Doug Wamble, Dave Frishberg
January 1, 1970The column this week profiles Doug Wamble, a guitarist and vocalist who mixes elements of gospel, country blues, and even bluegrass into his jazz. The Calendar pick is Dave Frishberg, probably the smartest jazz lyricist at work today.
I'm tentatively scheduled to be on NECN television here in New England at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, for something called "Globe at Home." If it happens, I'll be "hosting" Newport Jazz Festival promoter George Wein in a seven-minute segment about the festival. If yesterday's segment is any indication (yesterday was the first time I watched the show), what that means is I'll will take a seat beside Wein in the Globe newsroom and nod sagely and/or smile my way through Wein fielding questions from a talking head in the NECN studio in Needham.
I may not even be on the air at all. I hestitated briefly in deciding whether to do it, because it doesn't pay anything, and haven't been able to reach my Globe contact again since deciding to say yes. So it's possible she panicked and booked a replacement.
Whether I'm on or not, Wein might be worth watching if you're free around lunchtime on Tuesday and have a TV handy.
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He blends genres with flair
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | July 22, 2005
Doug Wamble isn't sure whether the wide mix of influences in his music helps him or hurts him commercially.
"It probably does both," says the 32-year-old guitarist and vocalist, who last week was touring a handful of red states to promote his exceptional new CD, "Bluestate," his second for Cambridge-based Marsalis Music. Tomorrow night, Wamble will bring his mix of pre- and post-bebop jazz, country blues, R&B, and gospel to the Marblehead summer jazz festival. The range of material, Wamble concedes, makes it hard for promoters to squeeze his music into a neat category. He cites the "Bluestate" song list as proof.
"You have the first tune," Wamble says from his Kansas City hotel room, "which is like this incredibly complex, difficult, unusual form with all these hard chords and all this stuff that's very difficult. And then we play a song by Peter Gabriel sort of in the style of Keith Jarrett's '70s quartet. And then right after that we play this super-hard-swinging blues instrumental tune that the melody was sort of ripped off a Bartok clarinet piece. Followed by this weird Turkish melody thing with slide guitar, followed by a gospel tune from Mahalia Jackson that goes into a Coltrane twelve-bar blues."
The upside to all that variety, says Wamble, is that audiences seem to like it. For that he credits his longtime sidemen: pianist Roy Dunlap, bassist Jeff Hanley, and drummer Peter Miles.
Wamble and Dunlap explored early jazz together as classmates at the University of North Florida.
"There tended to be a philosophy from some of the students at that school that you needed to learn the tradition if you wanted to play the music correctly," says Dunlap. "You're not going to really play jazz well until you understand the trunk of the tree rather than just starting from a branch."
Wamble's dedication to music is why he gets along so well with Branford Marsalis.
"He doesn't sit around listening only to jazz all day," says Wamble. "He knows all this stuff about classical music, but he's also listened to recordings of field hollers and he's listened to recordings of Sun House playing blues guitar."
Marsalis tried to replicate those sounds on his saxophone. Wamble is familiar with that process, having done the same thing, trying to approximate the sound of Louis Armstrong on his guitar.
"I would sit down," he recalls, "listen to four notes of Pops, and just play those four notes over and over again. And then change the way I hit the string, change the way I pushed down on the neck, whatever I could do to try to make it sound like his trumpet on the guitar."
That passionate dedication attracts Wamble to gospel. He mentions the enormous difference between "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" as he heard it in his Baptist church growing up in Tennessee and as he later heard it sung by Aretha Franklin.
"It's the same when you hear someone sing an aria the right way," he explains. "It can just tear your heart out."
That's what happened when Wamble first heard his wife, Janna Baty, sing the role of Donna Anna in the opera "Don Giovanni."
"I heard my wife do that and I was like, 'Man, I want to be able to evoke that kind of feeling.'"
Ever since, Wamble says, he has "let those floodgates open" to whatever genres of music inspire him and quit worrying about "keeping things out of my music that I [once] thought didn't belong there."
© The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. $20. Repeats July 28, 7:30 and 10 p.m.
Dave Frishberg is a sui generis cult figure, possibly the wittiest lyricist writing and a fine jazz pianist to boot. Since he seems to like lists of names — his improbably affecting songs "Van Lingle Mungo" and "Dodger Blue" are essentially recitations of old baseball players' names set to music — it seems appropriate to rattle off a few of his song titles. There's "Peel Me a Grape," which Frishberg knocked out decades before Diana Krall put it into her repertoire. "My Attorney Bernie" is Frishberg's spoof of a nebbish's nitwit adulation of his pompous lawyer, and "Blizzard of Lies" is a droll compendium of fibs so familiar they've become clichés. "I Want to Be a Sidemen" is his tribute to the pleasures he experienced as a young man in bands led by musicians such as Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. "Heart's Desire" is a parent's touching advice to a child to pursue his or her dreams. "My Country Used to Be" contains barbed lines about America marching "into action, with our weapons of mass distraction." That handful barely scratches the surface, but it hints at Frishberg's range and sensibility. To fully appreciate him, though, you need to hear Frishberg swinging his way through them at the piano.
Sat 7-23 Doug Wamble The earnestness of "If I See the Day," from Wamble's new CD, "Bluestate," renders it less effective than "My Country Used to Be" as an Iraq war protest song. But Wamble is an intriguing guitarist and solid singer with a trio of splendid sidemen behind him. Unitarian-Universalist Church, 28 Mugford St., Marblehead. 781-631-1528. 8 p.m. $24 advance, $26 door.