“Community” on the Bandstand: An Interview with Guitarist Khabu Doug Young

02 Jan, 2017

What does “community” mean in the context of musical performance? If one were to open a dictionary (or unlock a smart phone), they would discover one possible definition of “community” to be “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Artistically, the listener would surely hope the performers share a sense of fellowship, common interests, and common goals. Could you imagine a performance in which the artists in the ensemble had opposing interests and opposing goals?

Perhaps we could even view a musical ensemble as a microcosm of a “community” in the broader sense, a society. That would of course require the answers to several questions. Who leads the ensemble, and in what direction? Does the leader change throughout a performance, a piece? Are there multiple leaders that lead the group in different musical directions? How does a leader take artistic control of the group?

Sense of “community” has always been integral to guitarist Khabu Doug Young. A Houston native, Khabu recalls one his earliest musical communities, Houston’s High School for Performing and Visual Arts. Many notable artists are alumni of this musical community, including Beyoncé and jazz pianist Jason Moran. Bassist Chris Walker, who went on to perform alongside such luminaries as Ornette Coleman and Al Jarreau, graduated in Khabu’s class. After graduation, “Bhu” (pronounced “boo”), as his bandmates often refer to him, went on to William Patterson University for a year, where he studied with Harry Leahey, Bucky Pizzarelli, Rufus Reid, Harold Mabern, and others. Khabu was looking for something different in those formative years, however, and moved to Boulder to pursue his education at Naropa University and to study with pianist Art Lande.

After a decade in Boulder, Bhu spent the next twenty years in the New York music scene, spanning from 1995 to 2015. There he met a group of younger musicians fresh out of various music schools with whom he formed a jazz education organization called the “Creative Music Workshop” that operated out of Queens College (not to be confused with the “Creative Music Workshop” founded by Jerry Granelli).

Khabu cites CMW as his first genuine sense of community. He recalls teaching together, playing together, composing together with this group of young artists and remembers a general openness to musical ideas. Khabu stressed the importance of “community” in musical endeavors. When I asked him what “community” means to him, he elaborated by saying that a sense of communication and the immediacy of that communication on the bandstand is critical. For example, he may wish to lead a piece in a “gritty,” “down-home” direction and needs to be able to communicate that, using his guitar as his mouthpiece. Perhaps another artist in the ensemble responds by playing totally “clean” and “smooth” to lead a contrasting timbre. To maintain this sense of community, intimacy, and openness to ever-changing musical leaders on the stage, Khabu builds his ensemble with artists he has deep connections with and has known for a long time.

Khabu’s first performance after returning to Boulder in 2015 was on the Dazzle stage, and he will grace the Dazzle stage once again on January 4 with Shane Endsley, Kent McLagan, Russ Meissner, and mentor Art Lande (all artists with whom Khabu has a long history). In addition to original compositions, they will be performing music of Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, and Steve Lacy (one of Khabu’s all-time favorite artists). “Pure improvisation is the cornerstone of this music,” Khabu said. “Totally free, spontaneous composition allows for the open communication necessary on stage.”

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Michael Schreier is an avid jazz fan, board game fanatic, and cocktail enthusiast. He currently serves as Music Director for Dazzle Jazz.
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