Trombonist Dan Blacksberg strives to expand the range and role of trombone in improvised music. This Philadelphia native also happens to be highly sought-after in the world of klezmer, leading and co-leading several groups that have earned titles such as “the world’s greatest Hasidic hardcore band” and “klezmer power-trio” (that group, Leviticus, includes TCO’s own Tyshawn Sorey). Read on to learn about the many contexts in which Dan works as a musician and about the current commissioning project for his group Archer Spade.
When did you start playing?
After some abandoned piano lessons as a young, young kid and a very bad attempt at French horn, I eventually settled on trombone at age 10. I played in every school ensemble I could: concert band, orchestra and the jazz band, where our band director (the same guy for all these groups) made us learn everything by ear. As opposed to playing any kind of music we were “supposed” to learn, he would have us play whatever music he felt like, whether it was Stevie Wonder, the Yellowjackets, Brazilian pop music or the steel drums he found in the other music teacher’s closet. I think without meaning to, he really taught me to follow my musical path, wherever it takes me.
What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’m really excited about a wide range of projects that I’m either leading or co-leading. The main groups are Archer Spade, the chamber duo I have with electric guitarist Nick Millevoi; Superlith, an improvised noise duo with Julius Masri on circuit-bent keyboards; and Electric Simcha, a Hasidic punk band with Nick and Julius (who in this band plays drums), as well as Travis Woodson on bass. I’m also in a collective improv group called Psychotic Quartet that only gets to play together once in a while because the violinist lives in Sweden. In the klezmer world, I’m mostly involved in the international klezmer/Roma group The Other Europeans and I co-lead the klezmer/free jazz power trio Leviticus with clarinetist Michael Winograd and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Archer Spade recently started a Kickstarter project to raise money to commission pieces by three composers: David Soldier, Johnny Deblase and Gene Coleman (see Archer Spade’s website for info). This is a big step forward for us as an ensemble and we’re reasonably scared and psyched. Superlith has a finished recording that will hopefully come out soon, and Electric Simcha has almost finished its first full-length release.
What are you currently listening to?
I recently went through a big phase of listening to slow, doomy bands like Earth and Bohren and der Club of Gore. Now, I’m listening to the space opera Sirius by Stockhausen, Music in 12 Parts by Phillip Glass, Live at the Half Note by Art Farmer, Plectrist by Billy Bauer, Orkhiste by Radu Malfatti and a wonderful bootleg solo concert by George Lewis from 1978.
How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
I think the biggest thing I’ve been able to take from Anthony’s music is that you should always strive to make your musical world large and open enough to hold all the ideas and loves that you have. Even before I got to work with him, I was already a huge fan of his music, so it’s been a real pleasure to get the chance to get more into his world. I’m constantly inspired by the fact that beyond the humongous body or work, the great compositions and the brilliant playing, Anthony is able to merge the conceptual and the personal in his music. I’m constantly inspired by his sense of humor and play, both as a person and as a musician. The way he makes space for the personal voice of every performer who he works with creates a very safe space to make music, where we all feel comfortable to explore and let the unexpected surprises be joyful things. That’s something I’ll always try to emulate.
What’s your favorite food?
You know, for providing a the whole range of high and low brow, complicated and simple, traditional and avant-garde, and – most importantly – the worst tasting to the best, I’ll have to go with pizza. Though if you’re ever in Philadelphia, I highly recommend a stop at one of the many Capogiros in town for the best gelato anywhere.
Dan Blacksberg on the web:
Archer Spade: http://archerspade.blogspot.com
Electric Simcha: http://electricsimcha.blogspot.com
The Other Europeans: http://www.oher-europeans-band.eu
Psychotic Quartet: http://soundcloud.com/dan-blacksberg