Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter John Daversa. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
John Daversa: – I was born in Los Angeles, but “grew up” in Ada, Oklahoma (age 7 to 14). We even lived in Las Vegas for six months when I was in 4th grade. For my first two years of high school, we lived in Sacramento, CA, and my last two years of high school, the family moved back to LA.
Interest in music? I cannot remember a time when that light, that “fire” wasn’t burning inside me. I remember beating on pillows with drum sticks to Earth Wind and Fire when I very, very young—listening to the soundtrack of Disney’s Jungle Book and Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Chopin, Willie Nelson, Beethoven, Stevie Wonder, everything! Music has always filled my soul. Both my parents are musicians, so that certainly provided me with plenty of resources, for which I am forever grateful.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trumpet?
JD: – My father is a trumpet player—a great one. So, as a kid, I did my best to avoid playing the same instrument as he did. I sang–I started on piano, clarinet, tried the trombone—but trumpet was the “sound” that called me. Also, the designated trumpet player at my middle school in Oklahoma would play “Call To the Colors” at the beginning of school assemblies. At 11 years old, I liked the idea of getting noticed that way.
JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trumpet?
JD: – I’ve had some fantastic foundational teachers and directors along the way, David Vandewalker, Bronson Warren, Craig Faniani, Sid Lasaine. My father has and will always be a constant source of inspiration, though we never had formal trumpet lessons—more “shop talk” discussions. I didn’t have formal trumpet lessons until I was in college. I studied with both Mario Guarneri and Malcolm McNabb at UCLA. We worked on fundamental technique—just trying to get my chops working efficiently. Honestly, most of the breakthroughs I’ve had in regard to playing have come to me away from the horn—they are primarily philosophical and spiritual understandings that relate directly to the physical part of playing trumpet and beyond.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
JD: – The “sound” is merely a collection of everything I’ve ever heard on this Earth plane (and perhaps elsewhere) combined with my own personality, character, and sensibilities. Another component is letting go of the ego as I’ve matured. There’s nothing to prove. There are no comparisons to be made. Just follow the sound as honestly and imaginatively open as possible.
Another important aspect is having played a lot of gigs–Learning, adjusting along the way. Practicing “sound” and concepts on my own is great, but the experience of playing on the gig is completely different.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
JD: – The best thing I ever did to develop my time and rhythmic awareness was playing electric bass in the college big band at UCLA. Playing bass in a rhythm section exposed weaknesses I had in my rhythmic acuity. Beside that, I also listen a lot. I listen to music of course, but I also listen to drummers and bassists talk about music and rhythm. I listen to how they play and how they practice and incorporate their ideas.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
JD: – I do not mean this to be short, but—there isn’t a harmony I wouldn’t prefer at the appropriate moment. It’s completely contextual. Palestrina lights me up—parallel fifths and all—wow! Triads, Bach! Serial music, Alban Berg. modes of the melodic minor—and none of it–All of it and none of it. Study the vocabulary, so you can speak different musical languages, but then intuitively follow the sound that feels most honest.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album: <Wobbly Dance Flower>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. Next year your fans like we can wait for a new album?
JD: – This album came together so quickly and effortlessly—a very different process than I’m accustomed to. In a way it was going back to “roots” for me. Having the opportunity of playing with my musical hero, mentor and colleague, Bob Mintzer. Playing blues, rhythm changes, and Donna Lee! Most of the songs are basically riffs that I sang into my phone and then wrote out as arrangements on the plane on my way to LA. I also love that my 6-year old daughter titled it and added her artwork to the cover! There is much love, joy, playfulness, and reverence on Wobbly Dance Flower.
The next album is a large jazz ensemble project. I’m beginning the arranging process now. The subject of the work is of great social importance. It will release in Fall of 2018. I look forward to sharing it with the world!
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
JD: – It’s the same as life – it’s the same “game”. GRATITUDE, HUMILITY, INTEGRITY, with NO EXPECTATION.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
JD: – The business is “you”. I wouldn’t worry about whatever “jazz” means to anyone else. Treat the “you” business how any other business entrepreneur would.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
JD: – This is always an interesting question. I’m the Chair of a large jazz department (Frost School of Music), I travel around the world giving clinics and concerts—I see “young people” interested in “jazz” all around me. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m fully aware that “jazz” accounts for 1% of music sales (who ever made that calculation, and how…). Exposure is a big part of this. The challenge is in getting the music to the people—especially for artists, when they have to spend so much energy on the creation process—we can’t forget about being just as creative regarding promotion.
For me it’s just about the music—creative, sophisticated, imaginative, intelligent, inspiring music that stimulates both the brain and the heart. It’s passion and intellect. Young people and old that are ready to hear it and play it always show up!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
JD: – I’m here on this Earth plane as a spiritual being having a human experience. I’m enjoying all the challenges and gifts I’ve received, but I know it’s all an illusion…it’s just the matrix. While the time I’m here, I’m enjoying the hell out of it!
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
JD: – I do my best to not have any expectations. All that is actually “real” is the present moment. The future (and the past) don’t exist—only the “now”. I do have goals and intentions, but not expectations. When I experience fear or anxiety it’s because I’m not living in the “now”.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
JD: – Wow, there’s a lot I’d like to explore—so much! There are some large-scale projects I intend to pursue. I’d like to do a project that incorporates vocal textures along with orchestral elements—while still keeping rock and jazz roots. I love to write, but I’d also like to explore having someone else write for me—push me in a different way as a player. I’d also like to create a project in which I use primarily the EVI—get into some sound design and improvisatory heights! For now, one project at a time…
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
JD: – YES! I was just listening to some old “The Police” recordings. They incorporating reggae, world music, and jazz vocabulary underneath the heading of “punk”. It’s all in there. We just recorded an album with the Frost Concert Jazz Band that was based on European folk music. As I’ve mentioned before, for me, it’s all music. The fun is putting all this seemingly diverse vocabulary together in cohesive and reverent ways—perhaps that’s what “jazz” is.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
JD: – Well, I just mentioned “The Police”. I put on old Faith Hill album (“Breathe”) the other day—she can sing! I listened to some Dean Martin, James Brown, John Phillip Sousa, Miles Davis, John Williams, Wonder Woman soundtrack (Rupert Gregson-Williams), Donald Fagen, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Nancy Wilson, and Hank Williams this week.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
JD: – From the Schilke website: https://www.schilkemusic.com/john-daversa-nominated-for-three-grammys/
“John Daversa performs on the Schilke HC2-L Handcraft Bb Trumpet and Flugelhorn.” I play Monette mouthpieces (V2).
Interview by Simon Sargsyan