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Claire Daly: The Most Jazz Life I Could Ever Imagine

By Published: January 10, 2012
So Steve and I would talk about her. We wanted to capture the free spirit, but we didn't want to just be blowing free for the whole record. We really wanted it to be structured, but we wanted to combine genres a little bit. So we would make up games to play, "Okay we're going to play for X amount of time, and let's have this be related to some aspect of the trip." Like, "you're thinking about going on a trip, what does that feel like?" and then to try and play. We did a lot of playing. Even making up compositional games. Sometimes we had little homework assignments.

Mary Joyce

AAJ: Did you decide that there'd be themes the different pieces of music would address? There's one tune that's an homage to the dogs, there's another about her relationship with Hack Smith [with whom Mary traveled to Alaska]; there are different aspects of the story covered in different pieces of music. Did you decide on those ahead of time?

CD: It sort of showed up that way. We weren't really sure how this was going to show up. We wanted to just make ourselves available to it and see what we got. And that was kind of how it rolled out. And then some of the stuff... like, Steve brought in "Tippin,'" the song for the dogs, at the last minute. He just popped up with that tune, and we had room.

AAJ: Using "Tippin'" as an example, did he write it and say, okay, we'll say this one is for the dogs, or did he say, let me write a piece about the dogs?

CD: I think both happened throughout the writing, because it happened over a course of time. And it really accelerated once we started getting the band together. Because we worked on it by ourselves for a pretty long time. I think there was more, "I'm gonna write something about the lonely year or" ... there was some of that, and some of just getting an inspiration on a song. Like, "Gotta Go": I didn't say I think I'll write a song about how she's got to make the trip; I thought, I'm going to see if I can make a tune I like just using three notes for the A section. I'd written the song, and when we got the band together and I heard how it sounded, how it unfolded, I [realized] it's got a compelling move in it.

AAJ: Stylistically, it could have been approached in such a way that it had to be Irish music, or music that reflected that of indigenous people in Alaska. But it's varied. Did you feel unrestricted in terms of style?

CD: We wanted to honor all that stuff. The first tune, "Guidance," was written with the idea [of reflecting the music of the native guides who traveled with Mary]. I think we found Inuit Indian stuff first and then when I was in Juneau I bought all the Tlingit stuff I could find; that one's written in honor them. [But overall] we kind of had "anything goes" as a style. We didn't want to do a cheesy homage. We wanted the music to stand on its own as music—as good music.

AAJ: And I think you wanted to be who you are as musicians.

CD: Oh, yeah, definitely. But we did think we wanted something in honor of [the Tlingit guides]. And we were thinking about Irish music because Mary loved Irish music. I found out a lot of stuff when I was out there. She had two jukeboxes. She loved music. She had [one for] pop music—whatever would be on a jukebox—and she had an Irish jukebox. So there was a lot of Irish music played in that bar. It's kind of an Irish bar. There're shamrocks on the logo.

AAJ: When you started working on the project, at what point did you say I have to go to Alaska and see it for myself?

CD: Probably pretty early on. I would say after I decided to do the project, maybe six or eight months later, I thought I should go to Alaska and take my cousin, Mary Ann, who lived there and knew Mary really well, and was with Mary when she died, and was probably the closest family member to Mary. She's in her seventies. I thought I should go with her to Alaska and really get the feel of Mary's life there. And that was the smartest thing I did. She was thrilled because she didn't think she'd get back to Alaska again and she loves Alaska.

You have to take a boat or a plane to the Taku Lodge, where [Mary] lived. There're no cars. When I say remote—it is remote. You've got the lodge, and you've got a yard—a front area—and then it's the Gastineau Channel, which is a big channel, so boats can come up; there's a little dock. And across the channel is the Hole in the Wall Glacier. That's your view. That's it. It's you and the bears. There was a bear there when I got there.

We had a jam session at the Lucky Lady when the band was there in May. We stayed in the Alaskan Hotel, which is this old haunted, kind of wacky hotel, right across from The Lucky Lady. And it was really cool. There was a bar on the corner, and the people hanging out in the bar were her friends. There were friends of hers just hanging out there. Mary died in 1976.

AAJ: At what age?

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