Darius Jones: From Johnny Hodges To Noise Jazz

AAJ Staff BY

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Alto saxophonist Darius Jones—who won most critics' nomination for the best jazz newcomer album of 2009 for Man'ish Boy (A Raw And Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity, 2009)—is a great fan of Johnny Hodges. He says that the lyrical Duke Ellington altoist is his hero, and this is pleasantly noticeable at the beginning of Man'ish Boy. It is also a good thing; not only did Hodges possess one of the most beautiful sounds in music, but Jones' focus on Hodges-like bends and slurs serves to give his sound a clear originality—or at least a signature—that many saxophonists these days lack.

Jones is also a composer, and his frequent use of the trio format allows him maximum room to write creative compositions. He listens to a wide range of music, from Mozart and Muddy Waters to Nirvana, and his music is a pure attempt to present something new. Man'ish Boy is not your "standard" saxophonist record; its compositions contain so much fine and varied detail from all three instrumentalists, that headphones or large speakers may be needed to really pick up all the sounds. Jones takes his span of influences and projects them all onto a new canvas, fully succeeding in his creative aim. Both Cooper-Moore, on piano and diddly-bo, and drummer Rakalam Bob Moses are brilliant trio mates—musicians of great depth and color. Moses achieves almost talking drum effects, and Cooper-Moore's home-made diddly-bo is nothing short of extraordinary in its sonic variety.

Jones has always been fascinated with sonics in general, and, while a student in Richmond, Virginia, was extemporizing with computer improviser Marty McCavitt in the group Birds in a Meadow. Jones came to New York in 2005, and soon formed the now-internationally known noise jazz group Little Women, with, tenor saxophonist Travis Laplante, guitarist Andrew Smiley and drummer Jason Nazary. The band has been described by an Austrian magazine as providing a "first-hand idea of what terror can mean," and its music is an example of another Jones focus: creating order from chaos.

Jones also emphasizes the importance of writing music organically. It may be that it is now necessary to make this point more frequently, as there are so many people pressing buttons on machines to "make music" these days. Any lasting or real music must be organically created. Learning as you go and letting things happen naturally are the key.

New York singer/composer Lola Danza, an occasional colleague, has said that "we are now past 'avant-garde' [in the traditional jazz usage of the phrase], and are doing something new—we just don't know what to call it yet." Jones is an example of this new type of music which, while containing much jazz influence and clearly still remaining jazz, is being written by people who have listened closely to rock and other music that has come about since the '60s. You could try calling it "rock-jazz," or even "indie jazz." As Jones says, he is not "free" and he is not in the "standard" category of current sax soloists: as he puts it, "There is a third category, and I'm about to show you what it is!" The album also contains much sonic experimentation. You hear the steamy South, the evocation of wailing African flutes, and experimental rock-like explorations, all played acoustically.

Ellington always spoke in terms of writing tone parallels, and it is a fair assumption that Jones is taking that approach on Man'ish Boy (A Raw And Beautiful Thing), the first in a projected series of albums that will trace life in the American South, where Jones grew up, and the saxophonist's own development and experiences, while presenting different musicians over its course.

Chapter Index
  1. Man'ish Boy
  2. Saxophone Influences
  3. Growing Up In The South
  4. Categorizing Music
  5. Little Women
  6. Continuing Compositions
  7. Future Releases

    Man'ish Boy

    All About Jazz: Does your approach to writing for your working trio differ to that on Man'ish Boy, especially since the album is the first in a conceptual series?

    Darius Jones: I change my writing, definitely. Playing with Cooper-Moore and Bob Moses is very different from what I do with my working trio, which is with [bassist] Adam [Lane] and [drummer] Jason [Nazary]. The music is just different. It is more traditionally rhythmic, but also it's still very raw. We tend to utilize a lot of different form ideas [with the trio]. With Cooper and Bob, it's more head and blow. With my working trio we have these kinds of "schemes." Some of it's head and blow, but then there's a form that Jason and Adam are playing under me and we stay pretty close to that. It's just more composed, I would have to say. [But] with Bob, a lot of those tunes are launching pads to go, just to improvise.

    AAJ: The album has been a great success, with nominations for newcomer album of the year and so on.

    DJ: It seems like people are digging the record. [I'm just] coming out of the gate, man. A lot of people like it. I'm a little freaked out at the same time. The next one has to be pretty killing. But I like that kind of heat. I like pressure, a little bit of pressure. I think a lot of people were shocked by the Man'ish Boy record. It was like, "Where did this come from?" I was there the whole time. You weren't just paying attention!

    AAJ: Some of the effects achieved by Cooper-Morris on the diddley-bo are amazing. On the introduction to "We Are Unicorns," there is a sound like a horse. Is that the diddly-bo?

    DJ: That's the diddley-bo. It is amazing. That track is deep. That was a first take too. That just happened. That was an improvisation with me and Cooper-Moore. We just have such a deep connection him and I. We're both from Virginia, we both grew up in a church atmosphere. I was in his band for a while. That tune is so vocal and so Southern. When I hear that I feel the South in it so strong. It's funny you said you heard the horse in there, because I heard that too. I thought, "Woa, man, we're taking it to the animal farm." It's deep.

    AAJ: What's "Chasing The Ghost" about? Who's the ghost you are chasing?

    DJ:That song is about my experience pursuing that spiritual realm. I grew up in a Pentecostal Church. I was filled with the spirit of God and I spoke in tongues. That tune is really about that experience. It's searching for that thing that's elusive and very spiritual. So I'm searching for the Ghost, for the Holy Ghost. I want to get it and in a lot of ways I want other people to find it too. I want us all to find the Ghost. It's funny. That tune is so about church. It's about my experience of what that is.

    AAJ: "Big Train Rolling" certainly sounds very Southern.

    DJ: That [title] came from Bob Moses. [He] actually said that. Before we started that improvisation, he said "Big train rolling." To him, it's [that] I have this big sound, I'm Southern, and he hears some John Coltrane-esque inflections and concepts in my playing. So it's a play on words. The train is rolling, but Trane is rolling too [laughs]. Trane could make you feel that a lot of times. His lines just went rolling on and on and on and on. You just get caught up in that. When I hear that improvisation, I think of a train just rolling through Mississippi.

    AAJ: There are a few Coltrane-like screams on the track.

    DJ: It embodies a lot of that. I went through a serious Coltrane phase. He's Southern himself. He grew up in a church environment also.

    AAJ: The last track, bar the hidden one, is "Please Forgive Me." Is it you who wants to be forgiven?

    DJ: I'm saying "forgive me" to everyone for everything that I feel like I couldn't have been. I feel like sometimes you get in situations where you can't be what they want you to be, at any given time. Sometimes you're not ready to be that, or sometimes you're not destined to be a certain thing, and I think that I feel bad at those moments. Especially in relationships with women, I've always felt that way.

    I've felt, "If I wasn't a musician I could love you, or I could be what you want." Sometimes with my parents I've felt that way. I feel so strongly about being myself in this way and I feel it's positive, but "You don't agree." Even with friends, sometimes I've felt bad. And in those moments I feel the need to ask for forgiveness: 'It's not that I don't see your perspective, it's just not who I am." Sometimes I feel bad about that.

    AAJ: Man'ish Boy has a great front cover design. There are three views of the same person's head. What does it mean?

    DJ: The artist, Randal Wilcox, and I are really good friends. We're two very intellectual black young men. And we're both artists. I didn't want my image on the record but I wanted the image of who I perceive myself to be. In a lot of ways I see myself as a boy, as someone that is growing, who's in a process of developing myself. So that's why he's not a grown man. He's a "man'ish boy," on the way. It's a conceptual thing. It's bigger than life itself for me. I'm a man'ish boy, my roommate, the artist [Wilcox], he's a man'ish boy. You're probably a man'ish boy.

    I said in this one interview, when they asked me about [the title] Man'ish Boy, "What brought that on?," I said, "Well at the age of five my mother said I'd be the greatest boy alive." It's a lyric and a tune by Muddy Waters, and for me, I think I have something to give the world as an artist. I feel so strongly about that. I feel like it's my calling to make music. I feel like it's a spiritual calling and it's my destiny to do it. Man'ish Boyis basically me touching on that and creating my own universe.

    The reason why he has three heads, it goes into many different things. There's a trio, so I'm playing with three people, these two [other] people who I connect with, and then there's also a very blatant kind of racial thing there where it's talking about being black and just feeling sometimes that you have three heads. You know, when people look at you. You feel alienated. And I think I feel that way, in a lot of ways.

    So really, [what] you're just seeing [is] Man'ish Boy is basically me working with [all] that and also showing, "these are some of my concepts for playing with a pianist," how I see that world. Man'ish Boy is a peek, man. It's a peek into the universe of Darius. Basically that's Chapter One. It's not the coup de grace; we have not gotten to the depths of it at all. I love that record. It makes me happy and I'm glad to have done it with my heroes. Man'ish Boy is a foreshadowing of many things to come. If you listen to the record you hear a lot of things. You hear a core idea, a core essence, and that's really what I wanted to do. You hear the core of me. But you don't hear everything.

    AAJ:The album has a subtitle, "A Raw And Beautiful Thing." Raw is beautiful?

    DJ: There's a raw side to me and there's a beautiful side. And there's tradition. I believe in the legacy of this music. But you should play with some older musicians. I really believe that. Whether or not you choose to play changes or play free you need to be aware of [earlier music]. [You need to be] conscious of that music. You need to have a certain historical understanding. Also, my thing will always be raw, because I'm organic. Anything that's organic is raw, man. It's not pristine. Raw is nasty!

    AAJ: You obviously like Muddy Waters' music?

    DJ: Muddy Waters was a great influence. The way he played the guitar was really raw. [And] Johnny Hodges, he was not a sophisticated guy. Look at the music he chose to play outside Ellington. Ol' Dirty Bastard [a member of hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan], I think he was a genius, man. I think what Betty Carter did was raw. Patti LaBelle is raw, Parliament and Funkadelic. And I can just keep going on. What you're looking at is R&B, rhythm and blues, man. Do I consider myself a free jazz musician? I consider myself a soul musician. I am the new soul musician. I am soul now, what I'm doing now is about soul. Raw and beautiful, rough and black. I'm talking about a lot of things. I'm talking about black music, folk music.

    AAJ: You obviously like the trio format. It's a useful format for a soloist, as it gives room for that person so he has maximum freedom.

    DJ: I've been playing trio for a very long time. Pretty much my first bands were trios, like bass and drums. They were my first jazz oriented groups. I think I've always liked guitar trios growing up, like blues trios. For me, it's really about understanding that relationship between bass and drums and the soloist. And I felt like if I could really get to a deep place with that, adding the keyboard or a chordal instrument would be easier. I feel like I would be able to understand its role and be not only able to play with it better but also be able to compose for it better and to understand its language within the rhythm section. So, when I was starting out, I wanted to really get a deep understanding of the bass role. What does a bass do, and how does that work with me? How do I and the bass work together with the drums?

    "I think I also fell in love with [the trio format] really after I heard Thomas Chapin's Trio and how much work he put into that format. That really changed my life—him playing trio, that band, Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin. All those Thomas Chapin records really affected me strongly." [Thomas Chapin was a free improvising saxophonist and flutist, influenced by Peter Brötzmann, amongst others].

    AAJ: Do you especially like the drums as an instrument?

    DJ: The drum for me is just so very intense. I want a drummer that can do a lot of things. Bob Moses is in many ways my perfect drummer, because he has an amazing unique sound, an approach to playing drums; he has everything else [too]. He has great time. He understands the role of the drum. He has power but he has extreme beauty and subtlety at the same time.

    Saxophone Influences

    AAJ: In a couple of places on Man'ish Boy you sound a little like Johnny Hodges, for example the beginning of "Roosevelt."

    From left: Anders Nilsson, Peter Nilsson, Darius Jones, Dave Ambrosio

    DJ: Johnny is my hero. He is my favorite saxophonist of all time. Everything about Johnny, the way he walks on stage, the way he walks up to the mike, he has this kind of "whatever" quality as he's playing. He doesn't really care. He's like, "Yeah, beautiful [stuff's] coming out of my horn but, whatever" [laughs]. I kind of like that. It's funny looking at him and hearing him play. Actually just listening to him play is some of the most beautiful—I think it's some of the most interesting playing of his time. I feel like that was the beginning of a person using extended technique. A lot of people think I'm crazy when I talk about that. I feel like he was using extended technique, really messing with the timbre of the instrument a lot, and that's something that's really important to me."

    AAJ: How did Johnny get that incredible sound, the smoothness and the bends, the glissandos?

    DJ: The way he played the horn, just from looking at [photos], he played on the very tip of the mouthpiece, which means he's looking for a lot of flexibility. He's not taking the mouthpiece really far into his mouth. So he's almost playing like a classical saxophonist is playing. He really understands the movement of air, and those bends and stuff he was doing then, which is some intense embouchure control. To really have that control over your sound, where you're able to vocalize it like that, like any note, it's a lot of embouchure control. It's something I work on all the time, really being able to get many different sounds out of one note—and really being able to bend the note upward and see how you can bend it downward, really understanding the different parameters of the note is something that I assume Johnny had to investigate on some level.

    In his vibrato, he had this really beautiful vibrato, which is a flexibility thing in the embouchure as well. I think he was a true master of the instrument. I think he understood a lot of mechanical things about the instrument. Unfortunately I haven't read any interviews where anyone has really talked to him about that.

    AAJ: One story about Johnny has it that, in a conversation, all he talked about was how hard it was to get good tomatoes in New York.

    DJ: From what I've heard about Johnny, he didn't think he was very smart. I think that had something to do with the reason why you don't hear a lot about in depth interviews. He didn't do a lot of interviews. I think he didn't see himself as a very smart person, which is crazy. He was innovative. No one sounded like that, at all. I used to have this recording of him and Charlie Parker playing together. It was the deepest thing ever. I lost it years ago—I had it on cassette when I was a kid. It was a collection of different alto players. And I really dug this thing. They just played the blues. It was amazing. It was amazing to hear that contrast, someone playing less notes and someone playing a lot more notes. And also one person just really dealing with sound, and another person dealing with harmonic movement. [The album is Jam Session (Verve, 1952), and features saxophonists Hodges, Parker, Benny Carter and Ben Webster].

    AAJ: Have you ever played tenor sax? A lot of people seem to go to the tenor but you're with the alto, which I actually prefer usually, for example Johnny, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley.

    DJ: I think I really hear the alto, man. I remember picking up a tenor saxophone and playing it for a few moments and just didn't really feel connected to it, and I have always gravitated more to alto players when I've been listening to them. I've always made the effort to hear what they're doing more than I've done with tenor players. I like to hear a tenor player too, but I think the alto just fits me. I love that voice range vocally. I think a woman's alto voice is absolutely the [stuff]. It doesn't get any better than that for me. That's my shit, man. Give me that all day long. Just a woman singing alto.

    AAJ: Which tenor players do you listen to?

    DJ: I love Sonny Rollins, I love Dexter Gordon a lot. I think Dexter is amazing. Older cats, Lester Young, Sam Rivers. I love Wayne Shorter because of his compositional mind. I think cats now, I'm really picky about tenor players. The cats that I really dig right now are Marc Schoen, Chris Speed, Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin. It's not a lot. It's a small amount of tenor players. Bill McHenry, I love his concept, the way he's playing tenor. I think with tenor players I'm looking for a concept. David S. Ware. I'm kind of hard on tenor players 'cause there are so many of them. They're like cockroaches!

    AAJ: How are you influenced by Charlie Parker?

    DJ: Charlie had an intense knowledge. [He] was really into the blues. I've pretty much listened to all the great alto players a lot. Charlie was one of the first, him and Johnny Hodges were probably [the two] when I was young, when I was growing up. Probably the first ones that I heard. And Charlie, what I liked about Charlie is that he played in this flowing manner, his playing was very flowing. It just flowed from one thing to the next. I heard his music very much like classical music but with this sort of raw quality to it. And little inflections that he would put into his music like that little chicken thing that he would do... 'dit a dit,' and stuff like that. I was young so I didn't know who he was, but I just liked it. I felt like he was very lyrical, [that he] understood how to be free but still be inside of the context that he was playing in.

    AAJ: He was a composer. I had this conversation with someone once, and we were saying that he was not really a"saxophonist; he was a composer. It was like listening to classical music. The saxophone was just the instrument by which he played his compositions to the world, how he educated people about how to use the higher notes in the chord in a tune, what could be done with them. What have you taken specifically from his playing?

    DJ: I think I've taken from Parker what everyone has taken from him, just [his] brilliance, and long lines. He played long lines, he played just lines that went on for a while sometimes. Just these huge lines. I remember just digging that and trying to do that all the time, just play these very notey clusters of notes, these long phrases, just really long extended phrases [that] Parker would do. And moments where he would do a flurry of notes to move the music forward, to always have this momentum. It makes me think about the contrast between him and Johnny Hodges, because Hodges' thing, it wasn't about getting to the end, it was about keeping you suspended.

    Also I like how, if you took the chords out of Charlie Parker's playing and just looked at the lines without any of the chords, it would be just out! It just would be all this chromaticism. It would be so out, actually. It just fascinated me. Someday I'll probably do something with that concept, just taking his stuff out of the chords and putting something else under it.

    I love live Charlie. I have this recording of him live with a big band. He's the soloist and he just sounds so free. He totally would have gone to the avant-garde thing. I think he was the greatest improviser, and I think he would have gone beyond changes at some point. If you hear what he's playing, he's actually trying to get away from them. He's trying to figure how he can be as free as possible in that context, and I think he would have just got further and further from that.

    There's so much about him. I was just thinking about him with my concept [of rawness, of organic-ness], [and] he for me represents a lot of just... raw possibilities. I think he changed everything. As a jazz musician he was so himself all the time. I think that was new. There were so few players like that. I think they were more bandleaders, like Duke and people like that who just had a strong personality, but I think Charlie was a player who had this persona just as a player. He didn't really write a lot of tunes. You were listening to him just as improvisor. And it's scary. You realize how connected improvisation is to composition and how this guy was really so exploring that on such a high level. He was so ahead of himself.

    AAJ: There is a book published in the '60s (Ira Gitler's excellent Jazz Masters Of The Forties) which has a quote that says that if Parker were alive today (in the the '60s) he would think he was living in a "room full of mirrors." He would hear everything he wrote coming back at him, and this certainly continued in the '70s, for example the "Sesame Street" theme. It sounds just like Charlie. I saw there are photos of you wearing a jacket in a Hodges-like pose. Charlie's suits were usually more crumpled!

    DJ: I think I'm more like a cross between Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker in some ways—my suit coat is usually crumpled too!

    AAJ: What about the next step in style after Charlie, Cannonball Adderley?

    DJ: OK, here we go. So this is the deal. I was into Hodges and I was a real serious Hodges fan. Charlie, I studied him, but damn man, I got into this serious phase of being into Cannonball. And the thing about him was he had a sound thing too. One of the things I love to point out about him was that you started hearing these top notes on his horn and he never really hit them. He kind of just screamed them out. On a tune like "Arriving Soon," he would just be like [imitates a semi-screeching sound]. It'd be in the chord, but the sound would be so completely not there. He's kind of not really hitting the note. And his feel, he would throw these phrases out that were sometimes odd. I mean, you'd be like "Is he going to be able to make that work?" and it would work—it would just work rhythmically a lot of times.

    And he had a really fascinating harmonic concept. I think he took a lot of chances and heard things [that were] out, a little bit obscured somewhat. He wasn't into harmony on some sort of crazy level, but I think his thing was really about rhythm and timing and feel. The way he played eighth note passages and the way he could bounce. He would get into these rhythmic things but that was very new too, playing just rhythm, like 'dit dit... dit... dit... dit... dit dit... dit... dit... dit dit... dit... dit dit... dit.' He would do that in a solo and I think that that was something new for an alto player. You don't hear that tremendously.

    If you listen to Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959), he gets into this thing where—I think it's on "All Blues"—he just starts doing this rhythmic thing and towards the end it just starts to become super rhythmic and it's playing around with these rhythms, with this rhythmic little motif, and I think that's really fascinating.

    And it's really blues orientated—his playing was still very blues oriented. I think I was very attracted to people that could really play the blues and he was one of them. He would really have that quality, and [he would] be able to dash into a line out of the blues vocal thing, and then do all these rhythmic lines. Even his more complicated lines were very rhythmic. He was trying to get to all these "rhythmicy" things. I think where you can really hear it, where he starts to get into that thing really hard, is on the very end of the secondary chorus, he starts to get into that quality [demonstrates vocally]. It's not like Charlie at all. Comparing these two cats is just wrong.

    Bird's thing was really inside. He was really rhythmically in the pocket all the time. He wasn't really—just checking out his transcriptions and listening to him—he wasn't really taking a lot rhythmic chances like Cannonball did. [Cannonball] was so rhythmically off kilter, wonky. He was unpredictable. His playing was super unpredictable. And that's exciting, to not know what's going to happen at all. I think there was a more refined quality to Charlie's playing versus Cannonball's. Cannonball has this, it's just getting raw.

    Growing Up In The South

    AAJ: Did you grow up in Virginia?

    DJ: I grew up in Virginia, pretty much. I went to Mississippi every summer because my great grandmother was there. And that was really out actually, because almost every summer I would get bit or stung or something would happen to me [laughs]. And that was country. I'm talking dirt roads, family. The grandmother lived on the top of the hill, and all her children, like some plantation style or vibe, lived at the bottom. All her children, and then their children. So it was very like some traditional Southern thing. And then we would go to North Carolina too, where my father's mother lives. My father's half is Jamaican. So I spent time there, I spent time in Jamaica. That's pretty much my growing up experience.

    From Bacteria to Boys, from left: Darius Jones, Mike Pride, Evan Lipson

    AAJ: Do you like reggae?

    DJ: I love it. I think a lot of those things influenced me. I grew up hearing, as a child, gospel music and reggae music all the time [laughs]. I don't know what happens to you when that happens to you but I think it's pretty intense. My parents weren't strict about that stuff. They really let me be open and check out a lot of different music. I really love reggae. I love vocal music. The vocal thing is a huge part of what I'm trying to do on my horn. Really getting to this distinct vocal quality is important to me. So growing up hearing reggae music and the sound of reggae singers, man. I mean, whoo! And in the spiritual context, a lot of guys in Jamaica, even though they really smoked a lot of ganja and stuff like that, they were so spiritual about it. The music was about getting high in a spiritual way as well. They wanted to touch God in a way. It was really important to them.

    AAJ: How did you get into jazz?

    DJ: My uncle played the saxophone and I spent a lot of time outside his bedroom just listening. He didn't really listen to jazz per se. His favorite saxophonist was Grover Washington Jr.. He would listen to him, and he would put on some David Sanborn, early Spyro Gyra. He put on some Parliament, some Funkadelic, some George Clinton , so I would hear Maceo Parker, and stuff like that. It's really eclectic. So really the saxophone was the draw. It was like, "OK, I'm going to play the saxophone." And then it was just seeking out other saxophone players. So it was, "OK, who plays the saxophone? Oh, these guys who are called jazz musicians." 'Cause nobody in my family knew anything about jazz. I'm still alone out here. They still don't, They couldn't tell you anything at all.

    So I went to the library, and I would get records and I would start just listening to people who played the instrument. And then we had this really great radio station, a college station, coming out of Norfolk State University campus. And I would listen to that. That's pretty much how it began. And it was very organic. Like I say, I believe in that process of organic movement, of letting things just become what they're gonna become, not forcing it to become anything but allowing it to progress the way it will progress, and that's what I would do. I was very curious; I would always be seeking out new things. If someone played something and I really dug it, I dug it. That meant that I would spend a lot of time with it, and try and figure it out and listen to it twenty four seven, until I could not stand hearing it again.

    So that's pretty much my jazz beginnings. It started like that. Of course, [it was also] by meeting certain people, like going to Norfolk State, meeting Tim Zachery [Professor of Music at Norfolk State], who's this great trumpet player [who] was associated with the Marsalises. I don't know how he knew them, but he was from New Orleans. I think he may have studied with Ellis Marsalis, or something like that, and he basically took me under his wing and exposed me to a lot of music. And that was deep. He was a huge transitional force for me. And that was organic, man. I met a person and he exposed me to [stuff]. It doesn't get any more natural than that.

    AAJ: Then you went to Richmond, to the Virginia Commonwealth University, and played in a group called the Klimt Experience [named after the painter Gustav Klimt].

    DJ: Klimt Experience was a multimedia thing I was doing when I was there, with painters, musicians, writers, dancers. All of us would do these shows. I had live body painting one time. It was a great experience. That was something that was very organic. I was just playing free. People started gravitating toward it. I think Richmond needed that. It's a pretty artsy town. When I describe my experience in Richmond, I say I tried everything that you could possibly imagine, that a person could do musically. There was no limit. I was completely and utterly open to everything. I transferred from Norfolk State to Virginia Commonwealth University, which is in Richmond, and I was there for six years. I got my bachelor degree there.

    You see, even though I was at school, I always believed that the music that I was making came from the street. I never felt jazz was academic. I don't feel it should [be] a cerebral music. I had several bands. I had a trio which was named Cud. I had a quartet with trumpet, alto, bass and drums. That was called Little Brown Boy, and we did basically nursery rhyme music. We did tunes that were based off of nursery rhymes. I believe in folk music and I'm very fascinated by folk music in general. Really, nursery rhymes and things like that are nothing but folk music.

    Then I spent a long time with this electro-acoustic duo with Marty McCavitt, called Birds in a Meadow. It was just laptop and saxophone, and I did that for a long time. That truly was a huge influence on me, in the sense of really making things super organic. Dealing with electronics, you understand how electronics [are] an event-based system of improvisation. So basically, if you were to compare it to an instrument, I could hit a C but if he wants to hit C, C is a bigger world than just one thing. C could be four or three things going at once. C to electronics is "bah wah wah wah wah," rather than just [sings one note]. It's never a single thing. It can't reduce itself to [a single note], 'cause you're dealing with electricity. Electricity is more than just one thing.

    Marty McCavitt was a genius. The duos that we got into, our improvisations, were literally humanistic. We were improvising like one mind. That was deep man. I have some recordings that are mind boggling. People can't understand how we are functioning as such a tight unit, interweaving, I'm going inside of him, he's going inside of what I'm doing. It's amazing. I was doing that for three years, before I moved to New York. We spent lot of time developing that project. It was very serious for me, to figure out how to connect, and create an organic experience with the electronics. Vijay Iyer heard this duo and he flipped out. There's one live recording we have. You would flip out if you heard it. I remember the evening when we did it. It was the deepest spiritual experience that I've ever had.

    AAJ: Is it likely to be released?

    DJ: If I was going to release it, I'd like to tour with it. It's some of the deepest interconnecting in that electro-acoustic world, because I don't use any effects and he just used the laptop and we were getting into such a heavy vibe. He's much older than me. I think at the time he was in his late 50s. I've always had this thing about working with older dudes.

    AAJ: Then you came to New York?

    DJ: When I came to New York I hit the ground running. Maybe within a year it was the first sessions with Little Women. I started playing trio with [the] bassist Shayna Dulberger. A lot of things started unfolding. As far as doing my own stuff, I didn't feel ready until maybe about two years ago [to say], "OK let's deal with some Darius [stuff]." It's such a big place and there's so much music. I was trying to center myself.

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