It’s been a decade between solo albums for David Ades, but after a trip to New York he returns with an impressive new work, Glorious Uncertainty: an album dedicated to his father, Joe Ades, famous in New York as the ‘Peeler Guy’.
Every day Joe left home to sell vegetable peelers on the street, setting out alone each morning pushing a cartful of carrots, potatoes and a chopping board. Every day for him was an improvisation. Now it’s David’s turn. As comfortable on the street as he is in the Sydney Opera House, Dave Ades is a world-class musician, with music in his heart, and a story to tell. He spoke to Mandy Nolan.
Why did you decide to travel back to New York for this album?
I lived in New York for three years from the age of 19 and also since 2004 I’ve been going back there every year for at least a few months at a time. I’ve been able to forge some great playing relationships with some amazing players over there and it always feels like a second home to me as soon as I hit the sidewalk.
What is it about New York that is so evocative for you?
The music is the main thing, that’s what draws me there every year; it’s like a devout Muslim having to go to Mecca. It seeps out of every building and street, there a charge in the air unlike anything I’ve felt elsewhere that never fails to uplift and inspire me.
Your father had a wonderfully humble and useful profession – how has that inspired you, as a musician (who are notoriously not humble and not useful!)?
My father lived off his wits his whole life, he truly knew how to live a day at a time and took life as it came to him. He was a master improviser in that he would launch himself into his daily work with no foreseeable knowledge about how that would pan out or where he would end up or how much he would end up with! For those that aren’t familiar with him, Joe Ades was a master street trader on the streets of New York; Google his name or put it into YouTube and you will be intrigued and entertained for hours.
Was it your father who gave you a love of jazz? I’m interested how a young boy coming through the sixties was seduced by the allure of his father’s music, at a time when popular music culture was so dynamic?
Yes, it was my father who gave me my love of jazz, and it was also the 60s and 70s that also game me my love of popular music of the times. My first conscious choices in things I wanted to listen to were groups such as The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, The Flock, Santana, Pink Floyd etc. I started playing the drums at age 10 and my drum teacher played me a record of Elvin Jones with John Coltrane and that blew my mind.
What was it about jazz for you? Was the alto sax the first choice of instrument for you?
I loved playing the drums but I was never that serious about it. I remember reading a book about Charlie Parker, one of the greatest alto saxophonists who ever lived, just before my 18th birthday. It was the first time I had ever really contemplated how a musician could play from his or her inner experience and communicate an inner voice through improvising. I then went out and bought an alto saxophone and that’s where all the trouble started!
Tell me about the musical influences for this album. There is so much to draw from. The one thing I tried to do was write some music so that the players I chose could relax and play without having to think too much about complicated structures. I wanted to create an organic musical environment that encourages individual expression rather than dictates a specific style.
After a decade or more, why have you decided to make a solo album? Making a solo album is always an opportunity to dig deep inside oneself and find out what’s there. I like to think of this record as much more of collaboration than a solo album with side players who accompany the soloist. We all solo together!
Tell me a little about the two tracks Melissa and Joe the Kid, as two people you have loved and lost, what is the story you are telling with your dedication?
I have tried to write pieces in Melissa’s memory before and I had always gotten stuck because I was trying to capture a feeling that was too overwhelming. Joe the Kid didn’t reveal its title until I sat back and listened when we were mixing and I thought, I can hear Joe on his way to work.
As a collaborative artist – what do other musicians bring to you – what changes in the playing of David Ades with each collaboration?
For the launches around Australia I have used a different band in each city; it’s cheaper to just fly myself around and also I love the way each combination has brought something new and surprising to each performances. Hence, even though we are playing the material of the album it is never the same from one night to the next. I love it when musicians I play with play with me rather than for me in an accompanying role; that for me is when the magic happens, everyone plays so differently and it always affects my playing.
With Glorious Uncertainty what did you set out to achieve?
I wanted to make an album that has some authenticity. I wasn’t interest in making an album of saxophone with accompanying rhythm section, there’s thousands of those out there, and for me they get really boring. I wanted to try and create something that was fresh and alive, emotionally direct and that wasn’t about me being in control of the music.
Do you feel that you got there? (The reviewers certainly do.) Or do you have to allow the music to take you rather than your conscious intention?
It’s only in hindsight that I feel we got there. When we played in the studio that day, we had had only one rehearsal that day before, and we recorded the album in five hours with no listening to takes as we did them, so… yes, the music certainly carried us into the glorious uncertainty that day.
Is improvisation more than a way of playing; does it become a philosophy?
I think these days there is so much accessible information about how to improvise out there that even though certain players are incredible in their virtuosity and command of the jazz idiom, they have become almost formulaic in their approach. I have for many years endeavoured to live a day at a time and take life as it comes and I try to play from my heart rather than my head. I try and stay open to all possibilities in life and music.
What are you thinking when you play? Does it stop, do you think ahead like, ‘I’ll race ahead and close the gate’ OR is it purely about staying in a state of open responsiveness? Or does someone have to lead… ?
I don’t know where this came from but I have always tried to empty my head as much as possible when I play so I start with nothing, so yes, a state of open responsiveness. You will hear habitual things that are part of the language I use but I have never consciously learnt licks thinking I’ll play that lick when I get to that chord. I love the feeling of jumping into the musical abyss where it can either work like there’s magic happening or fall dead on its arse. That’s the beauty in the risk.
Why did you choose these particular artists – Tony Malaby, Mark Helias and Gerald Cleaver?
Tony Malaby is my absolute favourite living saxophonist, his sound is incredible, his approach is always surprising and new, he is a beautiful human being and that comes through his music.
I met Tony, Mark and Gerald at the 2000 Wangaratta jazz festival where I, Scott Tinkler and James Greening were invited to expand Mark’s trio Open Loose into a sextet for two performances. Since those gigs I have stayed in touch with each of them, I go and hear them every chance I get when I’m in New York and a friendship has developed over the years that I will always cherish.
Mark is an astonishing musician, he is not only one the most influential of modern improvising bass players in the world today, he is also an incredible composer. I got to hear the premier performance of his first symphony on my last trip to New York. Mark also produced the album and mixed it at his home.
Gerald is again one of my favourite drummers in the world, he has a way of playing and you can hear it on the record, where he is so subtle but at the same at time immensely powerful and driving but always in a completely surprising way.
Tell me what to expect for your Bangalow show – who are the players?
For the launch party in Bangalow on Thursday, the fantastic Cameron Undy on bass and David Goodman on drums are coming up from Sydney. I did the launch with them in Sydney at the 505 with Mat Keegan on tenor sax. For this gig Zac Hurren will play tenor saxophone, he is another great saxophone player, married to the sublime Katie Noonan and member of the band Elixir. I am really excited about this gig and playing at home to the people I love in our community.
Dave Ades and friends launch Glorious Uncertainty at the Bangalow Bowling Club on Thursday. Doors open at 7pm, show at 8pm. Tix are $15.