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Dave Douglas: Convergence

By Published: April 1, 1999
AAJ: You've clearly expressed that Messrs. Feldman, Friedlander, Gress, and Sarin are nothing less than indispensable and that this music could not exist without them, not only because you've written and arranged it for them as specific individuals, but also because they subsequently re-shape the material during performance. Although you must be able to anticipate what they will do with and to the material once you've submitted it to them, do you still find the results frequently unpredictable? Or when working with this band, are you instead consistently and expectedly surprised? How often does a piece become completely unlike what you expected it to be? Are there any examples of this phenomenon on Convergence?

DD: Each piece works differently in this regard. I like to work very pragmatically—once I've written the large ideas of a piece, I'm most concerned with making it work for the band. That means that each person has a part that makes sense and they are happy to play; and that they have enough flexibility within the part to find new things and provoke the parameters of the piece. Also important to me is that the harmony, melody and rhythm somehow get clearly expressed. I try occasionally to write forms that invite surprise and unpredictability. In those pieces I try not to have expectations of what will happen, but to play and watch what arises, then to think further and talk about it and continue exploring. The best examples of this on "Convergence" are "Joe's Auto Glass" and "Border Stories." If you go back to "Five," check out "Over Farrell's" , or "In Progress" on "Parallel Worlds."

AAJ: What have you found to be the first reaction of these musicians to your music? Do you find that they tend to improvise by first experimenting with a piece of music and then exploring it later? Or vice versa? In regards to your own approach to improvisation have you noticed any tendencies?

DD: The reaction is often: "Man, this is hard, what a drag." Then we get down to work. I try not to talk about improvisation too much because everyone's approach is so unique and interior. I let everyone come to their own conclusions of how to play and improv. If things get really far away from the intent of the compositions, then we talk.

AAJ: Does working with these gifted musicians grant you a confidence that you can challenge or transcend your own capacity and ability as a composer/arranger? i.e., that you can attempt structures that might be intimidating or challenging for you personally but that you know will work? Do they give you confidence in yourself, as a trumpeter, that ordinarily would not be there apart from them?

DD: Even more simply, I could not conceive of this music without the ensembles in mind.

AAJ: In the liner notes to Convergence, you state that "the string quintet is neither an example of "chamber jazz" nor an attempt to "swing the classics."" Since this tells us what the band IS NOT, would you like to take this opportunity to define (at the risk of confining) what the band IS?

DD: If you can tell me what this music is, I'd be very grateful. For me it is an attempt to make music, pure and simple.

AAJ: What experiences of recording Five were specifically carried overinto composing Convergence? What experiences of recording "Convergence"will be carried over to the next set of compositions for the String Group?

DD: I think that being on the road together and performing a lot has had more influence than anything else. That's how you discover what works (and what doesn't) and push yourself to try new things. It's an ensemble sound that is without precedent, so we've had to define for ourselves how the roles will work and can shift. That's up to each musician to experience and learn. There is a lot of music on this new CD (is it 72 minutes?) and that is because we had a chance to get out and develop many different areas of the sound.

On Tiny Bell Trio

AAJ: You've admitted to being influenced by a number of different types of music that you were exposed to during your childhood. But from whence is the fascination with Eastern European song forms? Is this a relatively recent development? Was Art Lande's late '‘70s band Rubisa Patrol (with trumpeter Mark Isham
Mark Isham
Mark Isham
) an inspiration in any way?

DD: My experiences with Eastern European music are more recent. They began in the late 80s in an experimental Dance/Music/Theater group in Switzerland, which was using Romanian folk music as the basis of a show. Then I begantranscribing tapes of various different traditional musics from that part of the world. In 1990, I began playing klezmer music with Don Byron
Don Byron
Don Byron
, which was a great education. It was in 1991 or '92 that I began writing my own music in the style of these various traditions, and to experiment with improvising on the trad pieces. As to why the fascination, I really don't know, other than that it's great and inspiring music; and I think it lends itself well to improvisation.

On Charms of the Night Sky

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