- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

NEW YORK

Ask Dave Douglas what he's listening to, and he'll give you an eclectic earful: the Emerson String Quartet playing Shostakovich, new records by Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell and older recordings by pioneering female jazz pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams.

Mr. Douglas believes in musical diversity breaking down boundaries and using jazz as a vehicle to absorb other influences. The 36-year-old trumpeter and composer leads 10 ensembles, including Magic Triangle, an acoustic jazz quartet; the chamber group Charms of the Night Sky; the Balkan-jazz band Tiny Bell Trio; the string ensemble Parallel Worlds; and the Indian-jazz group Satya. He also finds time for collaborations with choreographer Trisha Brown and performances as a sideman with John Zorn and other contemporary improvisers.

The Montclair, N.J., native arrived in New York in 1984 and worked as a street performer while finishing his musical studies at New York University. In the 1990s, he emerged as a mainstay of the downtown alternative jazz scene, making more than 100 recordings, including 14 as a leader for independent labels. The most recent, "Leap of Faith" (Arabesque), features 11 Douglas tunes that serve as launching pads for his quartet's improvisatory flights.

Mr. Douglas has earned accolades from jazz critics and won four categories at the 1999 New York Jazz Awards, including artist, composer and trumpeter of the year. He stands poised to reach an even larger audience with the release of his major-label debut, "Soul on Soul" (RCA), with his sextet celebrating the musical legacy of Mary Lou Williams.

Q: What inspired you to do this tribute to Mary Lou Williams?

A: Mary Lou Williams is really one of the giants of last century's music… . but she has been somewhat overlooked… . She was on the cutting edge of music beginning in the teens of the 20th century and ending in the late '70s. It's hard to think of too many other musicians who spanned all of those different stylistic periods and who really continued to challenge themselves. I look at her as an inspiration to myself to keep moving forward and keep challenging myself and doing new things.

Q: In celebrating Miss Williams, how do you see yourself relating to the jazz tradition?

A: I didn't feel that Mary Lou Williams would want someone to just play her music and re-create it. I think her vision was very much about creating new music on the remains of the old music… . I felt the strongest thing I could do would be to write new music in celebration of her spirit, thinking about the elements she dealt with and the story of her life… . So on the record, there are four of her pieces and nine of mine… . I think that the tradition is here to be moved forward.

Q: Why do you work in so many diverse ensembles rather than focusing on one band?

A: I like to make music in a lot of different ways. The luxury of living in New York is that there are more inspiring musicians around than you could ever have time to play with. So by writing for a lot of different ensembles, I'm able to work with a lot of these musicians… . Each project has a very different sound because I'm writing specifically for the players that are involved… . I enjoy the challenge of trying something different.

Q: Have you had to make any artistic compromises by signing with a major record label?

A: It's actually been inspiring to be involved with the people at RCA because they have encouraged me to do exactly what I want to do and not to pull any punches. When I was offered the chance to sign with a major [label], several labels came along at the same time. It was RCA that really made it clear that they wanted me to continue doing what I'm doing. I'm making four records over two years for them and producing them myself.

Q: Do you think your music can appeal to a wider audience?

A: I don't honestly know. I feel that already I'm seeing this record get to a lot of people who have never heard what I do, and people seem to have a positive reaction… . As I travel around the world playing this music, I see that audiences are aware of a much broader spectrum of music now than they used to be. People don't tend anymore to be just a jazz fan or just an opera fan… . The people I see at my shows seem able to stay with me as I bring in all these different references to the music… . People are not as shocked by music that crosses genre boundaries any more.

Dave Douglas' official Web site is www.davedouglas.com

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