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IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 81

INTERVIEW with Dave Askren

I've played in over 65 "bands" .  We will highlight a few of these bands in this (and future) issues. 

CLICK the PLAY button to listen while you read - or don't, totally up to you!  You can also PURCHASE these tracks, if you'd like to support our efforts; no obligation to do that, but the option is there if you'd like!

Here's another feature Zzaj Band - 2 of 'em in fact, so you can listen while you read the interview.  First is "The Old Neighborhood", with Eric Wallack on guitars, Ernesto Diaz-Infante on guitars and found street sounds, & me on my trusty old Kurzweill.  Both albums, as you'll hear were in the "experimental zone" to the max:

           Dave sent us his "Trio Nuevo +" CD & we reviewed it in this issue; I was really pleasantly taken aback at the skill & artistry he displayed, ergo felt it way important to do an interview with him.  We surely appreciate his taking the time, & look forward to many more CD's from him for review

Zzaj: We always like to get a little bit of bio from those we interview... where did you grow up... were there brothers/sister... was the environment full of music? Those kinds of things... please elaborate to your heart's content

Dave:  After short stays in Milwaukee and Raleigh, N.C., I ended up in Dayton, Ohio for the formative years, the oldest of three kids. Dad messed around with saxophone and had a jazz collection, but a big influence was my mom, who was a church organist and piano teacher. So music was around the house. I had some piano lessons real young, then played clarinet for a while – had fun playing along with Pete Fountain “Music minus one” recordings and played in elementary school band. Then I got ahold of Dad’s alto – but ironically, I was into rock and R&B – so my saxophone experience wasn’t even playing jazz! I was doing regular gigs by high school, and ended up playing guitar, mainly because of blues, rock and R&B! (A few years later, after going to Berklee as a guitarist and getting way into jazz, I spent a month practicing the “Bird Omni Book” on alto – but I was further along on guitar, and realized that it just wasn’t going to happen!)

Zzaj: Has "LA" influenced the Latin in your music more than the Latin in you has? (this IS a trick question... no ill intent, just have fun with it, please).

Dave:  Oh, yeah – especially since this American Indian/French/English mongrel doesn’t even have “Latin” blood! But L.A. has definitely given me the Latin bug... I teach guitar at Cal State L.A. – where a good friend, Paul DeCastro, runs the Afro-Latin graduate program. Paul and Jeff Benedict, the sax teacher there, added me to their band “Rhubumba” a few years back – which had a killer Cuban rhythm section. We put out a CD in 2004 (?)so that really got me going, and I had a great rapport with the Cubans. But when Eddie Resto (latinjazz bass player with everybody…) showed up at Cal State to get a degree, we hit it off right away and started playing music that ended up as “Trio Nuevo +”

Zzaj: I read (in a bio of you somewhere) that you attended and taught at Berklee (in Boston) & other musical environments. From your perspective as a music teacher, is "book learning" the prime element in being able to play music, or is the "spirit" a great part of that ability, too?

Dave:  Well, the “spirit” is a big part – but the hardest part to teach, and learn! I mean the nuts and bolts of music are easier to quantify and teach. But making it all come alive – that’s the trick. At times, I have felt that I was too “book learned”, and have purposely sought out playing situations with players who were great, but coming more from playing and learning by ear - learning the “old school” way. I have chosen a lot of gigs by looking for situations that would help develop what I considered my weaknesses at a various points in my development. But don’t get me wrong – it takes a lot of work to master the technical aspects of an instrument and to learn to function at a high level with some kind of a jazz vocabulary – that’s right, good old scales and arpeggios, along with transcribing, learning, and analyzing the masters to see how they did/do it! I see a lot of students (even University students) who just won’t make that commitment. Unless they are some kind of genius, it’s just not going to happen. When I first went to music school, It was a given that you would be playing your instrument at least 6-8 hours a day (combining practice and playing in ensembles of with friends). And not just fun – but well-organized study playing. I don’t know any good player who didn’t do that, at least for a while.

Zzaj: Do you get very much involved in the "techie" aspects of recording an album, or do you prefer (only) to PLAY the music, & leave the studio work to others?

Dave:  Oh, yeah – I prefer to only play music (Ha!) But I also like to control the situation – and have some kind of budget! So I recorded “Trio Nuevo +” myself, at my “home studio”. Nowadays, that just means that you have some gear, and can set up some rooms to get a decent sound. In the last few years, the prices have really come down enough to make recording equipment accessible to lots of people.

Zzaj: I noted (when I received your first CD for review) that it seemed to be addressed from YOU... does that mean that you are doing a lot of self-promotion, or do you use other's services for that? Many of our readers are "independent" all the way, & I've no doubt they will be interested in your views on that.

Dave:  Well, you can spend 3-5 thousand $$ for somebody to “work” your CD. Or you can do some research, and get national airplay yourself. But you really have to put in some hours, and there is probably a limit to just how successful you can be with it. It depends on what an artist actually has in mind. If you are doing it all the way, and plan to travel/tour and coordinate all your promo/airplay to make everything happen at the same time, it would be worth it. Most artists have some kind of financial backing if they do all of that. And we’re talking about jazz here! Unless you’re like my old pals “The Bad Plus” – who have a unique sound, (and stuck with it – really believed in it!) and actually got a major label contract... then somebody else does it for you.

Zzaj: What other guitars do you work with? You're doing mostly nylon string guitar on Trio Nuevo +, but I'm wondering if you've delved into electric, or other strings of any type?

Dave:  I use an Ibanez George Benson a lot, and I also have various strats and teles. “Trio Nuevo +” is actually my first all acoustic project. You can get a nice jazz sound out of a telecaster – check out Ed Bickert.

Zzaj: Do you do a lot of touring, or do you prefer staying (pretty much) local?

Dave:  It’s a trade-off. I did more traveling a few years back, but now I want more financial stability (I have a 5-year-old!) If I got hired by a big-name jazz artist who put me on a payroll, I’d go – but for now, I keep some teaching jobs and just pop in and out, mostly staying in So Cal.

Zzaj: Do you prefer Latin music, jazz, or are you just as comfortable in pretty much any musical arena?

Dave:  I’ve done a lot of commercial gigs, especially R&B – not much latin pop. I love classical music too – I have a big recording collection, and I do play classical guitar – but I don’t have time to keep the repertoire learned! I’m pretty much playing jazz at this point, and Latin jazz is my current study area – I’m into Gonzalo Rubalcaba, David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, The Fort Apache Band, Spanish Harlem Orchestra... Resto and DeCastro are always turning me onto new stuff.

Zzaj: Since my magazine has a strong focus on indie artists, what wisdoms might you have to offer aspiring musicians about the "music business"?  Should music be pursued from the perspective of "business", or only "music"?

Dave:  Especially in today’s world – I think that an aspiring artist should get a good grasp on the “business” perspective as early as possible, and develop good plans. I mean, if we are talking about jazz, the music end of it had better be at a high level, and it would be very helpful if the artist actually has something unique to contribute. But you will most likely have to make it happen, business-wise – unless you have some real inside contacts, or your parent is a famous musician already...


ALL artists!  I am very, VERY happy to announce that IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION is ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS again.  I have been granted a (possibly long-term) stay of execution for my trip to Iraq.  I will still  be traveling all over the U.S., so new issues may be a little less timely, but (as always), we will review your materials as soon as possible after we receive them.  Look at the guidelines for submission below, please:


MUSIC:  All formats accepted.  Snail mail to:  Zzaj Productions, c/o Dick Metcalf, 95-1107 Hookupu Street, Mililani, HI 98789.  The only criteria for music you submit is that it MUST HAVE high performance energy... if you submit lackluster material, it will be reviewed accordingly

POETRY:  Poems are accepted for publication ONLY via e-mail (to ).  Poems submitted in any other fashion will NOT be published.  Poetry that includes some reference to music is granted first priority for publication.

BOOKS:  We will review some books; books about music are PREFERRED.  We will NOT return any books submitted for review.  Snail them to the address listed above for MUSIC.

DIY Announcements:  We will post your (e-mailed) ad about DIY projects, regardless of genre or medium... HOWEVER, this is ONLY for INDEPENDENTS... if you are a corporation, don't even BOTHER sending stuff... it will be marked and reported as SPAM!




RETURN to Zzaj Productions MAIN page!


'k, alla' you hardcore D.I.Y'er's!  We've added a D.I.Y. forum board!  Simply click on the lil' button below to TELL US wot' you think...




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