I recently got the opportunity to speak with Grammy® Award-winning trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas in a quick Q&A format where he discusses discovering jazz music, his many different music projects, his upcoming performance with The Westerlies & Anwar Marshall at The Old Church in Portland next Friday, and more. Check it out below, and be sure to get tickets to the show next week by clicking here. Enjoy!
How did you first get into jazz? Who were some jazz artists that you have earliest memories of or fondness for?
My father was an amateur musician — he played piano, banjo, recorder, basically he would try anything. I learned to play tunes by reading from the fake book over his shoulder at the piano. At first on trombone, and then switching to trumpet at the age of 9 because I wanted to play melodies and not long notes. That was a trombonist’s fate in middle school band, unfortunately. Hopefully they have much hipper things to do now.
My dad also had a decent record collection and I remember going through all the discs from the Smithsonian Collection of classic jazz and loving Billie Holliday, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, and ultimately gravitating to the last couple discs — Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus. I was struck by how progressive and forward-looking that music is. Amazing to think that in the early seventies all that music got into a Smithsonian collection. I was very fortunate for Martin Williams’s good choices.
How would you describe your personal trumpet playing style?
Wow, that is a really hard question! First of all I would not try to describe it, I would try to duck the question, like, I guess, I am right now. But if I have a personal style I would have to say it is probably shaped more by my work as a composer. I write things for myself to learn and adapt to as a player.
Then I would have to say that I hope my voice is shaped by the voices of my heroes on the instrument. Among them Woody Shaw, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Wheeler, Booker Little, Lester Bowie, Wadada Leo Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan. Many others.
It’s remarkable that you have so many different projects going on. How do you manage keeping so many different projects going on at once and what are you working on currently?
As long as it’s music, I’m good to go! For me, it’s the music and musicians that lead everything else. There’s new music that needs to exist and we are here to find it. It’s the joy of discovery that keeps me moving, writing and practicing.My latest recorded release is a quartet project called Dada People. It’s dedicated to Man Ray and the surrealists, and is a collaboration with the french pianist Frank Woeste, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Clarence Penn.
I’m still touring with my electric quartet High Risk, as well as with New Sanctuary, a new piece being played by trio with myself, Marc Ribot and Susie Ibarra. I still work with John Zorn and I’m currently learning some of his new Bagatelles. More reason to keep practicing!
Some of our audience might not be aware that you’ve received Grammy Award nominations. What were those for, and how big of an honor were those for you?
Thanks. One was for the album “The Infinite” on RCA. The other was for “Keystone” on Greenleaf Music. It was especially gratifying to be up for that honor with a release by my own music company. I am grateful for the attention these recordings have received. And, having lead my own company for over a decade now (ps: there’s a 50th release sale on at the store right now!), it really helps to spread the word about what we are doing. It’s exciting to have all the activities housed under one roof — sheet music, touring, education, podcasts, all kinds of releases.
A few years ago a group of young musicians approached me and asked if I would coach their group at Juilliard. Under cover of night, they snuck me into those hallowed halls for a coaching session. I was kind of blown away and didn’t know what to say. The thing I remember most was asking them, “Well, what kind of music is this?” And they didn’t really have an answer to that. Neither did I. It was perfect. I started thinking about writing for them right away. Several years later, we’ve been able to make it happen. I am super psyched to be playing with The Westerlies. These guys can play anything! And what’s really amazing about them is that they truly function as a group. The way they improvise is truly collective, with each person playing a role within the larger discussion. That’s a pretty holistic and unusual set of relationships, and I really enjoy writing for them and performing with them.
What can our audience in Portland expect from your upcoming live show with The Westerlies, musically or otherwise? Why might they want to come see Dave Douglas Meets The Westerlies on October 28?
In Portland we will be unveiling a new, as yet unrecorded project of music I wrote for The Westerlies and the Philadelphia drummer Anwar Marshall. The new book I wrote for them is a sort of present day American reflection. Yes, there’s stuff about the election (no lyrics, though, I promise). It’s also about the landscape, the people, the sense of growth and possibility. It’s about the broad cultural landscape that our great nation represents.
Three trumpets, two trombones, and drums is an unusual configuration. It brings up references to early jazz, but also bounces off of new music and contemporary sounds. I love the way The Westerlies are able to blend and bring some very chromatic voicings to light. The music is lyrical, soulful, and thought-provoking. As with all of my music, I always feel there needs to be an element of fun. This project is especially joyous.