Daniel Rosenboom: Fire Keeper

Fiona Ord-Shrimpton By

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To say Dan Rosenboom is no ordinary jazz trumpeter, is no exaggeration. His father, David Rosenboom is currently Dean, Richard Seaver Distinguished Chair in Music at the California Institute of the Arts (and has been at CalArts since 1990), and having a first trumpet teacher in the form of Wadada Leo Smith, where others may have rebelled to the surfscape or gone full Charlie Sheen, Daniel is confidently fulfilling his destiny to boom loud and boom proud.

Catching up with Daniel in Los Angeles he elaborated on what he is working on now, chiefly his album Fire Keeper, how he is extending the richness of the Rosenboom musical legacy, and the latest developments of his blossoming new label, Orenda Records.

All About Jazz: Talking about the album Fire Keeper, has to start with talking about where you are from, your genealogy, why you have arrived at this point, the blurb doesn't exactly say...

Daniel Rosenboom: I'm actually Californian, my father grew up in Illinois and my mother grew up in Michigan, so both from the Midwest, they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and I was born in Oakland and then we moved down to LA when I was a kid, so basically I am pretty much a California native.

AAJ: So in terms of older history than that, when you tap into music from different sources, do you see yourself as just American, or do you have other influences?

DR: I have plenty of other influences, I've spent a lot of time playing music from around the world, but especially music from the Balkans. I have another band, PLOTZ! that plays a variety of Balkan traditional music mixed with jazz and metal and other kinds of, I guess, more contemporary American music. But in terms of fusing styles and different influences, that doesn't really have to do so much with an attempt to blend cultures —it's that I appreciate music from all different genres and from all different parts of the world. And I have a lot of it swimming around in my head, so I write, it just comes out kind of as a natural combination.

AAJ: It does, it's nice to hear a young musician who isn't afraid of matching all of his interests equally, it's not straight rock or jazz, you're not trying to be a heavy rock musician, and not trying to be an in-your-face jazz musician, it's subtle, it's not art music in a poncy sense, it's very distinguished and it's easy to listen to.

DR: Thanks very much. It's all just very organic in the way it comes out, it's never really an attempt to say, "I'm going to combine Balkan music with New Orleans street music and metal" or something like that. It's more just like I just hear things a certain way and I can only write what I hear.

AAJ: I suppose you are fortunate, in a sense, in that you have been hearing music from a very young age, your dad, David Rosenboom is a composer isn't he?

DR: Yeah he's a very heavy composer and pianist, a pioneer in electronic and computer music, and has worked with a lot of revolutionary artists. I like telling the story, that my first musical memory is actually sitting on Anthony Braxton's floor...

AAJ: That's not a daily thing is it...

DR: Nooo, noo! My dad was playing piano in his quartet and they were both at Mills College at the same time, and I was about the same age as Anthony's kids, I was 2 years old, or something like that and we were playing with little cars or action figures on the floor while Anthony and my dad were jamming in the living room. I remember just looking up and to me maybe he was playing a bass sax or maybe it was just a baritone who knows, but it seemed like this gigantic piece of metal making this unimaginable sound and I was totally mesmerized. That to me is the first memory that I have of really experiencing music.

AAJ: Have you followed Anthony Braxton since? Did you see him get his NEA Jazz Master 2014 Award?

DR: Yeah I mean I've followed Anthony a bit, never super closely, and we haven't really had very much contact over the course of my life since he left the Bay Area, but I have always appreciated his music and tried to follow it. One nice thing coming around, I think will be pretty cool, at this year's Angel City Jazz Festival, they will hopefully be presenting Anthony Braxton's quartet, as well as my group—probably on different concerts on different nights but it will be cool to share a festival billing with him!

AAJ: I heard Anthony Braxton give his NEA Jazz Master 2014 speech His interest in new systems/models (his tri- centric thought unit construct) to discuss his music, his essence of wanting to put all these concepts together, absorbing lots of different sounds, almost making a classification system like biology, was really fascinating. I can imagine how his sound and how his system would input what you are doing with rock and metal by absorbing more elements of pop and rock music, and what essentially is, would you call it jazz music?

DR:Oh, well, this is a tricky subject, one thing that I think actually is very pertinent in my life, as well as for a lot of my friends and the community that I am part of. How do we classify the music that we are making, especially when it draws from such a wide range of styles and influences? I would say that the album Fire Keeper isn't really a jazz album but it involves a lot of jazz elements. And, as you said, it isn't really a rock album, but it has strong elements of rock and roll and metal, and in a more modern way, so it's not exactly "jazz-fusion" either. And so the question of genre really boils down to marketing, you think about who would really appreciate your music when they are searching in iTunes or something. And that's a really tricky issue, because if I were to classify it I wouldn't necessarily call it jazz, but I don't really know what else I would call it. It's an amalgam of a lot of different things that are just in my consciousness anyway, so to put that into a very narrow category—not that jazz is narrow— but just as a single word makes it difficult—it's sort of hard to swallow I would say.

One reason I like using the term jazz is because, as you can imagine, I have never been a traditionalist when it comes to music, or genre, or anything like that. I would say that my favourite definition of the word jazz comes from Wayne Shorter who said "Jazz means 'I dare you.'" I like that because it embraces the spirit of adventure and experimentation, and really trying to go somewhere beyond. I think that really embodies my approach to just making music in general, whether it's jazz or contemporary classical, or rock and roll or Balkan folk music. I mean, in PLOTZ! (My Balkan group) we never play the music in a traditional way. We just take the tunes and kind of do our own thing with them. I think that's kind of what keeps music rolling forward.

And I think getting bogged down and trying to stick to traditional lines with definitions of genres and stuff like that really clips our wings in a certain sense. When you think of people listening to music on their iPods, you know, they can literally go from Wynton Marsalis to Michael Jackson to Dubstep to black metal to whatever—literally song right after song! You put on shuffle, a million things can come up, all of that swimming around in the air. And I think while there's totally a place for preserving tradition and doing things in a traditional way, that's not particularly my interest. My interest is finding a way to tap into all the things that are going on in my mind and getting them on to record.

AAJ: Classical orchestral musicians are still trying to find a different word for classical, and its connotations of elitism, but jazz doesn't have that issue except that it's seen as cerebral. What are you doing to get kids into your music? There are words on your website, alluding to drawing young people away from chart music and getting them listening to the full palette of music that's out there.

DR: Well interestingly enough, I would say my experience in LA spans all different generations, from— well mostly speaking for jazz, from the 20s crowd, most of the time the younger ones can't get into the clubs, hahaha—all the way up to elderly folks. I think one of the things that makes my music and my community, particularly accessible to a wide range of audience, it that it is actually a little more abstract, but dealing with sounds, energies and emotions that people can access, so they can hear things in a new way. I would say that the LA audience is pretty adventurous. I do a lot of classical work in town as well and even the audience for the LA Philharmonic is really diverse. There are a lot of young people who go to the symphony, and also the typical traditional classical music crowd. They program a ton of new music at the LA Phil. There are quite a few contemporary classical music series like the Monday Evening Concerts, Jacaranda music and a few other things that makes LA a really friendly place to do experimental and contemporary music. I think the outside world doesn't realize about being on the ground floor here in LA there's a very progressive attitude towards art. That very sentiment led me and several of my artist friends to form a collective that we call Creative Underground Los Angeles. This is essentially a loose collection of artists who are dedicated to creating new, interdisciplinary collaborative works and really pushing each other beyond where we might go on our own. And that's getting a lot of traction and interest over the last year and a half, within the community as well.

One thing we put in our mission statement that is really true about LA is that it's a hotbed, almost a Mecca if you will, for creative people. A lot of times they come here because they think they can get into "the industry," but then essentially exist in the cracks between the mainstream entertainment industry. The industry is what it is and is always going to be a fairly tight-knit, let's say difficult to breach, career direction. But there are so many creative people with brilliant ideas who are just operating on the ground floor here in incredibly inspiring ways. As you were mentioning classical music, there's a wonderful group in town called Wild Up that's all young people making classical music, commissioning new works, and they are getting rave reviews and really great crowds and everything. And that's just one example of how the spirit here in LA can be really musically adventurous. Also the underground experimental electronic music world is really blowing up here in LA.

All by way of saying, there is a spirit amongst the people who live here of really being hungry and ready to try new things. And whether that is taking a Dubstep kid to the symphony or taking an older person to a rock concert or bringing into a jazz club music like mine that fuses all these things together along with a video artist, and possibly a dancer, or things like that, or doing almost sort of like a pop show set design in a jazz club and then playing some really experimental music. It really is exciting for people and I think they are ready for it. They are really hungry for something that is not only new but deep with many layers, and has a connection with tradition but takes it somewhere new.

And I think that in terms of the label Orenda Records, that is our aim. We are looking to create albums that people cannot just listen to over and over, but find something new each time, and can really take people on a journey. Music is about way more than a "single" that lasts 3 minutes. Music and ceremony have been completely intertwined from the beginning of time. Music is always part of major transformative and even spiritual experiences and it has a power that is way, way beyond listening to a single and bouncing around in a car or on a train or whatever.

I think that young people especially want that, I have done a lot of outreach shows in elementary schools not with my own music but with a brass quintet that does a survey of classical music and we talk to the kids about where the instruments came from and they are hooked from the minute we start playing till the end of a 45 minute assembly, and we're talking about 6 year olds. I think it's natural for humans to crave that kind of experience, and the "authorities" of music have a responsibility to provide it.




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