Greenleaf Artists Sound Off: Year End Observations & Music Thoughts

Year end thoughts from Dave Douglas, Grammy nominee Donny McCaslin, Michael Bates, Linda Oh, Kneebody, Matt Ulery

davedouglas

Dave Douglas

Henry Brant would be 100! After co-producing his 52 trumpet piece with Festival of New Trumpet Music, I discovered his book called “Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook.” It is extraordinary, a great insight into what made that music so powerful. I will spend another 50 years trying to digest it. It’s still in print, and worth looking up.

Wayne Shorter turned 80. John Zorn turned 60. I turned 50. Joe Lovano and I were honored to have a small role in the Wayne Shorter events, playing with our quintet, Sound Prints, with Lawrence Fields, Linda Oh, and Joey Baron, at several celebrations. The Zorn at 60 marathons were some of the most inspiring days of music I have ever seen; definitely like playing on an all-star team. And traveling with my own quintet, with Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh, and Rudy Royston, has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling musical experiences of my life. It is a profound pleasure developing the music with these good people. We still have about 15 states to go and I look forward to working on that! Stay warm and we will hope to see you in Hawaii in the cold season.

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Like:
Miguel Zenon, Oye, Live in Puerto Rico
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense, Moment & The Message
Mauro Ottolini Sousaphonix, Bix Factor

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What Lasts.

Posted by: Dave Douglas on October 15, 2012 @ 6:18 pm
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Perennials

No BS! Brass Band at Rockwood Music Hall

As the tenth Festival of New Trumpet Music drew to a close I found myself sitting back enjoying the challenging new piece Tom Harrell wrote for the festival. Tom put a lot of work into the suite. He and the band, with Mark Turner, Ugonna Okegwa, and Adam Cruz dug into it with relish. It was such a pleasure to witness the birth of a new music so ambitious, heartfelt, and totally ‘lived.’ On reflection I realized it was a feeling I was blessed to have many times during this year’s events.

Jazz Standard also hosted FONT-commissioned premieres by Jack Walrath (an intense full length suite for his quintet, Masters of Suspense), Charles Tolliver (great new pieces for his quintet, Music, Inc.), and Claudio Roditi with the West Point Jazz Knights Big Band. All were complex, enjoyable new works that required focus and hard work to pull off. It’s a level of dedication that you don’t always see.

I guess my simple thought on recollecting the music is that this is music that will last. It will stand the test of time. And that matters. As we outlive the Mayan prophecies this December we will need these landmarks of creative ingenuity and human resilience.

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Redux: The Practice of Ear Training

Posted by: jim on October 12, 2012 @ 6:41 pm
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Education, Perennials

There’s been some action on Twitter recently revolving around an older post here at the Greenleaf blog. Thanks for all the shares and comments. Feel free to chime in on this, or any of the great posts in the Perennials category.

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You can’t deny the power of raw talent in music, but it is possible there is an even greater strength in the human capacity for self-transformation, growth, and genius. Some people have enormous natural talent and ability. Some have to work really hard. One way or another we’re all striving to find a true expression in sound, one that touches on something universal, and we all have to strive to find our own path, no matter how gifted or challenged we may be…

Read the full post here.


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Beyond The Music.

Posted by: Dave Douglas on September 26, 2012 @ 7:41 am
Filed under: Education, Perennials

Dave Liebman shares deep thoughts on the value of music and art. Enjoy. -DD

Question: What values does a jazz education offer beyond the music itself?

Artists have always had a supply and demand problem. Since time immemorial there have been more people with creative ideas than an audience to communicate them to, especially if the art demands more than a cursory attention span. In the current world of jazz education, the situation vis a vis graduating more and more of the most equipped musicians in history (every year more so) in stark contrast to the scarcity of paid performance and recording opportunities has assumed epic disproportion. To deny this would be like ignoring global warming. Serious educators are and should be concerned. Discussions on the subject are sometimes uncomfortable, but are nonetheless taking place worldwide. Notwithstanding that this situation might differ in degree from country to country or even regionally (all trends have their own natural ebb and flow), it is incumbent that responsible educators address this issue.

The standard response has traditionally been that it is not our responsibility to be concerned with the vocational aspects of an arts education. Our job is the transmission of knowledge, peripherally, if at all, addressing matters concerning the ramifications of making a living pursing one’s art in the “real” world. This viewpoint does not hold up under scrutiny and is at the minimum a matter of principle and ethics, let alone economics if one considers the rising cost of a college education worldwide and the financial debt that a young person will be straddled with from the onset of their “real” life. Obviously, the situation in America vis a vis the cost of a college education is the most glaring and outrageous example of this part of the problem. Responsible educators should have something to offer these young men and women beyond cliches that is relevant and specific, at the least enumerating proven attributes of a jazz education that go beyond the music itself and will enrich their lives. Yes, Coltrane (and other artists) offer a high aesthetic and spiritual plane, but what about the here and now?

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Jazz Workshops in the 21st Century, the New Mentorship Process

Posted by: Dave Douglas on January 17, 2012 @ 6:34 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Education, Perennials

Every time I see a teaching artist talk about music I learn something new. Every time I look at a contemporary book or blog post explaining creative music work I find something I’ve never seen before. Not that I always agree. Yes, agreement about practicing scales and chords and patterns and rhythms is easy. But it’s in the fundamental conception of the creative process and how to address it that things get interesting. That’s where new jazz workshops around the globe are taking the lead in passing on this tradition in a way that used to be covered by working mentorships and touring.

The conversation in these workshops is often about lineage and tradition, about learning vocabulary and repertoire, how to practice, what to practice. And talk usually returns to the most elusive and perennial theme in jazz and creative music: ‘finding your voice.’ You could say the central question here is: How do I teach you to be you?

Young musicians are coming up better educated and more informed, with more opportunities for exposure to music than ever before. More professional artists are involved in workshopping, and you could say meeting artists in that context is slowly replacing the old mentorship model of touring, recording, and graduating to being a bandleader. Like not or not, the industry no longer provides those kinds of jobs in music. Musicians are learning another way.

I recently ran into Dave Liebman on an airplane and he confirmed this. He’s one of the most engaged artist educators out there. Without hesitation he said that the young musicians he encounters are coming up exposed to all kinds of music and modes of playing. And they have the materials to practice. There are more jazz programs at the high school and university level than there ever were, and the programs I’ve seen have evolved into a cross between a conservatory approach, a creative seminar, and some serious training about getting gigs and doing them well enough to make a career path.

A lot this is provided by independent, non curricular workshops around the globe. I have been fortunate to be involved with the workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff, Alberta, Canada for the past 10 years. It’s a three week workshop that takes place in May/June at an arts campus situated in the Canadian Rockies. I stepped into the directorship in the shoes of previous directors Kenny Werner, Hugh Fraser, Steve Coleman, Dave Holland, Oscar Peterson, and Phil Nimmons.

What’s so special about the jazz workshops and why are they so important to musicians in a time of entrenchment in the industry?

First of all, and maybe most important, the thought of getting up every day and looking forward to a full day of music. The idea that you are in an environment where everyone else is doing that, too. The music facilities are waiting for you with minimum preparation or fuss. Food will be prepared and served for you close to the approximate moments you will need it. When the weather cooperates it puts the whole experience over the top.

This describes many of the workshops I have been involved in for the past decade or so. At Banff it’s the snow covered peaks. In Sienna the old part of the town and the Duomo at dusk. In Merano the thermal baths and the river. At Stanford the hills. But it’s most of all the music, and the free time to just be involved in music. All day long: practicing, rehearsing, studying, playing, listening, thinking, not thinking.

It’s a gift. And more and more these days, people and organizations are involved in creating and sustaining these workshops. In some ways, it replaces the old apprentice and mentorship system of jazz in clubs and on the circuit. Where else can musicians share knowledge in such an unfettered atmosphere? Where else can they hang out with practitioners and absorb through osmosis? And where else can audiences be exposed to such fresh interactions and discoveries?

Aside from just guidance, young musicians need to be heard, listened to, and encouraged in their own pursuits. After ten years directing the program at Banff I have started to feel like the best thing I can do is listen and learn from the students, stepping in when my own experience has something of value to add. The level of the students improves every year–they come in better informed all the time, a result of the availability of recordings and teaching methods, more music and jazz in the schools, and the encouragement of interactions with professional musicians.

It feels different than it did even 10 years ago. I think workshopping has a lot to do with that. Localism in music is getting both more focused and more inclusive. That is, musicians bring a part of where they are from and express it proudly. At the same time, the local music they grow up with is more and more exposed to current practice worldwide. The Banff Workshop is particularly international in scope, and one of the wonders is seeing Koreans, Australians, North and South Americans, Europeans, Israelis, and more discovering and learning from each others’ tendencies.

In workshops, there tends to be an urgency. Urgency to play, network, perform, and learn. Maybe it’s because there is limited time and everyone will go their separate ways. Sometimes I wonder if it is because there is no degree coming at the end. It’s like, Man if I don’t work on music here, then what the heck am I doing? And teaching artists in this environment let the younger musicians know that they may never find an environment of inquiry like this again in their professional lives.

Maybe the most profound effect is the exposure to a multiplicity of ideas. Diversity in the creative arts is like a spark in a dry tinder pile. Jazz and creative music workshops I’ve been to tend to welcome different viewpoints and because of this the participants are forced to confront their own feelings about a broad spectrum of music. One of my favorite moments in the workshop last year was when Brandon Ross was describing Henry Threadgill’s compositional system and how it influenced his work. Every single student was rapt, following this fairly radical re-imagining of melody and harmony. Within five minutes everyone was shouting and arguing, personally involved in the meaning of the system and its implications. Bright moments!

Teachers and students have to be partners in the enterprise, something that’s more difficult in a curricular atmosphere. Interestingly, St. John’s College, with two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, uses system that makes teachers teach subjects they have to learn as they go. From The Times:

As much of academia fractures into ever more specific disciplines, this tiny college still expects — in fact, requires — its professors to teach almost every subject, leveraging ignorance as much as expertise… as St. John’s president, Chris Nelson (class of 1970), put it with a smile only slightly sadistic: “Every member of the faculty who comes here gets thrown in the deep end. I think the faculty members, if they were cubbyholed into a specialization, they’d think that they know more than they do. That usually is an impediment to learning. Learning is born of ignorance.”

There are no majors; every student takes the same 16 yearlong courses, which generally feature about 15 students discussing Sophocles or Homer, and the professor acting more as catalyst than connoisseur.

To me that sounds a lot like the workshop approach. Inquisitive, open-minded, participatory.

Teaching, especially in jazz, has to be interactive. The communication only works if the relationship goes both ways. Jazz Workshops I have seen encourage that interaction, where both parties are exploring and learning. In a sense, I feel like that is why workshops have become somewhat of a replication of the mentorship process.

In jazz, you are supposed to be you. How am I going to teach you how to be you if you don’t tell me? And who am I to tell you who you are?

The prevalence of these workshops is a good thing for the music, for the community, and for the long range growth of our increasingly international culture.


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Dave Douglas and Curtis Macdonald: Q&A & Q&A

Posted by: jim on August 1, 2011 @ 3:14 pm
Filed under: Curtis Macdonald (Artist Thoughts), Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Education, Perennials

Dave asks Curtis.

DDQ: What do you consider the relationship, if any, between your music for saxophone and bands and your computer-created “from the box” music?

CMA: To me, composing “in the box” is not so different than composing “on the page”. Performance and improvisational considerations must still be taken into account. This proves the need to imagine form; how will it all take shape? In all cases, I trust my ears in the final say-so. If one were to rely on the ears of a computer, the music would sound more like white noise. I feel that “computer-created” music is a misnomer, as it always requires the knowledge and aesthetic of humans in order to generate any worthy output.

As a tangent to that idea, teaching a computer how to improvise is only in some ways possible, as it will always lack intuition. Its biggest strength is how it performs pragmatic routines. Even “interactive” computer-music is limited to if/then functionality. Computers need to be spoon-fed information very clearly with defined variables and parameters. They have a language, yet sometimes language needs to be put aside in order to let the creativity in…

When I’m composing for a band I treat the computer as a tool to model ideas. Metaphorically speaking, I throw a can of paint onto the screen and start brushing by hand, learning and discovering as I go. Once I’m happy with the design, I translate it into notation, bring it before a band and forget that it ever touched a computer – making adjustments as needed.

When I’m composing a piece for film, dance or other non-improvised music, I get very detail oriented in order to yield the most control and variance in the sound. I am also conscious of “default” settings, and have developed a practice of manually adjusting common parameters; i.e. I rarely use a rigid tempo map, and always play with articulation, transients and envelopes to program as much humanistic nuance as possible. This largely relates to the processes of arranging and orchestration at the micro-level.

Both analog & digital mindsets have something in common; the idea of squeezing as much information out of source material as possible.

DDQ: OK, poor choice of words on my part. By “computer-created” I didn’t mean that the computer actually creates the music. What I meant (and you’ve spoken to some of this) was the music that you make in solitude–you and the nonhuman computer–as opposed to music you write out to be played by human musicians. There must be a major divergence between the way you think about what goes on the page for a band and what goes on on the screen in your dance scores and film pieces. To me, the basic difference there is that there is no improvisation in the latter; once the piece is done it is simply performed by the computer or digital device. In the former the information you give to human beings can only be an approximation of the final result. Does this dichotomy affect process for you?

CMA: Yes, the dichotomy is a macro vs micro perspective shift. With performing musicians, I provide macro information (the form, an initial direction) and with performing computers I provide micro information (all the nuance and subtleties). The difference is feel. Composing on a computer with a sense of feel is where one’s musical and emotional experience comes into play.

Additionally, computers are a powerful tool in that you can manipulate and instantly hear back your concoctions. In “Composing Interactive Music” Tom Winkler says a few things along these lines:

“Composers have always used processes to generate large musical structures from simple musical material… Many types of musical processes can be easily represented in software by an algorithm, step-by-step instructions used to accomplish a specific task… This immediacy in generating and manipulating musical materials provides the composer with an interactive laboratory where musical ideas and time-varying compositional processes are quickly realized and refined. The benefit of getting immediate aural feedback from this kind of experimentation cannot be overemphasized. Within this laboratory environment composers can generate scores for acoustic works, create situations for improvisation with other musicians, or compose solo pieces to be played directly from the computer.”

I think it’s similar to how a modern architect creates their plans. A blueprint model is drawn up digitally, taking into account all organic things that exist in our world: environment, building materials, climate, load, etc. It’s then built underneath the direction of an engineer, (the performer in our case). During construction, the engineer may interpret or adjust the plans somewhat, and this may inform the architect of a required amendment or revision in the design.

DDQ: “squeezing as much information out of source material as possible,” I like that idea. But when you deal with live musicians isn’t the process more, well, complex?

CMA: Actually, I feel that the process when working with computers is more complex than working with real, live people. Telling a computer to perform in such a way is a technically complex process, whereas giving a skilled, experienced musician a set of guidelines or source material is rather straightforward. Of course, bringing a band to a level of ensemble where a collective synergy has been developed is a phenomenon of group dynamics, which is either a complex, or simple undertaking depending on how you perceive it. Generally speaking, I find that source material is expanded and developed naturally among musicians, whereas on a computer the development of a source material must be programmed, with added layers of complexity to create the desired results.

DDQ: To shift gears a little, then: Does your work with computers have any effect on the way your write tunes for your band? It’s interesting to hear that the music you create on the computer requires an additional layer of complexity in order to develop. Do you consider that added layer of complexity in thinking about how musicians will respond to your pieces for the band? And what about you as a saxophonist: How does this compositional process affect the way you practice and play?

CMA: I think one of the best things about working with a computer is that you can model ideas that are not yet technically available to you on a instrument. Programming helps me make imagined or theoretical material more concrete and easier to grasp. This way, the computer is a great practice tool – by changing just one variable there is more territory to explore. I first play with an idea digitally to understand the concept and then choose to adopt it in some way into my playing.

Dealing in complex terms on a computer often means working in simple terms for musicians. When I bring music to the band, I have imagined what roles the musicians can fulfill. But when it comes time to play, I forget that the music was ever on a computer and we make it our own. Musicians will always respond to the material in a complex way, it’s in their nature. It only requires grasping the overall arc of the piece, which is something that even as a composer I rediscover each time we play.

Curtis asks Dave.

CMQ: What routines do you put yourself in when you’re deep in composition mode? What tricks, if any do you try when you hit a road-block, or need more material, etc? What editing processes do you exercise?

DDA: First of all I throw out everything that I think I know and try to deal with the material as internally and honestly as I can. But I don’t want to pontificate here. It’s still really difficult.

I’ve always loved this quote from Anthony Braxton and used to keep it over my work table.

“Since coming into academia, I came to understand very early that I would have to build an alternative system to help me, because in academia you’re constantly talking about your music and that’s dangerous. You’re constantly talking about the science of the music in a two-dimensional way. So I started to move the ray of focus in my model into the poetic logics, as a way to not know what I’m doing. Because I’m not interested in a music that’s two-dimensional, that I can talk about as being the “it” of the music. By that I’m saying that I want the undefined component of my music to be on an equal par with the defined component.”

There are not really any tricks because any technique that gets you past a road block is composition.

Last year I asked a group of students in Holland what they do to overcome writer’s block and one of them said, “Drinking!”

He would certainly have a lot of company among composers.

Bottom line, it ain’t easy and it takes a painstaking examination of biases and limitations and a funneling and winnowing of what we want to say.

One of my favorite books about composition is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. For example, they say:

“Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through against terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.”

“Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Think of the tragedies rooted in ambiguity, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.”

Sometimes stepping away from a work to consider all the elements is the only way to make sure we are getting at what needs to be got at.

CMQ: In regards to Braxton’s quote, what do you leave “defined” in the bandstand? What do you leave “undefined”?

DDA: Well if I could answer that it would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?

To me, that quotation is powerful because it is a reminder that many of the forces in motion in music are beyond our rational control. Especially when we begin to talk about music, which I believe is important to do, it’s easy to lose sight of the mystery in creation. The unknown quotient is a major element in music whether we like it or not.

So, yes, work hard on your music and defining the contours as much as you can. But also respect the inevitable unknowns at work and leave them a place at the table.

Accept that some of the elements you think have defined may become undefined in the crucible of performance. Accept that some elements you think are mysterious and unknown may become obvious and repeatable after one reading.

CMQ: I love the quote from the Elements of Style. Clarity, space and perspective seem to be somehow inter-connected… Can you talk a little about what you do (or don’t do) to ensure clarity of perspective for composition? For performance? For practice?

DDA: As I’m writing I look at the piece from as many different perspectives as I can. I have used the analogy of a sculptor. Every few cuts you step back and make a three dimensional assessment of the work from various angles.

One perspective would be that of someone asked to perform the piece. One could be an imagined audience member. Another might be an old friend. Or an enemy. A character in a novel. Et cetera.

I love languages, and the analogy of writing something that could be understood regardless of a listener’s experience with languages is another idea. Not that a listener should be absolved of all responsibility to know the language of a work, rather, that as composer/performers we have available a variety of means in the form of traditions and lineages that we can use as languages. It gives us flexibility in reaching out to a listener.

The biggest perspective would be to look at how you are using all the basic musical elements. For me, revisions most often come from an examination on that level.

Clarity is the process by which we reveal our innermost thoughts and re-write our pre-written destiny.

CM: I’m reminded of Charles Mingus’ quote: “In my music, I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.”

I like the impermanence of it all, whether it’s on page or improvised, stage or studio, everything is a fleeting moment and the beauty of improvisation is that we can paint a scene from an immense variety of perspectives and experiences. Moments of clarity are truly universal, infectious to the audience and band members alike. That’s why I continue to explore technology – to gain further clarity on musical and ultimately universal concepts. It too works in a universal language, one that can help us grasp ideas and bring them into awareness, which is a key element of my musical practice.

 

 


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two thousand ten.

Posted by: Dave Douglas on December 23, 2010 @ 9:46 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Brass Ecstasy, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Greenleaf Music News, Perennials, Spark Of Being

Two thousand ten.

Charles Wuorinen meets Warren Smith backstage at Abrons Art Center and they realize they had worked together fifty years earlier. Festival of New Trumpet Music presents the double bill of Wuorinen brass music and Ornette Coleman works performed by Wilmer Wise and the Pulse Composers Collective.

Keystone at CCRMA

Took over the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics for a week with Marcus Strickland, Adam Benjamin, DJ Olive, Brad Jones, Gene Lake and Geoff Countryman. Outfitted the room to record Spark of Being. (photo by Jason Chuang)

Residency at Zankel Hall with 11 incredibly talented young musicians who created their own book of music in a week.

Reconnecting with Jim McNeely, who taught me at NYU and is still teaching me today. Stanford Jazz Orchestra played big band works which continue to evolve.

Brass Ecstasy, Portland Jazz Festival

Brass Ecstasy reunites after making Spirit Moves. Portland Jazz Festival in McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom. Plus a special recording for Basque accordionist Kepa Junkera, the familiar Basque standard Boga Boga. Exquisitely sung by the remarkable vocalist Sunny Kim.

Amsterdam Conservatorio hosts a competition for bands out of the conservatories at London, Trondheim, Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin. Heard some amazing stuff from these folks.

The One Low Point of the Year: Trapped by a Volcano. However, made it back just in time for the Stanford premiere of Spark Of Being.

Banff

Banff Workshop. My weakness. I love going there and being at the workshop. Big debts to those who join me. Faculty: Clarence Penn – drums, Matt Brewer – bass, Donny McCaslin – saxophone, Jeff Parker – guitar, Roberto Rodriguez – piano, Myra Melford – piano, Ben Monder – guitar, Darcy James Argue – composer, Michael Bates – bass, Gerald Cleaver – drums, Matana Roberts – saxophone, Ravi Coltrane – saxophone, Drew Gress – bass, David Gilmore – guitar, E.J. Strickland – drums, Mary Halvorson – guitar, Giorgio Magnanensi – composer, Hank Roberts – cello.

Suoni delle Dolomiti. Once again climbed a mountain. Trio Sentiero for trumpet, banjo, and cello with Noam Pikelny and Hank Roberts.

Dave Douglas Sketchl

Spent a few days in Merano, Italy with Franco D’Andrea. Photo by amazing composer trombonist Adrian Mears.

Dave Douglas Big Band, Hollywood Bowl

To share the Hollywood Bowl stage with Dave Holland and Count Basie. Robby Marshall, Jim McNeely and the LA Band. It was a blast.

Dave Douglas, Paolo Fresu, Enrico Rava

Grateful to Paolo Fresu for inviting me to Nuoro and allowing me to arrange music for he and Enrico Rava. Paolo is a superstar. Trying going shopping with him anywhere in Sardinia. We had a lot of coffee and conversation. He is recognized everywhere, and rightfully so !

Another special meeting with quarter tone trumpeter extraordinaire Ibrahim Maalouf. When he invited me to play with him in Paris i had no idea what it was going to be. And afterwards I still have no idea what that was! Amazing set of music and expansive vision. May we meet again.

Keystone, Walker Art Center

Walker Center and MacPhail Workshop / Dakota Ensemble. First of all it was a high to hear Adam Linz’ leadership and Mingus focus come through the young musicians assembled there. Second of all, but no less thrilling, was to play in the new theater at the Walker. And to return to Spark after a few summer performances. Spark twelve times in Europe.

Travis Sullivan invited me to play with the Bjorkestra in which I heard all the great musicians assembled there, plus a welcome return to the Manzoni.

Continued compositions for big band, and getting to hear them played by the Jazz Knights at West Point.
Greenleaf Logo New
Two thousand eleven.

Greenleaf Music will go through a complete overhaul, including a new mobile site, a mobile app, and a new streaming system. Several recordings are underway that will be released in the new regime. Visit again soon for more details.

May you have an enjoyable year end.


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A Call To Arts

Posted by: Dave Douglas on August 20, 2009 @ 8:13 am
Filed under: Culture, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Music, Perennials

From the most recent guest post at NPR’s A Blog Supreme.

A Call To Arts
by Dave Douglas

It’s good to see arts and especially jazz philanthropy back in business, thinking about what to fund and how best to fund it and not so much about how to punishing artists who use government money to smear their bodies in chocolate or worrying about just how in particular they plan to use that crucifix. There’s a new director at the National Endowment for the Arts named Rocco Landesman who is more interested in putting on shows; The Doris Duke Foundation and Mary Flagler Cary are out with innovative initiatives; and the alphabets — MTC, CMA, AMC, NYFA, NYSCA — are all looking at ways of giving jazz and related music a place at the table. All I can say is, Thank You. Finally. At long last, we can sit down and have a decent fight over real pieces of the pie.

Helping artists and communities is more important than cracking down on profanity. I was reminded of this the other day when my drummer Nasheet Waits was sent to overweight/oversize baggage for the third time even though his cymbals are no bigger than most bags (smaller than many!) and weighs easily within the range of your average over-packed summer traveler. (I mean their bags.) The cymbals just look different. Nasheet displayed admirable poise, while I was about to explode with the kind of filth that would make Rahm Emanuel blush. It was probably just a better idea to get the cymbals on their way down through the baggage mill.

Arts are important to people’s lives. Vincent Chancey grew up in a foster home, and when his public school gave him a chance to play music he chose the weirdest looking instrument he could find. A French horn man was born, even though there’s nothing French about that horn, and even Congress wanted to change the name to Freedom Horn a few years back. But with just that smallest push, Vincent developed an idiosyncratic personal style on the horn that led to a career with Sun Ra, Lester Bowie and Diana Krall among many others. Now if we could just get him to put the thing down. Vincent’s son Bahij is headed to Yale in the fall, on a scholarship to study architecture.

In 1990 I wasn’t sure where I fit into a scene polarized by young lions, hardcore downtown avant-garde and a livelihood playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, jingles and brisses. That was the year I received an individual artist grant for composition from the National Endowment for the Arts (funding of individual artists was discontinued in 1996). It meant a lot, even if only that there was a societal value to the creative work that I really wanted to do. My musically inclined but somewhat conservative father was scandalized. (“My tax dollars are going to What?!?!”)

Are the arts controversy-free? Clearly my father didn’t think so. No, the arts aren’t all clean, but neither is life itself. Now there’s the Internet, keeping kids aware of all that’s going on around them in the world if you can get them to look away from the screen for more than a few seconds. If these initiatives have their way, when they do look away they will see arts in addition to schoolwork. It’s not safe looking at a computer screen all day, or perhaps being an artist, but there are other dangers out there, like swine flu, sexting, contaminated vegetables, Octomoms, municipal rackets marketing human kidneys, not to mention Town Hall meetings. A little controversial artwork is the least of our worries.

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Listening to Freddie Hubbard

Posted by: Dave Douglas on January 1, 2009 @ 1:21 pm
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Perennials

Even with centuries of innovation in brass instrument making, the trumpet is still basically a metal tube through which one is expected to blow, vibrating the lips against the opening at one end. It doesn’t matter who’s making the horn. That’s basically all it is.

The notes come out following the harmonic series: beginning with a low fundamental tone and ascending, according to the laws of physics, by ever smaller intervals until the top of the range, where the series ends in pure, densely packed chromatics. Add three valves and you’ve got seven harmonic series available: 0, 1, 2, 12, 23, 13, and 123.* In the low range all the fundamental notes have their own fingering. In the high range, where the seven series converge, almost any note can be played with any fingering.

In addition, there is the quality of the attack, the flow of air, and the flexibility in moving from one note to another. All musical expressiveness on the trumpet stems from control of these few variables.

Freddie Hubbard was one of the most skilled practitioners of this art. The joy and freedom in his playing came in part from this complete mastery of the instrument. It always sounded effortless. In the high range his control of air was so sublime that his lines sometimes defied the laws of physics and harmony, resolving in odd ways just by dint of his total domination of the instrument. Freddie grabbed the opportunity of those alternate fingerings to pop in and out of chromatic chord and scale ideas. His attack was always precise and his dodging and darting lines flowed like water through a sluiceway.

A lot of people can play the trumpet well. Technical mastery is far from the reason Freddie Hubbard is the most imitated player of the last half-century. It was what he did with that mastery — the inventiveness of his harmonies and the ingenuity of his rhythmic propulsion. Freddie’s impact is so profound that you often don’t have to mention him when noting a young player’s influences. Freddie is always there. He had a lot to say, and we all soaked it up.

As a young player Freddie listened to Clifford Brown for sure. He also drank deeply at the well of Clifford’s inspirations: Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and Louis Armstrong, among many others. But trumpeters aren’t the only influence for trumpeters. In the same way that Clifford Brown talked about putting Charlie Parker’s language on the trumpet, Freddie Hubbard brought the practices of John Coltrane, his occasional practice-mate, directly into the brass world.

Freddie’s lines drove the harmony. Freddie toyed with the music, anticipating and delaying resolutions in unexpected ways. But at the end of the day it was the maturity of his improvisations that were the most powerful aspect of his musical expression. Freddie at his best could go nuts with the lines and the harmony, but he would also ease off and play with bluesy simplicity when it more effectively served the moment.

The VSOP records of the mid-seventies show Freddie in an unusual and revealing light. This had been Miles Davis’ band in the mid-sixties: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. With Miles this music was spare and enigmatic — no extra notes and no bravura energy added to the brilliance of the tunes. Freddie brings something quite different. He is generous with notes and all flowing grace. A different kind of grace, like a gregarious toastmaster. Freddie is so on top of the music and the horn that he is unable to restrain the joyful exuberance of his ideas and his ability to pull them off.

That explains a lot about why he is more imitated than Miles Davis — his style gave so much more material to hold onto. Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard were two very different visions of the modern esthetic. Echoes of Miles are heard a lot, but you hear the sound of Freddie everywhere.

Trumpeters have often been tragic figures in American life. Freddie Hubbard was no different. The last fifteen years of his life saw him battling a disastrous lip injury that limited his ability to execute his ideas. Freddie also battled the forces of fashion – by his own admission (though not necessarily that of his fans) he spent some years making music that did not live up to his high standards. By the early seventies he had done pretty much everything that could be done: documented many masterpiece solos, participated in dozens of seminal recordings, elaborated a personal vision for the instrument and the music that still stands up today. Where was he to go? That kind of legacy and pressure at such a young age is hard to imagine.

We can be thankful for the joy Freddie Hubbard brought to us in his seventy years on the planet. He will be missed.

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* For those curious why 3 is not included among the seven basic fingerings — 3 creates a length of tubing almost exactly identical to 12, with 12 being slightly more in tune. 3 is a widely used alternate fingering, but is not considered among the basic positions.

Darcy at Secret Society has a great collection of links to other thoughts about Freddie Hubbard, as well as some perceptive thoughts of his own.


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Why FONT?

Posted by: Dave Douglas on December 19, 2008 @ 7:26 pm
Filed under: Culture, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Perennials

This festival (Festival of New Trumpet Music, or FONT) and its growing organization is dedicated to music: performances first and foremost, but also commissioning new brass music (12 commissions to date), and increasingly, educational events. Our mission is to present and support living brass music regardless of genre.

For 6 years, FONT Music has been putting together engaging programs of brass music around New York. It has been both an enormous challenge and exciting thrill. We have not always been able to do what we wanted, and not all programs have succeeded in every way. But we’ve been able to look back and see the gains from the new music we have helped to facilitate.

At the beginning FONT Music was Roy Campbell and myself, hashing out ideas over the bar at Tonic. The first two years remained at Tonic, but in 2005 we were joined by Jon Nelson who brought a broader vision to how we could work, and guided us forward as an organization. Micah Killion was instrumental in helping us incorporate and organize, all the while lending his vital creativity to the presentation of programs.

In 2007 we made a big step into nonprofit status, forming a board and adding new voices to the mix. Taylor Ho Bynum has emerged as a crucial and hard-working member of our organizational team, as well as a keen curatorial ear. Other curators have now included Jeremy Pelt, John McNeil, Mark Gould, and Frank London. We also have a working group of officers (still all-volunteer, as is everything to date…) in Chris DiMeglio, Richard Johnson, and Erol Tamerman.

We are still a very grassroots organization, as many of you know.

In 2009 we will change the way we work somewhat, presenting a few special events throughout the year and presenting a shorter, more tightly-focused festival in September. We hope you’ll join us — in any case please feel free to send us your thoughts and ideas for how we can make the festival more effective in serving the community. And visit us at Myspace and Facebook.

Fundraising is always a struggle for us, especially in these difficult times. We are grateful for any contribution you can make – any amount is an invaluable support to us. NY Charities makes use of their web site availble to us, making it easy to contribute tax-deductible, safe and secure contributions. You may also send a check made out to FONT Music, PO Box 31, Croton, NY 10520. We hope you’ll agree that supporting new music and independent artists is important and take a moment to help us if you can.

And we will continue to support creative, exciting new brass music as we continue to move forward with the Festival of New Trumpet Music. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you after the new year.


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