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interview

Dave Douglas :: My favorite album is always the one, which is about to be released
by Leonid Auskern, Photo by Greenleaf Music

The name of Dave Douglas, one of the best jazz trumpeters in the world, wonderful composer and bandleader, a consistent Critic's Poll Winner and Grammy nominated artist, is the frequent guest on the Jazz-Quad pages. Two years ago our magazine published an article about this musician, often we published news about his new projects, albums and musical events with his participation. But firstly in our eight-year history Dave gives an interview for Jazz-Quad. This is a great event for us and for our readers too, we hope.

Dave Douglas is a recent recipient of a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship. This year became a year of very intensive work for him. On January 25 he released the first album for his own label, Greenleaf Music. It was a beautiful new recording entitled Mountain Passages and made with one of Douglas' ensembles, Nomad. From August 2 to August 27 in New-York was organized the Festival of New Trumpet Music - also known as annual FONT Music. Dave Douglas with Roy Campbell and Jon Nelson are the co-curators of this important event. Dave wasn't only the curator, he gave master classes and he showed this year on FONT - 2005 two programs. One of them - Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy with compositions of Dave Douglas, Otis Redding, Martha Wainwright, John Mayer, Missy Elliott, and old brass band tunes. Another - Dave Douglas Keystone, with music from his newest album. It will be released on September 20. Keystone will be the third Douglas' release on Greenleaf Music and this is his twenty-third album. Dave and his band will launch an international multi-media tour on October 1, 2005 at The Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill, NY. It's very pleasant, that in such hot time Dave agreed to answer our questions. Our great thanks to Yason Byrne from the Red Cat Publicity, New York for his help in the organization of this interview.

Leonid Auskern (Jazz-Quadrat): My first question is about the Festival of New Trumpet Music. How was born the idea of such festival? Was you a co-curator of the FONT Music from the very beginning?

Dave Douglas: The New York club called Tonic asked me - in 2003 - to make programming for the month of August 2003. Roy Campbell and I were playing together at that time, and began talking about our common feeling that there should be series of concerts representing new and adventurous work for and by trumpeters. This was how FONT Music was born.

When I made the first program, in 2003, I realized HOW MUCH GREAT WORK was happening. And how little that fact was recognized. There were WAY too many people for us to present. We agreed to continue presenting this festival, bringing together as many new trends in trumpet music as we can every year. We are growing and getting bigger every year.

It is also our way of giving something back to the community. Sharing our own success with many other players who are taking risks with music and deserve to be heard.

L.A.: One of the festival programs this year is dedicated to Lester Bowie. Is he one from your favorite trumpeters? What do you think about his role in the history of jazz?

D. D.: I think it's important to celebrate all the great trumpeters. Among them on my personal list are Booker Little, Miles Davis, Woody Shaw, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Leo Smith, Baikida Carroll, and SO MANY MORE!

For me and those of us working on the festival this year it was important to celebrate the achievements and the importance of one of our predecessors. We felt that without a common link to music history it is difficult to understand new achievements.

We also feel it is important to value the unique artistic achievement OF EACH INDIVIDUAL. This means we do not put music into separate boxes. We feel that this hinders our appreciation of music, and limits what we can accept as artistic contributions from new artists. Each artist we present is asked only to play their own music, not to make compromises or 'special projects' unless they want to.

Lester Bowie, to me, represented the idea that many musics can coexist. He did not choose between the many musics and musicians that interested and inspired him. He did not choose between so-called "high" and "low" forms. Lester spent years building a personal sound and approach to music. He then applied it to many areas of music, and his spirit celebrated the spirit of pure music. He did it with dignity, humor, and grace.

For these reasons we celebrated him.

L.A.: We know a brilliant group of trumpeters in tne early jazz days: Bolden, Oliver, Keppard, Johnson, later on young Satchmo and Bix. I think, trumpet was then a leading jazz instrument. Is that right for our days?

D. D.: The trumpet is unique because in a way it is the horn most like a human voice: naked. It is also unique in that, like the voice, the sound is created by a vibration in the body: the lip. I think this makes the challenges extraordinary, but also makes the results of hard work extremely provocative and personal.

Music doesn't easily fall into categories any more. Maybe it never did. What I find interesting is the many nameless musical worlds which have been initiated by trumpeters.

The instrument puts itself out front. Whether it's jazz, contemporary music, world music, or anything else you will most often find the trumpet in the lead voice. Very interesting these days are the trumpeters who figure out how NOT to be in the lead voice. This also is truly imaginative and new.

L.A.: In opinion of many our jazzfans your name is connected with term downtown music". What do you think about perspectives of NYC downtown music?

I have to laugh because I am just happy that your jazz fans know my name!

I don't know about uptown and downtown. But my interest in music has always led me to the unusual and different. This has happened both as a leader and as a sideman. Early in my career I had more work playing what you might call "mainstream" jazz. But I have found that the most satisfying thing for me has been to play new and different music. I have challenged myself, and gotten to some unusual places. I am content with that.

My feeling (and I could be wrong) is that this is what people mean when they say "downtown scene." But of course the perspective is different for each musician. Thank God.

L.A.: Last year Dave Douglas and Michael Friedman created a new record label, Greenleaf Music. How this project develops today?

D. D.: Thank you. I invite you to visit www.greenleafmusic.com

Every day our new label is expanding and changing. We present new music and new ideas about music and culture. We also fund the creation of new music and aim to make it available in exciting new ways.

One of the things that excites me the most is our monthly downloads. Each month a new track is released to our subscribers. This music is not available by any other means. In a way, it recalls the dawn of recorded music. We release one small track that relates only to itself.

But there are many other ideas there, and I hope your readers will visit and join us.

L.A.: You worked with a lot of partners in different groups. Can you name your favorite partners?

D. D.: HA! I can name many. Guy Klucevsek, John Zorn, Vincent Herring, Joey Baron, Clarence Penn, Bill Frisell, Greg Cohen, James Genus, Mark Feldman, Josh Roseman, Han Bennink, Louis Sclavis, David Berkman, Martial Solal, Roswell Rudd. I am only beginning....

One of those I miss the most is Steve Lacy.

L.A.: Live recordings or studio work - what do you prefer?

D. D.: I prefer the studio, because if the goal is to make a recording one should make it under the best conditions. That is not to say that live records are not great also. Only: As a record producer, if I have the choice I prefer the studio.

L.A.: Your discography looks very solid. Have you a favorite album in it?

D. D.: My favorite is always the one, which is about to be released. In this case: Keystone. It will be available at our web site on September 20, 2005. I have been working on it for two years.

L.A.: This album is dedicated to silent film star, Roscoe Arbuckle, a comic with tragic fortune. How did you come to this theme of your new recording?

D.D.: On the heals of Freak In I decided to buy Pro Tools software and upgrade my system. I wanted to be more involved in the process of creating and editing my electronic music. In one of my last sessions at Jamie Saft's studio, one of my last recordings in Brooklyn, I recorded about an hour of solo trumpet. I wanted the next record to be built from the sounds up, and I started transforming the tracks, turning raw trumpet sounds into grooves, textures and melodies. I also found my father's 1960s vintage Univox "drum machine" buried in a closet with some other old gear and started messing around with the sounds these dinosaurs could make. Home-made miniatures started to take shape from the sounds of these raw tracks.

At the same time, Jon Yanofsky from the Paramount Center for the Arts called and asked if I'd be interested in scoring a film. I immediately thought of these little soundscapes, which already seemed to have a visual element to them. It turned out that the invitation was not to score a particular film, but to score ANY film, with the
choice being mine. That was a great opportunity, but it also meant a lot of research. My initial thought was to look to contemporary animation, which I love, but nothing seemed to click with me in terms of the music I was hearing. I next turned to early film, which I think has a technical innocence and sense of discovery due to the
newness of the medium.

After going through hours of silent film I settled on the early comedies made by Roscoe Arbuckle for Keystone. Of all the silent films I watched, these films seemed to have the fastest pace, most suited to the modern eye and ear. I could imagine modern music with them, and it seemed they had not been approached much in that way.

When I read about Arbuckle's tragic life and unfair removal from the public consciousness, I got even more interested. The first thing most people learn about Arbuckle is that he was a rapist and murderer, that he killed a woman with a bottle during an orgy in San Francisco on Labor Day in 1921.

Fewer people seem to know that he was completely innocent. Not only was he exonerated, he was even issued an unusual full apology by the jury! However, the apology never made the tabloid news the way the accusations did. Though he did work again he never really made a comeback. He died ten years later, his films removed from circulation, his name still a reminder of the horrible scandal.

L.A.: Is Keystone" your first contact with the cinema world? Have you wrote soundtracks for any films?

D.D.: No. My music has been used in films many times, but I have never been asked to write for films. It is something I would very much like to do.

L.A.: My last question isn't connected with music. We know, you criticized the policy of American government in former Yugoslavia, in Iraq. What do you think about the situation in the world now? How can simple people struggle with terrorism?

D.D.: We have to first understand it for what it is. Crime. We have to get at the people who are doing this and find out their reasons so we can stop others from believing this tactic will work. I am sickened by the madness of those who attack a school in Beslan, a theater in Moscow, a building in New York, a disco in Bali, or a subway in London.

I agree with many Americans who feel that our current government's decision to declare "war on terror" has been misguided and ineffectual. It has not attacked and participated in confronting the true forces behind these crimes.

We (and I mean me and many Americans) want to end terrorism. We want to apprehend and punish all those responsible for harming innocent lives. We do not feel that a war for control of the world's power regions is appropriate. We feel we need to at least be able to take care of our own. New Orleans has been very difficult for us to watch. It is so painful.

I am sickened when my own government causes thousands of deaths of innocent people. Whether it is in Iraq or anywhere else it is a horrible consequence of our policies that innocent people die. This is a sad fact. It is sickening. We cannot turn away from these sad facts because of blind patriotism.

And I am a big American patriot. This country gave us Thelonious Monk, Henry Threadgill, and Bill Frisell. I love it here and would like to see us defend it in order to uphold the things we value: family, culture, education, prosperity, traditions, beliefs. It is the biggest tragedy to see this country perverted by greed and power.

I believe that speaking out and acting as responsibly as you would like others to act is the only thing we ever could do or ever can do. This takes work from each of us, and it is that change in consciousness that will change the world.

L.A.: Thank you very much! I wish your good health and successes!

D.D.: Jason Byrne sent me these questions and I did my best in response. I thank you for your interest.

published 08.09.2005 2005 jazz news :: home page

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