When Dave Douglas strikes up any of his many performance projects in a metropolis like New York or San Francisco, a certain clientele that share his sense of jazz exploration can usually be counted on to make up an audience. After all, these are regions, where world class jazz has long thrived.
But what about Wyoming, Iowa or Oklahoma? What about, say, Kentucky?
As part of his 50 States Project, the heralded trumpeter, composer and bandleader – viewed critically as one of the country’s leading voices in independent jazz – has vowed to take his music to every state in the country. And in doing so, he has formed an industrious quartet of young protégés that has already released two albums and will soon figure prominently in a third.
So it stands to reason the reception Douglas will receive on Sunday when he makes his Kentucky debut at Louisville’s Clifton Center will be different than at comparatively familiar settings like the Monterey Jazz Festival in California (where he performed last week) or the Village Vanguard in New York.
“When we do go to places that are not hearing current sounds or where touring bands generally don’t go, there is this enormous enthusiasm, excitement and passion,” Douglas said. “That’s why we play the music, after all. It’s really exciting to feel that energy.
“With a lot of jazz, we’re creating things in the moment. So the best feeling you can have is when the audience is discovering with you in the moment.”
The 50 States Project culminates in October with the release of the triple disc box set DD/50. It compiles the two previous records by his current quintet, 2012’s Be Still and 2013’s Time Travel. The new Pathways will complete the package.
All three albums were triggered by two intense events in Douglas’ life – the death of his mother in 2011 and his 50th birthday in 2012. Be Still, in particular, was built around hymns his mother requested to be played at her memorial service (she had battled ovarian cancer for three years). In giving the music a new voice, Douglas augmented a new group of young musicians that included bassist Linda Oh (a former Douglas student during his recently completed 10 year tenure as director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Alberta, Canada) with the decidedly non-jazz voice of Americana songstress Aoife O’Donovan.
“Through all of my projects, I try to bring in all sort of ideas to the music to make something that is new – that I can call my own, let’s say. First of all, being given these hymns by my mom to play… that was something I had never done before. I knew the hymns from church as a child, but to really bring them into my own practice as a musician was a challenge.
“I didn’t just want to recite them from memory. I wanted to find my own way of doing it. I already had the new project kind of formulating, and I knew I was going to be playing these songs somehow. But it was when I met Aoife O’Donovan in January of 2012 that I knew I was going to do this record this way. The way she sang this stuff was so perfect.
“This was also the launch pad for this idea of connecting with the country. I tour a lot overseas. I’ve played in more countries that I’ve played in states. So I wanted to change that.”
The Dave Douglas Quintet performs at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Clifton Center Eifler Theatre, 2117 Payne St. in Louisville. Tickets are $10 (student) and $18 (public). Call (502) 896-6950.