Clip: David Douglas
THE HEAR & NOW
Dave Douglas works his magic on Monk with the SFJAZZ Collective
Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
Thursday, March 8, 2006
Dave Douglas works at the forefront of jazz in more ways than one. A
two-time Grammy nominee and perennial poll-topper, the innovative
trumpeter tirelessly pushes the boundaries of jazz, composing for and
directing several bands and projects under his name.
Just in the past year or two, on his own Greenleaf Music label, he has
issued the instrumentally varied studio CDs Keystone, Meaning and
Mystery and Mountain Passages, plus an ambitious live recording with
the Dave Douglas Quintet, documenting an entire week's worth of
performances -- 12 sets and 45 different compositions -- at the Jazz
Standard in New York City.
"For the past decade, the rare occasional John Zorn/Masada gig
notwithstanding, I've always been the leader," Douglas said in a
recent phone interview. "I'm out there being the bandleader, the road
manager, the composer and the emcee."
But for the time being, Douglas is comfortably ensconced as a
role-player in the SF JAZZ Collective, which performs as part of the
SF JAZZ Spring Season, Sunday, March 11, at Herbst Theatre in San
"This is really, really a blast," Douglas said during a conversation
that took place at the end of the Collective's two-week residency in
San Francisco. He had run the Dipsea trail race that morning and was
getting ready to fly off the next day with the eight-member band for
dates in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Jakarta. "To sit there in rehearsal and
have Josh [Redman] lead it, and just play my parts as well as I
possibly can, it's such a new context for me. I'm just having the time
of my life."
Each year, the SF JAZZ Collective, a 3-year-old project of SF JAZZ
(presenters of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Spring Season and
other events), develops a repertoire around the work of a legendary
jazz composer. Last year it was Herbie Hancock; this year it's
Unlike last season (documented in part on a new limited-edition double
CD), when Gil Goldstein arranged the Hancock pieces for the
Collective, this year, responsibility for arranging selections from
the Monk catalog fell on members of the ensemble -- which includes
vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon,
trombonist Andre Hayward, pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Matt Penman
and drummer Eric Harland.
"They're the kinds of tunes that are really hard to destroy. You have
to work really hard to ruin it, but it can be done," said Douglas, who
took on Monk's "Criss Cross," "Reflections" and "Hornin' In." The
trumpeter, whose own bands have included everything from saxophones,
clarinets, tuba and electric guitar to accordion, violin, cello,
marimba, sampler and turntables, found himself writing for yet another
"In recent years, whenever I've played Monk, it's been pretty free,
like in the context with [the late soprano saxophonist] Steve Lacy,"
he said. "Lacy wanted to bring together all the strands of his life,
so to him that meant playing Monk with the philosophy of a Dixieland
group. I knew this wasn't going to be about collective improvisation,
but I did try to retain some of that spirit in the arrangement of
'Criss Cross,' with more than one person blowing at a time. There's
very much a collective feel to the whole arrangement.
"I think it's really interesting that you can play Monk's pieces in a
lot of different ways," he continued. "In the case of 'Hornin' In,' I
decided I wanted to make almost like an early Ellington-style
arrangement, knowing that Monk was a huge Ellington freak. Not to do
it in an old-fashioned way, but to say, OK, here in the 21st century,
here's a new way of looking at this."
Douglas admits that his appreciation of Monk's idiosyncratic
bebop-rooted sound took time to develop. "The first few times I heard
Monk, I liked it but didn't really get it," he explained. "I think I
was just faked out by the deceptive simplicity of the melodies. As a
20-year-old jazz student, you want to go right to Coltrane; you want
to do your most flashy licks. With time, I started to understand the
deeper value in Monk. And most of the musicians I know, at some point
in their career, they go through a phase where they learn all the Monk
tunes and all the parts. Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Zorn, Don Byron,
Steve Coleman, Jason Moran: Somewhere in their past, they went through
there and looked. I feel that's because everything is represented in
there: how harmony works in jazz; the ways the melodies and the
counter-lines work; the whole abridged catalog of form is all there,
too, in a very naked way. That's so powerful. The pieces are so great.
The more I play them and the more I re-approach them, the more I
Although the Collective investigates a classic segment of the jazz
tradition each year, it is hardly a repertory ensemble. The members of
the band bring in original compositions for each season as well.
Douglas -- the newest member, at least until saxophonist Joe Lovano
joins this summer, assuming the artistic-director duties while Joshua
Redman takes a sabbatical -- was commissioned to write a major new
piece. He came up with "San Francisco Suite," with three alliterative
and culturally appropriate movements: "Alcatraz," "Amoeba" and
"I don't want to put too much rhyme or reason to it," he said of the
way he titled the sections, "but I sat down and thought about the
times I've visited here and the things that have captivated my
imagination about the place." Of "Amoeba," he did grant that it was
inspired by the independent record store. "It's the freer movement,
very amoeba-like in its form, and I wanted to express that sense of
wonder and discovery that I had going to spend afternoons at Amoeba
and going home with $500-worth of new recordings. Having curiosity
about and listening to different kinds of music is really important to
me. I also could have called it 'Down Home.'"
In creating "San Francisco Suite," as well as in arranging the Monk
tunes, Douglas kept in mind exactly who would be playing the pieces.
"The instrumentation is pretty unique," he said. "I can't think of
another ensemble that's quite like this, somewhere between a large
ensemble and a small improvising group, with vibes and piano. It has
such distinct personalities. I hadn't really played with anyone in the
group, so I went out of my way to listen to different things that
people had done. It was a challenge for me to once again go into the
chamber ... [laughs] of secrets and coax something new out of it. Then
to get here and bring it out and have everybody bring 110 percent to
it and have it come alive -- it is incredibly rewarding.
"Playing this music and the Monk tunes with the Collective is great as
an idea, but it's even more great in the flesh-and-blood doing of it."
The SF JAZZ Collective performs "Monk and Beyond," Sunday, March 11,
at Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Showtimes 3 p.m. & 7 p.m.,
tickets $20-$65. For more information, call (415) 788-7353.
- Thanks for this, Carl. I just got into Douglas recently. I'm in love with
Keystone and Mountain Passages, and I'm going to download Meaning & Mystery
as soon as my Emusic downloads refresh.
On a related note, there's a fun, free-wheeling interview with Stanley
Crouch by The Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson at Do The Math, TBP blog:
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]