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Doug Wamble: A New Direction

Matthew Warnock By

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It's never easy for an established artist to make a change in their musical output mid-career, especially if up until that point they have made a name for themselves in the realm of traditional jazz. While some of these artists make a switch because for monetary reasons or to reach a wider audience, others are drawn to a new and exciting sound that they feel the need to explore further and share with their fans, both old and new.

Guitarist Doug Wamble is an artist who firmly sits in this second category of performer, and his 2010 self-titled album, on E1 Music, showcases his new musical direction, one that is more in line with Jeff Buckley than Charlie Christian.

Making the switch from a traditional jazz guitarist, who cut his teeth by playing with such luminaries as Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis, and Cassandra Wilson, was a fairly easy choice, though one that Wamble might not have been able to make earlier in his career, as he was a dogmatic supporter of the traditional jazz genre. While there are some who won't quite understand Wamble's new direction, upon hearing the album it is very clear that this is not an attempt to sell out in any way—these songs were written and performed from the heart, and the genuine nature behind them comes out in every word, every chord, and every beat on the record.

Though he is not giving up jazz guitar—as he continues to tour and record as a highly sought-after sideman and bandleader—Wamble is showing a new side to his artistic personality with this record. And, judging by his enthusiasm—and the reaction from critics and audiences—it is a musical path that the guitarist will continue to follow for years to come.

All About Jazz: On your self-titled album, your playing is less traditional than it has been in the past. You've mentioned that you have gone through a musical transformation over the past decade or so from a jazz purist to the multifaceted player that you are today. What prompted you to make this switch and move your playing into this new direction?

Doug Wamble: I think that particularly, for someone like me, who came to jazz through Wynton Marsalis' music, which is kind of all or nothing, that I was really focused on the tradition of jazz in a historical sense, and that's still there in my life. But, I've grown as a player in new directions, though I've never really wanted to make a record where I do jazz covers of Radiohead songs; that sort of thing never really appealed to me much. I just like to play all kinds of different music. There are so many people that really come up playing jazz and are now exploring other things without making it a fusion sort of thing, and I don't mean that in the '70s fusion sort of way, but more of a pop-jazz record, or a jazz record with pop songs on it.

For me, I had a period of time, a few years ago, where I was on a break from touring and totally slowed down. I was at home a lot. I had a couple of knee surgeries that took me out of my normal routine, which was writing and rehearsing songs for a jazz band that was on the road. I was listening to a lot of singer-songwriter music, probably more so than jazz, but I've always listened to a lot of that style of music, guys like Jeff Buckley and John Mayer. I'm a fan. I like the guy, he's a great songwriter. I was just sitting at home more, I wasn't on the road, and I was thinking about how I could make the band better, and I just started writing these songs that took me in a new direction. I would get up in the morning and practice Bach music on the guitar and then I started writing these other songs.

All through that, I'm still working as a jazz musician with other people, but I wound up with this batch of songs, and I had planned on using some of these songs for another project, but the label kept delaying the record and so I didn't think that would ever happen and so I moved to a different label, where I decided to do something completely different. It wasn't something that I had planned on, but I saw the opportunity to move outside of my comfort zone and so I took it.

AAJ: Was it a bit strange, going from thinking of yourself as a jazz musician to thinking of yourself as a singer-songwriter?

DW: It was a little strange because for so many years I would answer the question "What do you do?" with, I'm a jazz musician, and there's a level of pride that goes along with that statement. It's funny because now people look at it from a lot of different perspectives. After they hear the record, a lot of people say, "Oh, so you're not playing jazz anymore." Like I can't do both things at the same time, they feel that there has to be barriers around all of this stuff all the time.

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