Photo courtesy of the artist
Lauded by the New York Times for his “deep and soulful sound,” composer, educator, and bandleader Dezron Douglas returns to the Gallery this Friday with a new variation of his Black Lion Quartet. Nephew of the late legendary drummer and composer Walter Bolden, Douglas grew up entrenched in the Hartford, Connecticut jazz community and has been playing in New York City since 1999, carving a name for himself both as a leader and as a sideman amongst all of the highly acclaimed usual suspects. Dezron debuted the Black Lion Quartet at the Gallery back in 2011, and this week is poised for more high intensity playing as Dezron brings the concept quartet back to its original home.
To discuss his career at large, the context of the Black Lion Quartet, the upcoming performance, and his passion for music, we sat down with Dezron at Peanut Butter & Co. in the heart of Greenwich Village, where he expounded on everything from breaking synthesizers to imaginary rooms to overcoming walls. Here’s what he had to say:
The Jazz Gallery: 2013 was certainly a great year for you. Some notable accomplishments include the release of Dezron Douglas, Live at Smalls, playing the Detroit Jazz Festival, accompanying Ravi Coltrane on a Village Vanguard run, recording with Louis Hayes and joining his Cannonball Legacy band, playing with Cyrus Chestnut and Victor Lewis in your “Quartet of Doom,” and so forth. What were your thoughts on how it went?
Dezron Douglas: Yeah, it was my first time playing with Ravi at the Vanguard. I think I played with Al Foster at the Vanguard for the first time in 2012. The Vanguard is a different spot man, you know…it’s serious. I’ve been working in New York since ’99 and I didn’t get my first gig at the Vanguard until 2012; there are a lot of great places to play in New York City—including The Jazz Gallery—but the Vanguard has that historic thing happening. But yeah, last year was great with the Smalls record coming out. You know, sometimes when you’re caught up in the moment you don’t tend to remember a lot that you did but that’s pretty deep, just already hearing some of the things that I was able to do. This music—it brings you everywhere.
Last year was a highlight in terms of the masters that I got a chance to work with. I was “batting three-hundred” at the Detroit Jazz Festival (I say “batting three-hundred” because I played with three different acts at the festival: David Berger’s Orchestra, JD Allen, and Ravi Coltrane, all in that weekend). Also, being associated with, getting to hang out with, and getting to play with people like George Cables, Cyrus Chestnut, and Victor Lewis; doing two live records with Louis Hayes; joining the Dexter Gordon Legacy Band; working with Papo Vazquez (we did a record that came out last year that was my first recording playing any kind of Latin jazz). I love working with Papo and we’re actually working on doing another record now with The Mighty Pirates Troubadours. We’re going to be in the studio in April right before I go on the road with Ravi.
2013 was great. The whole year was like an establishment of a friendship with Ravi Coltrane. Because of my fiancée, harpist Brandee Younger, Ravi and I kind of connected. We had been trying to connect for the past four or five years, and once we did, it was just like a match made in heaven, man. Our vibes match, we get along, we offset each other. Musically, Ravi never really tells me anything to do—he’s like, “Whatever you got, bring it! This is the music that we’re dealing with. Just play, man!” I appreciate that coming from a bandleader to a sideman. Last year, we really established a groove in the band with Johnathan Blake and David Virelles. It’s a great band; those cats are bad! Everyone is super killing and we’re just having fun.
Finally, 2013 was tough as we lost Cedar Walton and Mulgrew Miller. I didn’t know Cedar well, but I met him a few times. I got to play a couple tunes with him during a master class in college and I had talked to him on the phone. There were a few moments where I was asked to learn the book, just in case David Williams couldn’t make it. Just having him not around anymore—it’s a really heavy blow to the scene.
I had a chance to play with Mulgrew a few times. That cat was golden! Their passing was a wake up call for everybody on the scene to try to get our lives together and do what makes us feel good. Those were heavy blows last year, man. (more…)