Around 1985, I got a call from a close friend and my drummer at the time, Tony Lupo. Tony and I had been friends and playing together since 1963. At that time, we were both into Be-Bop and as we grew in age, our musical tastes and interest leaned towards outside playing. Of course, we never played that way on gigs, but when we got together that's how we played. In the seventies, my trio consisted of Mitchel May on bass and Tony Lupo on drums. Mitchell eventually dropped out because he had become a Freudian Analyst and it was taking up all of his time. Both Tony and I went on to other things till he called a few years later to tell me about a bassist he had met, that liked to play out music. His name was Dominic Duval.
When I walked in, there was a guy who had a powerful presence. He wasn't taller than me, but he seemed huge, not heavy, but huge and later I came to realize that it was his "aura" that seemed to engulf everything around him. Dominic was powerful indeed. It came out in his personality, his playing and everything he did. Intense to say the least.
We hit it off immediately, whether it was on tunes or playing free. We started to get together at his place because he had recording equipment and we could hear what we sounded like. I wish I had some of those recordings now, but I don't. We did record at Ron Aprea's studio one time and it was "out" there. On one piece I used a steel string acoustic guitar which I purposely put out of tune and I put a rubber ball inside and some nails and anything that would make noise. Dominic played a lot of quarter tones and scrapes with the bow as we recorded. Out there! Oh yeah!
The three of us played together, a lot. When Dom's wife had triplets, we saw a little less of each other, but always stayed in touch. The triplets were two girls, Grace and Jillian and a boy, Dominic Duval Jr. One time, Dom had an outdoor gig in the Hamptons and he called me, Ron Aprea and Tony Lupo to play. I brought my kids and and Dominic brought his. There were four Dominic's there that night. My son Dominic, his son Dominic and the two of us. It was truly funny. If Tony called out Dom, four of us would answer.
Again, like all things go with musicians, friends etc., we drifted apart. I had gone through a divorce and was living on West 51st Street. in Manhattan. Every so often I would get a call from saxophonist, Greg Waters. He had a little big band and wanted me to sub for the guitarist. I told him I wasn't interested. I had played enough of big band music and most of them had me playing big band Freddie Green style guitar, but I wanted more of a challenge. In the '70s Thom Gambino put together the Umano Orchestra which had difficult reading parts for guitar and that's what I wanted. But periodically Greg would call and ask again. This time he asked me why and I told him. He promised me this would be different and I would really like it. So I went to a rehearsal and lo and behold there was Dominic. We practically ran into each-other's arms. Through Dom I met drummer, Jay Rosen and trombonist Marco Katz.
I started playing a lot of duo with Marco while Dominic emerged in the downtown scene and free playing. Because of Dom I met a lot of players that I still play with. Dominic and Jay were involved with a chamber group with Greg Waters and they rehearsed every other week at Eleanor Amlen's apartment. He asked if I would like to be involved and I said why not. It was a very interesting group. Bass, Violin, Reeds, Voice, Percussion and now guitar. I brought my nylon string, but it wasn't loud enough. Eventually, I switched to my Gibson ES175. At the same time, Dominic introduced me to Michael Jefry Stevens and Mark Whitecage and we started rehearsing and playing together. A year later we recorded Elements for Leo Records, my first recording with me playing free. That was the beginning for me as I emerged in the downtown scene.
Dominic introduced me to Tomas Ulrich. We began rehearsing and performing together.
I wrote a lot of music for that group. We named it DDT (Dominic, Dom and Tomas). We did some gigs around town and enjoyed playing together.
One night playing a double trio gig at the Knitting Factory Dominic invited Blaise Siwula to the performance and soon after, Blaise and I began playing together too.
As the chamber group progressed. I was asked to write some pieces which I was happy to do. All of us, except for Greg, thought we should be a co-op group. Not one leader but all of us having a say. We had a meeting about it and Greg stormed out saying it was his group. Since we were contributing to the composing and getting some of the gigs we felt differently. So now we were without a reed player. We tried a few but the reading was a little too difficult for them. By then I was the principle composer and was bringing in new material all the time. Finally, Dominic found John Gunther, a perfect fit, who doubled on every reed you could think of and composed. Our violinist Stanley was right out of a classical vein. He could read but he wasn't much of an improviser and he would fall asleep while performing. Many a time I would kick him so he would wake up and play his part. My wife Carol thought it was hysterical and part of the act, we didn't. Stanley knew he had to be replaced. Dominic brought in Jason Kao Hwang. Jason was great. He could read and play, but he couldn't commit. Dominic found Robert Thomas Jr for the violin chair and Rob became a regular. The next thing was to give the group a name. We decided on MICE, The Manhattan Improvisational Chamber Ensemble and to record and find an agent or a manager. We recorded at Eleanor's son's studio That was the easy part. We recorded eight pieces; four of mine; one of Dominic's, a free piece and John's arrangement of "Monk's Mood" and an original composition of his. We thought we were off to a great start, except no-one was interested in us. I think, if it was now, it would be a different story, but 20 years ago, they weren't ready for us.
While all this was happening Dominic and I, along with Tomas played a lot together, sealing our friendship and respect for one another. At the same time, O.J. Simpson's trial was on T.V. and Dominic and I constantly talked about it. Sometimes we were on the phone two-to-three times a day.
Dominic had a goal. First, he wanted to play with David S. Ware and he did. He subbed for William Parker. We were all there to cheer him on. Dom's dream was to play and work with Cecil Taylor. Blaise was playing and rehearsing with Cecil's big group at Cecil's house in Brooklyn. He told Dom to come to the rehearsal if he wanted to meet Cecil and "bring your bass," and he did (don't even think about attempting it now).
While all this was going on Dominic tracked down pianist, Joe Scianni, who recorded with bassist David Izenzon for Savoy Records . David was one of Dom's hero's. Although he passed away a while ago, Dominic wanted to re-create those sessions. One night at CBGB's Galleria, performing with DDT, Dominic got a little excited ( he sometimes did that when the music was happening) and he started directing. "Don't play chords"; " lay out" etc...I was taken aback by this. He had never done this before.This was a little too much. I let it slide, but honestly, it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I came to realize that playing free-form so much had taken over his attitude towards music and how it should be performed.
A few weeks later I went to see Dominic at the Knitting Factory perform with Joe Scianni. When Dom called the next day asking what I thought. I think I was a little too honest and still a little angry about the CB's gig. I told him after the second piece everything sounded the same and that he should really work on his bowing. Dominic wasn't a trained bassist. He never learned about bowing or reading or harmony and theory. He was basically an ear player, and he was great at it. Playing through-composed music with DDT and MICE required a fair amount of knowledge to play the pieces correctly. Dominic was opened to it and he would take the charts home and would learn them. Tomas gave him some bowing hints, but he never mastered it. My comment put a break between us. By that time, he was about to join up with Cecil Taylor.
I was extremely happy for him, because that's what he really wanted to do. Play free with lots of energy. He and Jay had also become the main rhythm section for Cadence Records. They must have played on at least fifty recordings or more. All this helped to further his reputation as a free form bassist. At the same time he and Jay started playing with Joe McPhee and called the group Trio X. This was one of my favorite groups. I saw Dominic with Cecil and Jackson Krall at the Knitting Factory and Trio X at the Vision Festival. Each performance was stunning.
After three years Cecil let Dominic go. I never found out the real reason. I could only speculate that it might have been conflict between two personalities. A year later he was back with Cecil, but that only lasted for one or two gigs. Dominic never talked about it and I never brought it up.
For the last ten years Dominic and I did not have much contact. His wife, Kathryn, had suddenly died and he was spending a lot of time at home taking care of the triplets. And only six months ago I heard he had been sick for over a year. I called and emailed, but he never answered. His son Dominic Jr. had grown up and turned out to be a wonderful bassist. We are Facebook friends and that's how I kept up with Dom. His son told me Dominic had cancer, but the good news was, it could be controlled. Jay told me he started sounding like his old self again and two weeks later he went into hospice. I was in shock. Everyone was in shock.
On his way to visit him, Jay got there 30 minutes after he died. Jay and I spoke about it. I said "such a powerful presence." Jay told me, he went into the room and you could still feel that powerful presence.
Dominic Duval could be thick-headed, controlling and sometimes disrespectful, but he was an icon in his own way. A great free player with incredible ears. Because of him my career as a free player flourished. Through Dominic I have met and played with some great musicians and for that I am eternally grateful.