DFQ-Dale Fielder Quartet
Dale Fielder Interview
August 29, 2004
By Leslie Colrane
2004 was a busy year for saxophonist/composer Dale Fielder. The year saw the release of three new recordings: Suite: Clarity , the spiritual and jazz CD A Divine Union, and now his latest, Baritone Sunride.Fielder’s career progress can be closely followed through his recordings on Clarion Jazz starting with 1993’s Free Flow and 1995’s Know Thyself. He first attracted national attention with 1996’s Top Ten CD, Dear Sir: Tribute To Wayne Shorter. Other notable recordings were his first suite for the Cadence Jazz label, Ocean Of Love And Mercy with an all-star Nonet and the two DFQ recordings on the BluePort label Short Forms and Romance Serenade. And then there was 2001’s The Hipster. However it was his first recording for 2004, Suite: Clarity, an extended work in five movements with two interludes and a prelude performed non-stop for 60 plus minutes, in front of a live audience, that was his most impressive and important work to date. The ambitious work set the jazz world on notice that here was an important new jazz composer. Baritone Sunride is Fielder’s eleventh recording in an eleven year span. While not being his first recording with the baritone sax, (that distinction goes to the Howling Monk double CD) Baritone Sunrideis Fielder’s first all-baritone sax recording and promises to immediately place him among the front ranks of the best baritone saxophonists performing today. Previously known as a singularly talented multi-saxophonist, Fielder has eschewed his soprano, alto and tenor saxophones and has been showing up at gigs with one horn only: his baritone saxophone. We got together with Dale Fielder recently to talk about his change to the baritone saxophone and his new CD, Baritone Sunride.
Leslie Colrane: What brought about your decision to play the baritone sax exclusively of your other saxophones?
Dale Fielder: Well, I’d say it’s because I have much love for the baritone sax. Such passion for it! An almost obsession if you will, one that’s healthy mind you. And simply because it’s “Fun” with a capital F. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had musically in a long time. Now is as good as any time for me to explore this passion for the baritone. And to do that, for me, means to play only the baritone sax . . . for a while. It’s going to take that for me to master it, and to accomplish what I want. The reason why there are few great baritone players throughout history is because most baritone players double on other horns. And the only dominant baritone saxophonists throughout the history of this music played only the baritone, Harry Carney, Pepper Adams, Hamiett Bluiett, (Gerry) Mulligan and (Serge) Chaloff. Taming this behemoth to make it sound like something ain’t no joke! And the baritone is still one of the few undiscovered territories left in jazz. Just go to the record store and see how few recordings there are of baritone saxophonists. My friend guitarist Eric Johnson and I were just talking about the fact that the baritone has always been an “acquired taste”. And I’m catching hell from everyone when I show up at gigs only with the baritone, you know? It’s like: “Where’s the alto?” (is a comment) I’m hearing consistently. People are upset that I don’t have my alto or tenor which is what they came to hear me play. People in general are pretty much death on the baritone until I play and I hear, “Oh I didn’t know a baritone could sound like that!” So part of my mission is to bring the baritone back to prominence with the other saxes. To pickup and continue what Pepper Adams and others who came before me were doing, you see? Now back to your question, regarding the other horns? I figure maybe in about a year or so or even earlier if I choose, I’ll pick back up with the other horns. When I feel to . . . I’ve done similar things as this in the past. Like when we did the all tenor CD Dear Sir:Tribute To Wayne Shorter back in ’96. I had played tenor exclusively for so long, from ’95 into ’97 and no alto whatsoever, that basically I had become known primarily as a tenor player and people were surprised when I started bringing out the alto and played it so well because it, not the tenor, is my primary instrument. Now in regards to the baritone, keep in mind that for me, it’s coming home to one of the first musical loves in my life because I played bari from 7 th to 12 th grade when I was a kid. But since high school, I have been playing all the others now for 20 plus years without any baritone until now. I finally had the fortune to get a brand new one in 2002 and it was like coming back to a long lost friend. Here was my true voice. A voice I hadn’t heard for over 20 years! When I first pulled the horn out the case and tried it up at the store Stein On Vine, the owner Gary Chen-Stein said: “Damn you sound just like Pepper Adams!” That’s how I hear baritone. It made me reflect on the fact that Pepper Adams was among the first 3 jazz musicians I ever heard and liked when I was 6 years old. The other 2 being Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean. So that sound stayed with me all those years. Also after playing it for a while, it seemed that all the lines I had played before on alto and tenor suddenly sounded good. Even the most simplest lines like eight note lines started to sound really good! Where on alto and tenor they don’t sound like anything at all, you see? This is because on baritone, your notes have more weight. Plus the airflow makes you put your whole being into the horn in a way that’s different from the others. The bari has a buzz the other saxophones don’t. Buzzin’ all the time! 100% of the time. And then there’s the range of the baritone! Extending up to the alto sax’s low register gives it a range not unlike the cello.
L.C. : What can you tell us about your new CD: Baritone Sunride?
D.F. : Well, my recordings are basically snapshots of where I am at musically at the time. I’m a writer, so my recordings are like clearing houses for the material I’ve been writing and playing on gigs. Baritone Sunride is a collection of original jazz compositions the band has currently been playing on gigs, along with a few rare-played jazz standards from the classic composers. In addition, my overarching intent with Baritone Sunride was to honor 3 great baritone saxophonists, Pepper Adams, Charles Davis and Nick Brignola, and their inspiration and influence on my baritone saxophone playing and to demonstrate what I’ve learned from each. I did this with the non original compositions on the CD. A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody by Irving Berlin was associated with Nick Brignola. In fact we use his altered changes to the tune. The arrangement on Lover was something Pepper Adams would do with up tempo tunes: --the meter changes and trades with the drums. And of course Muezzin’ is an early Pepper Adams’ composition. He was a fine and uniquely gifted writer and is my primary influence on baritone. The arrangement on End Of A Love Affair is something Charles Davis did with a different composition on a recent recording. I heard his record with Kenny Dorham: Jazz Contemporary, –the “white record” on the Time label, at an early age -just a few years after it came out in the early 60s. Where he be poppin’ those low B-flat notes at the bottom of the horn. It made everybody who liked baritone go nuts! Me included! And his sense of swing! His approach was another baritone alternative to Pepper Adams’ for me early on.
L.C. : DFQ-the Dale Fielder Quartet is an institution that has been around now for over ten years. Such longevity is rare in this business. Would you comment on DFQ and the members of your band?
D.F. : Certainly! The Dale Fielder Quartet will celebrate it’s tenth year January 1 st 2005 . We played our first gig together New Year’s day 1995. That was when Jane Getz joined us. The only personnel change was when Trevor Ware joined us in 1999 for our original bassist Bill Markus, who joined me in forming in our avant garde group Luminous Monolith. Our first CD, Clarion Jazz’s second double disc release, Meditations On The Fertile Crescent,will be forthcoming at some point in 2005. Jane coming into the quartet was the big factor for us both. We compliment each other very well: --a perfect foil for each other. I attribute this to the fact that we both feel the same way about music, and jazz in particular. Her primary influence is Bud Powell, mine is Charles Parker. We both aren’t afraid of being traditionalists in the sense that in the new millennium this seems to be a bad word. Our influences and sources of inspiration are pretty direct. When you hear Jane play bop or a standard, it sounds completely authentic, relevant yet up to date and of the present time. Not standing still in time sounding dated, you see? Even though we are coming from sources in the 1940’s and ‘50s, we have still learned from everything that has happened since in the music. You hear McCoy Tyner and Tommy Flanagan in Jane’s playing, Coltrane in mine. There’s a certain magic that happens when Jane and I play together and we’ve been smart enough to explore this and let it develop for all these years. It’s still fun for us after all these years. Not to leave Trevor Ware and Thomas White out, they feel the same way. We all are not afraid of the word jazz and relish each opportunity to perform it together. The passion and dedication each member of this band has is beyond any words I can say except the word “love”. We really love what we are doing together. It doesn’t happen quite in the same way when we play with anyone else. We naturally create a very ego-less and supportive musical environment for each other every time we play. And because of this, there is a tremendous amount of love, respect and esteem we hold for each other that has been enjoyed for ten years and hopefully many more to come.