A Fireside Chat With Dave Douglas (2003)
“ ...there is also a risk to that. That you are going to lose people. For me, it is really an experiment every time and a true experiment means that you risk failure. ”
Not so long ago, Dave Douglas was touted as the crowned prince of improvised music. Sadly, this music is nothing if not tragically parallel to life and the irony of life is the same persons who lauded you are the ones to tear you down. But if you like the improvised music straight with no chaser, it doesn't get much better than Douglas, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz: Happy birthday.
Dave Douglas: Thank you. We'll be out here a couple of weeks and we get back just in time for my birthday.
AAJ: You have been involved with ten plus projects in the past handful of years: the Dave Douglas Septet, the Dave Douglas Sextet, the Dave Douglas Quintet, the Dave Douglas Quartet, the Tiny Bell Trio, a large ensemble, the Charms of the Night Sky group, a double quartet, the Trisha Brown Dance Company group, various duo projects, and I am probably missing more than a few. Are these projects different facets of your musical personality?
DD: I don't really think of these as projects. I think of them as bands. I have tried to not just convene a group of musicians and make one record or make one gig and just drop it. Each of them develop over time. I have been really fortunate to keep a band like the Sextet together over three very different albums. Each time, the goal got more deep for me in terms of how I wanted to write for those people. So it is really about trying to develop ideas and trying to have a consistent focus on a way to come up with new ideas in music that I want to do. I guess I would have to admit that I work hard (laughing), but I also love my job. I love my work. I am working with my friends, so I think that is what helps me keep it together, the fact that I can get up everyday and work on some new music with friends and try to challenge myself and make some good music. I think that is confusing for a lot of people because folks may get attracted to one or another of the different things that I have thrown out there and then feel like the next record comes out and it is a stab in the back to them. For people who thought that I was an acoustic player and doing all these contemporary things with strings and then they hear Freak In and it is kind of like, 'Oh, my God,' but that is not how I see it. I feel like all of these different projects are in a continuum of the music that I would like to make and I would hope that if someone listened to all these different things back to back, they would see a through line of the way that I like to work with harmony and with rhythm and melody, the way each project is a different approach to setting up players for improvisation.
AAJ: Tough work if you can get it in a time when everything is neatly packaged for consumption by the masses.
DD: Yeah, I don't see my audience that way. I know what you are talking about, Fred. I think you are right on in terms of what is happening in the mass marketed music. But I don't feel that jazz or creative music or improvised music or world music, it doesn't fall into that context.
AAJ: Your music is advanced citizenship. It doesn't come with connect the dot IKEA instructions.
DD: If I worried about that, I wouldn't have made a single record in my whole career. I think more and more, audiences appreciate something that is distinctive and different. Everyone always throws out this figure, 'Jazz is now down to three percent of the total record sales.' So does that mean it is not important? I think if we agree that human culture itself is important, then I think those three percent take on a greater significance.
AAJ: The Infinite drew numerous critical comparisons to Miles and I am certain Freak In will get its share of Big Fun and On the Corner references (something I am guilty of as well).
DD: Fred, I love those records, don't get me wrong, Live-Evil and Tutu, those are some of my favorite records, and records from the Eighties. But I honestly don't feel that if someone put on those records back to back, they would be able to say that it is just a copy or that it is just the same thing. 'He is just regurgitating the music of Miles.' I honestly don't feel that that's what I'm doing. If people on a superficial level put the records on a feel that, I don't know what I can do about that. I honestly wouldn't do it if I thought that was what I was doing.
AAJ: This isn't the first time you have been abroad during tenuous times. During the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict, you toured through Europe.
DD: These days just living in New York is stress enough. I feel like the city of New York is the frontline of George Bush's war on terrorism and that when everyone went out and bought their duct tape and clear plastic, the feeling of fear was palpable. I just feel like it doesn't make sense to stop what you're doing. What am I going to do, buy an apartment in a basement somewhere and just stay there? I feel like everyone's time comes when it comes and I am doing what I love to do and I am ready if that happens. I am out with this band that I call the Septet because there's seven musicians and we are playing all the music from this brand new album. It is really exciting because as you know, Freak In is very much studio creation. That was a first for me. I had never made a record that way, so the music that is coming out of the live band is very different. It is unlike anything that I have ever done before. It is really, really exciting.