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Take Five with David Larsen

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Meet David Larsen

David Larsen is a saxophonist, composer, and educator. He has performed with a variety of artists including Ken Peplowski, Francisco Torres, Dave Glenn, Ron Vincent, Bill Mays, Dean Johnson, and the internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist Halie Loren. Recently, Larsen appears on the Origin Records release New Normal (2021) by Greg Yasinitsky and was featured on the award winning Halie Loren album Butterfly Blue (2015). Larsen's previous releases include Borrowed Time (2018), One of a Kind (2016), and Night Shift (2016). Larsen's compositions have won numerous awards including JW Peppers Editor's Choice for 2018, 2019, and 2020. These charts "Applied Physics," "Bright Days," and "Avocado Toast," and others are available from Dapper Page Music. His music has been performed and recorded by a wide variety of groups around the U.S. and abroad.

Instruments:

My favorite horn is my silver baritone saxophone. I have always felt at home with this horn and it has always been my true voice. I often record on tenor and alto sax, but the baritone is his main solo vehicle.

Teachers and/or influences?

My major influences are the Cool Jazz giants like Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and others. I first studied saxophone with LA studio play Stephen Kravitz, who worked with Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Art Pepper, and many of the other great LA jazz greats. He opened my eyes to music and showed me this great collection of LA=based jazz players who all blew me away.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

My earliest interest in music was when I was in elementary school and the town's high school jazz band played at our school. I don't know why, but it blew me away. I always joked with my friends in high school that I would grow up to be a jazz musician, and I did.

Your sound and approach to music.

I like to have a light, warm, and melodic approach to my music. I love to create a melodic statement that is memorable and fits with the music. It probably means I am playing "inside" most of the time, but I have always loved to hear how the chords and the solo interact. Playing patterns and riffs has never been as thrilling to me.

Your teaching approach

As an educator I try and get students to find their unique voice. I enjoy helping a student find their passion in music and enable them to explore it. I don't have one set theory on how to teach. I like to experiment with different approaches, styles, and methods until we find what works. I am a big theory nerd, so my music, teaching, and playing has a lot of theory behind it. I have always felt I cannot teach a topic until I fully understand it.

Your dream band

My dream band would be an all-star big band. Not just a collection of great players, but a group that works together to create the music. Groups like the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, Basie, Ellington, or other groups would be a thrill to work with. I have come close from time to time, but to work with that group regularly, playing my music, would be amazing.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

My most recent release, The Mulligan Chronicles, is my new favorite. It is special, not just because of the music, but because of the people involved. Playing with Bill, Dean, Ron, and Dave was a thrill. They know Gerry's music so well and the sound they get is just incredible.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I hope I am bringing back a melodic approach to music. I am a bit old school in jazz, but I love a great tune, a swinging solo, and a really tight feel to a group. I like a well rehearse sound and charts that go somewhere. I also like to play with a clear tone, something that balances and enhances the group. I want people to remember it is okay to just play beautiful music, it does not have to be ultra hip, super modern, or anything else. It just has to be well crafted, meaningful, and touch people who hear it.

Did you know...

I can't memorize tunes! I know it sounds crazy, but I just can't memorize melodies. I can remember chord changes, but melodies just slip away. It is crazy, but true. I use music to help me organize my thoughts and do mental gymnastics while I am soloing. Not a popular opinion, but having music memorized does not make it better.

The first jazz album I bought was:

Blue Train by John Coltrane. I bought it in high school and listened to it more times than I can count. I have never been a great Coltrane follower, but you can't deny how powerful his music is. It inspired me to get into jazz seriously, like he has done for so many others.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I am not a doom and gloomer, I think jazz is fine, but we all need to keep it healthy. The best thing we can do is play the music to bring the people in. I think we all get stuck in this loop that people should just like the music because we do, but we have to draw them in. We have to stop fighting over who is the best, innovate our music to obscurity, or any other self destructive behaviours. If we play great music, perform it honestly, and make it available to the world, people will listen.

What is in the near future?

I have started a new album project with original compositions. I am working with some great players from around the country like Ken Peplowski, Francisco Torres, and more. It will be a great collaboration and I hope to have it out in late 2021.

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