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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

An interview with drummer David King of The Bad Plus

David King (drums), Ethan Iverson (piano) and Reid Anderson (bass), the three multifaceted musicians that make up The Bad Plus, will settle into Davis for four nights starting Wednesday before continuing what seems to be their umpteenth international tour.

Their music has been described as “avant-garde” “audacious” and “badass.” Preferring to perform in more intimate venues to eliminate the anonymity of larger concert halls, The Bad Plus rotates from jazz clubs to smaller auditoriums, hoping the range will allow them to play for a variety of responsive audiences.

Their most recent album, Never Stop, is their first to feature all original compositions with each member contributing works that showcase their individual talents and versatility as artists.

The Aggie was lucky enough to chat with drummer David King over the phone while he was home in Minneapolis between tour dates and get a preview of what they plan to bring to Davis this week.

AGGIE: Some people, after listening to your material for the first time, have trouble attributing your music to a specific genre. How would you classify your material to a new listener?

KING: I would call us a modern jazz group. I think improvising is one of the key elements of the music. If I was going to be pretentious, I would say we’re a creative group — a jazz group of our era. [Classic] jazz captures the culture of that era in the text. We are stating that [today] there is a lot of text to work with as a composer and that ignoring that is a sort of fake purity. We are three distinct composers and each one of us is an improviser. I’m comfortable calling us a jazz group, but I’m uncomfortable limiting us to what jazz is. To be honest, we don’t care what it is. We’ve all been through a jazz-snob period. And then, at the end of the day, you just want to make good music. We are an instrumental group — getting music out and getting an audience is hard enough as it is. Whatever people want to call it, it’s fine. It’s whatever you want it to be. If you want to call this shit straight ahead jazz, then that’s cool.

You’re playing four shows in the Vanderhoef Studio Theater next week, which seats 250. It seems that you generally prefer to play in smaller auditoriums.

We definitely do. Smaller venues are much more appropriate for sharing music of this nature. But with our group, it’s interesting — the music has such breadth that we can accommodate different types of venues. Jazz bands can’t do rock venues, rock venues can’t do jazz clubs … our versatility allows us to do both. We try to spread it out. Some people are uncomfortable in the rock club thing … so we keep mixing it up so that we can get as many people we can to hear the music.

What is your role within The Bad Plus? How do you contribute and how has that developed over the past decade with The Bad Plus?

It’s all been the same. We all volley … we all have type A leader personalities, but somehow it works. We trade roles onstage and off stage. If one of us needs to stand up and steer the ship, we’ll do it. When you tour as much as we do, you really develop this really deep language … not just anyone can play this stuff. When we play for you, that’s what we’re trying to get across. In some other groups, if the drummer is sick or something and you have another drummer sit in, it’s not really going to sound that much different. That’s not possible with us.

What influence, if any, do you hope to have on young musicians today?

Well, you never say, “I’m in the world to make sure people think like I do.” But I would hope that people appreciate the craft of making music. These are real instruments that we are playing, not manipulated by anything. I would hope people will take away [the idea] that you can take an old instrument and do new things with it. Real, natural acoustic musicians are important to keep in the culture. To me, it’s really exciting that people will want to be a part of [maintaining that]. Nothing against music made with computers – there’s been some great music produced using computers – but there’s no video game that can teach you how to play the drums really well. There’s no shortcut to becoming a great saxophonist. When you’re in the room with someone playing the saxophone, you’re listening to the product of the work they have devoted their lives to. That’s something we’re inspired by … we want to be part of that experience rather than part of a fashion.

LANI CHAN can be contacted at features@theaggie.org.


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