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Interviews

Dave Douglas: A Creative Consciousness

By Published: December 5, 2011
AAJ: You have another band as well that's not represented in the boxed set—the KeyMotion band with Donny McCaslin, Adam Benjamin and DJ Logic.



From left: Dave Douglas, Donny McCaslin

DD: Actually, the fourth band is something that came up at a summer festival this year. Someone said to me, "Well, you have this electric band, and Donny McCaslin has his electric band—and you haven't been working with the Quintet—so why don't you put them together?" So we did. Donny's group is called Perpetual Motion and mine is called Keystone, hence the name KeyMotion. We're playing half his repertoire and half mine, and the rhythm section is kind of a cross between the two. It's a lot of fun.

AAJ: You've been in the forefront of the Fender Rhodes revival (for lack of a better term). Do you have a special love for the Rhodes, or is there something else you're trying to get to, sound-wise?

DD: I love the Fender Rhodes. I'm 48, and may have been infected by some of that same, uh, smoke [laughs] that was in the air back then when people were using both the Fender Rhodes and the Fender Rhodes replicas, which sort of took over after a certain point. But I prefer the original Fender Rhodes, which is really an acoustic instrument, if you think about it. It's hammers hitting against tines. Like a piano, there's a percussive activity taking place when you play it. It really has a warm, rich sound. When I first started writing for it in the Quintet, I felt that I could get to thicker, richer sonorities, and it could do things with sustain that an acoustic piano can't really get to. And I was looking at some of the effects in the high range; there's a bell-like quality that I could write for.

But even though I was writing for the Fender Rhodes in the Quintet, I would never call that an electric band. There was acoustic bass, and the Rhodes was functioning very much like an acoustic instrument in the context of the band. When using it in a band like KeyMotion, it's much more about how the tone can be altered in the hands of a great player like Adam.

AAJ: Adam Benjamin really uses a lot of effects, and he's really investigating the instrument as a sound-generating device, rather than as just another keyboard.

DD: Well, I think—and I would guess that Donny would probably agree—that Adam's role in the band is to provide a bridge to the other electronics. In Keystone, I always had DJ Olive in the band, who was providing all sorts of electronic sounds, and I always felt that if there wasn't some kind of bridge to another instrument in the band, that was also bringing in an altered sense of timbre, the DJ would sound isolated and out of place.

AAJ: For some reason, a lot of groups that have worked with turntablists to bring in—for the lack of a better term—a hip-hop element into their music are led by trumpeters: you, Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
b.1960
trumpet
, Tim Hagans
Tim Hagans
Tim Hagans
b.1954
trumpet
, Erik Truffaz
Erik Truffaz
Erik Truffaz
b.1960
trumpet
...

DD: Wallace Roney
Wallace Roney
Wallace Roney
b.1960
trumpet
. Wallace does it really well, by the way!

AAJ: Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine
b.1964
saxophone
has also been doing it for a while now, but it's like the trumpeters are leading the way.

DD: Well, I have to stop you for a second because, when we were playing at the Village Vanguard, DJ Olive was playing with us and everyone said, "Oh my God, there's a DJ playing at the Vanguard. This must be a first." But then Lorraine Gordon pointed out that Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
used to get on stage and play his own records for the audience. So, in fact, DJ Olive was not the first turntablist to play the Village Vanguard. We're just traditionalists at heart [laughs].

AAJ: Following on from that, back then, most jazz artists basically did one project at a time. Nowadays, it's commonplace for artists to have multiple projects running concurrently. Is this a business imperative or an artistic imperative? Are you doing this because you want to, or because you have to?

DD: I think it's an artistic imperative for most people who do it. When I came onto the scene, I was inspired by people like Don Byron
Don Byron
Don Byron
b.1958
clarinet
, Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
b.1954
saxophone
, John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
, Fred Frith
Fred Frith
Fred Frith
b.1949
guitar
, Steve Coleman
Steve Coleman
Steve Coleman
b.1956
saxophone
. All of these people had already established this idea of having different groups. Even Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
1941 - 1999
trumpet
was doing that back in the '80s with an organ band and a brass band, while still playing with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago
Art Ensemble Of Chicago
Art Ensemble Of Chicago

band/orchestra
. Speaking for myself, the reason that I began forming different groups was because I realized that you can't really express all of the sensibilities of the music that we're exposed to now in one project. I haven't seen anyone do it, let me put it that way, and I haven't been able to do it myself, and I've found that it's more interesting to try to zone in on one theme or one kind of sound and present it in a band, than to try to hire five musicians and have them represent every aspect of the music spectrum that interests you.

And I think that's something that came naturally to me, and that I was doing before I had a gig or a record deal. When I was finally able to get a record deal, in the early '90s, I had four bands. In very quick succession, I was able to record all four of those projects, thankfully. And I continued in that spirit of discovering musicians that really inspire me, and writing for them and trying to develop long-term relationships with them. And also to be open to different kinds of music and how they can intersect with my own language as a composer. And, finally, with my experience as a jazz musician—and I say that knowing that some people think that what I end up doing is outside of the realm of jazz. I don't know what the answer is to that, but I've found over the years that everything I bring my energies to—my natural inclination is to bring improvisation into it, and to bring in a blues language, and to bring in the elements I learned coming up as a jazz player.


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