John Daversa: Bursting Out of LA
As far as writing, at which he excels, the process has changed since his younger, more footloose days, up to now.
"I used to have a regimented structure, creating time for myself. When I was a single guy, I'd get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and write until about noon every day. All kinds of different stuff. That was my time to write. After that, I'd practice my trumpet, then I'd go play my gigs. That was my day," he recalls. "I miss those days. They were so wonderfully structured. But now, I'm working at the University. I'm a dad. All that kind of stuff. A lot of the writing gets done while I'm driving in the car. You grab those extra moments between things. I'll jot down and idea and it continues to be formulated, over a few days, in your head. Thankfully, I've developed enough skill to be able to compose on the fly like that. By the time I'm actually writing it down, it's already written. Just by necessity. I wouldn't choose to do it that way. A lot of times I'll just be driving. I'll sing something in the phone and I'll come back to it later and write it down."
As far as influences, there are many. Being the son of two musicians has its own set of circumstances. But Daversa's ears have always been open to what's around him. "There's so much music that we all hear on a regular basis," he notes. "That's one of the wonderful things about being a professor. My students will come and show me different kinds of musics that are happening that I wouldn't have been aware of. You get to hear this stuff and analyze it with them. It keeps me a little bit more current. Then all of my prior interests, from Ray Charles to Beethoven to Frank Sinatra to Miles to The Police. I love a lot of different kinds of music. That's what we all do. We take the little bits of music that we really like then put it through our own filter. And this is what you come up with. It's ever-evolving. It never stops. I love it."
As a kid growing up, Daversa also paid attention to the recording his parents owned. His mother had the music of Beethoven, as well as singers Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson. On the piano, she'd play Mozart and Liszt. "Dad was playing Miles Davis and, more importantly, talking about Miles Davis. His friends would talk about the music that was important to them when they would come over and visit. Those conversations were readily available. Not to mention Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire and whatever was playing on the stereo. It was a lot to absorb. I loved it. My ears were wide open. It was a good dynamic."
His musical start involved piano and voice. "Learning to read vocally was such a great thing. Because there are no keys to push down. No valves to push down. You just have to know what the pitch is. Once I started playing trumpet later, I knew what it was supposed to sound like from the vocal stuff. It made things a lot more seamless," he says. He played a wee bit of clarinet and trombone before coming around to the trumpet, an instrument he avoided for a time because his father played it. Its sound captivated him and that was it.
His influences over time included Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker and Don Cherry. "The moment I heard [saxophonist] Ornette Coleman's record The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959), that was it. I laughed out loud in joy of understanding when I heard that record. A lot of it was Don Cherry playing that pocket trumpet." He also listened to guitar players and, in the '80s, fusion music from the likes of Davis, saxophonist Michael Brecker, Weather Report and the Yellowjackets.
"It was a dream come true when I got to play on a Yellowjackets album [ Timeline (Mack Avenue, 2011)," he adds. "That first record that Bob Mintzer played on, called Dreamhouse (Warner Brothers, 1995), when he joined the Yellowjackets, I must have listened to it a thousand times."