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Dave Douglas: From Revolution to Revelation

Ludovico Granvassu By

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AAJ: You are a progressive musician, very forward looking. Over the years you've been carving a very personal path. What is it that inspires you when you revisit the music of masters like Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams or Booker Little?

DD: That music is very much alive for me. When I play it, it's a way for me to say "I'm so in love with this music. Let me get as close to it as I can and see if I can tell somebody else why they should love it as much as I do!" My way of doing that is to focus on my feelings about that music, and put them through a prism. When I played the repertoire of Mary Lou Williams, I wrote some arrangements of her pieces as well as a number of originals after having spent time thinking about the way she used melody, harmony, rhythm, improvisation, timbre, density, and about the different phases of her life. I tried as best as I could to understand what she went through to get to that music. In the case of "Dizzy's Atmosphere" my starting point was asking myself "We're in 2018. Why is it important that we continue to try to understand Dizzy Gillespie and to listen to his compositions? What is it about that music that is so special? How can we contribute something of our own to it in order to keep that vision alive?"

AAJ: So, in a way, you are looking at these masters of the past as examples of forward-looking artists to draw an inspiration from, not only in terms of repertoire but, more importantly, in terms of vision and attitude?

DD: All of these artists were visionaries, progressives, at the very forefront of their field. So I don't feel like I'm looking back. I feel like I'm looking at something that's very contemporary. Each person's revolution is a personal revelation. That's the thing that we try to get to, day after day, in this music. Take Italian pianist Franco D'Andrea, for instance. He's older than me, but when I play with him I feel like I'm playing with someone who is as revolutionary as any other true artist I play with.

Going back to Dizzy Gillespie, how can you look at Dizzy's life without thinking that there was a social impact, an awareness around his work and comparing that with the environment in which we are operating now. We are making choices about what is going to happen to our planet and to vulnerable communities. Choices about how we are going to valorize culture and the humanities as we go forward as a species. I think those things are the reason that music and the arts exist and I don't see any project that I do as being any more or less socially conscious on that level. A good improvising group of musicians is the perfect model of how society can work. We come up as improvisers learning that we have to figure out how to work together. We all come into it with our different visions of what a good sound is and what procedures should be and what the end result would be, but we learn to collaborate and work together towards a common result that is good. And I think that that's what we should hope our leaders can learn to do as well.

AAJ: Why did you choose the subtitle "Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity" for "Dizzy's Atmosphere"?

DD: Wayne Shorter has been a guiding star for me over many years. "Zero Gravity" is the term that he has been using to talk about his music and his approach. I can't presume to sit here and tell you that I have the complete understanding of what that means. I see it as a metaphor. It's a way of thinking about making music, which you can hear in Wayne and his amazing playing with his band; now more then ever they're playing with so much freedom... I hope to be able to do the same when we'll play "Dazzy's Atmosphere" and that we will not be holding onto anything, that we'll be playing this music with an incredible sense of freedom, fearlessness, without grasping on anything, being completely naked and vulnerable, putting the music out there.

AAJ: How are you going to approach Dizzy's repertoire for this project?

DD: I didn't want to take a masterpiece like "Manteca" and just play it the way Dizzy Gillespie played it in 1957 at Newport, for example, which is my favorite recording of it. I feel that there's still a lot more that can be done with it. And so I'm trying to open up the bonds of the music and let these great improvisers that play with me find some new paths in there... in zero gravity.

AAJ: Speaking of Wayne Shorter, you are about to release the second chapter of Sound Prints, the band dedicated to his music that you co-lead with Joe Lovano. How will the new album, Scandal (Greenleaf Music), differ from Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (Blue Note -2015)?

DD: The first Sound Prints album was recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival. We had two commissioned new works from Wayne Shorter that we were playing on that record. For Scandal we wanted to document all the experiences that we've had on the road playing that music together. So Joe and I each brought to the session five compositions and we each made an arrangement of a Blue-Note-era Wayne Shorter tune. I made a new arrangement of "Fee Fi Fo Fum" and Joe made an arrangement of "JuJu." You can hear that it's clearly the same band, but I think it's also taking several steps forward and it has become our statement about Wayne and his music, and perhaps also about the state of music now.

Photo credit: Roberto Cifarelli

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