In January of 2012 I got to be part of something unique. Bassist Greg Garrison puts together a series in Denver called “Improvised Roots,” in which jazz musicians and bluegrass musicians meet with the commonality of improvisational ability, interest in roots music, and a good dose of courage. His lineup for the January shows included singer/guitarist Aoife O’Donovan, local sax giant John Gunther, myself, Matt Flinner on mandolin and banjo, and one of my musical heroes, Dave Douglas, on trumpet.
So the instrumentation for much of what we were going to play was to be bass, banjo, sax, trumpet and voice. Pretty weird ensemble. And I have to say I felt a little nervous being the only chordal instrument. I’d have to practice more ways of playing a Bb7#9 chord to try to keep things interesting. Not to mention I don’t play the banjo all that often these days, and I’m called upon to play with some stellar players and a guy who I consider to be one of the best and most creative jazz musicians alive today.
It turned out to be a very fruitful mix for two nights at the Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge. Aoife’s often deceptively complex yet memorable songs went nicely into Dave’s intricate arrangements and virtuosic solos from him and John. And Greg tied the whole thing together with his tune, “Not Sure What That Is.” We figured out how to blend as an ensemble and in the end I think we achieved that ultimate goal of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And it was an absolute thrill ride. Thanks to Greg, Dave, Aoife and John for all the inspiration I walked away with.