11/05/13

Before & After with Dave Douglas

ln praise of Woody, Wynton and more

In the cool, blustery summer weather that is typical of Finland’s Satakunta province, Dave Douglas’ quintet—Douglas on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston, with vocalist Heather Masse—played a well-received set at the 2013 Pori Jazz festival in July. The music alternated between a loose-limbed intensity and measured melancholy—the latter in particular on the church melodies taken from Douglas’ 2012 album Be Still (Greenleaf). One of those happy, unplanned musical connections took place when the group performed the title track, sparking a rousing response from the outdoor crowd.

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Stefan Cramer

Dave Douglas

“I got so many questions from people here in Finland about why I played it,” Douglas, 50, explained after the set. “When my mother was very ill she gave me a list of hymns that she wanted me to play at her memorial service, and one of them was ‘Be Still, My Soul.’ It was one of her favorites, played in Protestant churches with English lyrics and a melody composed by [Finnish composer] Jean Sibelius. I don’t think she knew the melody is also called ‘Finlandia,’ but we began to play it and I quickly learned that it’s the national anthem here, more or less. It was a real honor to play it in Finland.”

This Before & After took place in Pori’s Satakunnan Museo immediately after Douglas’ performance and was attended by a variety of local music fans.

1. Ted Curson
“Searchin’ for the Blues” (from Flip Top, Arista). Curson, trumpet; Bill Barron, tenor saxophone; Herb Bushler, bass; Dick Berk, drums. Recorded in 1964.

BEFORE: I think I would have guessed it from the tenor player. I don’t know that record but I’ve got to get it. What I love about it is that it’s this great mix of modern and old-school, traditional playing. So there’s a freedom to the trumpet player’s articulation, the blues inflection is very free and loose, and the tune itself is really interesting, somewhere between a blues and some other kind of form. I’m going to guess it’s Ted Curson.

AFTER: I’m right! Wow. “Searchin’ for the Blues”? Perfect name for the song. I’m not sure what clued me in to the fact that it was him, other than I listened to him a lot on Mingus recordings—it seemed like his phrasing and the same time period.

I know Ted spent a lot of time up in this part of the world and had a special relationship with this festival. I actually played with him a couple times when I first moved to New York. I used to go to the Blue Note jam sessions that he ran and they started at 1 a.m. Ted was a little bit strict with me. I’d come in off the street and it would be cold outside, so before you start playing “Cherokee” or whatever you’d want to put a little air through the horn. I’d play two or three notes and he’d go, “No warming up!” I probably had an attitude and deserved it.

2. Charlie Haden
“The Golden Number” (from The Golden Number, A&M). Haden, bass; Ornette Coleman, trumpet. Recorded in 1976.

BEFORE: You’re a very mean man, Ashley Kahn. The articulation is really amazing. No, no—let it play. Check out what he does with the tone, like when there’s a long note how much activity there is within the note itself. I’m pretty sure that’s Ornette Coleman playing trumpet. Of course it’s Charlie Haden on bass, so they have a long rapport and you can hear that, the way they phrase. So that’s the record Soapsuds, Soapsuds?

AFTER: We should have done this on the main stage. [laughs] Jon [Irabagon] warned me just before I came here that you’d probably play Ornette on trumpet. Like I said, it’s the way he’s holding the note: all of the expression in the sound; the way he played that melody so deep; how he’s expressing emotion just through all the subtle changes within the one note, really infinite variations. And then to think that it’s not really his main instrument.

I don’t have that record but this track is amazing, and Ornette plays a lot of high notes. People think of the high notes on the trumpet as being the most challenging part of the instrument, but there’s a lot of great Ornette trumpet with him playing up there. It’s just like the way he plays the alto—a very, very personal sound. If you want a generic saxophone or trumpet sound this is not where you would go, but if you’re willing to check out how rich and individual it can be, this is that kind of track. That’s called technique where I come from.

3. Harry “Sweets” Edison
“K.M. Blues” (from Sweets, Verve). Edison, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Barney Kessel, guitar; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums. Recorded in 1956.

BEFORE: I don’t think I can get this one. Is there more trumpet? It’s swinging and it’s incredible. It makes me think of Roy Eldridge but I don’t think it’s him. It’s somebody out of that zone and I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t know this recording, but man, it’s swinging hard. Who is it?

AFTER: [hears second trumpet solo] I would have gotten it right there, because that’s the lick that Sweets plays on [the Dizzy Gillespie album] Tour De Force. It’s a record with Roy and Dizzy. I heard Sweets play when I was about 17 or 18, around 1980, ’81 at [long-defunct NYC club] Fat Tuesday’s. I can’t remember the occasion, but it was Ben Riley and a great band. I remember talking to him and [noticing] that his Harmon mute was all beat up. It looked like it had been through the war and back but it sounded amazing. So there’s a lesson: It doesn’t matter how damaged the equipment is, it’s who’s playing it.

4. Verneri Pohjola Quartet
“Ancient History” (from Ancient History, ACT). Pohjola, trumpet; Aki Rissanen, piano; Antti Lötjönen, bass; Joonas Riippa, drums. Recorded in 2011.

BEFORE: Can I go to the audience for a lifeline? You really worked hard to stump me. This is very recent. I think I know who it is, but he sounds really strong. He moved to New York a couple years ago. I’m going to guess Tomasz Stanko. It sounds like a recent thing and he has that buzz in his sound, that growl.

AFTER: OK. Great player—from Helsinki. It sounded a little like Tomasz: strong chops and big, full sound. Nice rhythm section and beautiful song. I have Verneri’s record before this one. If you listen to a lot of trumpet, sometimes when you hear a lot of air in the sound and then the pitch, the sound itself can be more thin; but he has a very big sound with a lot of air. He’s also using a lot of this growling sound, which it sounds to me like he’s doing by singing one pitch and playing at the same time. It creates the sound of two frequencies buzzing against each other. I think that’s what he’s doing. [laughs] I’ve met him once so now I can call him and say, “Hey Verneri, how did you play that ballad, ‘Ancient History’”?

5. Horace Silver/Woody Shaw
“Nutville” (from an unreleased live recording from the Half Note). Silver, piano; Shaw, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone; Larry Ridley, bass; Teddy Smith, bass; Roger Humphries, drums. Recorded in 1966.

BEFORE: [immediately] This is a live recording. It’s the Horace Silver tune “Nutville,” one of my favorites. Wow, I’ve never heard this. Wooo! I’m really qualifying myself as a jazzbro. This is one of my biggest heroes. Holy shit! Listen to the way the piano comps—it’s like playing with a big band. Wooo! Everybody knows who this is, right? One of the trumpet masters of modern music and chromatic chord playing. It’s Woody Shaw live with Horace Silver, probably in ’65.

AFTER: The amazing thing about Woody Shaw is that in 1966 he’s only 18, 19, maybe.

I think he was 21 by then.

Right—an old man. He did some of his most extraordinary work as a very young man, and as you can see in the photo [on the screen behind me] he had a thick pair of glasses. His eyesight was not very good and he couldn’t really read on the bandstand, so he would memorize the whole book right away. He got compared with Freddie Hubbard a lot but I think that was unfair. Woody really had his own language. He was taking a lot of risks on this track with chromatic substitutions, and he developed a way of phrasing that language that was unique, really his own.

Speaking as someone who’s studied his music for years, I can tell you that what he does is on this incredibly high, virtuoso level of classical trumpet technique. There’s no way to do it without being an extremely well-trained trumpet player. If you were at the club and just listening you might not think that. He didn’t use that technique to show it off; he used it to achieve this incredibly sophisticated, hip, slick thing that only he could do, and that trumpet players are still trying to figure out how to do.

I also think there’s a long tradition in jazz of trumpet players taking the language of the saxophone and incorporating it into their instrument. Woody Shaw is one of the few trumpet players whose sound I hear saxophone players trying to play.

Did you study with Woody?

I did not study with him. When he passed I was still pretty young, so no, I never got a chance to play with him, unfortunately.

But in ’87 you did play with Horace.

I did. I put in a good season with Horace Silver and learned a lot. It was interesting hearing that recording for me because of the way Horace comps behind the soloists. You might not notice it with a casual listening, but if you listen to that again and think about Woody, he’s essentially soloing with big-band accompaniment, because Horace plays these huge chords—very rich, big sound, and in every chorus his comping takes a new direction. Horace is going to drive the music, which comes out of him being a composer.

Horace is somebody who—how to put this—wasn’t afraid to share his opinions about my playing, but in a very constructive way. We had a lot of talks about how to play his music. The biggest thing for him was the idea of voice leading, that in a good solo it’s not just that you play the right notes. He didn’t care if you played a lot of notes over any particular chord. It was more, are you ready to make the transition from one chord to the next and do it in a way that is hip? That was what he was looking for. Hipness was the paragon of good playing for Horace.

Vincent Herring was the other horn player when I was there, and I remember there were some moments in the rehearsals when we would play and Horace would stop the band and say, “See, right there, what you just did, that wasn’t happening.” We’d go, “What? We learned to play bebop. We know what we’re doing.” But he would play back what one of us just played in his right hand while comping with the left: “See, that’s what you did and here’s why it’s not hip.” He was always right.

6. Kip Hanrahan/Olu Dara
“Dualism I” (from Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed, American Clave). Dara, trumpet; Taj Mahal, voice, dobro; David Murray, tenor saxophone; Elysee Pyronneau, electric guitar; Allen Toussaint, piano; Steve Swallow, electric bass; Billy Hart, drums; Hanrahan, director, producer. Recorded in 1983.

BEFORE: I know—that’s Ted Curson again. No, you’re killing me here. I’m not going to get this. It’s such an unusual combination. It doesn’t sound like a working group. The singer and the poetry remind me of some things in the ’80s, the drummer is playing a more poppy style and it’s clearly produced. The trumpet player is playing this bravura, clarion sound that almost doesn’t seem like it’s of a piece with everything else, so it’s somebody they clearly brought in to get this thing. It’s not Olu Dara, is it? Hello! [jumps up, arms raised in victory, knocking over chair] Thank you very much.

AFTER: I was going to say Olu, and then I thought it’s so trumpet-istic and he never considered himself really a full-on trumpet guy. I’m so excited that I got it. He sounded incredible, but you know his main thing was playing guitar and singing and telling stories, a rapper. I guess rapper is the wrong word. I’ve tried to get him many times to play at the Festival of New Trumpet Music in New York and he just doesn’t really want to play the instrument anymore, and I can’t blame him. It’s a very hard instrument, but on that track, boy, that’s some serious playing—it’s grooving. I knew the poem—Ishmael Reed. I just couldn’t place it.

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