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The LondonJazz Dave Douglas Interview

Dave Douglas builds to blazing, glorious conclusions – both above (with Brass Ecstasy) or in an interview ( below, with Jack Davies asking the questions for us ).

Douglas describes eloquently the joys of music, and particularly of working with young musicians. Dave Douglas will be the first jazz International Artist in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music, a residency culminating in a concert on Thursday January 26th. He is clearly looking forward to taking on that new role:

Jack Davies: Your career has been characterised by a series of disparate projects. How have you gone about binding these together to create a cohesive musical narrative?

Dave Douglas: Thanks, Jack. I like working on music a little bit every day, and I like playing with a lot of different personalities. I suppose I also have something I am looking for in writing music, but I’m not sure I could put it into words. But the thing that keeps me creating and dreaming up new projects is the joy of hearing something fresh and feeling like I haven’t repeated myself or anyone else. And that the music connects. The search is for each day to be able to find a new way to say ‘I Love You,’ or whatever it is one would like to say. I think you’d find a lot of artists of all varieties agreeing with that feeling.

JD: In an environment economically and politically dominated by the church of Marsalis, you have forged your own path. Has that been a difficult process?

DD: I’ve never felt that any path was dominated by the church of anything. Economy, Politics: other than as one more source of inspiration for the work, they have never been an impediment to the work of a musician. The harder thing is to figure out who you are and then figure out to express that in music. That’s the work. I can honestly tell you I have never experienced this dominance of Marsalis that you describe. I think it is a sad misperception and an exaggeration in writings about jazz and new music.

JD: Some European jazz is moving further away from the US jazz tradition. Your music seems to be influenced by that of both continents – how important is tradition to you?

DD: I am definitely an American and I feel consciously that my music is American Music. That is simply a limitation of who I am and where I am from. But I don’t feel my nationality as a heavy policing against loving and learning from music around the world.

As to the different question of how important tradition is. Tradition is all we have. We don’t have the future yet, only the past. So my feeling is it is incumbent on us to learn as much as we can from the music that has been made.

JD : You wrote recently that when composing it is important to step back and assess whether a work is coherent and clear. Do you tend towards compositional distillation and simplification?

DD: That’s a great question, Jack. As the years go by I do more and more revising and distilling. I don’t necessarily feel that distilling is simplifying. In fact, I find that cutting away written notes, especially in the case of writing for improvisers, can make a piece deeper and more complex. It’s figuring out WHAT to cut that’s the crux of the game, isn’t it? In my residency at the Royal Academy we will be doing a lot of cutting, a lot of refining to make ideas as clear as they can be. Sometimes it’s good to use more erasers than pencils.

JD: Finally, in the past you have largely avoided being a member of a conservatoire’s teaching faculty, but you have recently been appointed International Jazz Artist in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music here in London. What excites you about, and what do you hope to achieve in this new post?

Thank you, Jack. I learn so much in working with young musicians, but I’ve never worked within a set curriculum.

What I hope to achieve is an honest, open conversation about our likes and dislikes, about our working methods, about what’s funny and what’s tragic and how we can really share that through music. I don’t have all the answers but I have a lot of experience grappling with the questions. I see young musicians break through into new territory all the time, so I hope to learn just as much as they do.

For me the most enduring challenge and the deepest source of satisfaction is working with music. That is why it is such an honor and a thrill to be Artist in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music.

Working with young musicians always elicits a refreshed view of the perennial mysteries and joys of music making. I am honored to be invited to share my experiences and thrilled to get to play in this company. In addition, to be associated with a program that has such close links to Kenny Wheeler (through the Kenny Wheeler prize, the Kenny Wheeler archive etc) is both elevating and humbling. I look forward to a residency filled with exciting music and engaging conversation. Thank you.

Bookings for the Dave Douglas Concert

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