“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.” – New York Times
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 DownBeat 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, Monash Art Ensemble, and most recently, Alarm Will Sound, which commissioned the piece, Facts and Fictions, which premiered in May 2019.
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.
Facts and Fictions, commissioned for Alarm Will Sound and premiered in St Louis in May 2019. Written for 16 musicians and conductor, the band is divided into four ensembles of four players each. Each of the sub-groups has some autonomy as to how they perform the material. After an initial tutti, the music is written as a series of ‘panels,’ in which each group has an orchestration of similar musical material. The panels can be played simultaneously, in phases, or in complete rub against the other ensembles and sets of material. The idea is to allow for endless discovery within the emerging materials. It is also to open up an avenue for real time intervention for the conductor and gives the ensemble members some freedom in decision making.
“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.” – Professor Paul Grabowsky (Monash Art Ensemble)
As a composer, Douglas has received commissions from a variety of organizations including the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Essen Philharmonie, The Library of Congress, Stanford University and Monash Art Ensemble, which premiered his chamber orchestra piece Fabliaux in March 2014. He is currently completing a new work for the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound, which will premiere in May 2019.
Douglas has held several posts as an educator and programmer. From 2002 to 2012, he served as artistic director of the Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Centre in Canada. He is a co-founder and president of the Festival of New Trumpet Music, which celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 2017. He is currently on the faculty at the Mannes School of Music and is a Guest Coach for the Juilliard Jazz Composer’s Ensemble. In 2016, he accepted a four-year appointment as the Artistic Director of the Bergamo Jazz Festival.
In 2005 Douglas founded Greenleaf Music, an umbrella company for his recordings, sheet music, podcast, as well as the music of other artists in the modern jazz idiom. Greenleaf Music has produced over 70 releases and celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 2020.