ARTICLES (Escutcheon)
Published in ‘Escutcheon’ June 2008



When I heard about jazz bassoonist Daniel Smith, I looked up the website and made contact. Timed right, he was in Germany and due to visit London at the end of April. My mischievous sense of humour was drawn to the unusual combination of instrument and genre so we have an interview in this newsletter.

With Classical Music training on Bassoon what attracted you to Jazz and was it the fact that it was presumably unprecedented?

I had been a big jazz fan in my teens and at that time was studying all the other woodwinds. The bassoon came later in my mid 20s and the intention was not to be a soloist but rather to increase my earning power by being a 'doubler' and to play in show bands and do studio work. The move towards playing jazz came out of my performing the 'Jazz Suite' by English composer Steve Gray which he wrote and dedicated to me. I wrote out the solos where improvisation was required but vowed to teach myself to do it the 'right' way thereafter and learn the jazz idiom. The rest is history as they say.


Were any of the maestros of Clarinets and saxophones an inspiration such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane etc. Benny Goodman and the like?

All of the above and especially Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker. I was about 16 years old and knew nothing about jazz when I saw the Benny Goodman trio reunited on a New Year's eve TV special. I was mesmerized by hearing Goodman and sought out a teacher shortly afterwards to learn this instrument. I told the music studio people that I wanted to play the 'trumpet' which I heard on TV with a Mr. Goodman playing it. They asked me to describe the 'trumpet' and I said it was 'long and black'. I was definitely in the dark about everything and anything connected with music at that point. My clarinet lessons led in stages to the saxophone, flute, even a bit of oboe and only later on the bassoon. As for Charlie Parker, what can I say other than he was a musical genius in a class by himself, the likes of which comes along only once in a generation or perhaps in a century! I also loved the playing of Stan Getz; Sonny Rollins is another source of inspiration.


Have you a preference for playing in a smaller group and combination of instruments or a larger band or orchestra?

When I played saxophone and the other woodwinds, I was performing in many situations including show bands, latin bands, name bands, orchestras, and so forth. With the bassoon I moved in stages from becoming an orchestral player to the role of soloist performing concertos with orchestras and recitals with piano … and then on to many classical and crossover albums. Jazz, as indicated above, was added later on, and is now my absolute priority in music. However, I still enjoy doing recitals and concertos since I can express myself in my own style with such music. As for the jazz and improvisation, it just keeps getting better and more fluent every time I pick up the instrument.


I turned into a chordologist because of the guitar and I take it that you are conversant with the piano/keyboards so have you explored the world of obscure chords and advanced sequences?

Yes, I did this when I started to get serious about playing jazz. I had to learn all the jazz scales and chords in every key from top to bottom of my instrument and increase the speeds to make them fluent in my fingers and mind. I had also played some piano earlier and can hear chord changes clearly in my head when improvising. As to how and why musical ideas come into one's mind and how the fingers execute these ideas … l don't have a clue. I recently met with Oliver Sacks, world famous author ('Awakenings') and neurologist to discuss this subject. After hearing my recordings and playing for him in person, he said that he also did not understand how the mind works in this mysterious process … but advised me to just keep doing what I am doing and not even think about it!


Most modem musos have a highly technological electronic environment so does this captivate your imagination at all?

I run a 16 track digital multi-track recorder with a complex set of micro-adjustable functions so have you ventured down this avenue or are you totally artistic , leaving those tasks to sound engineers? I have not delved into this area. However, I recently heard Trilok Gurtu perform at the Jazzahead Convention in Bremen, Germany, and was blown away by what I heard and saw with his band. He really inspired me and I am now starting to explore other styles and approaches to add further skills onto my jazz bassoon playing.


In the Jazz world l joined the Association of British Jazz Musicians. F.A.M. & A.S.C.A.P. etc. Which organisation(s) do you belong to in the USA?

Just for the record … l am a sort of honorary Brit. I owned property and lived off and on for almost 20 years in London until recently and also belong to the Association of British Jazz Musicians. Elsewhere I have been associated with the IAJE (which just went bankrupt after 40 years in existence), Jazz lmprov in the USA, Jazzahead in Germany, All About Jazz on the Internet, and quite a few others where articles and interviews on my career have appeared..


Since you globetrot, which part of the world takes your personal preference for performing and for resting?

I much prefer the life style and values in Europe to that of the USA, especially these past 8 years with what is understood by much of the world as the most corrupt and dangerous government in American history … the Bush/Cheney administration … unelected and one that has wrought havoc in the USA and elsewhere. I also feel that the 'future' will belong to Europe and Asia, especially in the arts and in the world of jazz. Just a bit of 'political' commentary here but a subject which I and many others feel very strongly about.


What other non-musical interests do you follow? Sport or any other? Some rock stars play golf or tennis. Some play or follow football or cricket. Benny Green even wrote books on cricket.

I guess you could describe me as an 'intellectual' of sorts. From the time of my middle teen years, I have been a prolific reader. I read a few hundred books a year and have a large library with books on history, politics, nature, politics, biographies etc. Before I turned 20, I had read most everything written by Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, Henry Miller, and many other authors. Nowadays I focus a lot on events taking place throughout the world written by serious journalists and scholars who write in detail much of what the 'media' fails to cover … writers such as Robert Fisk, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Chalmers Johnson, Kevin Phillips, etc. plus quite a few historians. My other great passion is travel … l am always excited about the idea of traveling to somewhere in the world I have never been to. I have been to South America, Africa, India, much of Europe and Scandinavia and hope to do more of this in the future.


My niche in Classical Music became Renaissance Lute Music. Have you narrowed down a similar specialist area for you and your bassoon? Do you own and play other instruments.

At one point, when I played all the woodwinds, I owned a rather large collection of instruments. This included such as alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet and Eb clarinet, flute, piccolo, oboe, bassoon and contrabassoon. I even performed Gunther Schuller's Contrabassoon Concerto in the American West Coast/California premiere performance. And somehow in this mix, I also studied for a while the violin and a bit of piano as well.


Finally, in your opinion can you see an increase in interest in Jazz during the 21st century as generations fade away and new growth develops?

Definitely more interest! But I am not sure where the best of new jazz will emerge. At the Jazzahead Convention in Bremen, the focus was on the premise that European jazzartists have reached the level of playing formerly held by American players. And with the likes of musicians adding on jazz to their styles coming from Asia, India and elsewhere, it could lead to even more permutations in the jazz idiom. What is disturbing is the avoidance of jazz by much of the major media and the scheduling of jazz 'lite' on some radio outlets … which is neither jazz nor pop and with a listening audience which does not know the difference.






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