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David Crosby: A Revitalized Creativity

Mike Jacobs By

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In the same way war drags us down and brings out the very worst in human beings, so music lifts you up and brings out the very best—and if I can bring more music to the scene then that’s what I’m gonna do... —David Crosby
David Crosby has had—and is still having—quite a long and storied career. While many musicians obviously have had those too, music doesn't always come out on top for many at this late stage of the game. It has though for Mr. Crosby—quite conspicuously.

All About Jazz had a conversation with the seemingly unstoppable music icon about his influences, jazz fandom and new found inspiration at this part of his journey.

All About Jazz: In the past five years, you've released four albums that contain some if the most vibrant and eclectic music of your career. How do you account for such a surge of creativity at this point in your life?

David Crosby: The surge I think comes from two things. For one, towards the end of Crosby, Stills and Nash, we weren't like friends and it wasn't working so I didn't feel like I could take a song there. As a result I had a real build up of songs or song ideas so... I did have some stuff.

Secondly, I think the main reason for the surge is that I've been working with unbelievably talented young people that I've met starting with my son, James Raymond, who produces the electric Sky Trails band's records. We've done two of those now and we're pretty thrilled with the records. They're doing pretty well, people seem to like it. Also within that band I write with our guitarist Jeff Pevar, our bassist Mai Leisz and our keyboard player Michelle Willis—who I also write with in the acoustic [Lighthouse] band.

The acoustic Lighthouse Band is run by Michael League—bassist, composer and bandleader of a jazz band called Snarky Puppy. I'm sure you've heard of him...

AAJ: Yeah, sure. We did an interview with him just a couple of weeks ago as a matter of fact...

DC: Wonderful cat, exemplary musician, really nice human being. So many great cats in that band, they do wonderful music. So he and I hit it off and I asked him to produce a record of music for me [Lighthouse, (GroundUp Music, 2016)]. That went very well—we wrote like three songs in the first three days we spent together. So I asked him if we could do another record but this time it wouldn't be a David Crosby record with him producing and backing me with Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis joining in. I wanted to do a group record with everybody writing and everybody singing because Michelle and Becca are incredibly talented -and so is Michael.

So we did this last Lighthouse record with all four of us together and it was a spectacular success for me. It's a really good record. It's called Here If You Listen (BMG, 2018) and I really like it.

So, [in terms of this surge of creativity], I think my willingness to work with these other people has a lot to do with it. Imagine you're a painter with a palette, and you've got seven colors on it and you meet up with another painter and they've got seven different colors. If you paint together, you've got fourteen colors—it's a better painting. What happens with me is that when I work with somebody else they inevitably think of things that I didn't think of, it widens the scope and increases the number of possibilities. To me, that's a positive thing.

AAJ: It seems there are many at similar stages in their careers who might not be very willing to try new collaborations as you have...

DC: There are a lot of people who don't want to do it because they want all of the money and all of the credit. I don't really care about that, I care about really good songs. I think those people are missing out on something. The effect on me has just been terrific. I've been all over the map, writing all kinds of stuff. I've been going places I would never have gone, producing art that I love. And that's really the bottom line, you know.... I don't know why I'm doing it in one sense because they don't pay me for records anymore. The streaming thing has just killed it... But it's still my art form, it's still what I'm going to leave behind. That's important to me. I love doing it so I'm going to keep doing it and we're writing another record, a fifth one, right now. It will be releasing this Summer (2019).

AAJ: Do you have a title yet?

DC: I don't have a title for it yet but it's going to be a SkyTrails record, an electric record with James Raymond producing.

AAJ: Your two previous Raymond-produced albums Croz (Blue Castle, 2014) and Sky Trails (BMG, 2017) explored a bit outside your previous comfort zones, at times exuding a surprising Steely Dan vibe. That's quite a departure for you...

DC: I love Steely Dan though, man, I love 'em! It's hard not to. You're a jazz fan, you like complex music. You like interesting stuff, not just simple three-chord bullshit. I mean, Steely Dan—pretty hard to beat that writing. Those guys wrote some of the best songs I've ever heard in my life.

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