Dave Douglas, as a trumpeter and bandleader, has written hundreds of compositions over the years for the ensembles he leads. He has received Composer of the Year nods several times from the Down Beat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association Awards.
In addition, Douglas has written compositions for a wide range of ensembles, from jazz trios to symphony orchestras. He's received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and has created chamber works commissioned by the Library of Congress. His commissions include works for the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Essen Philharmonie, Stanford University, and most recently, Monash Art Ensemble, which premiered his piece Fabliaux in March 2014.
According to Nate Chinen in the New York Times, "His body of work reflects an inveterate engagement with the world, taking inspiration from literature, politics, dance and film, as well as jazz and new-music traditions."
Examples of commissioned work by Douglas show the range of his vision, depth and ingenuity:
- Mountain Passages, commissioned for the Italian Sound of the Dolomites Festival, and released as the first album on Douglas' record label Greenleaf Music in 2005, features a variety of different influences including Italian Ladino music and New Orleans jazz. The piece is a suite for trumpet, clarinet, cello, tuba, and percussion and is to be played from 9 to 12,000 feet above sea level.
- Blue Latitudes, an eight-part suite, combines a jazz trio with a 14-piece classical ensemble, the commissioning Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, to draw analogies between the meeting of improvising and compositional music forms and the clash of cultures based on written history and oral traditions. The piece, inspired by stories of Captain James Cook's extraordinary 18th-century sea voyages, premiered in 2006 in Birmingham, England.
- Spark of Being, commissioned by Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University, premiered there in April 2010. The project was a collaboration with experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison to reinterpret the film Frankenstein for its 100th anniversary. Morrison recontextualized the film using new, archival, and distressed footage, while Douglas wrote an original score, written for and performed by his Keystone ensemble.
- Fabliaux, for the Monash Art Ensemble at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, features 16 musicians in ensembles of wind, brass, percussion and strings. Inspired by the timbres of the composers of the Ars Nova in 14th century France, the piece takes this frame of reference as a springboard into wholly uncharted territory. The piece premiered in 2014, with a recording expected in Fall 2015.
Professor Paul Grabowsky, Executive Director of the Monash Art Ensemble, who brought Douglas to the Ensemble, sums up the qualities of Douglas as a composer: "Douglas is without doubt one of the deepest thinkers around contemporary jazz and improvised music today, a composer of great depth who is able to embrace a pluralistic vision of music within a strong stylistic framework."