio X, Dominic Duvaltogether with band mates multi-reed and horn player Joe McPhee and drummer Jay Rosenexplores the fragile balance of playing free around some familiar tunes. Duval's interpretations of golden repertoirewith recent albums paying tribute to Thelonious Monk and John Coltraneultimately proves that jazz alive and well. Duval's recent visits to Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2006 and 2009with Trio X, and for a spontaneous encounter with Charles Gayle and Arkadij Gotesman respectivelyare now available on the Lithuanian NoBusiness Records label.
But how does an artist of such remarkable creative energy remain virtually unknown until relatively recently?
- Monk Recordings
- Early Years in Music
- What Makes a Jazz Musician?
- The Bass Story
- Why is Music So Important?
- Nightbird Inventions
- Working With Cecil Taylor
- Joe McPhee, Jay Rosen, and Trio X
- Future Plateaus
All About Jazz: You've released two Thelonious Monk recordsMonkinus (CIMP, 2007) and Monk Dreams (NoBusiness Records, 2009).
Dominic Duval: Monk Dreams came before Monkinus. It is more experimental in nature. There are a lot of elements to it that were new to us and we were still putting things together. Jimmy Halperin and I wanted this record released. But the CIMP record company decided to bring us into their studio to do the recording for them. There was more production in Monkinus. When you work for a producer like Bob Rusch, who is sitting in a studio, listening to your performance, while making comments as you lay down tracks...knowing he has the final say as to what he will release is enough for me. You need to trust in their judgment. Monkinus was done after Jimmy and I had more time to think about our choice of material.
We recorded much of the same material as on Monk Dreams, but in a very different way. When playing extemporaneously, you can't really recreate things note-for-note. So, all those arrangements were reworked. By the time we went into the studio we had a whole new project. The first attempt, I think, gives the listener an honest look at how we felt about Monk's music from the beginning. "Growth" is a fundamental element that must remain constant in any art form, otherwise we are at best redundant and will fade into our own clichés.
AAJ: It feels as though Monkinus is somewhat smoother than Monk Dreams. Do you feel the new release is more avant-garde?
DD: Monk's music has always been very important in my musical education. Monk's particular style of music represents the music of bebop, music for a period in time. His music is angular. It's also very organized, in a Monk-like way.
Since the Monk Dreams recording was released first, the freshness of this music played by Jimmy and I as a duo is obvious. Monk Dreams has a more quirky quality to it. Jimmy was just learning the material and was still experimenting with different approaches to the compositions we chose to record. A musician needs to become truly invested in a music form, as special as Monk's music is. This does not mean he plays it better, he just knows more about what he wants do with it.
A fine example is Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations (Columbia, 1952). Being comfortable with a piece of music is not always best, depending on what you are listening for. What we were trying for was to become more aware of the melodies and changes, as they were to be heavily referenced in the final work. Monk's music, which we both lived with for many months before we ever played a note of it together, was our main concern. The Monk Dreams record was our introduction to hearing how the duo would work, which was important. Where we started musically is not where we were when the Monkinus recording was later conceived. Jimmy and I knew this material individually for sure. We had worked on it for about a year. And we laid it out really smooth, you're correct on that. The first recording came out beautifully, for all wrong reasons. There were mistakes which we both wouldn't make now. Now we look to find ways to continue experimenting with this material.
I know more now concerning the true essence of Monks melodies, and how to better address these issues as a bassist / artist.
Finally, if you ask which recording do I like more, my answer is I like both recordings equally as much, and am proud and happy to have Monk Dreams come out on NoBusiness Records. I think it's a perfect label for it. They are different and this is what jazz is. No matter how many times you play the same piece, it's always going to be different. That's what makes jazz so unique.
AAJ: You have always sounded very melodic, even on your more abstract solo recordings. Are you an avant-garde or mainstream musician?
DD: I am always trying to make the best music I can, within whatever style I am working in. It's really sad if you can't enjoy music because of some political or social ideology. It's not healthy. Music is mostly about details and organization. One needs to make sure there not standing in the way of some great experiment.
One of the reasons why I decided to do more music like the Monk tribute is because I want an opportunity to express myself in a way that really represents me as a player. As a bassist, as a musician and as a composer. That's important to me. Michael Jefry Stevens' For the Children is basically a mainstream record. I think Monk's music speaks in that language as well. Which is also true about this new music Jimmy Halperin and I put together in memory of John Coltrane [Music of John Coltrane (NoBusiness Records, 2010)]. It allows us to elaborate on ideas that I couldn't really elaborate on in the classical world or in the avant-garde world.
Now Trio X comes pretty close to it doing that same thing! That's a big challenge because theme and variation doesn't allow for too many excursions into the unknown. The element of freedom, it's more of a dynamic marking, like allegro or largo etc, etc. Free association makes music more personal, I think. But first comes your respect for a composer. Monk and the structure that he created need to remain in full view, not always but mostly. You can then attempt to add your personal points of view. But if you decide to use the Monk title "Blue Monk," then play "Blue Monk." To step all over it so badly that no one can recognize it is pointless. It accomplishes very little. It really shows disrespect for this music. There were giants in those days, and they were before us. Give them the respect they deserve. I have a great amount of respect for people like Trane and Monk, Bach, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Mozart, Tchakovsky. I have great respect for all these great musical giants, and many more, too many to mention.
Composed music usually requires a fair amount of attention to details, as well as performance. It's one thing to improvise music on the spot and yet another thing to play something that has been played for ages and make it sound as if it's an improvisation. These structures should sound as if they were freshly composed, just for this moment. That's a principal I've always tried to live by and aspire too. I think I do it better than some and not as good as others,
A good song is hard to find. If you find one you likesing it!
AAJ: What are your first musical memories?
DD: Playing this old Hohner marine band harmonica which my Dad gave me, maybe kindergarten or first grade. Then, there were duets with my father, not playing, but singing old light opera, arias and Christmas songs.
AAJ: Tell me about your next steps to pursue a musical career. At what point did you realize that you wanted to be a musician?
DD: I had no idea I would turn out to be a musician, I thought this was something you could do for fun and to entertain the family with. But yes, things have an odd way of happening. Sometimes without knowing why they do, they just appear out of thin air, and all of a sudden you are sure this is the only thing you will ever want to do with your life. It happened just like that.
AAJ: Please tell more about that moment in your life when music "appeared out of the thin air."
DD: I had a lot of friends that were going into the band in public school. Many of them had older brothers who of course played jazz. We all looked up to them as role models. This sort of set the stage for my entrance into the world of jazz. Mostly all my friends were into music and the whole crowd thought this was the coolest thing. Speaking with all the other guys about jazz and who had the best records by Miles, Trane, etc. was great fun.
We had some real jazz players living in the neighborhood and I had the chance to speak with Paul Chambers quite often. A very nice and gracious man, he was very generous with his time and spoke to me whenever I could corner him on his way to the bus or whatever. Sometimes I would go see him with whatever group he was playingwith Miles Davis or Philly Joe Jones or Red Garland, anyone. There were many gigs at the clubs in Brooklyn for me to sneak into and watch one of the greatest jazz bassists alive at the time. Boy was I lucky. Yes, things have an odd way of happening. Jazz was the food that kept us all alive, for better or worse.
AAJ: It was the time of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Woodstock. Weren't you and your friends interested in all that? How did you avoidif not miss completelythe rock influence?
DD: I don't think we missed it. Rock was the dominant United States/British culture. Jazz was mainly an American art form. Both these musics coexisted in the same period of time. Rock was a large part of my generation. When you turned on a radio it was AM you heard, there was no FM. It was rock and roll that you heard mostly. Groups like The Paramounts, The Coasters, The Drifters etc.all R&B groups from the '50 s and '60s. My close friends and musical associations were mainly interested in jazz. Many of my friends were a part of this jazz culture.
Getting back to your question, we were pro-jazz mostly. Being part of an education system that allowed kids to learn how to play instruments was very important. In another time, I may have learned guitar instead of sax, who knows? I studied saxophone during those early years. As far as bass? Fact is, bass players in rock were not very well-known. There was James Jamersonin my opinion, one of the great R&B players working in the '60s. Almost no one knew who he was. Paul Chambers or Charles Mingus were highly thought of icons in their field. Everyone knew who they were. Jazz has always been considered one of the more difficult musics to master. I guess I always had an interest in the more challenging aspects of the art of making music.
Joe [McPhee] and I always talk about music like R&B, people like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, many of doo wop groups. I think could tell you as much about these artists as I can about jazz musicians, just by being around at the time they were in vogue, and listening when they were on the radio.
At fifteen, I joined one of these vocal groups. I sang and played bass. In the late '50s/early '60s, you could find a vocal group it would seem on almost every street corner/ subway tunnel. We did make a record. The name of the group was The Five Classics. That's all I care to discuss [about this] at this time.
AAJ: You've mentioned seeing Paul Chambers playing with Miles. What other great names in the history of jazz did you see, know/or listen to around that time?
DD: Everyone who was on the scene; I saw Cecil Taylor in Brooklyn with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray; there was the great: Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and, of course, John Coltrane with Miles and with the quartet of Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. It was all there in New York. If it was not in Brooklyn, then for a dime you could take the train into the city and see it there. Late '50s through the late '70s. This was a good time to be listening to music in general.
AAJ: Did you see Monk?
DD: Yes, I saw him as many times as my budget would allow. The [Village] Vanguard of '60s and, before that, uptown Manhattan. He was a true work of art, as was his music.
AAJ: What happened to you next? Did you start playing in a jazz band?
I was a saxophonist for a few years before I found the bass. After hearing people like Coltrane, I decided the bar was way too high to jump over. Like in the Olympics, you need to jump as high as the leader or you're out. He was the highest jumping motherfucker I ever saw, no need to try my luck at it. Seemed like a impossible task to achieve. Not even the great Sonny Rollins could beat Trane; he was his equal, for sure, in many musical ways, but never better. The '60s was a damn good period for sax players, and for music in general. The bass was more doable for me.
AAJ: Was Paul Chambers' influence one of the major reasons behind your moving to bass?
DD: Yes and no. His musicianship was, and his tone. I started the bass to try to find my own voice in an instrument I thought I could excel at. It looked easier than saxophoneonly four strings. I didn't know how hard that could be. I should have stayed with the sax. It would have made my life easier, and of course carrying this monster around the globe has not been easy. Lastly, I hear you get more women with a horn.
AAJ: And so you became a jazz musician.
DD:Well, as the world turns, a jazz musician is a musician who has mastered the art of extemporaneous music making [improvisation] as well as composition and theory. It has taken me a long time to "get to the bridge," as Sonny Rollins ably put it. You need to feel you have something personal to say and have the facilities to say it; it looks like it takes almost a life time.
AAJ: Ttell me about your musical education. Are you self-taught?
DD: I think a person can get education in many different ways. There's a formal education, of course, which allows you to study at a slow pace over a period of years, assimilating information. Not that much about music, but generally all education. As you go further on in the educational process you move up in the way you participate in itcollege, university then a master's degree, finally a PhD. By the time you're finished with all these studies, supposedly you then have a rounded education. You might have 20 years of studying under your belt, but only five years worth of usable information.
I've always believed that educators should try to teach people that are well suited for certain trades. Let's find students that are naturally gifted, when we can. Now everyone does not have musical talent, or at least there will be varying degrees, I will agree. Doing this in principal may mean smaller classes, and less money in the various programs, However, I think the outcome will be worth the effort.
As an example, we should take a look at Mozart the composer-musician. I believe Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of five. Do we think today, that he may have been better educated, and thus was the reason he excelled? I don't think so. I think he had a special talent/gift, more so then almost any of his peers.
Mozart while living in the period in history and geographical location as he did, had no problems with his learning process, mainly his Father. This allowed him to achieve what he finally was able too, musically speaking, that is. To conclude this line of thinking, his accomplishments would have been as great with or without a formal education. John Coltrane, the same goes for him.
Getting back to myself, I've always believed I had a special musical talent, ever since I can remember. I think I can say now after 64 years, that I was always meant to be a musician. I never had the patience to study formally; this was much too slow for me. I studied at my own pace. I've always had this ability to see music as a very simple process. It helped me to get to where I am today. Even in my younger years, when I was just learning to play, I still played better than most people in my peer group. Well, maybe not always better, but at least more original and with personality.
AAJ: Talent and hard workis that all?
DD: There's still a physical aspect of doing something on any instrument. You have to build up a resistance to certain natural elements that cause different types of stresses on the body. Each instrument has its set of rules and regulations. If you don't know the fundamentals of an instrument, you won't be able to make music on it. Correction, maybe you can make music or some kind of sound, but to the average ear this would translate into mostly noise.
So, if I was to give you a bass and tell you to play something, and you had never played the instrument before, you would still be able to play music, or at least some notes. Would these notes be anything that you would consider musically worthwhile? I think not. And I am sure that most others listening to you would feel the same way.
Music, at least has to include a certain amount of technique and the ability to play in tune. If not this, then a natural ability that makes restrictions, brought on by the absence of technique, on the instrumentalist.
AAJ: I have always been amazed by the strength and stamina musicians demonstrate while playing a concert.
DD: There's an element to that which needs to be taken into consideration. Let's say you are a professional carpenter and employed to build a house. So you work your eight hours per day and, of course, you're tired at the end of the day. Mainly because it's a full day's work.
A musician also builds his house which is a performance. He'll go to that performance and he won't think about how he's going to be paid, or how much time he's going to put into it. He will continue to make music until he collapses. For a musician it's not so unusual to have that type of mindset.
When I used to work for Cecil Taylor, he used to play for an hour-and-a-half, sometimes two hours. It now seems impossible, when I think of those nights. I would say to myself, after it was over, "How did I ever do that?" But during thise extended periods, I never had any thoughts about time.
How you come to the joband I will call music a jobhas a lot to do with the type of stamina you're able to conjure up at that time; your health is very important.
If you are going to play somebody's wedding and you know that you have to play four hours, then that's what you're prepared to do. However, let's say the bride requests you play for another 10 minutes, I think I might complain and say: "I can't, I am so exhausted, I can't play another note." Now fast-forward to a crowded jazz club in the city somewhere. If you're playing music that you really love, you wouldn't care if they asked you to play for another five hours. You would be glad to do so, because you wouldn't feel stressed. You may feel great that people want to hear more music first; secondly, you'd have this incredible amount of energy and level of satisfaction.
The aspect of time or exhaustion is never important until the next day, when you look at your hands and you say "My God, I am covered with blisters! And now have bleeding coming from these little holes on my finger tips." But during the time of the performance, it never enters my mind.
So I think the stamina comes with being able to stand away from what you do, and do it with kind of dedication and passion that kind of replaces stamina with just sheer joy.
AAJ: Who were you first collaborators, and which partners, from your early years, are still around?
DD: Musicians that I originally started playing music with at an early agemost probably none of these people are still playing music today. There are many sub-chapters in my musical history, I was playing with a wide range of musicians, very few of them have I ever heard from via the internet or the media.
I am often asked the question: "Why did you stop playing for that long period in the 1970s?" I decided to stop playing music, I never intended to play a musical instrument ever again. I sold my only bass, and was prepared to live my life as a normal person, whatever that means. My main reason was mostly for my physical and mental wellbeing.
To mention anyone's name wouldn't be fair to them. Many of these periods I speak of now are better off if left mostly to memories. This dream that I had, of playing music professionally at this level, was just a dream.
It's only in the last fifteen years or so that this has become a reality. Most of my life as a musician has been about trying to create repertoire. Working on technique and the ability that allows me to play as well as I can.
It has been a challenge to get to where I am today. If you take the time to listen to my lines, you will find them very unique. If you could put me up against a hundred bass players and try to pick out my playing, it would not be that difficult to recognize. My choice of notes, as well as the harmonies I use and the unique way I execute through the bass, should make it easy. Now I am not speaking of my soloing, this mostly applies to my playing as an accompanist.
AAJ: Please tell more about your musical background. Have you worked with big orchestras?
DD: I had a period in my life for about ten years when I would play in some big bands, more than 15-20 pieces. I'm not speaking about classical, only about jazz. Mostly it was to keep my reading chops up. This allowed me to make couple dollars through the union, while at the same time helping with my reading. These big band leaders would pay me a small fee and my expenses, if I would show up and play whatever they were working onmostly music from composers like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Some modern jazz people like Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and Slide Hamptonl; really, too many to mention.
There were lots of charts floating around out there in big band land that leaders could buy, and did. Sometimes a leader would hire me, mainly because bass players were hard to getones that could read, anyway. This period allowed me to practice some legitimate reading of bass parts, without having to spend too much time practicing. If not for the big band rehearsals, I would have had to spend more time reading charts that would have accomplished the same thing. Playing with an orchestra took care of that aspect of practice. Many lonesome hourswell-spent, as they were, but nonetheless lonely. Finally there was the social thing. It provided me a chance to hang out with other musicians doing what I liked to do. I enjoyed playing with these bands.
AAJ: Was it a kind of like a workshop?
DD: Yes, a workshop. Except that I was one of the few musicians who actually got paid for playing. The pianist and I, and that's it, I think. Some of the charts were quite difficult, and a few gave me the chance to solo. Ten or fifteen times a year, this orchestra would have paying gigs, in parks and such. When they did they would pay me better. This was constant all the way through the mid-'90s. I was doing that when I was working with Michael Stevens, Mark Whitecage.
AAJ: What kind of orchestras?
DD: Maybe 25 musicians, for example: six trumpets; four trombones; seven saxophones. Big jazz orchestras. I played in some classical groups, however that was mostly what is referred to as chamber music. I've never really had an opportunity to play in a legit symphony orchestra. I played along with symphonic recordings but not live. I would get the score for a Beethoven symphony, Mozart or Bartok's pieces, and practiced by playing the bass part along with the recording;, that was fun.
AAJ: Comparing bass lines in classical music to jazz seem very restricted, unlike parts for violins.
DD: That's quite true. Beethoven wrote for basses, but most of classical, post-classical composers of the Romantic era wrote for cellos and bass in tandem. Bass would play pretty much whatever the cello played. Beethoven wrote for basses so they were a little more specified. One of his buddies, one of his friends was Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti [April 7, 1763April 16, 1846. He was considered the greatest bassist alive of his timethe Paganini of the bass].
One of the reasons why they didn't write for basses in the early days was simply the lack of technique of the players. There weren't that many bassists who had developed the technique to play them as of yet. They did allow the bases to double-up on cello parts, though.
Now in jazz, a single bassist has a lot more freedom of interpretation than playing in a bass section. Sections are very specific. If you write for a bass section not only do you have to rehearse the entire orchestra, you also have section rehearsals as well. This is when several basses would come together and learn how to play these parts as one [in unison]. One reason they write for four, five, or even seven bassists. The composers would group several bass players together to duplicate their notes and amplify the sound. The true sound of the instrument, the clear tone and natural sound is and always will be preferred.
AAJ: In jazz, acoustic performances that include electronic devices and amplification are being used widely.
DD: Absolutely. Yes, because it puts the bass in front; gives it more visibility. In a group like Trio X, for instance, I do use an amplifier, mainly because there are only three voices. Without amplification, the notes I play would be lost. Nobody would ever have a chance to hear me, if it were not for amplification. There are many reasonsmaybe the drums are too loud, or the sax. I enjoy making small sounds from time to time, which may be outside the realm of the natural range of the human ear, doing it in an orchestral manner. All these sounds are part of the fabric of my music.
It would be a shame if no one could hear them. If I hear these sounds in my head, I'd like the listener to be able to hear them the way I do. That's why I spend so much time working with sound people. My own soundI am not speaking of my personal soundbut the best sound an instrument can make. When I am at home, I have a beautiful instrument with wonderful amplification. I am able to produce this music at a very high level, but when I am on the road I have to spend a lot of time getting the right sound out of the instrument I have to use. It's so difficult to travel with your own instrument these days, almost impossible. You have to learn to play on whatever bass is available, which presents a whole other set of problems.
AAJ: As we touched this subject, please elaborate on the history of bass, particularly in jazz; a sort of "crash course for dummies."
DD: Bass is a relatively new instrument to jazz in its traditional form. New Orleans JazzLouis Armstrong, Fats Wallerthat generation had tuba for the rhythm section. And you can still see it in groups that perform traditional jazz in a true form. They still prefer a tuba player, as well as banjo. The string bass was a relatively new addition to the rhythm section. This addition took place most likely during the big band era. Tuba has more projection. I can imagine brass players who didn't have any classical training whatsoever, but could still play a bass line that would support the overall sound.
I think for the most part the bass came at a later period. It's interesting that in modern jazz string bass completely replaced tuba, and they dropped banjo, which played rhythm with the drummer.
The bass has become a mainstay in contemporary jazz ensembles. Its importance has lasted all the way through the bebop and post-bop era. Some of the bass stars throughout jazz have included: Scott LaFaroone of my favorite bass players, as was as the great Paul Chambers, who is a very big influence on many young musicians, even today; Charles Mingus was another fantastic bassist, with a heavy classical background. In the larger bands like Duke Ellington's there was Jimmy Blanton, Jimmy Woode, Oscar Pettiford, and many more.
But in terms of bassists having influences on music itself, the way it's made, that honor goes to Scott LaFaro. His ideas of harmony and rhythmcoupled with a developed sense of melodic counterpointwere unheard of, before he became known to the music world. Most jazz fans know him from the Bill Evans Vanguard recordings. He developed a new style of playing the bass. The Bill Evans Trio gave him the opportunity to do that. He died at a very young age [July 6, 1961]. Scott was a self-taught musician who started his musical education by studying the clarinet in high school. The total time LaFaro played bass in his life was, maybe, ten years; in that time, he was able to play with such jazz greats as Ornette Coleman, Stan Getz and, of course, Bill Evans. I saw Scott only once, in a small downtown club, can't remember the name. There were two basses on that particular date, and the other was Charlie Haden.
It was at this time Charles Mingus caught my attention. Charles led his own band from behind the bass, a not so easy task. He was a very important bassist as well. Not only he was a great soloist/composer, but also a great musical mind. The music he composed was very advanced. Just listen to the recording Pithecanthropus Erectus (Atlantic, 1956), that record says it all. Charlie was able to control the dynamic voices of the band, as well as having control over composition, while still playing the bass as a member of the ensemble. Not an easy task, as most bassists will tell you.
Paul Chambers wasand still isimportant, because of all the records he was appeared on. A major voice in the bass world, for sure. He always found the right notes at the right time. Which if you're a bassist, you know how important that is: intonation; the right fingering; the right notes corresponding with a set of changes, chord-wisemany different variables that take up your thought process. Only string instruments present these problems, that don't really happen with other instruments because they are tempered, containing pitches/notes that are either played by pushing a button or by pressing a key. With the bass, everything has to be really well thought-out; and, of course, there's the volume and sound, [that are] personal to each bassist.
I remember when Jimmy Garrison was playing with Coltrane. No matter how strong the music became, Jimmy could always be felt and heard. He had very powerful sound. Scott LaFaro had a more gentle approach. Jimmy, as well as Paul Chambers, had huge sounds' their sound was incredible.
So, to sum up this long answer, the bass has no sound of its own. This comes from a musician. If you stand a bass up in the corner of a room and put a mike in front of it, you will get nothing but silence.
Scott LaFaro, Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. My three favorites. I also like Ron Carter, Richard Davis...my list is endless. But to ask for only three musicians names, those are my top three, who led me to where I am today as a bassist, as a soloist, and as a musician. It would be incorrect to say only these three, of course; they have, however, been of great importance to my education as a bassist.
AAJ: Are all your inspirations in jazz?
DD: My main interest has always been the black American art form, which we called jazz. My main studies have been in that music, but my taste are varied, and eclectic. I include Russian composers, German composers, Italian, classical music as well as R&B musicians like Otis Redding, Ray Charlesartists making music which will be remembered, not for some promo hype, but for its quality.
AAJ: How about the electric bass?
DD: Well it's a different instrument. I don't play one in publicwell, maybe just for a laugh. They both make sounds that are in the bass range. So let me say this:"I compare the electric bass with a picture of a beautiful woman. The acoustic bass is a beautiful woman.
AAJ: You've spoken about all the efforts taken, and all the challenges; but what makes music so special and important?
DD: I've always thought that music is one of that few arts that you can absorb and take with you when you leave a concert. The sound will stay with you without your actually owning it. If you go back in your memory, you can go back to some concerts which you've seen or conjure up your memories of a recording that you listened to and loved. Recordings and performances that are memorable will stay in your head and your ears. Other art has to be in front of you, has to be kind of in your visual sense, in your sight.
Music is one of a few arts that you can actually absorb and have it become part of your everyday life. That's why people go around whistling or singing songs which they heard on the radio: because that's the way music is best interpreted. It's good to teach somebody the essence of a particular piece and then allow the listener/musician/student to go back into their world and share their memories with their friends or students. We share this art not by having the actual physical copy of it, but by having the enjoyment produced when having witnessed or heard it in person...
AAJ: So, sharing is the key word?
DD: Yes, in a sense. I am not playing just for myself, although I am the main focus of the music. Once I've played it, once it's done then it's the property of someone else. Buying a CD of mine allows a person to own that moment in my life. A piece of my musical history. I don't know exactly what it represents, but to me it represents a physical memory of a moment in time that I am sharing with you.
AAJ: That's interesting because there's that common attitude that music and art in general is for self expression; artists make music for themselves. Such vision is especially common among artists who work in non-commercial genres.
DD: Well I think that answer can be considered partly correct. The answer that musicians make music for themselves is not such an observation, but is in response to the fact that in much music, like my own, there are times when the listeners are not there. You might travel three or four thousand,000 miles to do a concert and, for one reason or another, the audience turnout is not very good. So the only reason you are there is to play music.
Maybe the level of your performance will be greatly reduced, so it really won't be anything of importance because you are so personally discouraged. You put your heart into something, and there's no quid pro quo. Having said that, I think, in that respect, a lot of musicians kind of encapsulate themselves in this idea that it doesn't matter who is thereit should not matter if they love what I do, so I guess I play for myself mostlyas the correct answer.
But it goes further than that; we really do want be accepted. And we really do want our work to be liked. Why in the world would we spend all this time mastering something that's almost impossible to do by most standards, if that were not the case?
Improvised music, for lack of a better word, starts by the musicians standing on a stage without any music in front of them. Completely without any ideas that they've discussed, no programthat's where it starts. It's magical, the music appears, just like that. Where does it come from? What's the purpose of it? Can you answer these questions? Because that moment, whatever happens at that moment, is the real truth of a performance.
When I listen back to the double LP [Trio X, Live in Vilnius (NoBusiness Records, 2006)] it reminds me of this magic.
I remember looking down at the huge crowd that had gathered at Vilnius' Konresų Rumai. You could hear the breathing; that was a wonderful moment and the music reflected that. Trio X plays music like that all the time, mostly. I don't think we do it consistently, all the time; I wish we could. Many variables to consider. What were the playing conditions like? What kind of instruments are we playing on? All these things, I think, have to be taken in consideration.
Only then, you can judge a performance as truthful, with those elements all understood. Why am I in Vilnius playing music for people I've never met? What's the reason? I try to answer those questions sometimes. So really I'm not there just for me. We come to make music for us. All that we represent as people are in this music. Your presence falls into the larger picture. It's just one ingredient however, which makes a performance. That is the fabric we are dealing with.
I don't just play music for me. I play music for all people who are willing to listen, and decide if it has worth to them or not.
AAJ: Sounds like an answer any listener would love to hear.
DD: Well, it would be easy for me to say, "I don't give a damn about what's out there, or who is present. There may be ten people in the audience, or a thousand people. I just want play music." But that's the easy answer. I don't usually like easy answers; while they might be easy, they are not truthful.
These are just my views, though. Not all musicians necessarily share same philosophy. That's why we have all this diversity. I try to keep politics, philosophy out of it. That doesn't always work but I do try.
AAJ: It's only the music that matters.
DD: If you listen to great music (I am not talking about any particular art form), you will know it when you see it. I've seen some incredible people making music in my life. And I can tell you, the way I see it, they have a couple of things in common. For the most part, greatness is something that isn't shared, it's individual, and has to do with the artist's commitment to his own abilities.
I think that musicians who play at the level I strive to play at are trying to do just that. Once you learn how to do something then it's about applying it. It's not about the same idea any longer. Learning how to do something really is only the first plateau in a long journey.
AAJ: How does an artist of your scale seem to emerge out of nowhere, only 15-20 years ago?
DD: The records have to be at the beginning. Without having a product to represent your music, it is very difficult to get work. One year I sent out 50 demo tapes, and got back 52 rejections. One guy hated my music so much that he felt he needed to reject it twice. These recordings are like keys to a door, which opens up other doors for you. I can't stress that enough, about being able to look back at the things you've done on record and being proud of them, and thinking that you've done something worthwhile. It just took me a long time to do that. And you asked me that question"Why it took me so long to record?"that's probably why. I didn't do a lot of recording when I was younger because I just didn't think I had enough to say. I hadn't yet created music I wanted or needed anyone else to hear.
AAJ: You started when you realized that you were ready.
DD: Honestly, that's exactly what happened. One day I woke up and I said to myself, "I have been anonymous way too long." I've always thought this attitude was not serving myself or my music very well. "Maybe I am fooling myself I thought?" I just had to step out onto the scene and show the musical world what I was about... To take my chances and my lumps if need be. I think it's one thing to know what you are doing is important, and believing that you are an important musician/artist. It's another thing to actually have other people, people in the industry that you respect, believe you are just that. Now, you know not everyone will always agree with you, and that's OK, we can work on those that dissent. They're right, as freethinking music fans/ critics; I expected that, to some extent. My advice to myself is to be able to take verbal comments, criticism, good or bad. All criticism is important, even though you may not agree with the content at the time it is written.
Finally, for all you new critics out there: in my music, I offer a whole new way of playing the bass and making music with it. Forget the standard way it's been done for decadesa new twist for you to read about and ponder. I didn't think I had enough to say in my earlier musical development; nothing worth documenting or recording, anyway. I feel this was the direction of my journey, and that's about it.
AAJ: Your solo bass recording Nightbird Inventions was a more than convincing indication that you'd reached the state of artistic maturity. It simply couldn't go unnoticed.
DD: Nightbird was my attempt of taking the bass into a different sonic realm. One of the ways I accomplished this was by using different effects that were uncommon to the earand to the bass. A lot of thought and preparation went into that recordingnot the actual recording time, but finding new techniques to achieve those effects, to get the right sound out of the instrument. To discover how to produce these new sounds, especially the "nightbird" sound.
AAJ: What really amazes me is that your bass solos are very abstract and melodic at the same time. I think that Nightbird is one of the most outstanding bass solo recordings ever.
DD: It's great that you like it. But let me say this: instruments don't make music. People make music. Their lives, their struggles, their loves, their hates, their prejudices, and their creativityit's all there. Some people would disagree with that thought, but I think you have to have a basic fundamental understanding of music and be able to play it with reasonable clarity. That ability allows you room to play outside of a form. You have to be able to play inside to go outside, I think? Take John Coltrane for instance, I believe he recorded the Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1962) and A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) within months of each other; yet' tThey sound in contradiction to one another, stylistcly speaking, but Coltrane could work in both areas equally and at ease. They are both classics, which I listen too often to this day.
For me, it was never just about the bass. I don't play the bass. I play music. It's about making music with other people or making music by yourself. All music needs to have a theme or anti theme, for it to be complete. I think my solo records have a musical foundation, as well as abstract valuenot just random sounds, although that too can be a theme, no theme at all. To work in the abstract is to strip an idea to the core. To squeeze the essence out of the music or idea. That's not me, but the great Bill Dixon, who said that.
The main focus of all instrumentalists, whether they are bass soloists or ensemble players, is the sounds one hears coming from the players. I enjoy many types of music, and they all have that one thing in commonthey either make you wanna dance or sing or think of a point in time that is somehow relived. It should, at least, have those qualities. I also think music is the best way for me to achieve a solid artistic presence, between me and the listener. To be able to affect others through my work is my main goal.
AAJ: Please tell about your music for String Quartet.
DD: The sSring Quartet happened during my second year with Cecil Taylor. Cecil was doing a series of concerts at the Knitting factory which I was a part of. He handled me a piece of his music and asked to take a look at it. Cecil doesn't write music in the normal way, he has his own language and symbols, which is just his. He once said to me that he needed to develop this new writing technique to better serve his way of playing his compositions. After reading the material for awhile, I think I said: "It looks like you are writing a string quartet here." "Yes that's right," he answered, adding "Do you think you can put together a string quartet that could play this piece?"
Cecil spoke, at this time, about his idea to have Kronos Quartet do the piece. I think I have a recording on tape of Kronos trying to play his composition. I don't feel Kronos and Cecil Taylor were a marriage made in heaven. He was commissioned by Kronos to write the piece for them, but it didn't work out well.
So he had music already written for strings, for the most part. Cecil was planning to add himself as a fifth instrument, recording a string quintet. This excited me, as you can imagine. I did say I would work on the piece. I started looking for string players that I thought could play this music.
The first one to come was Tomas Ulrich, who just happens to be one of the finest cellists that I have had the pleasure of working with. Jason Kao Hwang was on the scene for a long time. And I knew his music enough to say that he could do a very good job in the violin chair. Ron Lawrence was the third player that I thought was a really fine violist, and knowing he would love the chance to play with Cecil Taylor.
So I brought this quartet with me into the studio. We did a demo, mostly for Cecil to hear. It was to give him an idea of the variations this string ensemble could produce, especially these particular players. After recording the group, I had it on tape in my car. I drove home from one of the gigs that we did at the Iridium, which was recorded and released [Qu'a Yuba (Cadence, 2000)]. One night during those performances, I drove Cecil home because he was tired.
On the way home I remember saying, "You know Cecil, I did this recording of your string quartet, I would like you to hear it. Let me know what you think of the group for this idea of yours," and so I played it. The first time, after five minutes, he stopped me saying, "Please tell me how you did this?" I said, "I did it with some fundamental ideas of string quartets. I just went from there, improvising." "That's amazing," he said. He asked me to play the whole thing again. It was maybe 30 minutes long. So we sat in front of his house and listened to the whole recording.
"That's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard," was Cecil's reply. It was such honor to hear that from him. "OK, I'll start working on the string quartet tomorrow and let you guys do it," I said. Sadly, he never finished it. And after a couple of months I asked him about the music again. "Cecil<" I said, "I've got this recording, would you mind if I put it out and call the group Cecil Taylor's String Quartet?" His reply was, "No, of course not, go ahead."
I sent it to three or four record companies. Leo Records loved, so he put it out. It was called Navigator, which was a dedication to Cecil Taylor. I used to call Cecil "The Navigator," because no matter how many people were around him, he would be like the lead bird in a flock. He was The Navigator who always knew the way and he got there, musically speaking.
We've done a few records with that group. And that's about all I can say, other than that chamber music has always been one of my favorite to listen to, especially string quartets. I was glad to be able to perform in that particular setting. And making that first record allowed me to do so. I put out a record for CIMP, not so long ago, called Mountain Air (2006), which is a dedication to Cecil's solo record, Air Above Mountains (Enja, 1976)which is a great record, by the way. A wonderful violinist took Jason's placeGregory Hubner, a German fellow, excellent.
So, this is the String Quartet story. Navigator was a demo made for Cecil, it was never meant to be released.
AAJ: One of the biggest subchapters of your recorded musical history is a collaboration with Joe McPhee. How did you meet Joe?
DD: Joe is an easy one. At the time I was working with Mark Whitecage in a trio. We were doing some very nice music. I had heard some of Joe's music in the past somewhere, but wasn't too familiar with most of his earlier workshis early music was more difficult for me to locate. So I didn't have a lot of information on him.
I was recording for CIMP records with Jay Rosen one summer; Bob Rusch had just recorded a duet with Joe and a violinist, called Inside Out (1996). It was done outdoors, with just Joe on soprano saxophone and violinist David Prentice. That evening, Bob played me a track from that recording. I immediately said, "I want to buy it." While driving home, Jay and I started listening to the whole CD. After that we both looked at each other and said, "We need to play with this guy [Joe McPhee]. I called Bob on my cell phone and asked for Joe McPhee's phone number. Both Jay and I wanted to tell him how much we enjoyed his music. So we get Joe's number and call him from my car.
I said, "You don't know me, my name is Dominic Duval; I really love your recording with David Prentice. Any time you need a bassist please let me know. He said, "But I don't even have a band." "It doesn't matter," I said, "If you want to do a duet or put together a group. I am there for you."
So, I gave him my phone number, and he did call me. It seems he was asked to do a tribute to John Coltrane at the Knitting Factory. Joe asked me if I know a drummer as well. Of course, I had a great drummer who really liked Joe's stuff [Jay Rosen]. And so we went ahead. We did that concert at the Knitting Factory. And it was the first time we got together. It was sometime in 1998.
Our first record, Rapture (Cadence, 1988), was a Trio X release with the wonderful Rosie Hertline. This happened around the time we did our first concert together, maybe one year later. We played together all of '97, before we actually did the trio record. It was prehistory in the life of Trio X. If you listen to Rapture, it is actually a quartet, with Rosy Hertlein on violin. After that we made The Watermelon Suite (CIMP, 1999), and we've been working as a trio ever since. We are friends. It fits together very well. And the music is very, very special.
AAJ: So, is jazz alive?
DD: Well, it is in my life.
AAJ: Many people, including some musicians, are saying it is not.
DD: These are defeated people. If you look at that term jazzand listeneven the great Joe McPhee will, when speaking about jazz, say jazz is in a box. Music does not have to be that way. Music can be structured and still have that freedom which improvised music has. You just have to be good enough to make it appear that way.
AAJ: That was something I really hoped to hear, thanks. What about future plateaus on your journey?
DD: Well, of course, there's Trio X, which is dear to my heart and a big part of my life. I'd like very much to do more with Trio X. My collaborations with Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen have been very enjoyable, as well as fruitful. I have other relationships or musical interests of coursea duo with Ivo Perelman, with whom I enjoy working very much. There will be a lot more from Ivo and I.
A guitar trio with Tim Siciliano [guitar], and a young drummer named Chris Covis. We will be recording and touring for Wild Rose Studios and Records located in Oregon, in March, 2011. More to come on that, at a later time.
Jimmy Halperin is one of my favorite saxophone players. One of the most gifted people I've ever come across. I've known Jimmy for almost 30 years, and his development is truly spectacular. There's a lot more to come from Jimmy and I, including the project we might put together on NoBusiness Recordssome of Charles Mingus' material. But these things take time. Mingus wrote music for the gods; mostly large ensemble arrangements. Doing them in a duo will take some thought, as well as patience on our part. All this takes rehearsal; they take thought, as well as organization.
I have said many times that music is mostly about organization. Choosing repertoire, deciding how to play this repertoire, all these things. I mean look, you guys at NoBusiness just put out a Monk record of oursthat's a very well constructed and organized recording. In terms of my playing, it allows you to hear the music without it being too rigid. I'd like to play more music like this. To incorporate virtuosity with a freedom of the more flexible improvisational style associated with free/modern jazz styles. All this while still maintaining the ideas of the composer. I enjoy working within these ideals and styles. It's very challenging to me.
So if you are asking me, "What should people expect from me," hopefully more of the same, but different. To continue to build on a body of work that [listeners] as well as performers think is excellent. I don't know how else to put it. I just want to make good music. Ellington said "There are just two types of musicgood and bad." I want to make good music. I don't have any major plans for having any large bands, huge orchestrations. It might happen. I just might find the time in my life and reasons for doing something like this, but right now it's just to make the best music that I can make. And utilizing all my abilities, which are getting to be more and more extensive.
Dominic Duval/Jimmy Halperin, Music of John Coltrane (NoBusiness Records, 2010)
Dominic Duval/Cecil Taylor, The Last Dance Volumes 1 and 2 (Cadence Jazz Records, 2009)
Charles Gayle/Dominic Duval/Arkadij Gotesman, Our Souls. Live In Vilnius (NoBusiness Records, 2009)
Dominic Duval/Jimmy Halperin, Monk Dreams (NoBusiness Records, 2009)
Trio X, Live in Vilnius 2L (NoBusiness Records, 2009)
Michael Jefry Stevens/David Schnitter/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen, For the Children (Cadence Jazz Records, 2008)
Dominic Duval/Jimmy Halperin, Monkinus (CIMP, 2007)
Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval, Nowhere To Hide (Nottwo, 2008)
Dominic Duval/Ron Lawrence/Gregor Huebner/Tomas Ulrich, Mountain Air (CIMP, 2007)
Dominic Duval, Songs For Krakow (Nottwo, 2007)
Paul Smoker/Ed Schuller/Dominic Duval, Duocity In Brass And Wood (Cadence Jazz Records, 2004)
Trio X, Journey (CIMP, 2003)
Dominic Duval String & Brass Ensemble, American Scrapbook (CIMP, 2002)
Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Mark Dresser/Jay Rosen/Gerry Hemingway, Double Trio (Boxholder, 2001)
Dominic Duval's Quintet, Cries And Whispers (Cadence Jazz Records, 2001)
Cecil Taylor/Dominic Duval / Jackson Krall, All The Notes (Cadence Jazz Records, 2000)
Cecil Taylor Quartet, Qu'a Yuba (Cadence Jazz Records, 2000)
Trio X, Watermelon Suite (CIMP 1999)
Bob Magnuson/Tom DeSteno/Jemeel Moondoc/Dominic Duval, Omens (CIMP 1999)
Trio X, Rapture (Cadence Jazz Records, 1998)
Joe McPhee & Dominic Duval, The Dream Book (Cadence Jazz Records, 1998)
Dominic Duval/C.T. String Quartet, Navigator (Leo Records, 1998)
Dominic Duval, Nightbird Inventions (Cadence Jazz Records, 1997)
Dominic Duval's String Ensemble, State Of The Art (CIMP, 1997)
Michael Jefry Stevens/Dominic Duval Quartet, Elements (Leo Records, 1996)