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Trumpet From On High

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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How the hell he went from New York to Alberta is probably an interesting story in itself. I’ll bet it had something to do with a rogue element of the RCMP and the elite group of Jazz artists who double as international crime fighters. Kind of like INTERPOL, with rhythm.
I recently celebrated my sixteenth anniversary at AAJ with a quiet ceremony held in the mahogany-paneled Writer's Lounge at AAJ Headquarters in Philadelphia. I'm not much of a cake person, but there were cheesesteaks from Sonny's and enough alcohol to get an entire fraternity through a regulation 30-day month. Commodore Ricci and my fellow member of the Southern contingent C. Michael Bailey were there. A good time was had by all, and most of the charges will eventually either be dropped or reduced to misdemeanors.

But then.

During the festivities, one member of our stalwart band of longtime contributors asked me a very pointed question, "Why don't you ever profile more recent Jazz artists?" I pointed out that I have, in fact, profiled such current luminaries as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bill Carrothers, and Brad Mehldau. "But that was years ago," they protested, "a lot has changed in Jazz since then." I pointed out that, as far as Our Music is concerned, change is the only constant and everything old is new again. And then the whole thing turned into a pointless megillah much like that "tastes great/less filling" polemic.

Upon reflection, though, I decided that I had been neglecting the cutting edge of Jazz. Part of the reason, of course, is that Jazz is not one monolithic thing measured by sheer popularity like Top-40 music. In fact, the Digital Age has caused Our Music to dissolve like an Alka Seltzer, and trying to document it is like trying to follow each individual bubble. Jazz doesn't have superstars, at least not the same as other genres of music have. Our artists are more individuals, less into chasing trends or courting fleeting fame like pop stars do. I'd mention some pop stars by name, just as examples, but for the fact that I lost track of pop culture somewhere in the late Eighties.

Those of us involved in Jazz in any sort of regular fashion can come up with a list of current "big names" in Jazz. But I'd bet that, if you asked twenty people, you'd get twenty radically different lists. But of the few names that might be on every list, I'd be willing to bet the remainder of this article on the fact that Dave Douglas would be one of them.

Moving forward.

Dave Douglas was born on March 24, 1963, in East Orange, New Jersey. Little is known about his formative years, because no one has had the prescience to update the Wikipedia page from which I get most of my background information. I do know that he attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, but apparently discovered Jazz while abroad in Spain, which is the very textbook definition of taking the long way home. When he graduated, he studied at both the prestigious Berklee* College of Music and the New England Conservatory. Both are located in Boston, a town known for the then-hapless Red Sox.

So it is no surprise that Dave moved to the Big Apple in 1984 to study at New York University, where he could be close to both the perennial champion Yankees and the Mets (who, not coincidentally, defeated the Red Sox for the World Series title in 1986). Whether Dave gives a damn about baseball is unknown, but I do and this is my column so just deal with it. It was in New York that Dave came to the attention of the legendary Horace Silver. He would tour Europe with Silver in 1987, since there wasn't much happening in NYC that year. The freaking Minnesota Twins won the World Series in '87, for crissakes. The miserable Redskins won the Super Bowl. Who wouldn't want to be touring Europe with that sort of thing going on here at home?

But I digress.

Once returned to the grand old US of A, Dave proceeded to perform in the Masada Quartet with John Zorn and, I presume, two other guys. The quartet blended Jewish klezmer music with the works of Ornette Coleman and the sandwiches of Katz's Deli on East Houston St. This quartet was considered one of Zorn's best ensembles, because have you had the pastrami at Katz's? I'd drive non-stop from my home in Roanoke, Virginia, to the lower East Side (of what?) to get a sandwich. And, of course, I'd listen to Dave Douglas the whole way. I wouldn't want you to think I'm taking this profile gig lightly.

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