Interview by Tom Montgomery
What is this upcoming concert on July 20?
It's my ongoing project, Darol Anger And The Jazz Guys. I need to keep
playing jazz, with real jazz musicians, and I enjoy working with the local musicians here and meeting new ones. It's where I learn the most about music. Eventually I want to make a jazz recording, and when I'm asked to do a Stephane Grappelli Tribute or something, it's nice to have a group of people who know my style and know the standards, and so forth. I always learn something on these dates.
The SFJAZZ Free Outdoors: Transamerica Redwood Park Summer Music Series has been very supportive of me and of the many local world-class jazz musicians who live and work here in the Bay Area. They have instituted this great noon concert series that runs all summer in the city, in good outdoor venues, and they promote it and run it well, and pay the musicians too. They've now started commissioning original work for these concerts, and I'm writing a new piece for this upcoming show. It will be at noon at the Transamerica Redwood park on July 20. I'll have the award-winning pianist Jack Perla, acoustic bassist Jon Evans, who has toured with Tori Amos and has played jazz with everyone including bassoonist Paul Hanson, and the great drummer Deszon Claiborne, who has also worked with everybody.
What are your educational projects?
I do fiddle workshops all over the country, from individuals through music stores, to school orchestras. I try to work stuff in to my touring schedule, and do outreach-type stuff within the community. I teach at Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Camps, and as a guest instructor at Berklee College in Boston. I have a book of fiddle tunes out, and an instructional tape on Homespun. I have a series of school orchestra pieces available from Shar Music, and I'm working on some school arrangements for string ensemble and rhythm section. I don't
concentrate on country fiddle; I try to focus on applied improvisation
within a context of American vernacular styles, including blues, jazz, rock, and the many styles of fiddling.
What is the DUO and why are you doing that project?|
The Duo is Mike Marshall and myself. We have been working together since 1978, and have a special musical thing which people seem to love. We know so much music together, we can just start playing, and it turns into something magical. It's also very easy to tour, and we both have the musical space to express everything we want to.
What future projects (a la "Comotion") are you going to be doing, if any?
I hope I'll be able to collaborate with some of these younger bands... when I go to a festival, if I'm not working on some writing project or something, I come to pick. I love to jam with people and figure out how I can fit the fiddle in there so it helps the music be better.
Tell us about Heritage, with Tim O'Brien, Michael Manring and others?
The Heritage recording was a labor of love that took 2 and 1/2 years to complete, and came out on Six Degrees Records. It turned into a huge project that includes just about all the great musicians I have worked with throughout my life up till then, and it's just a big long list that includes Tim O'Brien, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Gorka, Willie Nelson, Sam Bush, Paul McCandless, David Grisman, David Lindley, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Edgar Meyer, Michael Doucet... well, you get the idea. The biggest challenge was with all these people, not making it sound like a big mess. But I think I really succeeded in making it hang together as a big musical movie. There
are a some real cinematic effects like fades, and thematic stuff that keeps coming back and so forth. People can find out more about it by going to my site, www.darolanger.com.
Psychograss... how did name come about, and is there a place for crossing psychedelics with music?
Tony Triscka named that band. Tony is one of the most beautiful people I know, and is a great free-associative talker, a real poet of the absurd. I always get inspired when I'm with him and we get into dizzy heights of non-sequiturean raga elemental grammarialistics.
So we did a great show at the Freight and Salvage, one of those Rounder banjo nights, and Mike Marshall and i came and sat in with Tony, who had Joe Craven and Todd Phillips there, It was so fantastic that Tony called me up the next day and said, off the cuff, "When are we going to play some more of that psychograss?" ...and I realized the band was born. I think there's a place for crossing psychedelics with anything, but not every place.
What are DRONES and why are you so into them?
I have some musical friends who play and are influenced by Indian Classical music, and I'm a big fan of the incredible intonation expressivity that they achieve. A tabla player friend got me a deal on something called Sruti box, which is what those guys practice with to get their intonation together. It's just an electronic drone generator, a successor to the harmonium and Tamboura. But they're expensive, a little heavy, and you have to adjust them manually for every key you play in. So I just burned 6 minutes of a drone in every key to a CD and carry it around with me on tour to practice with. I think it's helped me so much with getting in tune, and I thought it would be handy for other people too. So I distribute them through my website.
From your website you use '92 Ferrington, '93 Rabut and a '28 Nicola da Bologna fiddle/violin... which do you play most often?
Actually I have a great interest in odd violins, having built instruments for a while back when I was just out of college. So I just have this little museum of oddities on my site. I only own the Nicola violin, actually... and I'm borrowing long-term the Ferrington. The Nicola I keep for its beauty, though it's a decent fiddle (you can hear it on the NewGrange recording) and the Ferrington has an incredible unique sound, but you can't tune it to
concert pitch or it would collapse. I play it on my Diary Of A Fiddler CD with Suzy Thompson, on that Cajun tune. What I'm playing mostly now acoustic is a fantastic new fiddle built by Jon
Cooper, who is very popular with the Nashville fiddlers, and for electric, a really great 5 string fiddle by Ithaca Violins.
Why was NewGrange so cool?
Because it was some of the best musicians in the world playing bluegrass together without ego problems!
Will you perhaps tour with Mike and Alison Brown?
I'd like to keep working with Alison, she's one of my top 4 banjo players. Obviously, I'll keep working with Mike. Maybe we'll sit in with Alison's band more for a while. I keep fantasizing about having a chamber music bluegrass band that only plays acoustic chamber halls and festivals, and teaches classical music people about what an incredibly intricate, subtle music Bluegrass can be. Alison would be in that, and probably David Grier, and others. But it's a fantasy right now. I need a booking agent and manager who knows that scene, like we had for the Turtle Island String Quartet. An we'd need the time to cut a record. Also, I'm working on a project with Phil Aaberg, a piano and violin duet thing, which is all 20the century composers like Gershwin, Ravel, Beiderbecke, McCandless, Vince Mendoza, etc. It's going to be incredible, but there's a lot of work to do on it still.
Out-of-print Darol Anger material... what might be re-released, and when?
It's frustrating that we have all this Windham Hill stuff that's out of print, like the first Psychograss recording, that they won't release. They're just a big fat unaware company and anything short of Britney Spears isn't going to get their attention. We can't even buy back returns anymore! I get these statements twice a year about how much I still owe them and they have this many returns, and I call there and they don't even care where the returns are, and won't sell them back to me even if they did know, "so stop bothering us..." That kind of thing. I love seeing people like String Cheese and Tim O'Brien taking this stuff into their own hands. I may be able to get Fiddlistics and the Jazz Violin Celebration back from Rhino, who now own those masters, but it's such a time sink. I'd rather work on new stuff while my body still works. I'll probably do a free release of some of this Fiddle Congress concert material we just did this spring, and there's some live jazz stuff that's pretty good. We're trying to get Rounder to re-release the first Duo album, but I think we'll have to play some more festivals (we have some this summer).
How do you and Mike feel about doing more East Coast shows and festivals, in light of your perhaps being more popular or recognized on the west coast?
It's funny, Mike and I just did a short east coast run as The Duo, and it was a mob scene everywhere we played. Like our older audience, as well as the newer folks. I think people all over the country have been waiting for us to do this, so we're going to do it a lot more!
More on Darol... Official Website