Artist Update: Chet Doxas

As we prepare to release the new big band record by the Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra, we just released a new single featuring Chet Doxas on the Bb tenor saxophone. It’s Mike’s arrangement of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma.” We hope you enjoy it!

In addition to many creative projects, Chet co-leads the band Riverside with Dave Douglas, with Steve Swallow and Chet’s brother, Jim Doxas. They’ve released two records together, the eponymous Riverside and The New National Anthem, dedicated to Carla Bley. You can get those by subscribing with us.

We asked Chet for comment on the Fahie release and anything he’s working on. Here’s what he said:

Hello out there! When Dave and the Greenleaf team reached out to ask me to share some of my thoughts on Mike Fahie’s new album for large ensemble, I was delighted to, as it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with some of the emotions that I experienced back when we began to rehearse, perform and record this project.  I guess to go back even further… Mike and I both attended the same university in Montreal (McGill), and if I remember correctly, I think that Mike had already left town to continue his graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music. He would come back to Montreal often and that’s when we had the chance to play together. Mike has always sounded beautiful! I’ve been lucky enough to be around some amazing brass players in my life, and by now I realize that for someone to always sound that good on their horn that means that they’re always practicing or thinking about new ways to improve their playing. Also, when I heard from my friends in the classical world that Mike was equally at home in that setting as well, it put him into a small category of musicians in my life with whom I have had the pleasure to play alongside. Now that I am writing this and it’s out in front of me, it seems only logical that Mike took this courageous step to fuse both of his passions. I use the word “courageous” because that’s what I think it takes to dive as deeply as Mike has into this repertoire. I could tell when I was playing this music that this project was as much about Mike developing and sharing his personal sound, as it was about honoring these iconic works in a fresh way. Watching somebody take creative risks to develop themselves is exactly why I moved to this city and one of the things that makes it so special.

The rehearsals were held at the Musician’s Union building in midtown. For those who aren’t familiar: this place is a true time capsule… marble floors and walls and a bar in the rehearsal room. I think that the room sounds great thanks in part to the cigarette smoke-cured ceiling tiles. I remember Mike stomping off the band and being blown away by the strength of everyone’s individual sounds and surgical attention to balance. In particular, I remember Mike rehearsing a beautifully written passage that featured the brass section in a chorale setting. They sounded like a world-class orchestral brass section. After he cut them off he said, ”God, I love New York”. We all laughed along, nodding in agreement.

I hope that all of you listeners enjoy stepping into Mike’s colourful world (yes it’s spelt with a “u” – this is one Canadian writing about another, it’s just proper manners), a world in which he continues to grow by experimenting and sharing his love of all genres.

On another note: how is everyone doing? I hope you are all safe and sound and staying out of harm’s way. I also hope that you’re finding the time and energy to be creative. Personally, it’s been rather trying at times. My wife is a healthcare professional and was thus deemed an essential worker and the first six weeks of the lock down she had to move out to protect our daughters and me. She was treating several active Covid patients…. the good news: many successful recoveries and we have all remained healthy. I hope that the same is true for all of you and yours.  I’m sharing this with you all because I think that we’ve all had our own challenges during this time however, it’s also been an interesting period to observe our relationships with the creative process.

At the beginning of the lock down it seemed like, between making sure my kids stayed on track with their studies and keeping everyone safe, getting to the saxophone and clarinet for an hour a day seemed like all I could manage. It sounds like I’m describing this time on my instrument as a chore, but in fact, I noticed that this time took on a different tone than expected. To my surprise, I found myself playing, almost exclusively, the music of Bach. Specifically, the violin partitas (on saxophone and clarinet) and the flute sonatas (on flute and tenor recorder.) At the time, I didn’t think to question why I was playing this music so much but now I think I’m beginning to understand the answer.  Along with the lock down came a certain kind of stillness over the world… the great slowdown. For some it meant keeping in touch more often with friends and family and for others it meant stepping away from the modern world (i.e. social media, cable tv, and even the cell phone). I would put myself in the latter group, with Bach’s music as a sort of healing soundtrack… although I still found myself checking the NY Times news app about a fifty times a day.

Fast forward to last month or so: with New Yorkers having done their part by social distancing and with school being finished, it seems like some sense of normalcy has returned… or rather, new-normalcy? Looking back, it appears as if composing was the creative canary in the coalmine for me. Unfortunately, it was the first thing to go when quarantine began. Even if I forced myself to sit at the piano and forced myself to put the pencil on the page, it just wasn’t going to happen. I’m relieved to report that my composing routine is back up and running and proving to be fruitful… two pieces in two weeks. That’s warp speed for me.  I’m certain that this coincides with finally having an outlet to play with other musicians again.

For about the last six weeks, Vinnie Sperrazza and I have been making weekly pilgrimages to the great Michael Formanek’s home to play in his backyard. This is a collaborative trio and occasionally a quartet (with the addition of Jacob Sacks) led by Michael. We had begun performing around the city last winter and are looking forward to doing more as venues start to reopen. Throughout the lock down I also had some post-production projects to complete, The Doxas Brothers debut album with my brother Jim, Marc Copland, and Adrian Vedady (coming out in late fall on Justin Time Records), and a new album for my group Rich in Symbols. This is an ensemble whose repertoire is inspired by my love of the visual arts and will be our second album. (Dave was a special guest one the first album and played on the song “Hot Ones”  – inspired by a work by Keith Haring) We performed and recorded in Canada last February. The pieces on the record were written in response to several of my favorite works from the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, and Emily Carr. These were artists active during the First World War and helped to define the creative identity of Canadian culture by celebrating our vast landscape and the idea of “the North”.

Some things that I’m looking forward to:  back in the fall, I began performing with a new trio with Ethan Iverson and Thomas Morgan. We recorded an album and I hope to see it released sometime in early 2021. I’m back at work with ambient music wizard, Micah Frank in our duo project called Larum. I imagine that we will be releasing something on Puremagnetik Records in early 2021 as well. And finally, at the suggestion of my mentor, master saxophonist and teacher Ellery Eskelin – I’ve been playing solo concerts for the last two years. His advice to start performing solo shows came after I confessed to some frustration and felt as if I was in a creative rut on the horn. I didn’t know how to find what I was looking for, what I wanted to do next, and wasn’t having as much fun on my instrument as before. Through his wisdom, and often through the lens of his practice of Zen Buddhism, he helped me discover some new paths on which to travel, and to stop and enjoy the view a bit more while doing so. Although Ellery never in speaks in absolutes, his questions have guided me towards a way of phrasing and improvising that lets one’s ideas or next steps reveal themselves rather than playing like you know all of the answers. Make sense? Some of the masters whose names seem to keep popping up in our sessions are Louis Armstrong, Prez, Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Warne Marsh, Miles and others. I could on and on about this but from looks of my word count at the bottom of my screen, this has turned into a much longer “short blog post” than I thought. In any case, I’m going to continue to perform solo improvised shows but also had the idea of commissioning works from a composer. I reached out to my and Dave’s band mate in Riverside, Carla Bley and much to my surprise, Carla had already started writing music for me before I even asked. I know, crazy right!? New scores have started showing in the mail, and without sharing too many spoilers, so far every piece includes stage direction and dialogue.

I’d love to hear from anyone out there who might care to share their creative experience through these strange times.  It’s definitely made this huge city seem a lot smaller and hopefully a restored sense of community among the scene will begin to emerge as the dust settles.

Health, strength, and safety from our family to everyone out there.
Keep in touch.

Here are some videos from some of the projects Chet mentions:

Urban(e) will be released on August 28th.