AAJ: Tell us about Aka Moon.
DG:That's a cool project because it's me, Pierre Van Dormael and Prasanna (www.guitarprasanna.com) on there playing basically their music. It's somewhat reminiscent of Five Elements type stuff. They're from Belgium. It's Fabrizio Cassol on alto, Michel Hatzigeorgiou on bass, and Stephane Galland on drums. They borrow heavily from African and Indian concepts.
AAJ: And in fact they travel there to play with them right?
DG:Yes. They're named after a band of pygmies they lived with in central Africa.. They go to India regularly they really study the music. Stephane especially is ridiculous, like a European Marvin Smitty Smith.
AAJ: Do you teach?
DG: I was thinking about possibly doing a bit more of it. I'm a bit at odds with academia and how it relates to music, with the whole concept. It seems to me, like, why do you need a degree in music, and now even Masters and a Doctorate, in order to teach? Let's be real. The best teachers are the ones who've gotten their masters on the road. That's what I like about the New School. They have a roster of working jazz musicians. I teach there and at City College too. Also, Ralph Alessi and Peter Epstein started a thing called The School for Improvisational Music (ww.schoolforimprovisationalmusic.org)
AAJ: So even though you're at odds with academia you're going to work there?
DG: Well, see now, that's the thing. This is run by, basically, and features classes and workshops by, performing artists and educators- Steve Coleman Don Byron, Uri, Jim Black, Billy Hart, tons of people. Last year, classes were held at the Knitting Factory- a series of workshops basically. I had trumpet students and bass students that wanted to study. I like teaching what I'm passionate about.
There are some high points in the teaching game but I am not into overanalyzing shit. Ok, you have got to learn your scales and modes, learn all your basic stuff, but then you have got to listen to how to apply it. You've got to transcribe solos..no way around it. If you want to be a jazz improviser you have to learn from the masters. Then, you have to play with people...who are better than you. You have to put yourself in an environment where you get your ass kicked.
AAJ: Sounds like learning how to play basketball! (laughs)
DG: Sometimes students want some secret formula that you're not gonna get in a school environment, that you're not going to get living in Iowa.
AAJ: Hey, I've been there. I've been one of the guys who wants the information but just doesn't have the skills in place at that moment to absorb it.
DG: That's why this school is so good. They meet and play and perform among themselves and also with faculty, too. Auditions are by tape, so you have to be at a certain level of feel and creativity to attend. Of course, there's no degree, but you just might learn more than you ever learned somewhere else. I've done master classes at the New Schools and I'm on their roster. That's a great place as well. I wish I'd gone there instead of NYU.
AAJ: Summing up, what do you feel are the elements of your signature sound? We already covered this with some of the rhythmic things in your phrasing.
DG: Some people play the way they talk. I think I do as well, I go on tangents and different directions. I'm conscious of trying to do something different, not playing it straight. I forgot to mention that Monk is a big influence on my rhythmic concepts as well, like what he'd do with just a few short riffs and his sense of rhythmic displacement.
It's nice to get emails every once and awhile from people who say they've been listening all these years and that I've influenced their playing. It's nice to know, because I feel like I'm just beginning. It's all new to me as a bandleader. I'm juiced. I'm excited about it. I encourage musicians to follow their musical destiny, so to speak, but it's tough to keep the path. For me it was never a choice. I had to do what interested me. I got into music cause I loved music, Not to make money or whatever... When I see these young lions, or whatever... these artists conforming to what record companies telling them what to do..it's just sad. We need more creativity, not less. There's not too many people leading the path. I wish there were more Unfortunately, the environment just isn't set up that way. It's hard to put the two together.
AAJ: Are you looking at yourself as one of the leaders?
DG: Well, I just want to do something that represents me that I'm proud of. I mean if I'm going to do an independent record it better be something I want to do, a truthful representation. For me to do what I really wanted to do, it took this long to really get there. So be it.
AAJ: But you've been a shining light in every band you've been in.
DG: Except my own (laughs). But face it...why should musicianship equate to financial gain. They are usually not related although they can be when everything dovetails. Also, the government here doesn't support the arts like they do in Europe. Fabrizio from Aka Moon gets lots of commissions. I'm exploring some of the grant opportunities a bit more now. New York, for example, has a lot of grant money floating around for artists.
But getting back to the point, there is a select audience for anything that's highly creative and detailed. People don't go in droves to the Met but they'll line up around the block to get the latest from Hollywood. Fine art takes time, patience and appreciation, so it's not surprising that people have to do things like teaching to make a living. I mean, the greatest players in the world can be famous, or they could be fixing your sink. Personally, I just will not accept doing anything but what I'm doing.