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An Interview with pianist Danny Fox

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New York City native Danny Fox has come a long way he played the Boston jazz scene as a Harvard student. Currently on a tour promoting his trio's new album, “Wide Eyed”, I was able to catch him mid-travel for a chat about his influences, plans for the future and compositional credo. See him and his bandmates bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest, and drummer Max Goldman at their next performance May 9 at Subculture in NYC.

Tell me about your early experience that drew you to music. School? Family? Friends?
Well, I guess the initial impulse to learn to play music was just seeing my friends around me playing. It was intriguing to me. My parents love music. My dad has always played as a hobby, folk and bluegrass guitar loved to sing. My parents took us to young people's concerts at the philharmonic. Just having them exposing us to that great stuff at an early age in tandem with seeing friends playing music, that did it. I also had a great first teacher who was super open-minded.

What were your early years in Harvard and Boston like? Were there memorable moments? Career makers/starters?
When I was there it was really the first time I started writing in a serious way. I was always doing it on the side. Club Passim, they'd let us do like a Mon night. They didn't have much jazz but they'd let us play. That was a really formative time for me. When you're performing your original music for a crowd of people, it's really exciting...Music was still my escape, and I always felt this craving for it. I caught that bug of writing and performing and presenting to an audience. Harvard was extremely competitive, but when I was doing music I was just doing my own stuff...not having gone (to a music school) it sort of gave me a different path to it and I had to find a lot of stuff on my own. In a lot of ways that's been hard but in some ways its been helpful in coming to something that was mine. Nothing was being forced up on me. I was able to follow whatever I was curious about and steer myself.

What do you think of being described as “a modern Ahmad Jamal Trio”?
That's another great example of a band that we're inspired by, especially in the piano trio idiom. That group played so well together as an ensemble and just had such amazing ways they took the music, Quirky drumbeats, little bass lines. Everyone playing their role, often roles that are unexpected. Things like that really inspire us.

I wouldn't say we're a modern Ahmad Jamal trio, because they were very modern. We're more like present day. I feel like when we started out we didn't have any agenda, like we set out wanting to try something different. We just started doing that and just by hanging out and rehearsing and just by putting in the time we started developing a sound and said “I guess we're kinda doing something that's not necessarily, the norm." But it didn't start out like that. We didn't start to make a new take on the piano trio. It was like hey, we like working together. It just sort of happened organically.

It's impressive that you're influenced by such diverse musicians as Bela Bartok and The Meters. How would you describe the influence of each or of other important influences?
Everyone in this group, we love listening to a variety of music. I think that listening to a Bartok piece first thing in the morning and a Meters piece later in the day. Osmosis. Certain tunes might have an element or a groove of something the Meters have played but have some harmonies from Bartok. The more stuff that you can listen to and appreciate the more they will be infused into the music, hopefully in a way that sounds organic. The one thing about the Meters that I love is that band is just this sound of everybody doing their part and they have these quirky little things that they just put out. It's a true band sound. They have this concept of everyone doing their part and it comes out in a really beautiful way.

What are your most current influences?
New Orleans Jazz, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussaint. Bluegrass, old blues folk music. My dad kinda played that for us growing up and I've been checking that out recently. Mississippi John Hurt is one of my big influences right now especially because when you put him on, in addition to the music being just beautiful, there's a certain warmth that comes through. That's something I want to strive for, that when people here it they can hear the warmth and the people that are playing it. Honest sound. Strong personality.

Tell me about your compositional process. How does the trio work together?
Its usually that I write raw materials sometimes in varying degrees of being finished. Pretty much it's always that the band checks it out to see how they can arrange it, improve it, color it. For me that's the best part when it's transformed into something greater because everyone's contributing to it. Those are my fave parts in the music when it sounds a certain way because of how everyone contributed to it. Organic. It's something that we all contribute to. Even if the original material's coming from me, it's all about what we all contributed to it. So there are a lot of moments in the music where Chris or Max bring a certain color to the piece that just couldn't have happened otherwise.

What are your next moves, goals for the future, personally, with the trio?
Make it through this tour without any speeding tickets and everybody happy!
Keep forging ahead and keep playing music that is personal to us and makes everyone happy. Getting out to people and making more opportunities. To share it. Play music that we like and connect to people as much as possible. Doing our thing that we enjoy so much.

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