A Fireside Chat With Dave Douglas (2004)

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It is not a political record, but I also feel that we create in this atmosphere of what is going on in the world.
With age, I have adopted the position of respecting two levels of music—good and bad. Miles Davis updated his music with the times (explaining, "I have to change. It's a curse."). Similarly, Dave Douglas has done the same. And although hasty comparisons depreciate both, their legacies can be summarized as good and bad. While Douglas (unedited and in his own words) continues to shape his approach, an analysis identifies it as simply being good.

All About Jazz: Strange Liberation features the finest Chris Potter solos on record.

Dave Douglas: "Seventeen" is so outrageous. I can't get enough of that. I think you get to know a player and you start to write things that you think will engage them. Hopefully, it facilitates them to go and do something. Another thing that I thought of was that sometimes when you're a sideman on a record date, all you have to think about is just playing and I know for myself, certain record dates I've gone in and just played the solo and that was all I had to do. And in a way, it was a lot easier then when it's your own record. Maybe it is just that Chris was able to walk in with his horn and play those outrageous solos.

AAJ: What is the significance of Strange Liberation ?

DD: There is a couple meanings for me. I was listening to the recording and listening to what Uri played and what Bill was doing, especially Clarence and James, it just seemed like there was this freedom that everybody was playing in such a way, you could almost just play any note and it would work. But at the same time, it was all new music that I had just brought in to them. Some of it is a little tricky, I have to apologize. So the sense of exhilaration was an odd thing, hence the title.

It was also something that I had just read in a famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, who was speaking out against the Vietnam War in 1967. It said that the Vietnamese must think of us as strange liberators. You know that I am involved in political causes. You know that a lot of us are uneasy about what's going on in Washington. So it was also a reference of my discomfort with what is going on and knowing that there is an election coming up and that we could get Bush out of there is kind of exciting for me.

AAJ: It should be clarified that Strange Liberation is not a political record.

DD: It is not a political record, but I also feel that we create in this atmosphere of what is going on in the world. It is not that I am sitting here saying that Saddam was great or that I don't support all these Americans that are down there under threat of great violence and terror. But it is not like I feel like making music is divorced from my concerns about all those other things.

AAJ: Having considerably toured outside the country, has the world's impression of America deteriorated during the current administration?

DD: I don't think there is any doubt of that. I think that is a well documented occurrence from opinion polls that I have seen that were taken in Europe and around the world. We've decided that international agreements and forums don't matter to us, that those kinds of rules by which the world works don't apply in our case. I think there is a lot of unease about that and I know that when I travel, people ask me what is going on why these choices are being made in this country.

AAJ: Bill Frisell guests on the record.

DD: I wrote with Bill in mind and that was really hard because he is one of my favorite composers. I've been listening to Bill since the mid-Eighties. Back in '87, I was fresh out of college and I had been touring with Horace Silver and going out and hearing Bill's band all the time back when he had the quartet with Joey Baron, Hank Roberts, and Kermit Driscoll, and I actually called him then to see if he would do a recording with me. I didn't have a deal or any gigs or anything. Unfortunately for me, he was already too busy to be dealing with someone in that position. So this was a fulfillment of that wish, to get to really write some music for Bill to play and to integrate him with this quintet that has been touring.

AAJ: You are also returning as the artistic director of The Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music.

DD: It has really been an amazing learning experience for me. When I first went there, Kenny Werner was directing the program. He invited me a couple of times before I went because I felt like I didn't have anything to teach. So the first time I went, I was really terrified. I could tell someone to not blow out their chops during the first song of the gig. Then there is two hours left in the master class, what do you do from there? I felt like I didn't have anything to share. I went in and started talking about music and people started asking questions and I thought about all these issues that I was just operating on, but had never really described. So it caused me to sit down and reflect and think about the principles of what I do and why I do it. I went back a few times when Kenny was still in charge and every year, I felt more comfortable. So when he decided to move on, they asked me to take over the program. It is great. Bill Frisell is coming up for a week. Clarence Penn and James Genus are going to come. Jason Moran is coming. George Lewis is coming and Sam Rivers is going to come and bring big band charts of all his music. I feel like I am going to learn as much as anybody else.

AAJ: And the future?

DD: I will be on the West Coast in May. I didn't go into this album thinking I would have a working band. Bill is much to busy as a leader to be doing that. Some of the guys in the quintet are almost to busy to be doing it, but thank God, they are able to be on the tour. I am really looking forward to it. Last year, this clarinetist from France named Louis Sclavis came as a special guest and so I recorded something with him that will come out in the middle of 2004. I'm working on a new electronic record and trying to teach myself the computer language that I would need to do that. It is a long process, but sometime at the end of next year, there will be a follow up to Freak In. I want to go further into that, not in a rock and roll, commercial sense, but in a creative music way and see how technology can interact and create something.

AAJ: New Year's wishes?

DD: I'm getting married in 2004 and moving. I am trying to make time to do all of that properly for myself. For the world, I think people know how I feel about the government in Washington. So I hope that people are better interested in creative music and also interested in creative government and help make changes.

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