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Meet David Richardson

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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When I was in high school, Buddy Rich came to play at our school. As I was working in Audio Visual, I had an opportunity to try to get an autograph from him. I approached him and directly asked him for his autograph. He smiled at me and said, "Get away from me, kid." I should have been insulted but I took it as a badge of honor.
Wherever he goes, David Richardson makes it his business to seek out the best in jazz. From Siberia, Moscow, and St. Petersburg to Costa Rica, Europe to the U.S., you'll find him meeting up with fellow jazz-loving Facebook friends, following his favorite musicians, and finding new places to listen. But his obsession with jazz doesn't end with being a consumer: he started a company called The Real Jazz Ambassadors to make documentaries about beloved musicians, one of whom is the artist whose 1959 hit record turned four-year-old David into a lifelong jazz fan. Wondering who that might be? Read on!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up a military brat, living in Germany, Alaska, Ft. Knox, and Willingboro, NJ. In 1975, after high school, I joined the Army and trained to become a Russian linguist. I served in Berlin, Karlsruhe, and Ft. Hood, Texas, eventually becoming an infantry officer through the ROTC, and serving with the Second Armored Division in Ft. Hood.

After leaving active duty in 1987, I started to work with computers as an Oracle database specialist, and have continued working as an independent contractor for the past 30 years. Because of my continuing interest in Russia, in 2002 I moved to the city of Tomsk, in Siberia, where I taught conversational English at two universities. I became acquainted with the Russian jazz artist, Igor Butman, when he played in Tomsk in 2002.

While at Tomsk Polytechnic University I was asked to participate in a commission to evaluate the language program and make a report of my findings. Being quite naïve, I told the truth and was immediately fired and expelled from Russia. I was basically banished to Vilnius, Lithuania for two months, while I obtained a new visa, and then returned to Russia and sued the university for wrongful termination. Not only did I win the suit, but through my attorney I was introduced to my future wife, Anzhelika, who assisted me in starting a computer business. After Russia, Anzhelika and I lived in Costa Rica for several years, and in 2008 we moved to Nashua, NH, where we live with our eight-year-old daughter.

What's your earliest memory of music?
My mother was a pianist and singer, so I was always surrounded by music. In Germany we always listened to Armed Forces Radio and Willis Conover on the Voice of America. In Alaska, in the early '60s, we used to have shows in our basement with the neighborhood kids, miming to The Beatles, Herman's Hermits and others.

When I returned to the "lower 48" in 1968 I started to study the clarinet. From that time through the end of high school I was always a member of the school band. In 1970 my mother gifted me her childhood Chickering studio grand piano and I started to teach myself how to play, mostly learning by listening to every Stevie Wonder record I could find.

How old were you when you got your first record?
My first record was Take 5 by Dave Brubeck. It was a 45 with "Blue Rondo à la Turk" on the B-side. I got it in 1961 when I was four-and-a-half. My parents gave it to me because I was so in love with the quartet's Time Out album.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
Brubeck's Time Out , in December 1961. My favorite song on the album was "Strange Meadowlark." I first heard the album on Armed Forces Radio while we lived in Germany, and when we got it I bugged my parents to play it all the time.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
My high school social studies teacher, Ty Belford, was pretty connected to show business. He brought a lot of different groups to perform, and I was part of the audio visual group, which did lights and sound. So I got into concerts with Buddy Rich, Chuck Mangione, Cal Tjader, Phyllis Hyman, Dave Brubeck, and others. But it wasn't until I joined the Army and traveled to Berlin that I got my first real chance to go out to jazz clubs to see live music live shows.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
It was sometime in 1966, when Lou Rawls came to perform in Ft. Richardson, Alaska, I believe on his way to perform in Vietnam. He sang a song that became one of my favorites, ""The Shadow Of Your Smile." (I later learned to play it on my new clarinet!) Apparently, Rawls was a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne, and that was one reason he made a point of playing at Army locations.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
I try to see something once a week, especially when I am traveling; I like to discover new venues, where I often find something surprising. This happens especially when I am in Europe and Russia. It seems there are a lot more venues to discover than in the United States.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
It's amazing to watch musicians take a standard and make it their own song with their unique improvisations. I am constantly amazed at the level of skill that I see in so many jazz musicians, and I appreciate that it's not only hard work, but also an innate ability to internalize the songs.

What is the farthest you've traveled to get to a jazz performance?
Once when I was in Moscow I decided to surprise Allan Harris and Ark Ovrutski who were playing a gig in Odessa, Ukraine. I had to fly from a relatively new airport in Moscow to Minsk, and then on to Odessa. I had arranged for the hotel where the concert was occurring to have a driver pick me up, and we navigated slowly through Odessa till we reached the hotel. As I was checking in, I heard Allan Harris's voice behind me saying, "I thought I was the only black person in Odessa...."

Except for the local pianist, I knew all the musicians, and there were several of my Facebook jazz friends at the concert as well. All in all, it was an excellent experience, with incredible live music.

Is there one concert that got away that you still regret having missed?
There was a festival in Shanghai a couple of years back that featured Tina May and Igor Butman that I really wanted to go to. I had not been in Asia for about a decade, and I had some local friends that I really wanted to see as well; it would have been the perfect time and venue for all of that to come together.

If you could go back in time and hear one of the jazz legends perform live, who would it be?
Over the years I had been following the pianist, Eddie Higgins, and always seemed to miss his performances. I finally got tickets to a performance in early September 2009 in Florida during an Art Show given by his wife, the great jazz singer Meredith d'Ambrosio. Sadly, before the concert, Eddie passed away, and I forever lost the opportunity to see and meet him in real life. I had been communicating with him through email for a couple of years, so I did have the chance to tell him how much I appreciated his talent.

What makes a great jazz club?

I actually have two favorite jazz clubs, both in Moscow. I love Esse Jazz Club because it has just a great ambiance, and the staff knows exactly what I want (double Jack Daniels with Coke, and Chicken Kiev), and they always have great acts and bring in a lot of American talent. Next is Club Igor Butman; I started to go to this club because I've known Igor for over 15 years and he keeps bringing such amazing and talented acts to his club. I love both places because I always get a chance to interact with the musicians and they are usually pretty ecstatic to hear the musical opinion of an American.

Which club(s) are you most regularly to be found at?

When I am in Boston I will be at Ryles, Scullers, Regattabar, or Wally's. When in Moscow I am always at Esse and Club Igor Butman, but I try to also get to JAM club and Club Kozlov. In St. Petersburg it is always Dom 7, JFC, and The Hat Club. In Costa Rica I can always be found at the Jazz Café in San Pedro (there is also one in Escuzu, but I have never found the chance to get to that one).

Is there a club that's no longer around that you miss the most?

In the Boston area we had the Acton Jazz Café and while I did not know it for long (I only started to go there in 2009) I always loved it because I got to take my daughter Cynthia—even before she was born! I also developed a lot of friendships with local musicians at this club and they helped introduce me to the Boston Jazz scene.

Tell us about The Real Jazz Ambassadors.
About two years ago I started a company called The Real Jazz Ambassadors, LLC, because I had an idea about producing a documentary commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1958 jazz tour of Dave Brubeck in Poland. I produced a promotional documentary with Darius Brubeck with the hope of filming a full-length documentary this year of Darius retracing the steps of the tour he went on with his father when he was 11 years old.

Recently I filmed a new documentary called Portrait of a Jazz Artist: Innokenty Ivanov, which follows a Moscow-based Ukrainian jazz artist performing at the Jazz Province Festival, and in the recording studio recording "Cuban Fantasy," a song composed by my good friend Robin Blakeman, a UK saxophonist.

How do you discover new artists?

With Facebook and Youtube it has become easy. But in Russia I just go out to the clubs because every show allows me to further my jazz friendships with new artists.

If you were a professional musician, which instrument would you play and why?

Hands down it would be the piano. I've always had an affinity for that instrument as far back as I can remember, and really started to attempt to learn it back in the early 1970's when I was introduced to the music of Stevie Wonder. I recall sitting for hours listening to an LP over and over again just to get the right notes and chords from a song.

What's your desert island disc?

In this day and age, I have all my favorites just sitting on my telephone... but if I was forced to choose I would pick either The Intimate Ella or Ella and Oscar. Or Crystal by Ahmad Jamal or Innervisions by Stevie Wonder...or...man, I would just have to find a way to keep the darned cellphone charged!

Do you have a favorite jazz anecdote?

When I was in high school, Buddy Rich came to play at our school and I was enthralled. As I was working in Audio Visual, I had an opportunity to try to get an autograph from him. He had a young blond woman on his arm when I approached him and directly asked him for his autograph. He smiled at me and said, "Get away from me kid." I should have been insulted but I took it as a badge of honor—I had experienced up close his acerbic wit.

What do you think keeps jazz alive and thriving?

I think that the influx of international artists into the genre has pumped new life into jazz. This is why I so love traveling to Russia and other countries to see all sorts of talented and inspired young artists playing and re-interpreting some of the great standards from my lifetime.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

Each year I host a "Jazz BBQ" at my home. We bring in a local jazz group to play for neighbors and friends. It's nice to be able to bring local jazz to people who might not ever get a chance to hear it live.

Finish this sentence: Life without music would be...

...a good indication that I have shuffled off of this mortal coil.

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