Jimmy Katz Photography
The trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas has released three albums' worth of music in under five months. That's a lot.
How did he do it? A few thoughts:
- Dave Douglas is a super-prolific composer. You know how jazz journalism convention often identifies people as "[instrumentalist] and composer"? Sometimes it feels a little bit like, "OK, you wrote a few blues heads, that's nice." Other times, it properly credits the musician for the fact that he regularly generates original melodies, harmonies that make sense and interlocking arrangements for three to 21 different parts. Some jazz musicians find time to concentrate on this in particular, and others largely execute those visions for others. Dave is of the former category.
- Dave Douglas is a pretty savvy businessman. He's generally successful as a touring artist. He has his own record label, Greenleaf Music, which he's written about for us. That means he has a few folks working to bring his visions to life, both in producing music recordings and distributing them. He knows how to do things like apply for grants. He can thusly afford three recording sessions' worth of studio time that less successful musicians cannot. And he's devised a unique way of releasing these recordings, which brings us to ...
- Dave Douglas is experimenting with format here. He's calling these latest three records the Greenleaf Portable Series — the idea being that they're shorter, more informal sessions released only in digital formats. So far, the three GPS releases are somewhere between 30 and 50 minutes each, sort of like the LP era — so he didn't necessarily road-test this material with a working band and have to come up with two more tunes, as he might have on a "real" album album. Douglas even discussed this in the promotional copy: "Also the idea of shorter, more informal sessions appealed to me as it harked back to the way jazz records used to be made. The GPS gave me an outlet for a lot of new tunes and presented me with a way to record with some musicians I really admire but would rarely get to play with."
Compared to pressing and selling CDs, all this is affordable for both producer and consumer. You can buy each of these GPS records for $5 a pop as a high-quality MP3, or $7 as a lossless FLAC set. Or you can subscribe to the entire Greenleaf Music catalog for on-demand streaming ... more on that soon. First — what does this music sound like?
GPS 1, called Rare Metals is from a band I know and like, Brass Ecstasy. It's Douglas' mini brass band, a quintet with plenty of touring experience. And he came up with a bunch of new tunes for it, including an arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life":
GPS 2 is a bit of an all-star band, at least for those who follow modern jazz: Douglas on trumpet, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax, Vijay Iyer on piano, Linda Oh on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums. Looks a lot like Dave Douglas' working quintet, but with completely different personnel, and six new tunes. The record is called Orange Afternoons; check out the track "Solato":
GPS 3, called Bad Mango, pairs Douglas with the innovative quartet So Percussion. Trumpet plus lots of deftly-arranged clatter, synths, mallets and junkyard noise, on new tunes and old. It's probably the least "jazzy"; incidentally, it might be my favorite of the three. Here's the title track: