An Interview with Chris Klaxton
The Dave Douglas Seacoast Big Band Project takes place in October 7-9 in New Hampshire and Maine. The weekend of concerts and workshops was initiated and coordinated by Chris Klaxton, an active trumpet player in the area who also leads OURBIGBAND, the large ensemble that will be performing on October 7 and 8.
We caught up with Chris to learn about his life as a jazz artist, the Seacoast music community, and this upcoming project:
Greenleaf Music: Tell us a bit about your background and your career as a trumpeter, bandleader and educator.
I was born and raised in New Hampshire. I attended the University of New Hampshire as a kid and enjoyed the area so much I stuck around. The seacoast area was and is a beautiful place to live – close to mountains, close to water, and close to cities like Boston, New York, and Portland Maine.
I was really into jazz and improvised music growing up but what really sealed the deal for me was getting to know Clark Terry. I was able to study with Clark for several years while I was a student. I also grew very close to a friend of Clark’s, and at that time also a travel companion, Yugoslavian trumpeter Stjepko Gut. My time with them really made me feel like I was part of something. Clark then hired me as a travel manager to assist him in getting to gigs. He was well into his 80’s and was still playing all the time. After a few years of on and off traveling with Clark, staying at his house for weeks on end to hang with him and his family, my perspective changed a great deal as my love for that man and my love for the music evolved simultaneously. He was such a direct and impactful teacher and such a loving friend (he called his students “his grandchildren”) that I wanted to not only continue playing the horn, but I was just as, if not more, inspired to teach.
I spent a few years in Miami at the Frost School of Music, another life changing experience. I learned A TON from studying with Jason Carder, Brian Lynch, Terence Blanchard and Whit Sidener. I made everlasting friendships down there and really gave my playing a much-needed kick-start.
Upon returning home I started teaching at a few colleges and universities in the area and continued to play with some of the projects I had been missing for a few years. Now that I’m composing more often, I try to put my music out there as often as I can. I’ve made a few records and I’m happy to be teaching, playing and putting things together as creatively as I can.
GLM: You’ve been leading the 18-piece OURBIGBAND for a number of years. How did you form the ensemble and what is your artistic focus?
I took a look around me one night at a gig and between the band playing that night and our friends in the audience, I realized we had a great big band in attendance right there. Many of us are old buddies from school and have been playing with each other for years. My younger brother is in the band as well as some of my childhood friends. We go back over 20 years.
A big band is a difficult organism to keep together. Communicating with 15 to 18 people is a challenge, finding the right venue is a challenge ,and splitting up the bread at the end of the night carries with it its own unique emotions. I figured that if we were going to put the time in, we might as well shoot to make these events as unique and rewarding as possible. We have enjoyed playing original compositions from within the band, the compositions of Kendall Moore, and submissions from friends around the country, so we decided to focus on new music as well. In 2015 we made the decision to begin reaching out to artists whom we admire and asking if they’d like to work with us. We had a great time hosting Curtis Hasselbring last fall and now we’re ready to hit with Dave!
GLM: Having lived in the Seacoast region for many years, what is the scene there like for creative music?
I’ve been in this area since 2002. The scene is very diverse, very allowing and there are pockets of intense and very loyal support. I’ve always told people that I enjoy the area because the building blocks of life are here. There is no gravy train to speak of, but there are places to play, places to teach, places to show artwork. Venues have always been very allowing. If you can dream it up, you can find a place to host you. There is freedom here, but like anywhere, we deal with clubs closing, fluctuating crowds, and the occasional audience member that likes to yell “Go SOX!!” louder than the music.
Clark Terry’s influence in the seacoast area can still be felt. There has been a ripple effect due to his 30+ years of visiting the area. The Press Room, a great venue in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has been the spot for jazz and out of town guests to visit. Pianist Tommy Gallant (who I believe had an impact on Dave as well?) was the guy that started the jazz music in this town. Tommy had a tremendous impact, one that, without ever meeting him, I feel and benefit from today. There’s an extremely valid and proud tradition in town that I see inspire countless young people year after year. To some is has been a quaint and memorable training ground, for others like myself, a home.
The best part about the scene, however, is the interconnected friendships. Musicians – not only in the jazz scene, but across all genres – tend to hang out and be very close. Many of us go back a long ways. Some of the newcomers to the scene still feel like old friends who have been here and have been playing forever. You can find any and all of us in various configurations playing jazz, reggae, hip-hop, indie rock, folk music, chamber music and classical recitals. Above all other contributing factors, we keep each other here.
GLM: When did you first work with Dave Douglas?
I met Dave in 2012 at the University of Miami. He had an inordinately long residency there – something like 3 weeks. Throughout that time I took a few lessons dealing with trumpet and composition, attended some group classes and seminars, and got to play with him side-by-side – a memorable moment for me!
GLM: Putting together this four day residency, you’ve worked really hard to make it all happen – booking the venues, liaising with the institutions to present workshops and more. How did you go about getting it all come together?
The participating schools were on board from the beginning and very easy to work with. I am lucky to work alongside some class act educators. They were all very aware of Dave’s work and eager for him to work with students. Nate Jorgensen at the University of New Hampshire, Chris Oberholtzer at the University of Southern Maine, and Russ Grazier at Portsmouth Music and Arts Center do far more than their fair share to keep the music alive and their students inspired.
The participating venues (3S Artspace in Portsmouth and SPACE Gallery in Portland) have been easy to work with as well. They communicate quickly and clearly and were eager to assist in promotion and marketing for the shows.
It certainly is a solid amount of work, but I don’t mind doing it. I got myself into this – I intend to enjoy it. All the efforts are to ensure we share a quality experience. I’d like the band to remember this fondly, the community to enjoy it and be eager for more experiences like it, and for Dave to enjoy himself. That will be worth all the emails!
GLM: One of the partners in this project is the Parma Music Festival. How did they become involved?
PARMA is a music company from our area. They run several labels, facilitate recordings all over the world, and have a solid licensing department. As they are in such frequent contact with composers of new music and world-class players, they started this PARMA Music Fest a few years ago. I’m thankful to have been involved each year in some capacity and am always amazed at the variety and quality of the performances. Bob Lord (CEO) and Sam Renshaw (A&R) are good friends of mine, overall fantastic guys, and were immediately into lending a hand with the Dave Douglas collaboration. We chatted for a bit about how to present the show, but when it began to look as though timelines would align, they offered to promote the show as a PARMA Festival event. PARMA is a good thing for our area and for new music. I’m very happy to work with them once again.
GLM: You’ve been working with OURBIGBAND in preparation for the concerts on October 7 and 8. How have the rehearsal been going and what can people expect to hear?
Rehearsals have been going great. We have a unique sound as a band: different than the records or in my past experiences playing Dave’s music, but very cool. Our keyboard player Mike Effenberger is a maniac on the Rhodes / echo box combination, so I’m eager to see what Dave thinks of that!
What to expect: The reason Dave’s music has hit me so hard is that it authentically incorporates so many things. Dave has a sincere interest in and is extremely knowledgeable about folk music, classical music, 20th century composition, chamber music, the jazz tradition in its entirety, electronic music – you name it.
No matter who you are, you are guaranteed to get what you need from this show. This music is grooving, allows us all to improvise, contains such beautiful melodies, and at times rests comfortably in the avant-garde. I know that Dave does not take show time lightly. He brings the hurt with his horn and has a real presence in front of the band. Guaranteed to make an impression.
Our secret weapon, vocalist Taylor O’Donnell will be featured on some of our favorite small group material of Dave’s!
GLM: Any final words?
I’m thrilled to be a part of this. Dave has long been a source of inspiration and it’s an honor to work with him. I’m eager to check out his workshops and learn some things, eager to play his music, and looking forward to having some fun.
Presented by PARMA Music Festival, Chris Klaxton and OURBIGBAND will perform October 7 at 3S 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and October 8 at Space Gallery in Portland, Maine. Click here for complete details on the concerts and workshops.