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Interviews

Dave Douglas: There's Wisdom Everywhere in the Universe

By Published: June 17, 2013
AAJ: That's certainly apparent throughout Be Still. It's highly listenable and very approachable music, yet it's not "dumbed down" at all to accommodate the material or Aoife. You guys are all playing at a very high level throughout the record with no sense of compromise and a very high degree of ease. No one had to change what they were doing to accommodate Aoife, or vice versa. That's really the beauty of it...

DD: Well, I would say that we all changed, but we all changed in ways that we wanted to change in... [laughs]

AAJ: [laughing] Okay, I'll buy that. I was thinking about [drummer] Rudy Royston
Rudy Royston
Rudy Royston

drums
in particular, because I know he's played a lot of gospel music in the church...

DD: That's interesting. Yes, you're right, as a matter of fact Rudy was already quite familiar with a number of the tunes. And so was [bassist] Linda Oh
Linda Oh
Linda Oh

bass
. She's got a strong church background, and has done a lot of gospel music as well. And, it was funny, when we got started on these tunes, they would look at each other and say; "You know, Dave, that's not really how this hymn is played. Here's the tempo, and here's how the beat is supposed to go..." And that was interesting to me because I had heard these hymns as a child, and then never again since. So I was coming to them as pieces of music. But they're part of a living tradition to Rudy and Linda, who were both still playing these hymns every Sunday, and sometimes on Wednesday nights [laughs]. So, I wouldn't say that we then adapted the arrangements to be more like what they were playing in church, it was more cooperative. It's as if you had to play "All The Things You Are" without ever having heard it. You would play the tune, but you'd do it differently. And then if you went to a jam session and played it like that, people would show you how it was actually played. And then, perhaps together, you all came up with a third way to play the tune that was richer.

AAJ: The new record represents a different facet of the same band. And the pieces are easy to get into, but there's a lot of super-advanced things going on within them. And the playing, again, is marvelous. How long are you going to be able to keep this band together?

DD: Well, I'll hold on to them as long as I can; they're all great and they're all busy. We have quite a few dates coming up and I'm writing new material and we'll continue to work together. One of the most amazing things about New York, at this moment, is that there are more players than ever playing at the very highest levels. And I've had young subs already in this band at gigs, and there's absolutely no compromise whatsoever. It's just amazing. So, I'll keep this band together as long as I can, but I also have faith that there's never going to be a shortage of people that I want to play with.

So, Matt is busy with [saxophonist] Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
b.1954
saxophone
and others, Linda has all kinds of things going on including leading her own band, Rudy's playing with [bassist] Ben Allison
Ben Allison
Ben Allison
b.1966
bass, acoustic
and [guitarist] Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
... I probably don't need to tell you how busy Jon Irabagon is. He's running a record label, and playing with [trumpeter] Peter Evans
Peter Evans
Peter Evans

trumpet
, and who knows what else he's doing. I'm trying to keep them together, and I just love playing with them. It's an incredible feeling...

AAJ: And now you have a cover feature in the latest issue of Downbeat Magazine in honor of your 50th birthday. I found the interview with you to be fascinating, especially when you spoke about your own struggles getting started as a jazz player. Hearing about you going through music school only to be told that you'll never be any good at playing the trumpet...

DD: It's important to let people know that you've gone through these struggles.

AAJ: Just the fact that you got past that and succeeded...

DD: ...only to play a lot of weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs, and brisses, and divorces... [laughing]

I was in Reno, Nevada last month, where they have those 24-hour wedding chapels, and someone was telling me that the new trend there was late-night divorce. And I was thinking that could be a whole new industry for musicians. I've got a great divorce band! [laughing] What would we play? "I'll be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You," "Lyin' Eyes..." [laughing]

AAJ: "Your Cheatin' Heart..." [laughing]

DD: That's it, you've got the schtick! So, I've also made a new record... do you remember those sextet records I made in the '90s? In Our Lifetime (New World, 1995), Stargazer (Arabesque, 1997), Soul On Soul (RCA, 2000)...

AAJ: ...the [pianist] Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
1910 - 1981
piano
tribute record! That's a good one.

DD: So, I've been doing a series of independent workshops leading groups of musicians through sessions reading that music. Just independently, getting the word out, having people sign up, and we go through the music. That's been really great. So, I'm doing a concert next week where the first half is the workshop people playing that music, and the second half is the Quintet. And that's something I'll continue to do. But in the meantime, I've written a new book of music for sextet which I've recorded with most of the same folks that were on the Sextet records from the '90s; Greg Tardy is on tenor saxophone, Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman

trombone
is on trombone, and I've brought in Uri Caine on piano, and Clarence Penn on drums, with Linda Oh on bass. It's a mix, for me. The record is my farewell to Banff, and the music was written for my final concert there. The piece is called Pathways and it's based on some of the materials I worked with while I was teaching there. And it's going to come out in the Fall as part of a deluxe package consisting of Be Still, Time Travel, and Pathways, plus a number of alternate takes From all three sessions and a DVD of in-studio performances. For me, bringing all that together is the summation of my 50th birthday year. It's going to be a beautiful package, and because it's my label, I'm gonna be humane to my fans. So if you already have Be Still and Time Travel, you can order just the additional elements of the box without having to order duplicate copies of the records you already have. Unless you want to, of course. [laughs] They make great presents... great divorce presents! [laughs] So, I'm finishing all that up, mastering those recordings and getting all of that together. Who knows where we go from here?


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