Native Virginian Darius Jones talks about his most recent release, Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing), which has him collaborating with two of his mentors, drummer Rakalam Bob Moses and pianist and diddley-bo player Cooper-Moore.
Darius Jones is on a journey that has taken him from his homestead in rural Virginia, through Richmond to study at VCU, and in 2005 on to New York City and the world. The alto saxophonist’s most recent release, Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing), has him collaborating with two of his mentors, drummer Rakalam Bob Moses and pianist and diddley-bo player Cooper-Moore.
The eight compositions of the album form a sonic tone poem about Jones’s youth growing up in the South. Some of the pieces, like the raunchy “Cry Out” and the beautiful “Meekness,” sing folky melodies as if they were out of Albert Ayler’s book. In Jones’s debut release as a leader and the first meeting between Moses and Cooper-Moore, improvisational intensity between the three is abundant.
RVAJazz: When I first saw the CD, I was immediately intrigued by the guys that are playing with you. Tell me about meeting Bob Moses. What was that experience like?
Darius Jones: I met Bob Moses about 8 years ago in Charlottesville, Va. He is good friends with John D’earth and was doing a master class at UVA. A bunch of us at VCU heard that he was going to do a show in Charlottesville so we went to check Bob out. To be honest I had never heard him play before that night. I only knew who he was because I had read this article that he wrote in Signal to Noise called “Deeds, Not Words.” There were a few things in that article that really resonated with me. When I actually heard him play I was blown away. I felt this deep and earthy soul from his playing. Plus he had the most individual sound I had ever heard from the drumset. We spoke afterwards and we really seemed to click with one another. I gave him a CD of some music I was working on and had him sign the article. A few months later around Christmas time I got this big package in the mail from him. It had a few of his CDs and a letter. From that moment on we have stayed in contact and have played off and on together. One of the things I have really learned from Bob is the importance in following one’s own path. It is so important to investigate the inner self when developing one’s own language.
RVAJazz: How has your time in New York City been conducive to doing so? What has your path been like between leaving VCU for New York and today?
DJ: Since moving to NY I realized that everything is a process and I need to be patient. I found myself getting very frustrated at times in Richmond. But now I realize that growth is not always comfortable. Also traveling a path that has not been paved before you is scary. Sometimes it is easier to follow the herd than jump out into the abyss of uncertainty. So it is always important to be fearless and to push up against your comfort zones as an artist. That is what a lot of my heroes did and what I love about jazz. It is dangerous! Since moving to NY I have had the pleasure of playing and interacting with a lot of great musicians. NY gave me a license to kill. In Richmond I always felt the need for more after a gig. More from myself, more from the musicians, more from the audience, and more from music itself. I felt it was important to look within myself for the answers to what I was missing. To keep developing my own language and concepts. Bob always says to me that he is just a beginner. So if he is a beginner than I am just starting on the path. I am like a fetus with an idea of play.
The mastery and the innovation of music is very important to me, not just the celebration of it. Studying in Richmond gave me a deep love of the craft of music. Doug [Richards] always talked about how important it was to develop one’s craft. It’s like praying or meditating. The more you do it, the easier it gets to reach a deeper spiritual plain. The more one studies one’s craft and works on it the deeper one can go musically. I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I was in NY for awhile. I love the visceral side of music a lot. I love how music can make someone want to shake their booty, cry, and punch someone in the face all at the same time. But I also feel that it takes a great deal of creativity and skill to achieve that kind of response. The reason we love people like Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, The Clarke Sisters, Bach, Ellington, and many others is because they developed their own inner voice through working on their craft. Craft is a very personal thing. Not every painter cleans their brushes. This album is a reflection on me playing a lot of music and developing my craft in NY. I needed to sing again and to feel home again. I needed to remember where I came from so that I could be grounded in my musical direction.
RVAJazz: I love that the inspiration for the music comes from growing up in the south. Are the tunes about specific experiences from your childhood?
DJ: The tunes on the record are not about specific experiences. They are more a sequence of emotional experiences that I remember and feel have shaped me into the person I am today. For example “Roosevelt” is about how I felt about and saw my uncle as a child. My uncle was an interesting character in my life because he was the first person to introduce me to the saxophone. But he was also the first person to teach me how to pick up women and the importance of self reliance at times, too.
RVAJazz: Was Cooper-Moore’s input especially valuable since he also grew up in rural Virginia?
DJ: The fact that Cooper-Moore comes from Virginia influenced me in choosing him for this project. Cooper-Moore is the most natural creative being I have ever met. When I met him I didn’t know who he was either. But he completely blew me away with his deep sense of groove and soulfulness. After becoming a part of his band and playing with him for awhile I realized that we had so much in common. After rehearsals he would cook me some food and play and sing hymns while I ate. It was like being at Sunday dinner at times with him. He feels like family in a lot of ways for me. I learned from Cooper-Moore how to stop proving I could play the saxophone on the band stand and simply sing with my horn. For him it is about learning something so deeply that one has no choice but to let go and sing.
RVAJazz: There’s a nice amount of variety here, compositionally. You really do seem to sing and the earthy soul is certainly there in Bob’s drumming. One other thing that fascinates me is Cooper-Moore’s diddley-bo. He seems to have great facility and intonation with it for an instrument with only one string. What’s it like to play with one, tonally and creatively?
DJ: Cooper-Moore plays quite a few homemade instruments actually. When I asked him to do this project I wanted him to play only the piano and the diddley-bo. I wanted to play with the idea of having something that sounded familiar and something that didn’t in the same context. Playing with the diddley-bo is very freeing in many ways because it can achieve so many different sounds. So even though we are playing in a certain key it can sonically pull the ear into other directions without even leaving the original key. Cooper-Moore approaches the diddley-bo in so many different ways. He bows it, beats it, scrapes it, and plucks it. In “We are Unicorns” he bows it and beats it. He has an enormous amount of skill on the diddley-bo. In composing for it, I realized it had octave limitations based on the kind of string that was being used. On this album I primarily used the diddley-bo in a bass capacity compositionally. So Cooper-Moore made a diddley-bo with a fairly low bass string. It can be pretty chromatic but it is more relative than perfect.
RVAJazz: In the album’s acknowledgements, you thank VCU Jazz Studies program founder Doug Richards and former VCU drum instructor Howard Curtis. What were your relationships with them like while you were at VCU?
DJ: Doug and Howard have to be the single greatest teachers I have had in my academic career. They taught me so much about music and life. I feel so blessed to have met them at the time that I did in my life and theirs. They really stressed the importance of the fundamentals of music. Doug was my arranging teacher during my time at VCU. He was tough but in a good way. He would always push me to be more creative and clear with my compositions. I love Doug. Howard was my private lesson teacher and ensemble teacher while at VCU. He would talk to me about freedom within structure and balance. We played duo a lot. I really miss playing and talking with him. I believe he lives in Austria now. They both gave me a deep love for the beauty, legacy, and tradition of music.
Darius Jones Trio – Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) will be available for purchase on October 13. Pre-order on Amazon
Track listing: Roosevelt; Cry Out; We Are Unicorns; Meekness; Salty; Chasing The Ghost; Big Train Rollin’; Forgive Me/Chaych.
Personnel: Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Cooper-Moore: piano, diddley-bo; Rakalam Bob Moses: drums. On “Chaych”: Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Adam Lane: bass; Jason Nazary: drums.
[audio:http://rvanews.net/sounds/Jazz/Cry-X.mp3|titles=Cry Out (excerpt)|artists=Darius Jones Trio]
[audio:http://rvanews.net/sounds/Jazz/Ghost-X.mp3|titles=Chasing the Ghost (excerpt)|artists=Darius Jones Trio]