Drummer Dave Tull: ‘I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times’
March 8, 2018
Dave Tull is a perfectionist. As evidence, consider the reason his recent album was nearly 10 years in the making.
He really wanted to get it right.
"It takes me forever to write something," said the musician, who has been playing drums since he was 10 years old and added singing to his repertoire when he discovered that the coordination required of both was oddly seamless. "When I deal with other people's writing, sometimes I wonder if they were thrown off course. I wonder if they took another half hour, if they could have come up with another, much better line. I don't call something finished until the song is absolutely what it needs to be. When an idea or a chord progression comes to me, it's very organic. But hopefully there is honesty there, legitimacy and a certain amount of quality. That's why I take such a long time."
There's no question that each track on the recently released "Texting and Driving" checks all the boxes on that list.
'THAT NEXT STEP'
Growing up in Berkeley, California, Tull's journey as a jazz musician began on a well-trodden path.
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"I was lucky I was given a lot of great influences, not the least of which were in my household," he said. "I was paired with great teachers and there were all the right influences along the way to keep me energized. The big band thing came naturally growing up as a drummer. The Bay Area was a great place to grow up for jazz. I kept taking that next step."
Before and after his time training at California State Northridge, Tull clocked hours upon hours listening to standards and memorizing solos.
"I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times. If you have a favorite record, you start memorizing solos and lyrics. It was so natural to me to sing and make up my own solos. I found I was walking down the street and had chord changes in my head. I was making up choruses and melodies," Tull said.
Still, the drummer was more focused on his chosen instrument and never intended to showcase any vocal talent to actual audiences.
"The singing kind of developed on its own, but never like I would do it in public. It was just an outlet for me playing a non-pitched instrument," he said. "By the time I wanted to sing tunes in clubs, I was doing gigs. The foundations of drumming were so solidly in place, it wasn't that hard to add singing on top of it."
'I'll write any song'
Although he has a stacked resume as a sideman, including contributions on numerous Michael Buble albums and touring with Barbara Streisand, Tull discovered that he was a natural bandleader. In addition to his keen ear, sense of harmony and uncanny ability to keep beats while creating compositions, Tull realized he possessed a handful of additional traits not always prominent in traditionally trained jazz artists.
"I think there's a lot more humor in jazz than people realize and I like to find it," he said. "Sometimes we as jazz musicians take ourselves too seriously. I'll write any song that occurs to me. It's not necessarily funny. Sometimes it's a story song. Sometimes it's a sad song. I bring the people in with a range of emotion."
Even traditionalists who have approached Tull's originals as naysayers have soon been converted.
"I'm a crusader against that attitude we sometimes find in jazz audiences that they don't want to hear anything new," he said. "I try to write so they'll be drawn into the story, or the humor in some cases. If it is well written, they'll go, 'I normally don't like original tunes, but I like this one.'"
Also, let's not forget that Tull loves the standards as much as the next guy.
"I'm with those people who say 'they used to do it so good.' But I don't see how someone can't write them how they used to, structure the melody so it builds to that stop with such power," he said. "I believe the older school audience will embrace my songs as soon as they hear they're good like the classics. When I perform for a younger audience used to simpler tunes who say, 'I don't like jazz, jazz is too much,' I love winning them over, too."
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