WITH DANIEL SMITH: JAZZ BASSOONIST
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.
Classical Music training on Bassoon what attracted you to Jazz and
was it the fact that it was presumably unprecedented?
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.
any of the maestros of Clarinets and saxophones an inspiration such
as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane etc. Benny Goodman and the like?
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.
you a preference for playing in a smaller group and combination
of instruments or a larger band or orchestra?
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.
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?
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!
modem musos have a highly technological electronic environment so
does this captivate your imagination at all?
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.
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?
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..
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
the Bush/Cheney administration
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.