May 27, 2009
This is the conclusion of our conversation with principal LACO flutist David Shostac:
Bob: Are you currently playing as a member of a jazz ensemble? What proportion of your time today do you spend playing jazz, as opposed to classical music?
David: I’ve been playing with jazz pianist and composer Bill Cunliffe in his group Trimotif, a kind of classical-jazz fusion group. With Bill, and often with his great rhythm section, we are three classical wind players who also improvise. We have played several gigs at jazz clubs and universities and done some recording (not yet released). Bryan Pezzone and I also play together, and we do programs that mix classical pieces and jazz improvisation. Occasionally I get asked to do other things as well, including some recordings.
Since returning to L.A., I was fortunate to study with Warne Marsh, and later with Charlie Shoemake, getting a better grounding in bebop. Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention Hubert Laws, who studied with Julius Baker at Juilliard at the same time I did, and who ended up being a positive influence on me, with his fine flute playing in both jazz style and classical technique. At that time he was already playing with [Cuban percussionist] Mongo Santamaria; we are friends, and he is a special kind of person. And Sam Most, super bebop flutist, whom I have known since way back when, as well…
Depending on the time in my schedule, I continue to keep in shape and learn new stuff. Also, this helps me in composition and arranging, which seems to be a growing sideline with me. (The biggest project, of course, has been my “Carmen Fantasy,” which I played in February with Jeff and LACO, a great thrill!)
Oh, yes, another of my jazz experiences has a real LACO twist: with [bassist] John Clayton and [his pianist son] Gerald a couple years ago, Rick Todd, Gary Gray and I were the opening act for [Cuban trumpeter] Arturo Sandoval. We called ourselves the LACO jazz players. Before that, we played jazz with [pianist] Dudley Moore at a LACO benefit!
Bob: I wish I could have been there for those gigs!
David: I find much use of my improvisational skills in performing baroque music; for example, in Thursday’s concert with Anthony Newman, I improvised the ornaments in the slow movement of the Vivaldi piccolo concerto. There is also quite a bit of improvisation on my recording of the Bach Flute Sonatas with the late great Igor Kipnis, harpsichord.
Bob: Where are you currently teaching, and how much of your time does that activity take?
David: I have taught at California State University, Northridge, for over thirty years, but usually no more than five or six students at a time, who come to my home for private lessons. In addition, I teach a few private people on the side.
Bob: You were involved with the Henry Mancini Institute, weren’t you? We were supporters from the very beginning and were most impressed with it.
David: Yes, as a summer institute, the Henry Mancini brought the best people from all over the world for a month. I taught there for many years, until it tragically closed down at the height of its success.
Bob: Yes, we were devastated by that, as well.
David: Although I did introduce my flute students at Mancini to as much jazz knowledge as possible, I mostly am consumed with giving my Northridge students a solid foundation in technique, style, and repertoire in the classics—though occasionally veering off when appropriate.
Bob: What kind of music do you like to listen to for your own enjoyment?
David: Mostly jazz or classical. I also like ethnic music. In New York, I played with a middle-eastern-jazz-fusion ensemble. The leader was Ruthie Ben Zvi, an Israeli sabra—we had flute, vibes, congas, jazz bassist and drummer, and Ruthie on middle-eastern percussion; the group played at big folk festivals and was booked at the Village Gate, but unfortunately, we broke up before it happened. I also studied Indian music, at Ravi Shankar’s Kinnara school in L.A., with Hari Har Rao in Pasadena, and privately in Milwaukee as well. Hari and I once improvised a movie score together, and I transcribed some of Ravi’s music into western notation for a flute piece he had composed. I have played some excellent Middle Eastern music with the L.A. Jewish Symphony, and I have had the opportunity to do some solo improvisation in that venue.
Bob: My goodness, I had no idea how eclectic your tastes and experiences have been!
David: There are so many great classical musicians, and many of them are people I work with locally. Lots of my favorite musicians are my colleagues in LACO! We have so many really superb players, and it’s a great privilege to perform with them. Jeffrey Kahane is one of my all-time favorite pianists, and everything he plays sounds like he has composed it himself. His choice of soloists for LACO is also brilliant, and I’ve enjoyed working with all of them.
Bob: Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians?
David: John Coltrane has been a major influence for so long, although I must say I’m not crazy about his “sheets of sound” phase; I prefer his earlier mastery of playing the changes, and also the brilliant sense of time in much of his modal work, with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. On alto, I really like Phil Woods, and in the Miles Sextet days, Cannonball Adderley was fun to listen to because he swung so hard, for example, in Kind of Blue. Michael Brecker was a great master of tenor, and Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, and there’s a new one, Eric Alexander, whom I really appreciate. Oh, and I can’t forget Bob Shepard, here locally. Of course it all started with Bird and Diz [Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie].
Bob: What about on other instruments?
David: Among the pianists I’m partial to Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and McCoy Tyner. And on trumpet, there are so many great players: Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell…
One of my very favorite musicians is John McLaughlin, and the brilliant Mahavishnu Orchestra recordings, where his improvisations soared over beautiful arrangements using exotic raga scales.
The flute has really come into its own these days with Latin jazz. Some of the players are terrific, and I enjoy listening to them. I love to play that music as well, and I wouldn’t mind being part of a group like that!
And I’ll listen to the Beatles any time!
Bob: You mentioned that you met Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood. From the groups you’ve played with, it sounds like you have a real affinity for “Third Stream” music.
David: Obviously I like the notion of mixing genres; it started with Gunther Schuller, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and it is continuing through the various groups I have played with, and so much of the music that was performed at the Mancini Institute. Playing Uri’s Caine’s music two years ago [when he was LACO’s Sound Investment composer] was very interesting, especially listening to his beautiful and sensitive solo playing. Also the combination of various ethnic sounds into orchestral music is very exciting to me. (In my “Carmen Fantasy”, I tried to get in as much Flamenco spirit as possible, to add to what Bizet already had incorporated.)
Bob: What direction do you see your career taking in the future?
David: I just take what comes my way, and if something inspires my attention, I’ll grab onto that. Recently I made an arrangement of “All the Things You Are” for flute, cello and piano, with several Beatles songs in the counterpoint, as well as a few standards. The other night, I recorded Vivaldi’s “Spring” concerto from the Four Seasons with a flute orchestra (“Voice of the Angels”), three days after our LACO concert with Anthony Newman [the Vivaldi piccolo concerto]. By the way, interestingly enough, that piccolo concerto was the very first solo I ever played with LACO!
Bob: At this point, it seems like your experience with LACO has come full circle! Sounds pretty special to me…!
Well, David, we’re coming down the home stretch. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
David: I’m afraid I’ve gone way overboard on this already! And maybe I’ve neglected “classical” talk. Playing great music with great musicians is the greatest joy for me. LACO for over thirty years has given me the most wonderful inspiration and musical experiences. So does playing all kinds of chamber music, and obviously I love being a soloist as well. It is the greatest privilege to make music of any kind when it is done with love and dedication, and that includes teaching. I’m so lucky that I can make a living doing what I love best, giving my best, and hopefully having a good effect on other lives.
If there is one last thing I’d like to add, it is this: We must keep music alive in our schools!! I know you agree that our culture is doomed if we don’t stress the arts and keep young minds attuned to the higher vibrations that music provides.
Bob: I couldn’t agree more, David. We have been privileged to attend LACO rehearsals in the Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, and we’ve seen the hall packed with young, orderly students, their faces eager with anticipation. We’ve watched the rapt attention and fascination they have given the orchestral sounds, and we’ve heard the questions that Jeffrey and others have fielded with empathy and sensitivity. We are so proud that LACO sees this exposure as a priority activity!
I want to thank you so much, David, on behalf of our readers, for your time and effort in sharing this wonderful conversation with us. And how can we thank you enough for the more than 30 years of delicious music you have given us?
David: Believe me, Bob, the bulk of the pleasure has been mine!