Born on March 24, 1963, in Montclair, NJ. Education: Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, New York University. Addresses: Record company--RCA Records, 1540 Broadway, Times Square, New York City, NY 10036.; Management--Sooya Arts, 173 Avenue A #17, New York, NY 10009-4253 Phone: (212) 353-9223 E-mail:;

Dave Douglas may be the signature musician of the 1990s. By mid-decade, his work with groups as dissimilar as Horace Silver's band and John Zorn's Masada had revealed him to be a jazz trumpeter of great promise. At the same time, he was leading a large number of his own groups which played music of considerable breadth. "He pushes the music into other areas, building to suit his instincts, into the classical chamber mode, into Eastern European folk idioms, or quirky rock riffage, abutting uncharted improv sections," wrote Josef Woodward in Jazz Times. In 1998, Down Beat's Critics Poll named Douglas Talent Deserving Wider Recognition both for his trumpet playing and for his overall jazz artistry; in 1999, Jazz Times voted him jazz artist of the year. Douglas reached these peaks while working at a frenetic pace: by 2000 he had some 100 recording credits under his belt.

Douglas's eclectic musical tastes have their roots in his early life in Montclair, New Jersey, where he heard the rock and pop albums of his older brothers and sisters, and the swing records in his father's collection. "Stevie Wonder was fed to me with as much validity as the Beatles or Coleman Hawkins or Beethoven," Douglas told James Hale in CODAmagazine. "I developed an inner world of hearing music at a very early age." Indicative of his relationship to jazz is the fact that he came to the great Miles Davis groups of the 1950s and 1960s only after hearing Davis's funk and rock-infused later work. Rather than a museum piece based on forms of the 1940s and 1950s, Douglas would make an extremely plastic form that could accept all the diverse musical styles that interested him.

He took up piano not long after starting grade school. At the age of seven he began studying trombone and at nine switched to trumpet. He first studied the classical repertoire. When he was eleven, however, he made two important discoveries while rooting through his father's collection of LPs: The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz set gave him an introduction to the history of jazz forms, while Music Minus One albums gave him an opportunity to improvise with a band in his own home. By the time Douglas had reached his teens, music had assumed a central place in his life. He took a tape player and music on family vacations, and while still in high school made up his mind to become a professional musician.

His relationship to his instrument was a complicated one, not withstanding the virtuosity he eventually displayed. ''I'm just trying to get the sound that's in my head," he told the Toronto Star's Geoff Chapman, "and often the sound in my head doesn't have a lot to do with the trumpet itself. For a long time, I was just trying to ignore the fact that I was playing this obnoxious instrument.'' He told Hale that for a long time, until late in the 1990s, in fact, it was a tenor sax he was hearing. "Until recently, I never thought I was playing the trumpet. I was hearing tenor saxophone in my head, and that's why to this day I so often use the low register. I want to be down there where a Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon were." After a high school year abroad in Spain, where he was able to play with real gigging musicians, Douglas first attended the Berklee College of Music where he studied jazz harmony and arranging, and then the New England Conservatory of Music where he learned the Carmine Caruso trumpet method. In 1984 he moved to New York City where he enrolled in New York University and began studying with Caruso himself. While in school in New York, he honed his performance chops in one of the toughest venues imaginable, as a Times Square street musician. In 1986, while working with a theater group in Switzerland, he discovered Romanian folk music, part of a tradition that would be an important part of his work through most of the 1990s. "It was like a new language for me," he told Hale, "it added to everything else I was hearing."

The jazz world got its first look at Douglas in 1987 when he joined the Horace Silver quintet. The job provided Douglas with valuable experience in hard bop, but the trumpeter never fully gelled with Silver's group. "I don't think Horace was thrilled with the way I was playing," Douglas told Lloyd Sachs of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I was 23 and still thought I was single-handedly changing modern American music. I was trying to play modern when he wanted something more literal. It wasn't the smoothest ride, but ultimately, learning that language was very important to me."

His recording career took off in earnest in 1993 when he joined a group put together by Don Byron to play the music of Mickey Katz. The same year Douglas cut the first album of his own, a work called Parallel Worlds. The line-up, highly unusual for a jazz record, included Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Dressler on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. Douglas's string group ended up that way by accident. "I remember Dave had a gig at the (original) Knitting Factory and he called me at the last minute to come to a rehearsal because his trombone player couldn't make it back from the West Coast in time," Friedlander told Hale. "I ended up performing with Dave for the first time and the string band was born." The group recorded two other CDs, Five and Convergence, both on the Soul Note label.

Rough tapes of the Parallel Worlds sessions reached saxophonist John Zorn, who called Douglas not long afterward and invited him to join the group Masada, which Zorn was putting together. Masada was a brilliant hybrid in which the sound and spirit of the early Ornette Coleman quartet met klezmer music. With Zorn on sax, Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass, and Joey Baron on drums, Masada turned out to be one of the super-groups of the nineties. A large part of Masada's success and popularity was due to the fiery chemistry and near-telepathic awareness that existed between Douglas and Zorn. Masada became Zorn's most popular group and helped launch Douglas into wider prominence.

By the mid-nineties, Douglas was one of the busiest, unheralded musicians working. In 1994 his Tiny Bell Trio, comprised of guitarist Brad Schoeppach and drummer Jim Black, released its first CD, entitled simply The Tiny Bell Trio, followed by 1995's Constellations. Douglas also put together a sextet in 1995 which released In Our Lifetime. 1996 saw the release of Five, and a collaboration with Dutch percussionist Han Bennink. Douglas brought out three albums in 1997, including Sanctuary, a free jazz composition utilizing electronics. He released another three in 1998, including the premier CD by his group Charms of the Night Sky, made up of Feldman on violin, Cohen on bass, and Guy Kucevsek on accordion. This burst of work all took place while Douglas was touring with Masada and his own bands and working as a sideman with musicians such as Myra Melford, Anthony Braxton, Fred Hersh, Ned Rothenberg, Uri Caine, and David Shea.

Douglas's career entered a new phase in late 1997 when his sextet played a six night stand at New York's Iridium Club. The gig, compared by some to Ornette Coleman's 1959 date at the Five Spot, was a sign that Douglas had left the downtown music ghetto and entered the jazz mainstream. In the wake of the Iridium shows, he was named Down Beat's Jazz Artist of the Year in 1998, and the Jazz TimesArtist of the Year in 1999. The payoff came later in 1999, when RCA Records offered Douglas a two-year contract that allowed him to release four records, each by a different group, together with full control over production. Steve Gates, RCA's vice-president of A&R told Hale why the company was willing to grant Douglas such a degree of freedom: "I think of Dave as pushing the limits of titles because he is as much a creator of world music as he is of jazz. The improvised nature of his music pushes it toward jazz, but I think he brings world and classical repertoire into his work, as well. I think Dave will be one of a few artists who will reshape jazz in the coming few years."

All the accolades have not slowed Douglas's energetic pace. Despite continued reports of its demise, Masada continues to be active. In early 2000 his sextet released Soul on Soul: Celebrating Mary Lou Williams, the first of his releases for RCA. Douglas also formed two new groups, Magic Triangle, a quartet, and a nonet called Witness. Douglas was also commissioned to write music for the Tricia Brown Dance Company, compositions which were to be performed by Charms Of The Night Sky on Douglas' second RCA release. And there are always new projects. "There are just a lot of ideas floating around, many thankfully unfulfilled, for each of my projects," Douglas told the Boston Globe's Bob Blumenthal. "And while I wish there was some kind of secret for getting it all out, the way that I do it is just to work every day. Composition is like long-distance running, or any other activity that requires developed muscles."

by Gerald E. Brennan

Dave Douglas's Career

Performed as Times Square street musician, 1984; traveled to Switzerland with theater group, discovered Romanian folk music, performed as sideman on pianist John Esposito's album, Flying With The Comet,1986; joined Horace Silver Quintet, 1987; recorded first album of his own, Parallel Worlds, formed Tiny Bell Trio, 1993; joined John Zorn's Masada, 1994; released tribute to Booker Little entitled In Our Lifetime; formed group Charms of the Night Sky, played six night stand at Iridium Club in uptown New York City, 1997; signed by RCA Records, 1999; debuted on RCA with Soul On Soul, 2000.

Dave Douglas's Awards

Jazz Times Artist of the Year, 1999; Down Beat Critics Poll, Artist Deserving Wider Recognition (trumpet & jazz artistry), 1998; New York Jazz Awards, Best Trumpet Player, 1998, Artist of the Year, 1999.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

January 27, 2004: Douglas's album, Strange Liberation, was released. Source:,, January 29, 2004.

Further Reading


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