Another thing that I must reference is that about three years ago, I was very lucky to play with Maria Schneider
. It was at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and also in Norway. Although I was a classical clarinetist, I had sort of shelved the clarinet, though I did double on it for some big bands. Otherwise, I was like, "Okay, I'm a saxophonist, and I'm focusing on saxophone." But with Maria, I heard the magic again of using woodwinds like flutes and clarinets and bass clarinets. I thought it was such a great sound, and I realized that I had players who can do that. It just gives the music a whole different angle than just a tenor saxophone in a quartet. That short time playing with her re-awoke my curiosity to start not
being lazy in terms of writing just for saxophones, and instead try to pull in the woodwinds. That was a huge influence.
Another thing I did better on this album is that I let the songs breathe a little bit. I wrote them, I performed them, I got my UCT ensembles to perform them, and then I'd listen to them and go, "What's missing? What isn't kicking? How could I improve it?" I slowly chipped away until they were ready. Funnily enough, I've got about three or four more songs that I thought I was going to record, which I didn't record because I thought the seven that I've put down on the last album were the ones that were ready to go. So for me it's just really trial and error and just trying to improve all the time. AAJ:
There are a number of musical through-lines connecting the two albums, and in both cases you certainly work with a variety of different genres. DS:
I don't consider myself a seasoned composer. I end up sitting down to write a song and it goes on a route. Like I mentioned, I've got a lot of different influences that I love. I came from rock and metal, and I studied classical clarinet. My gateway drug to Jazz was South African Jazz of course. But I also love funk; I love Horace Silver and Lee Morgan. There's one song in the new album called "Beer Jersey Boogaloo," which I specifically tried to write in a Soul Jazz sort of way. If I had to sit down and write like eight songs in one style, I think that would be really hard for me to do. That's why the songs are quite different on the album. I do think on every album I have a funk tune; "Tea with Alvin" on the last one was Brecker-esque, dare I say it. And then on "Bennie's Farm," again I was writing about a feeling. Bennie's Farm is one of my friend's farm. Things always start off funky there, and then they get a bit strange in the middle of the night after we braaied and had a couple too many gin and tonics, and then they always end up ok in the morning! I think at the time I composed that song, I was listening a lot to Lettuce
. Often I'm listening to stuff, and I find myself writing to see if I can do the Cape answer to that. Again, playing to the strengths of the musicians that I have. Marc de Kock is a hell of a funky saxophonist and Andrew Ford is a great funk player on piano. The song is not incredibly complex, but just those guys are so funky that I wanted to play a song like that with them. AAJ:
Looking at some of the collaborators you've worked with, you've managed to bring in almost a Who's Who of great drummers in South Africa across your albums! DS:
Yeah, I love them. It's a treat to play with them. AAJ:
Are these collaborators the "secret weapons" you reference in the album title? DS:
I found myself having a set of compositions, and thinking of what I'm trying to say, where I'm trying to go with it in terms of what I'm saying in the Southern African landscape. There are a lot of phenomenal players, some very heavy duty players in South Africa who are dealing with concepts that I'm not equipped to deal with. Concepts like apartheid South Africa, or the New South Africa, or where things are going wrong or are unfair in South Africa. Whilst I note all that, I wasn't raised in South Africa. I was born in a free Zimbabwe, I was raised in a free Namibia, and I grew up in South Africa. Whilst I'm obviously sensitive to those topics, I think if I'm to keep it real, I don't really have a place to sort of deal with those issues. It's not really me to do that. What I'm trying to do is create an album which deals with some of the positives, and is more lighthearted.
I'm trying to present a fourth stream in South African Jazz that is not what other people are doing, because I think we are always trying to find our differentiation in the marketplace. So how I've mentioned already came to Jazz through Cape Jazz as opposed to northern South African Jazz, and I mentioned how I haven't come from the same background as a lot of South Africans. I'm trying to still put something forward, something I think is complex but not necessarily too profound. I'm a joker. I'm a beer drinker. I love my sport. But also love Jazz, you know?