We return with the second installment of my interview with John Daversa. Focusing more on his current projects outside the world of academia, check out what Daversa is currently up to.
Daniel Weidlein: You play with a number of different groups amidst all of the other projects you’re working on. Shogun Warrior, the John Daversa Small Band, the John Daversa Progressive Big Band, the Westlake Trio included. Do you ever feel like you’re being spread to thin?
John Daversa: No…because these groups are not touring all the time. Usually one takes priority for a certain period, if we’re making a record or doing some small tour or something, and then the focus moves on to the next thing. And sure there are times where things are more concentrated and then it’ll die off for a while, but that’s what keeps it interesting. And it’s cool that project A can then feed project B and so forth.
D: They say you have to be crazy to try to put together a big band in this day and age. What provided the inspiration?
J: I hate big bands. I always hated playing in big bands because I’m not the power player—you’re always just waiting for those 16 bars where the band gets soft so you can play your little solo and then the band screams again. I’m being funny, but there’s always some truth in the humor. But I see myself just as much as a writer as a performer, and it was a great setting to be able to showcase what I can do improvisationally but also be able to bring some of my compositional concepts to that traditional format, and then tweak it out.
D: Yeah, one of the things I’ve noticed about your big band is sometime you almost approach it like it’s a small group in the way you open things up.
J: Oh yeah, yeah. That’s the thing that intrigues me about it. You’re going to have sections that are composed and you know what to expect structurally. You have a destination point. Then you have the license to create chaos, or what ever happens improvisationally, on either side of that. Often times when things are completely open and free and improvised, it’s not very interesting to listen to—it can be so open that there’s no destination point. With the big band, you have seventeen or eighteen people ready to play something in some sort of unison coming out of an open, improvised section.
D: Is there anybody who had a great impact on your writing for big band?
J: I certainly have respect for all of the big writers, from Duke to modern writers like Maria Schneider. I’m not as traditional with my influences in general, my approach is much less orchestral and much more geared towards rock and funk and pop, and free jazz in there somewhere. But I was greatly influenced by Dee Barton and the record he wrote for Stan Kenton’s Band. I only knew about it because my father played on the record, but at some point I found it lying around the house, put it on and thought it was so brilliant. It has those small group sounds but brings it to the big band. There’s so much space! There’s no piano or guitar filling the space, but all of a sudden the big band will come in and comp behind a soloist. What really intrigued me is the range that his arrangements play with. Not so much dynamically in terms of soft and loud, but in terms of density. You can have two to three instruments, and then twenty. And to be able to control that within the context of the arrangement was a huge inspiration.
D: You’re known around town as an EVI player almost as much as you are known for being a trumpet player. How did that evolve?
J: Michael Brecker. His EWI playing paved the way for all of that. The instrument itself is cool because you control it like a trumpet but there’s no embouchure. There’s not a lot of the physical limitations of the trumpet. Whatever you can imagine, whatever goes beyond imagination, can be played on the EVI and that was incredibly liberating. The wonderful thing was that when I returned to the trumpet because I was starting to hear things on the EVI I could now hear them on the trumpet. I don’t care what the limitations are, if you can hear it on the instrument, you’ll find a way to do it. So that helped my trumpet playing immensely, I didn’t have the same limitations any more.
D: Ok, we’ve spent enough time not talking about the hot topic in the Daversa world right now. You have a hit video on YouTube that was just released called “I Love the 405.” For those readers who are not from Los Angeles, it probably comes across as utter nonsense. But for those of us in the City of Angels, it has the potential to become something of an anthem. The music is so different than what we’re used to with you, where did it come from? (For those of you who are fortunate enough not to be privy to the disaster that is the 405, it is one of the main arteries in the overcrowded network of Southern Californian highways. It can becomes so congested that there is a large population of children who have the 405 marked as their place of birth on their birth certificates)
J: This was the first song with lyrics I had ever written. Back in 1999 I opened a studio with a friend, and we needed demos of various genres to market the studio. So I decided I would write a country tune, a smooth jazz tune, a straight up punk tune, and so on. So this song was the demo that we recorded on an old ADAT for the country sample. This was just the rough mix…I always kind of wanted to rerecord it, but there’s something nice about the raw quality of this recording. So just recently I’ve become enthralled with the YouTube concept and how you can really open yourself and the persona you create up to the world. So myself and a couple friends got together this summer and took a few days and took a bunch of footage to put together a music video. I think we had more fun shooting this video than anything. I think one of my main inspirations for this stuff is Jack Conte and the videosong style he has created with Pomplamoose. “I Love the 405” isn’t a videosong, but it allowed myself to reveal a new side of me that most people haven’t seen before. Maybe I’ll start doing a few of these, and I’ve got a bunch of silly tunes like these, and some serious songs too, and I thought I would be a fun idea to open up this new side of myself. And for anybody who lives in LA, they know exactly what I’m talking about. I think I wrote most of this song driving the 405 once a week between two teaching gigs, one in Santa Monica and one in Valencia—at rush hour no less—so most of the lines came to me while driving.
D: How has the video been received so far?
J: People think I’m nuts…really well actually! I was kind of scared as to how it might go over because I’ve got this academic career where I’m supposed to be a serious doctor person, or even a serious jazz musician, so I did have my concerns. But I think it’s only strengthened all that. Because I think that people just get to know you better, and they bond to you even more because they know you better. And it’s done what I thought it would do in that since I’ve put that video up, I’ve sold a lot more records of my various jazz projects. I think the day I put that up I sold ten of the big band records I made back in 2000.
D: Is there more to come from this new side of John Daversa?
J: Red Bull and Coffee. That’s the next song. That was another period of my life.
J: Haha, yeah. Yeah.
D: Is there a plan to release a record of this music?
J: Yeah. At some point. It’s probably record number three on my docket. I’m finishing an album with my big band which will be released early next year. I’m planning on recording a new album with my small group in May. But after that I would love to put out some sort of record with the songwriting stuff in the next couple years. It’s funny, people always worry about being too diverse—all these projects appear so different—but to me its all just different manifestations of the same personality, just with different formats. It’s all kind of coming together pretty quickly…it’s been a slow process getting there, but the energy’s all there now and it’s really fun.
D: Ok, let’s wrap it up with this question. You have a newborn daughter. What do you think she’ll be seeing in the music industry in twenty years?
J: Boy. Seeing is it, isn’t it? Not necessarily hearing, but seeing right?
J: Yeah, the music is always going to be the same. There will always be pioneers that are pushing the music in some new direction. Music has always been cyclical and it will continue to be so. Everything is a revolt to what came before it. This is true throughout classical music, but jazz too. Miles had to cool down because of all the stuff that happened before him with Bird.
D: Miles just kept revolting against himself, really.
J: You bet. I mean, I don’t think I can tell you where music is right now let alone where it is going. But I think this relationship to the visual is going to be vital to the future of music. What I do know is I firmly believe in the creativity of humanity, and there will always be those people who have no fear and keep pushing the boundaries.
Stay tuned for more from John Daversa in the near future. In addition to the highly anticipated release of Red Bull and Coffee, the John Daversa Progressive Big Band has finished recording its second studio album and should be released in early 2011. If you get the chance, please go see John live. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.
Check out the new video for John’s hit single : I Love The 405