Bob James toured with his quartet in October in Germany. The line-up was Bob James (piano and keyboards), Damon Warmack (bass), Ken Scott (drums), and Dave McMurray (Sax and flute). I had the opportunity to talk with Dave McMurray after the rehearsal.
HBH: Hello David!
DM: How you doing?
HBH: Fine. We’ve seen each other a long time ago in London.
DM: Oh yeah! (Laugh)
HBH: What did you do after this?
DM: Well, the last few years I’ve been playing a lot. I’m kind of juggling between three projects. I’ve been playing with Bob and I also with R & B artist KEM. I’ve been musical director for him for a few years. For the last two years I’ve been playing in a totally different situation with Kid Rock! (laugh) So, it pretty much started out as one show and then it went into two weeks, and then it turned into two years. I’m just finishing up, while he’s recording a new CD.
HBH:: Kid Rock is from Detroit?
DM: Yes, he is actually from Detroit.
HBH: How did you come in connection with him?
DM: I played on his last two albums. But not soloing, just horn sections. On his last CD he actually let me take a solo on it. He called me do his first show and then to do the David Letterman Show. Since we were in New York, He asked me to do the New York show also. He played “Roll On” the song I did the solo on. It turned out to be a great feature for me.
Very cool! After that they asked could I do the next few weeks? He’s like, well, how are we going do that song without the saxophone? None of his songs really have saxophone on it. At first I only played on three or four songs. Soon he just said “Play on everything.” He let me roam the whole stage. It turned into a full show. It was a lot of fun, it was good.
HBH: You wrote me, you’ve finished a new album.
DM: Yeah, I’m actually just finishing the new album. It features my usual Detroit cohorts. It also features Marcus Miller, George Duke, and Bob James. I’m almost finished now.
HBH: A high-level album! Do you already have a label for it?
DM: No, I actually don’t have a label for it yet. But I have people who are interested in it in the United States. I have to finish it first and then I’m going to go shop it. We’ll see (laugh) in which direction it goes in. Over the next three weeks we’ll finish it up. Get it mixed.
HBH: What style is this new album?
DM: It will be more expanded. I tried to use more live instruments. A lot more acoustic instruments and stuff. But it’s still really funky, but a little more, what’s the word, romantic (laugh). Yeah.
HBH: Much groove?
DM: Yeah, a lot of groove, but warmer, darker grooves. So, it a little different. Not a lot of machines, mostly real drums.
HBH: Can you name some of your tunes?
DM: Yeah, I have one song called “Beautiful Memories”, which I wrote for my sister-in-law. She passed suddenly this year. I have a song with Marcus Miller, that I wrote about my first trip to Africa. It’s a kind of funky reggae song. He sounds great on it!
HBH: A funky one. What is the title?
DM: First Night In Africa. I also did a song with this French singer named Tiyi. She is singing background on it. It’s about my trip to Paris a couple of years ago, where I was there for about 12 hours. I play a lot of flute and alto sax on it.
HBH: Are flute and alto sax your main instruments?
DM: No. Actually tenor sax is my main instrument. It’s my favorite instrument to play.
HBH: What is the release date of the new album?
DM: Well, I’m looking at the beginning of the year. It’s probably more like spring. I need some time to get the artwork and everything together.
HBH: So the negotiations with labels aren’t finished?
DM: No, I actually haven’t started. I want to finish the record first. I have a great vehicle to sale my CD through my features on KEM and Bob’s show. I’m featured a lot. KEM’s CD is also coming out at the beginning of the year also.
HBH: I believe Heads Up Records would be a great label for you.
DM: It’s a great label!
HBH: Bob James has his Fourplay on there. George Duke, Marcus Miller are on that label. All of your label mates are already there.
DM: It sounds good to me. Hopefully I can talk to them. (laugh)
HBH: You must talk with Dave Love.
DM: You can talk to him too. (laugh) I’m definitely planning on doing that.
HBH: I only know Dave Love by email and Mike Wilpizeski, the publicity manager of Telarc and Concord Records. You know, Heads Up International is a daughter of Telarc.
DM: It’s a great label. It’s one of the few surviving jazz labels.
HBH: Yeah. I heard about that Detroit’s smooth jazz station is also gone.
DM: Yes. We had one of the biggest smooth jazz stations. And we have a big audience for it also. The guys came to work and got the jazz pink slip. (laugh)
HBH: Yes, I read about it. Which artist are there?
DM: Flautist Alexander Zonjic was the drive time DJ there. He is on the Heads Up label also. He was a very popular DJ in Detroit. But they actually fired everyone. They changed the format completely. For now, we don’t have a really fulltime jazz station in Detroit. It’s crazy! (laugh)
HBH: What do you think is the development for this genre?
DM: Well, it was a lot of reasons for that. A lot of those stations were owned by one company. And so…
HBH: …Clear Channel.
DM: Right. And so the playlist across the country was pretty much the same…
HBH: …made by Broadcast Architecture…
DM: Right. Broadcast Architecture. And that format was exactly the same across the country and eventually it became a problem because it didn’t really grow. The stations really didn’t support artists so much. So when a new artist came out, sometime the station wouldn’t play the new record. For example, If Kirk Whalum came out with a new record, they wouldn’t necessarily play it, but they would continue to play Kirk’s old record. You know, like my record “My Brother and ME, they still play it now. (laugh), but they wouldn’t play anything else.
HBH: Why did it take such a long time for new record?
DM: Well, I started working so much. I started the record three years ago, when I got with Kid Rock. That consumed the entire two years. We actually toured for two years straight. I was never at home to finish the record.
HBH: I know some artists who take their notebook with them.
DM: So do I. I’m always recording and writing new songs on the road. But that was a time consuming situation. We came to Europe twice. Kid Rock’s record was really big. It was the second biggest record that year in the United States. I was like, OK, should I continue to work or go home and finish the record? (laugh) Of course, I chose the steady work.
DM: Yes. Well, now he is working on his new CD. KEM is working on his new CD. It sounds great. Hopefully timing will work out with my new CD.
HBH: It’s some promotion for you, if you are connected with such a great artist.
DM: Definitely. Obviously KEM is more in line with what I do, because it’s very jazzy R & B. So, it’s more in line with my music.
HBH: It’s Soul, R & B, Urban.
DM: Right! And he uses real instruments. It’s a cool situation and he is very into helping me. A good friend.
HBH: So is KEM also on your record?
DM: Yes. I actually did a cover of his song “Love Calls”. He sang “Searching” on my Nu Life Stories CD. He’s been working hard on his CD. He’s on Universal/Motown.
HBH: It’s a terrible situation. Most of the jazz departments of the major labels are gone. Warner Brothers, Universal…
DM: Yes. They only distribute their old catalog. They have no new jazz artists signed. I think next year, this will change. Right now it’s all down now because they aren’t many jazz stations.
But in the long run I think its going to be a good thing, because smooth jazz stations were very constricting. So, a lot of artists had to play a certain way, just to try to get airplay. Now, if you know you won’t get airplay, artists can be more creative. It frees the artist up to do what he wants to do. I think eventually great innovations will come out of this.
HBH: So you have to go to the roots to find the audience again.
DM: Yes, you have to connect to your audience and sell your CD’s on the gig. That’s the best way, to be in front of people. When they see you, if they like what you’ve played, they’ll buy your CD. This year, we’re at the bottom, it’s only room to grow.
Like in Detroit, I know it’s going to open up for another jazz station to come in, but their programming has got to be more expanded. People really want to hear new music. They really do, you know.
They way the smooth jazz format was, they didn’t care about the music. They just cared about making money. (laugh) Like in Detroit the smooth jazz station was actually the #3 station. So, it wasn’t like they weren’t generating revenue. It’s just that the demographics of jazz listeners is 30 and up. “Hits” radio is 25 and under. So, of course they went after the younger listeners.
But its eventually going to work out in a better way, because there will be a lot more creativity, more innovations, and artists will do closer to what they want to do.
HBH: You mean contemporary jazz will survive?
DM: I think it will, because its got to expand. I mean, even myself. Because of the way it is, I am not really concerned about the radio, as much as making good, creative music. You know, that will hopefully connect with an audience. You just have to find more innovative ways to promote it.
HBH: What do you think about the role of the internet?
DM: It’s going to be major. I mean, it’s a major part of trying to market what you do. Because it’s your real connection to the world.
HBH: So will you sell your new album over your website?
DM: I’ll sell from my website, internet, CD Baby, iTunes, and every available cyber outlet. Also, In any street, and mom & pop record store, that deals with independent music.
HBH: Just to talk about CDBaby. I just saw that Marcus Johnson is selling his new album at CDBaby and I am wondering about it.
DM: Right, right, you have to really work, you have to push. You have to use all kinds of creative ways to promote it. It will make independent labels a little stronger.
HBH: But it’s a problem of time. You have to make your concerts, you have to gig with Bob and KEM, and others. How do you find the time to make such a promotion for your own album?
DM: Well, the whole thing is to have them to be connected. Like the shows with KEM, he sells my CDs on his show and that helps. (laugh) You know, people have seen me on stage, and go buy my CD. Or, if they see my CD’s and say, “That’s the saxophone player I saw with KEM or Bob James. “ Now, Kid Rock is a different situation…
HBH: It’s a different audience.
DM: It’s a whole different audience. It’s now just starting to make a difference. His concerts do send people to my website and MySpace Page. Most of that audience really didn’t know about me before Kid Rock. But, now they come to my page, they hear my music…
HBH: …and get acquainted with it…
DM:…Yeah and get acquainted with it. They always comment “Wow, you sound great!” But because I haven’t had anything new, I wasn’t really trying to sell anything. I just wanted to let people know what I did. But when I have the new CD, I’ll obviously be trying to push a little more for sales, you know.
HBH: But I believe, instrumental music is not selling as well as vocal.
DM: Oh, never. It doesn’t, because people like vocals…
HBH: They are focused on it…
DM: …Yes, they can connect with words.
HBH: So, did you put some vocals on your album?
DM: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
HBH: Just to push it?
DM: No, I always feature my singer Herschel Boone on every CD. I have a great song that we wrote together.
HBH: The title?
DM: “Always Say Hello”. It’s different kind of song, but he sings excellently on it. I play it on my new shows. It gets a great reaction, even though people haven’t heard it before.
I play new music and they always say: “Hey, where do I get it.? Is that song out yet?” I always play “Beautiful Memories” which also gets a great reaction. I also have a new song called “Saxophone Confessions”. People seem to really like it.
HBH: So, We can await good things next year.
DM: Yeah, yeah, definitely!
HBH: So, I thank you for this conversation.
DM: It’s really good to see you again.