UK Guitarist Dan Waldman has just released his debut album as leader Sources & Angles, which reflects the time he spent learning his trade in New York’s West Village. John Bungey tells the story of a sideman stepping into the spotlight.
When does a musician decide to become a jazz musician? For Dan Waldman, then a teenage guitarist who loved electric blues and rock, it was as a student on a jazz course. He was invited to sit in with a band led by bassist Jeff Clyne with Dave DeFries on trumpet. “I’d been studying music for hardly six months and was playing by ear. But the vibe of Jeff, Dave and the others enabled music to come out of my instrument that I didn’t think I had the ability to play. It didn’t seem to make sense.”
More than two decades later, the guitarist has marked that transcendent moment by dedicating his new album, Sources & Angles, to the memory of the late, great Clyne.
Sources & Angles is an accomplished set of post-bop originals steeped in the spirit of the Greenwich Village jazz scene, where Waldman played for many years. It was recorded in Brooklyn with a fellow Brit, the big-toned saxophonist Will Vinson, plus drummer Kassa Overall and bassist Ryan Berg from the States. Seven impressively fluent pieces range from fleet-footed sax-guitar dialogues to atmospheric balladry. Waldman’s playing has echoes of influences from Grant Green to Jim Mullen to the gentler side of John McLaughlin. It’s jazz close to the cutting edge but with a warm, soulful core – and all begs the question: why haven’t we heard from Waldman, who is now 44, as leader before?
Waldman credits a guitar teacher, Chris Wong in Cambridge, for getting him started. But his jazz journey began in earnest when he was accepted for Berklee after being interviewed by Gary Burton. Having studied the vibes player’s music for a gig with saxophonist Rob Hall, Waldman could talk knowledgeably. Initially planning a year’s study in Boston (“where Bill Frisell is the patron saint”), a scholarship from the Hendrix Foundation enabled him to stay and also play with bands after hours.
But while Berklee primed its students for the stage, Waldman’s route took a detour: he signed up to do an English Literature degree in London in 1996 (“I wanted to have a university experience and get away from the majority-male environment of Berklee”). Happily, he just missed the start of tuition fees. He then began playing around London; his most regular gig was with the New Zealand keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe with radio work and shows at the Jazz Cafe.
Waldman had also got engaged but around 2007 the relationship broke up. Friends in New York suggested he try his luck in the West Village so the guitarist got back on a plane. He recalls a fantastic period of absorbing and playing music based around a storied jazz club on West 10th Street. “Smalls was the late-night hang for all the musicians, one of my favourite places, where everybody was – Harold Mabern or Roy Hargrove when they were alive. You’d just go down there – the best musicians in the world playing every night.”
Waldman was busy developing in other people’s bands: “I was a sideman, that’s been my vibe, learning the material, but I’m studying and trying to develop my own thing. Recording Sources & Angles was a breakthrough and I love how the musicians brought the music to life.”
However, the spectre of Donald Trump interrupted Waldman’s progress. “I got engaged again in 2014 but made a deal that we’d move back to the UK if Trump got in.” So with the inauguration of the Great Orange One in 2017, the guitarist returned. He resumed playing around London, where current projects include Frank Williams’ (Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath saxophonist) African Jazz Quartet and also a quartet led by Get the Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie. The guitarist also tried out organ trios in Bristol and began the tortuous process of getting a serious jazz album released in the free download age.
After various false starts, his lockdown-defying music is available to the world. “This is my best shot… It’s a record of my journey. It’s my little story of the opportunities I got from doing music from an early age. I just want people to hear it now.”