Dave Carlson's jazz band, Grooveyard, has been playing together about three years at festivals and nightspots in Whatcom County. They'll play at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Blue Horse Gallery, Café and Wine Bar in Bay Street Village. Carlson, 67, also has had several adventures around the world, not only of a musical nature.
Question: When did you first get interested in music?
Answer: I started tinkering on the piano when I was about 3 and my mom encouraged me. By age 4, I was taking lessons from a "sweet old lady" piano teacher. She soon realized that I was going to be more than she could handle and I was referred to a series of better teachers in the Los Angeles area, finally ending up studying with Herbert Donaldson, who was teaching at the University of Southern California at the time.
I got at least to the level of playing in several national competitions but never went much farther than that. I got "tricked" into playing the string bass in fourth grade because I was the only kid big enough to carry it in from the music teacher's car. I eventually got good enough to play in the All Southern California High School Orchestra while I was still in junior high.
I took up brass instruments in high school because I wanted to be in the band. I was stuck on the tuba but soon switched to trombone because I didn't like carrying the sousaphone in parades ... too darned heavy!
Q: Then what?
A: I graduated from Ventura High School in California but just barely. My dad offered me the choice of getting a job and moving out or joining the Navy, so I picked the Navy. I auditioned for the Navy Band after being in the service for only about a month and was accepted and shipped back to Washington D.C. I left D.C. to be on a round-the-world cruise aboard the USS Enterprise and then was posted to the Brooklyn Navy Yard as assistant director of the unit band there.
Even though my dad had instilled a love of jazz in me I really flourished in New York City, playing in bands around the city and in jam sessions with the likes of Gene Quill, Paul Horn, Kenny Ball, and Nils Henning-Orsted Pedersen. I also studied piano with Emmanuel Bay, who had been Jascha Heifitz' accompanist for many years, and also took some classes at Juilliard. I met the famous valve trombone player Bob Brookmeyer there and studied with him as well for about two years. I even got to play Bob's chair in the famous Mel Lewis/Thad Jones big band for a couple of months while Bob was touring with the Benny Goodman orchestra in Eastern Europe. I also started learning how to tune and repair pianos from the guy in New York who tuned all the services' pianos.
Q: And after the military?
A: I went back to the West Coast and kicked around San Francisco for a while just happy to be out of the service and happy to be a "hippie." Spent about eight months on the road with James Brown and also played in the Stan Kenton orchestra for as long as I could stand him.
Q: Who are some of your musical mentors?
A: I guess I'd have to say that my main jazz influences are the great players from the '50s and '60s. Bob Brookmeyer of course, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Chet Baker and Miles. When I was younger my dad used to let me listen to his recordings of pianists like George Shearing, George Feyer, Eddie Heywood and Nat King Cole and I couldn't get enough. My cousin Tommy Pierce was a phenomenal natural jazz pianist and I guess he's the one who really got me off of classical and into improvised jazz.
Q: Did you pursue a professional career in music?
A: I really got serious about tuning pianos in the late '70s and managed to get myself into a training program developed by the Yamaha Corporation. We moved from Ashland, Oregon, up to Seattle in the early '80s and I worked for the Yamaha dealer there and eventually got sent to Los Angeles to participate in Yamaha's concert technician training program. I've pretty much made my living as a piano technician since the '70s and supplemented my income by playing music.
Q: What's this about an extended sailing adventure?
A: When my dad died he left me some money and my wife and I bought a 41-foot wooden sailboat; we spent several years fixing it up, and then headed down the coast to Mexico and eventually all the way across the Pacific, ending up in Australia after about six years. We sold the boat in Australia in 2004 and headed back to Seattle but decided that the big city life wasn't for us so we scouted around and ended up in Bellingham. It just seemed like such a nice place.
Q: How'd Grooveyard get started?
A: Grooveyard started out as a few of my friends coming over to my house to play the kind of jazz that we all really love and just built from there. I started out playing bass and Grant Wilson (drums) and Tom Miller (guitar) were the first "permanent" members of the group. Jerry Fenwick (trumpet and flugelhorn) joined us soon after and that's been pretty much the core group and still is. I also play valve trombone whenever I can get a bass player who can hold his own with the rest of us (that really means being dependable and committed to showing up for a rehearsal once a week). My wife Mary pretty much always makes some sort of a treat for the guys on rehearsal days, which partly accounts for their unswerving devotion to the band and attendance at rehearsals. We've also been joined on occasion by such local notables as Paul Sorensen, Scot Ranney, Andy Simmons, Thomas Harris (when he's in town) and others. I guess my favorite musicians here in town would have to be Scot Ranney and his band Chico's Paradise, and I can't think of any pianist, local or not, whom I'd rather listen to than Bill MacDonough. (I hear a lot of Bill Evans in his playing).
Q: How can people find out where you play?
A: We have a Facebook page, but it's still in its infancy, and we're going to be going into Brian Cunningham's Sharp Nine studio in a couple of weeks to put together a demo CD. By the time you print this we will have played the lead-off spot at the first annual Lummi Island Jazz Festival on Aug. 11. We'll be playing in the Lynden Music Festival in October ... date to be announced.
Reach MARGARET BIKMAN at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-2273.