Christy Doran: New Bag, New Tricks

Ian Patterson By

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"Some of the tunes even change their form in the studio while recording. I do write parts for the different instruments, but I leave it to the musicians if they want to play them or if they prefer to invent something themselves—which often fits better."

The thread that seems to run through Doran's work is the fusion of influences; on Mesmerized, jazz, rock, progressive rock and Indian music all converge. "This is true," says Doran. "I think one is always a child of their time." There's a hint of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, an element of late 1960s/early 1970s jazz-rock and King Crimson, too. Fans of psychedelic art-rock band MoeTar should also find plenty to get the juices flowing. Doran's incendiary guitar playing is like a hybrid between that of guitarists John McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix, two influences that he readily acknowledges.

"John McLaughlin in [drummer] Tony Williams' Lifetime Visions Orchestra and in the Miles Davis Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) period was a great influence," says Doran. "I think you can hear that in my playing. I love Miles. I was watching the Isle of Wight concert [1970] not so long ago—what a time that was when such a crowd could listen to music of such a high standard."

Like many of his era, Doran grew up on a diet of pop and rock. "My first friends in Switzerland were Italian," recalls Doran. "This one friend played accordion, and we used to play at Italian parties—dance music, tango and waltzes. I used to add a Shadows tune or something by the Beatles or The Rolling Stones, who were just getting famous at that time. Later I got into Jimi Hendrix and had a trio playing Hendrix and Cream tunes."

Doran clearly remembers the first time he heard Hendrix. "I was rehearsing with a band. We took a break and started to watch a music program that was on TV every Saturday. It was Jimi Hendrix playing the Marquee club in London. We were flabbergasted—just completely blown away. We got the LP Are You Experienced? (Track Records, 1967) straight away, and we must have listened to it a thousand times. Two or three years later, I saw him playing in a stadium in Zurich. I think he was a genius. It seems impossible that he was so musically mature at his age. When Hendrix died, I couldn't hear anybody like him, and I switched over to jazz. I started listening to George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and all the other jazz guitar greats."

Doran left school at 16, determined to play rock music, but Doran's parents, musicians themselves, proposed that he study at the classical conservatory in Lucerne. At that time, Doran admits, he had no real interest in studying classical music. "To please my parents I attended a one-year commercial education school, but I only just passed. Half the time I didn't go to school and would go off into the woods to try and write a tune."

A summer course given by German guitarist Volker Kriegel proved to be an experience that would help shape the direction Doran would take thereafter. "After that, I made up my mind to study at the Swiss Jazz School Bern, the first jazz school in Switzerland," says Doran. "Unfortunately, there was no guitar teacher at that time, just a trumpet player from Argentina who also played guitar as a second instrument."

Doran got a gig on Swiss TV with free-jazz pianist Irene Schweizer and other well known Swiss jazz musicians and was spotted by the head of the jazz school. "He asked me if I would teach at the school, and in my ignorance I accepted. I learned a great deal just by myself." At the same time, Doran studied classical guitar at the conservatory of Lucerne and Bern for three years.

Doran taught for seven years in Bern and in 1972 co-founded the jazz school in Lucerne, where he teaches to this day. In that same year, Doran co-founded the late-period John Coltrane/Bitches Brew-influenced OM, though as Doran explains there were other veins running through the band's music. "The first Weather Report albums, Weather Report (Columbia, 1971) and I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1972), with [saxophonist] Wayne Shorter, percussionist Airto Moreira and the two European musicians Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitous and Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romao, were a great inspiration for us," says Doran. "Also, the album by Vitouš called Infinite Search (Embryo, 1969), which had John McLaughlin, [saxophonist] Joe Henderson, [pianist] Herbie Hancock and [drummer] Jack DeJohnette, was also listened to very frequently."

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