FONT, the Festival of New Trumpet Music, was co-founded by Dave Douglas and the late Roy Campbell Jr. in 2003. As another Festival approaches, Dave Douglas explains in an email interview the concept behind it, and looks forward to this year’s edition, which will feature trumpeters from 15 different countries, and will also honour Randy Brecker with the Award of Recognition 2021. Interview by Sebastian Scotney:
LondonJazz News: You started the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) way back in 2003, what was its original aim?
Dave Douglas: FONT grew out of a conversation I had post-gig with Roy Campbell Jr., the co-founder and my partner in this until his tragic passing in 2014. We wanted to see how many people were doing innovative things on the instrument. And we soon had a cocktail napkin overflowing with names of great, active, creative trumpet artists.
It seemed antithetical to the conventional wisdom of the time, using the words of Francis Davis, that there were two kinds of trumpet players: Daves and Wyntons. That notion really bothered me. No one wants to be in a box. But more importantly, I felt that the wealth of creative music was hidden in plain sight. This is a golden age for creative music, and I wanted to do something to put that in the spotlight. So we’ve been championing creative trumpet artists of all varieties since that time.
LJN: How has the festival evolved or do you feel you have you stayed true to your original vision?
DD: The festival has evolved in the sense that we are always challenging ourselves to take a broader, more expansive view. We feel we’ve encouraged and supported a lot of creative work. But at the same time, we’ve discovered all sorts of new players in all sorts of genre areas. Who and what it means to be a trumpeter has just exploded into new dimensions. We’re always on the lookout for players and composers from different backgrounds and communities doing heartfelt work. Even the notion of what is “new” has had to be reimagined and refined over the years.
So I guess my answer is that we are constantly evolving in order to stay true to our original mission.
LJN: You run it across different venues. How does that work in practice?
DD: We’ve never wanted to have a fixed home because we feel that every music deserves its own dedicated and appropriate space. The challenge of working remotely during the pandemic drives this point home. Each artist is free to create their own unique environment in which to share their work.
LJN: Has it served to increase the sense of community among trumpet players?
DD: That was one big feeling that both Roy and I shared, to engender camaraderie among the players. As for its effect, all I can say is I hope so!
I’d be remiss if i didn’t mention the community of people, mostly trumpeters, who put their time and effort into this. In that sense it is clearly a community with common goals. I see it most acutely each year when we choose our Awardee. Votes come in far and wide for trumpeters deserving of the honour. We feel strongly that celebrating creative pioneers while they are still with us is crucial. And by trusting the community to speak, we avoid stylistic proscriptions.
LJN: Has it also functioned as providing a platform for emerging talent?
DD: Again, I hope so! That’s the idea. Lots of music that started in commissions from FONT Music have become albums and ongoing projects. In my own case – the band Brass Ecstasy that I led for a number of years was born at a FONT event celebrating Lester Bowie. So we encourage all the artists to do new things and try things out and we encourage them to use this opportunity as a springboard for further opportunities.
LJN: In 2020 FONT was entirely virtual. Did that work well?
Because it was all online we saw an increase in viewership and participation. We are what’s known as a ‘nonprofit’ in the States. That means we are sustained through generous contributions from donors. It’s an honour to serve such a broad based constituency. Anyone interested in participating – all the info is on the site.
LJN: What were some highlights?
DD: The show for Baikida Carroll. There are about 25 or 30 video testimonials from his friends and colleagues. So wonderful! (video link here)
Laura Jurd made an extraordinary piece for us. Video, music, deconstruction and construction. Really one-of-a-kind art and what we live for.
Jeremy Pelt, a longtime board member and supporter, made a powerful and personal video/audio piece that really reflects our current moment.
Hate to only single out a few! I felt it was a year in which people were at home and eager to work, to branch out and create new things. We were thrilled to be set up to provide a platform for that, and get people paid to do it. I made a piece with trumpeter Dave Adewumi with film by Bill Morrison.
LJN: You have a strapline ‘Brass Without Borders’ for 2021. What does that mean?
DD: We have always been about escaping any boxes and genre/community boundaries. Last year we did an international series – people we normally would not have been able to invite to NYC – like Christine Kamau in Kenya, Ray Colom in Spain, Ellen Kirkwood in Australia. It was so powerful to connect globally that we decided to use this phrase as the title of the whole festival this year. Having Axel Doerner, Verneri Pohjola, Richard Nant – international marquis names of people who inspire me so much – as well as players from around the US like Emily Kuhn, Sarah Wilson, Mary Elizabeth Bowden. It’s inspiring to be able to present, and then appreciate, the music on such a broad and global scale.
LJN: Will 2021 be entirely virtual again or is there a live element?
DD: We decided months ago to make a virtual festival again. With the caveat that if things changed we could add live shows closer to the date. Unfortunately, current circumstances have not cooperated with that, so we will be presenting all online offerings. For free!
LJN: Who are the featured artists?
DD: The line-up currently looks like:
September 8th: Hermon Mehari, Balkan Paradise Orchestra, Axel Dörner
September 9th: Milena Casado, Kalí Rodriguez-Peña, Gunhild Seim
September 10th: Sarah Wilson, Richard Nant, Birgit Ulher
September 11th: Verneri Pohjola, Audrey Powne, Suzan Veneman
September 12th: Lukas Frei, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Lina Allemano
September 13th: Emily Kuhn, Delbert Anderson featuring DDAT, Adam Cuthbert
September 14th: Mao Sone, Mary Elizabeth Bowden, Sthembiso Bhengu
September 15th: Randy Brecker (Award of Recognition)
All performances start at 7pm (EDT/GMT-4). On certain nights there will be live talks on Facebook after the presentation.
The concerts are free of charge. Donations will enable us to continue to promote, commission and present new music for trumpet and brass.
LJN: You will be honouring Randy Brecker?
Every year we pick a trumpeter over 70 who is still with us to honour their contribution to the field. Honorees have included Wadada Leo Smith, Bobby Bradford, Laurie Frink, Kenny Wheeler (he came to NY to play and accept!), Charles Tolliver, Jimmy Owens, Raymond Mase, Tom Harrell, Eddie Henderson, and John McNeil.
Randy Brecker has long been an inspiration to so many of us. Both as a player and bandleader, and as a friend and mentor. Randy created a special new piece which will premiere on the final night of the festival.
LJN: Are there any performances that you are personally looking forward to?
DD: Quite honestly, for me, it’s all of them. It’s the breadth and the surprise and delight of each new piece. And the continual amazement at how many different ways there are to utilise this dang piece of metal.