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Clip: David Douglas

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  • Carl Z.
    THE HEAR & NOW Dave Douglas works his magic on Monk with the SFJAZZ Collective Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 8, 2007
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      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
      Thelonious Monk.

      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
      instrumental mix.

      "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.
    • David Purcell
      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
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 8, 2007
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        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:


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