Dave Douglas: Moving the Music Forward
DD: Well, that's the most interesting thing happening in music right now: we don't know what to call it anymore. Some people are really angry that we call this jazz, and others just call everything jazz. And I think that's great. The question itself is what's important.
AAJ: But you've done work with Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, Joe Walsh, Cibo Matto, Ron Sexsmith, and others. What did you take away from those experiences? Did you find it immediately relevant to your own work?
DD: All music is immediately relevant. It's always been that way for me. I've always loved to play all different kinds of stuff. When I worked with Horace Silver in 1987 I was also working with the noise-avant band Doctor Nerve. You can learn from just about any experience. I played weddings for years, and as much as I hated it, I still feel there's something to be gained from it. Someone points at you, and in two seconds you have to play some tune that you only half-know, in a key that is uncomfortable on your instrument, and make it convincing enough for the bride and groom to dance. That's music education. It's also fascinating for me to play on pop records and make a four- or eight-bar statement that sounds like a composition. That's very difficult for me, actually.
AAJ: Speaking of music education, let's talk about yours. You did some jumping around from Berklee to New England Conservatory (NEC) to New York University (NYU). What precipitated those transitions?
DD: I started studying music when I was really young. I did classical harmony in high school, and I was trying to play jazz and improvised music by throwing all of that out the window, which I still do from time to time [laughs]. At Berklee, I was looking for a more in-depth experience with jazz harmony, and it was great for that. But I didn't feel I had a good trumpet teacher, and I always struggled with technique on the trumpet. It has not come easy for me and it's still not easy. So John McNeil was teaching the Carmine Caruso method at NEC, and I had been practicing at Berklee many, many hours daily, with very limited results. Within a month of using this Carmine Caruso technique, my chops just took off. And it all came together right in that year. NEC was also great for ear training, which is too often overlooked and very important for improvising musicians. But I just didn't want to be in Boston anymore; it was time to move to New York. While I was at NYU I was able to study with Carmine Caruso himself for two years. I still go about once a year to his student, Laurie Frank, who carries on his tradition of teaching.
AAJ: What are some of your upcoming projects?
DD: I've been writing dance music for the Trisha Brown company, which will premiere in New York at the Joyce Theater in May. I just finished recording a new Charms of the Night Sky album, which will come out in October on RCA. And I have a new band that premiered last October called Witness. All of the pieces are dedicated to social activist writers, thinkers, and philosophers from around the world. There are more details available at davedouglas.com. I got really angry during the war in Kosovo last spring, because I was traveling right near Yugoslavia when all that stuff went down, when we decided to start bombing them. I was reading articles in the paper every day about weapons makers and how their stock is going up and how great this war is for them, and then I would turn the page and see a million refugees. I've always read about social activism and change, and I've always been involved, but it's always been separate from the music. Witness brings them together.