By Alex Wukman
For once Dave Dove isn’t smiling. The affable founder of Nameless Sound, who grabbed audiences’ attention over two decades ago as part of the seminal ska/funk band Sprawl, rests his hand on his chin and listens in rapt attention as legendary jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd’s latest project the Trombone Tribe breathes new life into Fats Waller’s often overlooked classic “Blue Turning Gray Over You.”
Rudd, reaching back to his days leading a Dixieland band at Yale, lets his trombone ooze sweaty Gulf Coast jazz mixed with fat-back bar blues all over the stage at Diverseworks. His familiarity with the music leads some of those unfamiliar with his career to think he just walked off a New Orleans Second Line, which is strange because he’s from New York.
“We’ve been in Houston a couple of days and we’re starting to get the vibe,” Rudd says. “It’s a very different place than where we come from…but it’s a special place.” Rudd’s drummer, Barry Altschul, kicks off the next song with a Max Roach/Buddy Rich breakbeat that shakes the skins of his pearl colored drum kit. Scattered applause comes from the audience of Houston’s improvised music afficinadoes as Altschul settles into the groove and Rudd and the rest of the band settle in. Almost immediately they start hinting at a melody that’s both familiar and strange, and strangely always just out of reach.
At the show’s intermission Dove chats with audience members about what’s it been like spending the last few days with Rudd and his band, he explains how they guest lectured at one of the many music workshops for inner city and underprivileged youth Nameless Sound puts on every week and how many of the band members had never been to Houston before. Roswell Rudd’s performance at Diverseworks is the just the sort of thing Dove has been doing in one way or another since the mid 1990s after Sprawl’s rather spectacular implosion, which led to the lead singer kicking over the drummer’s kit while the guitarist punched holes in his amp with his instrument, he says he was “pretty lonely.”
“There weren’t a lot of people who were doing experimental music [then],” says Dove. He goes on to explain how before he had an organization, before he had ever taught a class, he was a musician with ideas about “how conservative music education was.” Over a veggie burger, Cesar salad and glass of white wine at Onion Creek Dove describes how, when he was learning to play, “young musicians were rarely encouraged to explore.” According to Dove one of the things that frustrated him about traditional music education was the idea that young people weren’t encouraged to improvise, compose or learn extended techniques.
Coming up in the DIY culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s gave Dove a perspective that young musicians don’t “have to wait to do [their] own music,” which may seem like common sense to anyone in the rock or hip-hop scenes, but is antithetical to much academic music education. Dove’s focus on teaching young people to use music to express their own feelings and ideas has often rankled some in the academic music establishment who mistake teaching improvisation for ignoring fundamentals. He’s quick to counter that assumption.
“What I tell people is that I don’t propose a replacement of traditional music education, I propose adding something that is missing,” said Dove. He goes on to say that he recognizes that not everyone is going to be interested in walking his path, but then again not everyone is going to be interested in a traditional path either.
“Someone may have the path of learning Chopin or Bach or the Jazz Standards while another person may have a path that uses a turntable or takes apart a piece of electronic equipment. It doesn’t make sense to give them [all] the same curriculum,” said Dove. However, that doesn’t mean that Dove and the rest of Nameless Sound don’t have a firm grounding in the basics of music instruction. He explains that the way he got space to hold the first class of what would go on to become Nameless Sound was by agreeing to teach basic music instruction.
“The seed [for Nameless Sound] was planted in 1997. I talked with Alice Valdez the director of MECA [about my ideas] and she said ‘If you help us out teaching kids scales we’ll give you space to do your thing,” said Dove. Within a few years of starting classes at MECA, Diverseworks invited Dove to curate a series of concerts which led to the further evolution of his theories about music education.
“I had the idea of getting Joe McPhee from New York and having him give a workshop to some kids I’d gathered,” said Dove. The first workshop was met with a positive response from everyone involved and it encouraged Dove to keep going.
“After a few years my mentor, Pauline Olivarez, said she really liked what we were doing and that we could start a branch of her non-profit in Houston. So in 2001 we became the Pauline Olivarez Foundation Houston,” says Dove. He goes to explain that the organization’s relationship with Olivarez “made raising money and getting support easier.” And that they continued to work with Olivarez’s group as they both evolved, the Pauline Olivarez Foundation morphing into the Deep Listening Institute and Dove’s group moving back onto their own.
One of the things that has helped make Dove and Nameless Sound the respected members of the music community that they are is who they work with. “We take our classes to homeless children and refugee children. Kids who need the confidence and the knowledge that you can break the rules, you can go your own way, you don’t have to follow the preconceived path.”
Dove puts down his burger for a moment, wipes his hands and says “there’s something no one’s ever written about us. You can go out and see experimental or improvised music three or four nights a week. Some of the people we’ve taught have gone on to become my peers, like Lucas Gorham, Jason Jackson, Sandy Ewen or Jawaad Taylor in New York. You can see the experimental elements in Jawaad’s hip-hop music or in something like Grandfather Child, they’re still there.”
Nameless Sound hosts the Instant Composers’ Pool Orchestra Friday, April 8, at the Eldorado Ballroom, 2310 Elgin Street. For more information and tickets call (713) 928-5653 or logon to www.namelesssound.org.