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Dave Douglas: From Revolution to Revelation

Ludovico Granvassu By

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Each person's revolution is a personal revelation. That's the thing that we try to get to, day after day, in this music.
A bird's eye view of the artistic path carved over the years by Dave Douglas reveals both the density and the breadth of his interests. Like tributaries flowing through a complex maze into a sprawling lake, each one of his countless projects explores a different sonic aspect of contemporary music. Yet, they all move towards a common destination and are pushed by a single force, the quest for a personal synthesis that creates unity out of diversity. Ever the tireless explorer, Dave Douglas can be found rambling in the wide-open spaces created by The Westerlies (Little Giant Still Life -2017, Greenleaf Music) just a few months after rattling down the canyons of sound created by producer and beat maker Shigeto (Dark Territory -2016, Greenleaf Music) or taking a time machine to bring back artifacts from the Middle Ages (Fabliaux -2015, Greenleaf Music).

At regular intervals, Douglas' discography, however, pays tribute to masters like Wayne Shorter in Stargazer (1997, Arabesque) and Sound Prints, his collaborative project with Joe Lovano (2015, Blue Note), Booker Little in In Our Lifetime (1995, New World) or Mary Lou Williams in Soul on Soul (2000, RCA Victor). In these projects Douglas finds both an opportunity to play compositions he loves and the possibility to draw inspiration from the spirit of artists who, like him, pushed the envelope of jazz in their own times and ways. We reached out to Dave Douglas to talk about his latest endeavors: the upcoming tribute to the music of Dizzy Gillespie, "Dizzy's Atmosphere," which he is about to premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center with Ambrose Akinmusire, Gerald Clayton, Bill Frisell, Linda May Han Oh and Joey Baron; and Scandal, the second release of the Sound Prints project with Joe Lovano.

To listen to the music of Scandal as well as to excerpts of this interview play the archived podcast of Mondo Jazz (starting at 8:05).

All About Jazz: How did the Dizzy's Atmosphere project come about? The line up is stellar, how did you choose the other musicians for this project?

Dave Douglas: The five musicians who will be joining me, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gerald Clayton, Bill Frisell, Linda May Han Oh and Joey Baron, are the first people I thought of when I started working on this project. In re-imagining the music of Dizzy Gillespie, and also creating new compositions, I wanted to be side by side with another trumpet player. I feel a kinship with Ambrose Akinmusire. The feeling that I get from listening to Ambrose's music is that he is coming at it just purely from wanting to say something personal and of his own, and I really appreciate that. It's where I've always been coming from. More than anything else, I'm really looking forward to hearing the different ways that he and I will approach the music as trumpet players. I am equally excited to hear Bill Frisell and Gerald Clayton playing this music and to perform with Linda May Han Oh and Joey Baron. They're musicians who I love to interact with.

AAJ: February seems to have become Dave Douglas' month at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Last year you brought there "Metamorphosis." This year "Dizzy's Atmosphere." Last year you played there with Wadada Leo Smith. This year you'll be with Ambrose Akinmusire. Is this partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center a platform to continue the championing of jazz trumpet which you have carried out, for instance, through the Festival of New Trumpet Music?

DD: The collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center has been a wonderful surprise. It has been an open invitation to do some exploratory work in a setting that is unlike any other setting in New York, or anywhere else around the world. It has allowed me to envision some different kinds of groups, especially this year. This project is part of the celebration of Dizzy Gillespie for jazz at Lincoln Center.

Over a number of years Jazz at Lincoln Center has been opening up to different kinds of sounds and to new kinds of contributions to the canon of jazz music. I'm grateful to be a small part of that. Besides "Dizzy's Atmosphere," it has allowed me to play there with Joe Lovano for the Sound Prints project, but also to teach a composition class at the Julliard jazz program and to host the Festival of New Trumpet Music at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola for the past several years. So I'm very happy to be on that part of Manhattan island more often than I have ever been in the past [laughs].

As far as Wadada and Ambrose are concerned, these are musicians that I love. I have not invited them because they play the trumpet, even though, as I continue to write and play, I do certainly appreciate other people who are applying this instrument in a different way than I have in the past.

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