Musician profile | Darius Jones: Jazz ain’t nothin’ but soul

Darius Jones will bring his soul-baring experimentation to Red Door on Friday. Courtesy Peter Gannushkin

This is the third of four articles profiling the headliners in CapitalBop’s D.C. Jazz Loft Series. The Darius Jones Trio will play the series’ third show on Friday at Red Door in Chinatown.


by Luke Stewart
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For a long time, contemporary jazz has been codified into the realms of in or out, free or straight-ahead. What is often overlooked is the common tradition, which forms the foundation of the music. Some of today’s jazz musicians are struggling to fuse the two, creating a statement that is influenced by the whole tradition of jazz while also forging ahead. Alto saxophonist Darius Jones has played straight-ahead. He has played free. But he chooses to be defined not by the short-sighted labels of critics, but by his own unique sound – which comes straight from his soul.

“I would have to say that what I’m trying to do musically is combine the mind and the heart,” he said in an email interview. “I want my musical craft to be extremely strong. Essentially that means a lifelong process of study and experimentation. In some ways, I feel it would be a mistake to define my concept because I am extremely open-minded…. Simply put, I am still developing, still learning. I’m still trying to make my sound better and play with a deeper understanding of how melody is rhythm. I’m still working to compose all the ideas that are birthed in my imagination. One core thing that I could say will always be there is my desire to develop organically without boundaries.”

Jones, who plays at Red Door this Friday in CapitalBop’s third D.C. Jazz Loft Series show, was born and raised in rural Virginia and deeply influenced by the roots of Southern culture. He heard the sounds of gospel and the blues regularly, and the music’s soul and depth provided a solid grounding in what it means to evoke deep emotion through sound.

“I think (and this is totally my opinion) people from the south are less aware of certain cultural changes within jazz and improvised music, so when they are confronted with certain musical experiences they tend to have a genuinely honest reaction ­– meaning they either love it or hate it,” Jones said. “My experience has been that they have been very receptive to my individual playing and really understand where it’s coming from.”

Darius Jones Trio, “Welcome to Earth” (Courtesy Darius Jones/AUM Fidelity)
[audio:https://www.capitalbop.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Welcome-To-Earth.mp3|titles=”Welcome to Earth,” Darius Jones Trio]

Jones attended Virginia Commonwealth University, honing his saxophone chops in the university setting while exploring his improvisatory spirit with several experimental groups. When he moved to New York City in 2005, he had already garnered the attention of some of the city’s great improvisers, including drummer Rakalam Bob Moses. Jones’ performances in the city and elsewhere with some of the finest creative ensembles, including the Cooper-Moore Trio, Trevor Dunn’s Proof Readers, Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys and especially the powerhouse “jazzcore” group Little Women, have firmly cemented Darius Jones in the upper echelons of the future legends in creative jazz music.

“I’m really reluctant to call myself ‘new,’ but I would call myself different,” he said. “I could give you a list of cats who I have listened to and loved, who inspire me personally, but it would be an extremely long list that will probably continue to grow every day that I’m alive. I don’t just receive inspiration from music. I find inspiration in the most unusual places at times and I would never want that to leave me.”

He released Man’ish Boy, his first album as a leader, for AUM Fidelity in 2009. The trio on the album featured some veterans of New York City’s creative jazz community: Moses on drums and percussion and Cooper-Moore on piano and his homemade diddley bow. The instrumentation alone on the record makes it a less-than-traditional debut saxophone trio album, but the chemistry among the ensemble shines through, with the veteran rhythm section creating a firm foundation for Jones’ saxophone to forge ahead.

The collective sound is loose and gritty, evoking a strong sense of soul searching. Jones’ momentary musical concept and approach is exemplified on this album, as he embarks on what is sure to be a vast and influential career.

Jones explained that in creating his art, he prefers to leave labels and classifications at the door. What’s important to him is that he is communicating in a fiercely honest and inspiring fashion. “I would have to say that I’m an artist more so than a musician. Not to say that I don’t take music very seriously. I think any artist takes his or her medium seriously,” he said.

“And when I say serious, I mean life or death. When I sit down and practice or write music, my whole desire is to be inspired by the music I’m creating. When I perform, my desire is to save lives. Even when I’m in the studio recording, I tell the producer that I want the most inspiring track versus the most correct one. My journey is a spiritual one.”

Darius Jones’ current working trio consists of Jones on alto saxophone, Adam Lane on double bass and Jason Nazary on drums. The group recently recorded material for a new album, Big Gurl, which will be Jones’ follow-up to Man’ish Boy. But the show at Red Door will be its first performance outside of New York. “This is a trio that’s been together going on four years now. The concept is that we’re playing compositions and arrangements, and dealing with different approaches to playing in and out of time. Simply put, there’s just more structure to what’s going on with this trio, but it still retains a certain level of looseness,” Jones said.

“Also, I feel that this group is approaching the traditional saxophone trio concept from a different angle. The bass is very heavy and each instrument at times plays a leading role. Jason Nazary, Adam Lane and I have an intense chemistry that exhibits a depth of lyricism combined with almost a backwoods, cow slop, Brooklyn, cosmic, rhythmic feel.”

The Darius Jones Trio plays at Red Door on Friday night, along with OOO (a band that features Luke Stewart, this article’s author, on bass). The show starts at 9 p.m. and is the third of four in CapitalBop’s D.C. Jazz Loft Series at the DC Jazz Fest.

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