Dan Loomis: On The Wee Trio and "Live At The Bistro"

Fiona Ord-Shrimpton By

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The idea for us of playing that kind of pop repertoire, it was never to get the immediate response of, “Oh I recognise that song, and I'm happy to be hearing that,” that's like a nice fringe benefit. —Dan Loomis
The Wee Trio, comprising Daniel Loomis: bass; James Westfall: vibraphone; Jared Schonig: drums, are a band to keep looking out for. Having released four impressive albums already, including the recent, Live at the Bistro, their star continues to burn slowly—as all true stars are bound. The Wee Trio is a component of a new musical breed of elegant fearlessness that can play anything and make it sound right.

In winter Skype interviews are just the best, you can sidestep potentially awful delays like nasal and stomach flu while imbibing ginger ale and prescriptive Saltine crackers (as required) without leaving the house, and still manage to have a great discussion. Dan Loomis eloquently located the current path of The Wee Trio and the direction the band may be heading.

All About Jazz: I'm possibly one of a small but growing number in the UK to hear your music. Nice to talk about how the influences of your era came through in your music? You'll appreciate that school age music listeners are not necessarily into David Bowie, but they might know him through their parents, through old MTV programmes, YouTube, or some well-placed designer label advert...

Dan Loomis: Right, that was a sobering moment for us actually, we started the group about 7 years ago, so for the first few years, we would go to high schools, and everyone would recognize the songs, although the music was quite old at the time, somehow it was still current with kids. And now, when we go into high schools— if we ask if anyone has heard about The Colonel, it's not on anyone's radar. So yeah, we're experiencing that very personally.

AAJ: But in a good way right?

DL: Well, it's great for us, because the idea for us of playing that kind of pop repertoire, it was never to get the immediate response of, "Oh I recognize that song, and I'm happy to be hearing that," that's like a nice fringe benefit, but the idea for us was always we're just playing the music that was in our ears. We all studied and dove way into how to play jazz, at some point in our high school and college careers and we got really nutty about learning how to swing, and learning about all that goes into that tradition. That doesn't change the fact that we grew up in early 80's, 90's, 00's— and that music was the music around us, and we love that music too, that's the music of our time. It made the most sense for us to be playing a lot of that music. It was the most honest thing for us to do, because it was the milieu --- the atmosphere we grew up in. If kids don't know it so much, it just tells you you're growing older, which we are. We're still happy that it's an honest expression of what we are hearing.

AAJ: The live sound is resonant on the album. There's a freshness about new American jazz bands in particular, that seems to be coming through again. You'll understand what I'm trying to say. In the UK, there was a sense of jazz stirring when Joshua Redman first came to Britain, he was one of the new lions for his era. Now there's a freshness about playing modern music in the jazz sense again that feels like the rediscovery he was implied with. The music seems to be as honest and fresh as jazz must have sounded when it first appeared. It seems to be a churning process, it's starting to come out again that young musicians are confident playing jazz in themselves again, would you agree? Or is that just a process because you're all gifted musicians, in a good band, have been playing together for a long time and know each other well enough to have that level of confidence.

DL: Hopefully that's a part of it, but yeah, I think you're exactly right, you put it in a really interesting way, that there's an honesty to it. That's something we all think and talk about a lot in the jazz genre, because some of the best feeling and infectious music is from the swing side of things, people playing music which has an incredible beat and drive to it. We all love music from the 50's-60's, when people were really swinging, earlier than that of course, but the period where people were stretching the music. If you've been into jazz at any point you'll love that period. You might not stay there, but you have a love for it. The challenge for us as musicians in the time we're in is to find that feeling but you can't just do it again, because you can't repeat the same art and expect it to feel fresh. Have to find something that feels as fresh to you as what they were doing felt to them. That's the thing, if you love an artist, you can't just copy that artist. You have to copy or think about what that artist would have done in your era. If you're just copying the artist then you're making still born art/music.

Yeah, I think that experience of Joshua Redman, he was able to find a sound in swing/groove music, an experience distinctly of the 90's. He's always able to find a sound that is distinct, exciting to his time. And that's what we're trying to do, we're always trying to find things that speak to the era that we're in. And from that if we can find a way to get that infectious groove and drive of jazz into that, then for us that's a winning combination.

AAJ: It's difficult to find. All the old voices in jazz—the older jazz musicians have passed or they are 'at the door.' What happens now for us listening is that we either play all the old Blue Note albums, or we as listeners are trying to find those new voices that speak to us in an individualistic way. Listening to you it's nice to hear that band sound, that you're growing, there's a sound you're aiming for and a collective voice that's not going to die off in 3-4 albums.

DL: That's absolutely our plan. We have a very long view with this band, always planning a few albums ahead. But I'm glad that comes through in the album somehow. That's great to hear, that's a great compliment.

AAJ: One of the interviews you did on YouTube, a promo talking about the making of the Bowie album:

You were saying you were thinking of Jimi Hendrix Stevie Wonder, or Shostakovich. What would a Shostakovich jazz album sound like?

DL: There actually is a great Shostakovich album, this bass player Michael Bates, has a band called Outside Sources, the album is called "Acrobat: Music for, and by, Dmitri Shostakovich," and it sounds wonderful. And the great thing about it is if we did a Shostakovich album it would sound totally different. Yeah, it's still on the table for us to do that. It's nice to be sort of the first one in, so we may not do it because Michael Bates has done it already. I feel like it would be a valid artistic statement because Michael has his interpretation that is as reflective of his sound as it is of Shostakovitch, if not a lot more.

That's the way the Bowie project was for us. If you are a die-hard Bowie fans and sing along with the hits and you buy our album you might be a little disappointed, mostly the tunes are our sound through the canvas and the excitement of David Bowie. Shostakovich for us would be very interesting because his music has a real inner angst, and suppression to it because of the conditions he was working under, where he was trying to write revolutionary music at the same time that he was being held up as the figure head of the regime. He was really working from the inside in a way that must have been really painful for him. So, that's not an exact parallel with the experience of jazz but that's a lot of the experience of jazz, where it's like it comes from the African-American experience in America, which is an experience of oppression, which has that sort of longing and kind of an inner drive within it.

For us it would really be an experience of travelling more than anything else, like seeing what that feels like. If you're already a jazz musician and you're serious about it, you tap into that feeling within the music whether you're Afro-American or not. It's not in- genuine to tap into the feeling of the music even though you didn't experience it personally.

AAJ: No and the thing is you studied in New Orleans anyway, so you've gone to source and you know what it feels like to be in an environment which is steeped in history and you everyone can tell you stories...

DL: Yeah, exactly. We have all been to these places, and talked to all these people. It doesn't compare to going through it but at some point it becomes a musical gesture, rather than a personal gesture. Would be an interesting global travelling experience to compare that feeling of longing you have in jazz from the Afro- American experience with that feeling of longing that Shostakovich had as a revolutionary within the regime of the USSR, and I think it would yield some incredible results, and really dynamic, he has his heart on his sleeve so much in his music, so dissonant and strident in a like a personal, expressive way, it's not dissonant in an alienating way. It's when you hear his dissonances they are attractive, they draw you in.

AAJ: Interesting to find out how you would play as a trio. Where would vibes come in on that?

DL: Yeah, drums and bass would have fun yeah. James tends to gives me a lot of freedom in the lower register, if it's a solo he'll play, he'll throw it out in the lower register, but usually he lets me handle that pretty exclusively, which is very nice of him.

AAJ: So with the live album, little bit of old stuff, a bit of Bowie. Are there reasons why you chose the tunes you did for this live album?

DL: To be honest, the way the live album ended up sounding was a little bit of a surprise to us because we just played most of the set that we've been playing over the last year, which just evolved from the songs that we like to play the most and which sound the best with the band. And so our goal was to capture the live feeling of the band. Which we did. And we were kind of surprised in a sense at how traditional it sounded, or it can be interpreted as sounding traditional. We did a lot of songs that swing, we did this old song "Cherokee," with our new arrangement, but it's one of most played songs in jazz. I was very, very nervous about opening a jazz album with that, we didn't want to come off as neoclassical at all. We were surprised about how much of that was in our music, because all of our albums have been a little more rock-orientated, a little more explicitly progressive. Actually kind of fun that we really connect with that tradition. We feel like we sound good doing it and we feel it's our best sounding album.




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