John Daversa: Bursting Out of LA
In high school, Daversa got into the trumpet and jazz more seriously. Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, California, where his family lived at the time, had an outstanding jazz program, and the students in it were active before and after school, involving themselves in the music. When his family moved to the LA area, he went to Hamilton Academy of Music, "which was a music magnet," he recalls. "They'd bring in a lot of those kids that were interested in the arts. So I got to be with a lot of likeminded high school kids and share that growth together. Then I went to UCLA. Ironically, I went to UCLA because they did not have a jazz program. I knew that I was going to keep playing and getting jazz on my own. I wanted to study classical composition because I didn't have that formal training. So I got a degree in classical composition at UCLA. Then I took a break from school for a while. I got burned out. So I was playing and teaching and ended up starting the big band."
That included going to Europe with the Ice show, a three-year gig that was eye-opening for Daversa. "One of the reasons I took that gig in Europe was because I was kind of saturated with teaching. I was doing so much teaching. I was struggling to make a living, and even though I was doing a lot of wonderful projects it was still a rat race. So I went out there and one of the first things that I missed was teaching. I missed the students. The music they bring to me, and talking about music and analyzing it. When I came back to LA, I knew I wanted to get my graduate degree, so I went to CalArts and got a master's degree in jazz studies. I finished off with a doctorate over at USC in jazz studies."
Since coming back to the LA area, Daversa has immersed himself in many projects, along with his teaching duties. He says the LA jazz scene is strong, even if its pocket is relatively small. "There are so many great players. The jazz scene is small. It's fairly substantial compared to a lot of other cities in the world, but compared to New York, it's small. A lot more commercially oriented. It was a place where I knew the players. I had players around me that I loved playing with. I was trying to create my own music, so that fulfilled me.
"There are so many incredible players everywhere." Daversa continues. "When I was touring in Europe, we went to every small and big city and I'd always meet a couple people from every city that were crazy good. Amazing players. We don't know about them because they hang out in those little pockets. There are players everywhere. LA is an interesting place because the lay of the land is so spread out and the way that the film and TV industry is, everyone's doing that stuff. It's hard to get a real creative scene, a real community. But it does exist. There's a club here called the Blue Whale that's starting to create that family, that community. Granted, it's one club, but it's really become the place where everybody wants to play and everybody goes to hang out. With incredible music. So there are these hubs. I think this one will be around for awhile, and then there will be another one."
He adds, "You really create your own environment. You can create so many opportunities for yourself no matter what the area of expertise is. I struggled when I was younger. All my examples, my icons, were starving artists, so that's what I was. But then I realized it doesn't have to be that way."
With some outstanding CDs in his bag, Daversa is trying to get more exposure for both his groups. "I'd like to see that stretch beyond LA this year. I'm going to try and get some things going in northern California, in San Diego, so we can manage to transport everybody to and from. That's going to be the next project: a big band record. I'm starting to write some new material. I've got a bunch of stuff that's already, in a way, finished in my head right now. I just have to have the space to write it down. That's what I'm going to be working toward the first half of the year, getting that new record to a place where it's part of us and we can just go throw down."
Financially it's hard to work with the big band, as all leaders of large ensembles know. But it doesn't deter him. "I'm so blessed. The players in this band, it's also a family. We all find ways to take care of one another and keep this music alive. It's important to all of us. Like everywhere else, they are working musicians, playing TV and movies and theater and that kind of stuff during the day. Then we all get together and play the music that's really important to us. It keeps our soul on the other side. That's why it keeps going." it's following in LA is continuing to grow. The new big band disk will be recorded toward the end of the summer.
As for the small band with the large sound, Daversa will bring it to northern California in March and Germany in April. He's trying to shore up dates in Europe and Japan in the summer.