Dave Douglas: 'High Speed And Broadband Ready'

Dave Douglas


Trumpeter, composer — and avid blogger — Dave Douglas. Photo Credit: Paul Natkin.

Dave Douglas is one of today's most celebrated jazz trumpeters. His new album Spirit Moves, the first with his Brass Ecstasy band, is out today.

He's also one of the jazz world's great bloggers. And as we continue to develop our little slice of the Jazz Internet, we asked Dave, a noted early adopter of many musical technologies, to contribute a few guest posts about "Jazz In The Digital Age." Here's his first entry, a manifesto of sorts about why improvised music is perfect for our new media landscape. —Ed.

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Jazz: 'High Speed And Broadband Ready'

Last week I played one of your more curious gigs.

Across high speed internet, thanks to software developed by Chris Chafe at Stanford University, I improvised in real time with musicians in Banff, Canada; San Diego, Calif.; Troy, N.Y.; and Belfast, Northern Ireland. The other musicians, among them Mark Dresser, Michael Dessen, and Pauline Oliveros, were visible only by video iChat (miserably slow compared to the audio).

The remarkable thing was how effortless the improvisation felt. I have played many gigs standing right next to Mark Dresser, so there was instantly a familiar feeling. But I had never played with any of the other musicians. As soon as we were improvising, there were no barriers to the communication. The fluidity of improvisation and jazz makes it 100% ready for these 21st century technologies.

I hesitated calling these guest posts "Jazz in the Digital Age" for several reasons, not least being the ongoing discussion of how to define jazz. But more importantly, in the age of widespread broadband the idea of isolating genre is outdated: everything has to go together. It's not a question particularly of how jazz works; it's how the nuts and bolts of human culture coexist. More than ever, the technology demands that we be open to that.

In the early radio age, there were bands that did not want to be broadcast. They thought listeners would steal their sound. It just so happens that — for the most part — those are the very bands that we have never heard of. They are lost to history.

So the question is: how does this broad swath of music coming out of jazz take advantage of the opportunities presented by new technology without losing its human essence?

Blogging is big in the jazz world, and growing fast. (I've got a a blog at greenleafmusic.com, and here I am guest blogging ...) In a way, blogging in the jazz world has become like having living, breathing liner notes.

But blogging is not going to move the music forward. It's just the megaphone, albeit a good one.

Music applications like ProTools, Ableton Live, Max/MSP and even Garage Band enable new music and home recording. This is a big change. My 14-year-old rehearses with his band via iChat. Lots of things are possible that we'd have never imagined even five years ago. Think of where we'll be five years from now.

Still, jazz and improvised music-making in real time demands a certain level of musicianship. The boxes will never do it for you. Even piled up with free apps, your iPhone can only get you so far. But there is no doubt that the technology has entered the music, and that it will continue to do so.

Maybe the most pervasive influence is in distribution. The Internet is ready to embrace all forms of music and cultural expression. World-wide distribution is instantaneous. It's a changed landscape for listeners and artists alike when they know they can have a window into each other's day-to-day workings.

Listeners are increasingly free of filters as well. Not subject to placement in record stores and magazines, music can reach anyone willing to follow his or her cursor. Commentators bemoan the death of print journalism. I would say, look at it from the other side: rather than post-magazine, post-store, you could describe it as a pan-magazine, pan-store, pan-artist environment. Content is available everywhere — look at Pandora.

Musicians are indeed affected by being able to hear everything at once, and knowing they can publish their work at once. They begin to operate differently, aware of these new variables. This is a good thing for jazz and improvised music, as they are the most adaptable and fluid of forms. It's still hard work making the music — but now, the gateway of releasing it is now always at hand. And the way we release our music can be infinitely flexible. Technology knows no limits as to what the content is. The high speed, broadband environment has no prejudices as to style.

Improvised music is ideally suited to this age. It takes wise and fair use to apply it, and at the end of the day there will always be good music and bad. But the barriers to creating and documenting music and distributing it are rapidly coming down.

Can we as humans learn to be as open-minded as the technology that has grown up around us?

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