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Dave King: We do music, so we know music

Ben Scholz By

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I’ve always felt like the music will say what it needs to say, and taking yourself too seriously doesn’t do the music any real kind of justice. —Dave King
Ever the emphatic artist, drummer Dave King is most famous as a founding member of the contemporary trio The Bad Plus. Rooted in jazz, The Bad Plus has taken creative music to a new abstract height, examining reinterpretations of works by artists as diverse as Stravinsky, Nirvana and Tears for Fears. However, his re-definition of a performing musician's role has not been limited to TB+, his personal side projects, or even the drum set. In this article, we'll explore Dave's love of comedy, visual art, and the creative process behind his music.

All About Jazz: The first time I saw you perform with The Bad Plus was at The Old Town School of Folk Music and I remember coming away from that performance thinking "Wow, these guys must have rehearsed these songs a thousand times before they performed them live." Can you give me a window into your preparation process when it comes to learning new material?

Dave King: Sure, one thing that's interesting is the fact that we don't rehearse very much. A lot of people talk about how the music sounds like something that we've run many times, and that's really not true. Everyone in the group learns music really quickly, and we have a long history of playing together as a band. When you have a working band, these are some of the "fruits" of sticking together. You can develop a process that not only moves quickly but also benefits from the fact that we understand each other. There's no second guessing what the motive is.

Typically, everyone writes separately. So, everyone in the band is a composer and when we have new music we rehearse it at sound check. I might sit at the piano with Ethan Iverson, sometimes there are charts, sometimes not. My music typically doesn't have charts because Ethan and I tend to learn by rote memory. One of the benefits to learning things by rote is that it really helps us memorize and develop skills. I will typically sit at the piano and play my music for them. Reid Anderson typically brings out charts for his music and Ethan sometimes has charts for his music. I've used charts a few times, but only when I've had something that people really need to look at.

Basically, we bring new music in and shed it at sound check. If everyone's feeling ok the day we learn it, we'll try it that night. That's sort of the trial by fire that we're into. Typically when we play live shows we do play new, unrecorded music in order to keep things fresh. Because we tour so much, and don't want to be one of those bands that plays the same music every night, we write a different set every show. Now that we have so many records and have been around for so long, its really fun to think about stuff we haven't played in a while. Sometimes we'll get requests for things and we'll have to remember old songs really quickly. With the exception of "The Rite of Spring," we never have charts on stage. That's the one thing we don't do.

AAJ: I was fortunate enough to perform at The Artist's Quarter in St. Paul before they closed last year. I know that you're from Minneapolis, can you talk about your history with the Twin Cities' music scene and what that club meant to the musicians in St. Paul/Minneapolis?

DK: Well, The Artist's Quarter's closing left a huge hole in the local music scene. That club meant a great deal to the creative musicians here, number one because it was a club run by musicians. There was no restaurant, it was just an old school jazz club. Just drinks, a stage, and a nice piano. It had room for 200 plus people, yet it was intimate and it was where I developed a lot of my groups. The first Bad Plus shows were at The Artist's Quarter back when we just went by our names. We weren't even called The Bad Plus yet. Those guys would fly in from New York and I had moved back to Minneapolis from Los Angeles. This would have been in the mid 90's. I started playing there again right away and they were really supportive of my band Happy Apple. That band kind of grew out of that club.

The Twin Cities area is famous for its music scene and The Artists' Quarter was a great place for jazz and creative music. The scene is well known for rock and hip-hop, however there is a strong contingency of jazz musicians here, so it was a really important place. I'm glad you had a chance to play there because it was one of the great jazz clubs in America. It wasn't corporate-y or anything, you know? We're all feeling it, I'm raising my children here and there's no place like that for them to hear this music. I played there for years with people like Anthony Cox and Bill Carrothers, and it was a real breeding ground for the music. Heavyweights like Roy Haynes were friends with the family that owned the club and they'd play The Artists' Quarter every time they came through town. Now there aren't a lot of options other than the higher-ticket price type of places that can afford to bring in touring acts. So yeah, we're feeling it. We're feeling the loss.

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