Festival Of New Trumpet Music Preview: Q&A with Dave Douglas
Our head honcho sat down with Fully Altered Media for a Q&A in advance of the Festival of New Trumpet music later this month. Mark you calendar for September 23rd for a performance with Dave Douglas Sextet at St. Peter’s Church. More event listings at the FONT site.
Q: How did you become a trumpet player? Did you play other instruments before the trumpet?
DD: Even though trumpet was one of my earliest instruments after piano and trombone, I always naturally thought of myself as a musician. It didn’t occur to me that I was a trumpet player until it was way too late, which is one of the reasons for this festival. It’s to celebrate the trumpet as a piece of equipment in the hands of musicians of every variety, to counter the idea of the trumpeter as a music jock, a sort of athlete of the high notes and proponent of the showiest, brassiest sounds regardless of what the music calls for. We celebrate the Music first. Then the Trumpet, then the New. This is a Festival for music and musicians involved in some of the most compelling, expressive, protean, challenging, and fun music around.
Q: Were there recordings in the beginning and even years into learning the instrument that drew you into the trumpet’s sound and possibilities?
DD: When I finally realized and accepted that I was a trumpeter I was drawn to unique sounding players like Miles Davis, Thad Jones, Lester Bowie, Woody Shaw, Herb Robertson, and of course all the other giant spirits of jazz. I also listened to great classical players like Gerard Schwarz and Raymond Mase, more recently Alison Balsam and Hakan Hardenberger. But I am really a sucker for Macedonian and Mexican brass bands. When the trumpet itself makes people dance how can you not smile?
Q: People often talk about how the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. Do you feel this is true? What doesn’t the general public understand about playing the trumpet that you wish people would realize?
DD: They say the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. I’m not sure I agree — they are probably all equally hard. But the trumpet is exposed and personal, like the human voice. You have to figure out how to get a part of your body to effortlessly vibrate at extremely high velocities. This is why trumpet sounds range from the most vulnerable to the most brazen and powerful.
Q: If you had to identify with one or two gurus, trumpeters or otherwise, who had the greatest impact on your musical journey to date, whom would they be?
DD: Aside from all those trumpeters I’ve loved, John McNeil, Carmine Caruso, and Laurie Frink have had the biggest impact on my life as a musician-trumpeter. No question, without them I would not be where I am today. We would likely not be doing this festival. I met co-founder Roy Campbell when I first came to New York in 1984 and at that time I was studying with Carmine. Roy and I heard each other a lot around that time. In starting this festival we both had the same sense that a booster organization for creative trumpeter/composers was an essential job that needed to be done.
Q: How did you select the people you wanted to showcase in your particular curation? Were these people you felt were deserving of wider recognition? Were they people you felt shared a similar working aesthetic as you or came from someplace completely different?
DD: Every year we try to cast as broad a net as we can. We try to support recent arrivals to the scene. We try to celebrate creative pioneers who have pointed the way. And yet, no matter how broad the net, we are always discovering new players and new sounds. We always leave people out, unintentionally! This is one of the richest periods ever as far as new music goes.
Q: Who is your favorite trumpeter today (as in today, the day you are writing this email) and what recorded song available to the public best exemplifies why this trumpeter is so badass?
DD: I practiced a lot today, so if you ask me who is my favorite trumpeter today I am going to say that I am my favorite trumpeter today. How about that? We are all out here practicing to make music and life better. And we all doing it together one note at a time. I love so many players these days and the Festival of New Trumpet Music is a way of celebrating that.
Q: Talk a bit about the venue you chose to curate in? Why is it special to you? Why do you want people to experience that particular venue? Or was it the most hospitable venue available for what you wanted to do?
DD: For the past few years I have been involved in music and spirituality, through recording hymns and spirituals, and through exploring the essence of making music in the moment. Hugh Ragin is a trumpeter who shares that pursuit. When the concert hall at St. Peter’s Church became available for this festival I knew right away that I wanted to present my suite Pathways there. And I knew I would try to get Hugh Ragin to do something. He surpassed my wildest imagination by creating music for the vespers service itself! I cannot wait to hear it.
Q: Can you all share an anecdote about this year’s honoree Marcus Belgrave and what bearing, if any, he has had on your life as a listener, trumpet player, student, or appreciator of creative music?
DD: As I listen to this year’s honoree Marcus Belgrave what amazes me most is how he pulls notes out from all around the horn, the embouchure, and the room. Watching him play is like watching popcorn pop — you never know where the next movement is going to come from. He has one of the most amazing techniques I have ever seen. We are proud to bring him to New York with his own group to honor him with our Award of Recognition.
Q: What event besides the events you curated are you most looking forward to checking out live?
DD: The Henry Brant Flight Over A Global Map for 52 trumpets!!! and percussion is our pièce de resistance this season. I’ve never been involved in anything like this. So many great trumpeters are coming forward to play. It has been a supreme piece of work to organize and I know it is going to be an amazing thrill that will not be repeated any time soon.
Q: Any other thoughts about this year’s festival?
DD: Festival of New Trumpet Music enters its 11th season stronger than ever. New board members, new players, new venues. As a 501(c)3 public nonprofit we appreciate all the support we have had and encourage interested parties to visit our site and consider donating. Thank you.