Dominic Duval: Follow Your Melody
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?
DD: I was playing with many friends, but a real band would come later. I just tried to stay ahead of the game, and make music that I could be excited about, with the limited abilities I had.
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.