David Longoria has a way of presenting our challenges as a society and letting us know that we can affect change. This eternal optimism is present through much of his music. His latest CD, “A Better Place,” works this idea from all angles with ear-catching music and a talent for clearly communicating whether through his vocals or his trumpet.
The generous, brassy tones he uses on the opener of “Don’t Let Another Mother Cry” are perfectly matched with a light touch on piano and thoughtful lyrics. Though it’s been played almost to death (but we love it so much that there is always room for it), “Summertime” with Ms. Promise Marks is a true sizzler, complemented brilliantly by Longoria on trumpet. He has an intuitive read on the classic feel of a Gershwin tune, and his “I Can’t Get Started” is probably the best example of his versatility as a musician, the lyrics of which he has modified slightly and sweetly to reflect contemporary life. “Body and Soul” is another stunner, proving Longoria has the chops to accompany and never overshadow.
How is the headspace different between playing trumpet and singing in the same song? Is one an extension of the other?
What a wonderful question! according to my opera singing Aunt, I was singing way before I could speak, often mimicking her arias and scales as she rehearsed from six months of age. Now, the singing, for me requires a discipline that reminds me to tell the story without too much inflection.
The trumpet is a real extension of my voice. I think that comes from a lifetime of playing it every day and bonding with its unique format. I close my eyes and go somewhere new each time. I often listen back to a solo and am surprised at what I played, because I really don’t remember the notes, just the feeling I had at the moment.
I play a trumpet solo on the original song “Make the World A Better Place” and the arrangement has some twists and turns and even a modulation to keep it fun for me. When I had sketched out the song, my bass player (who was quarantined in Poland) and my pianist in Los Angeles played their parts and I was inspired by their energy. I added a “one-take test solo” and sent it off to get the drums added by Tony Jones who added his uplifting rhythms. When we added the drums, the solo felt unique so I didn’t go back in and play it again. It was fun for me because it was fresh and exciting and no pressure because I believed I would replace with a new solo before we mixed it.
Talk about writing for film, and is it a different discipline than writing for live performances or an album?
I love the art form of music in every platform. Live performance has an energy like nothing else. The way I perform is partly a reaction to the audience’s reaction and their collective energy. With creating songs for an album, I want to try to reach a wide audience but stay true to what the message of the song is. For me, melody is easy as it comes very naturally but the lyrics are more of a craft. The idea may take a few incarnations to get to that place it hits on all cylinders.
When I work on a movie the goal is often to not be noticed; rather, to create an underscore that helps the director tell their story without my distraction. And it becomes fun when I can utilize influences of great icons of jazz or R&B or rock or even the feelings I had when I watched a great movie with a John Williams score, or a simple scene in a small movie where the music was perfect and helped in an unobtrusive way. A score I did for a movie called “Becoming A Man” was set in East Los Angeles which led me to choose hip-hop and jazz to create an edgy Latin melodic and rhythmic vibe. I have to admit I often asked myself what would Miles Davis and Freddy Hubbard do in 2020?
What was it like to work with a powerful vocalist like Barbara Morrison?
Barbara is a true icon of jazz and blues! She is a force to be experienced! Her work ethic is unpaused and she brings her “A” game every time. Her lovely, smooth voice hits all the right notes and she truly added so much to our song together. We remade the classic sultry jazz song Body and Soul. I decided to arrange it with a deep chord structure so it would be modern but still respectful of the original. She joined me in the studio and was ready to sing it. I’ve seen her perform dozens of times and her repertoire is seemingly endless.
What was the inspiration behind “A Better Place”?
I was working on songs for a new album and looked at what we are all going through today. We are so divided, so stressed and things are so uncertain. Rather than write a protest song to complain, I thought “what can I do to make it better?”
The first song came together quickly as I talked about making the world a better place, and as simple as that idea is, it brings about some optimism and maybe hope for our little changes affecting the rest of the world in small ways. I wrote a song called “Terra Pax” (“Peace on Earth”). I took an artistic approach to describe a woman who is amazing but elusive. Her name is Terra Pax and the metaphor made me dig deep to say what that concept might mean to me if we were to better pursue it/her.
How do you honor the spirit of the topic – some very specific social issues – with your music?
More than anything, music is communication. If I want my audience to get a message I had better make it accessible. If I play every showy lick I can on a song, it will likely get lost for the listener. So instead I try to think about what helps tell the story.
This applies to the arrangement, melody and rhythm. If I hit the beat harder I may make a better presentation for an edgy thought, while a more tender approach is sometimes warranted. I have some friends on social media who have gone through terrible ordeals losing children in Chicago to all the street violence. I needed to make a statement about it and chose a gentle haunting jazz ballad for its style. The song “Don’t Let Another Mother Cry” seems simple, but I hope it touches the hearts of people who care about this.
Why do you think an iconic ballad like “Body and Soul” endures?
There was a time when songs were very special and unique as jazz began evolving in the 1930s. The sexy lyrics along with a beautiful jazz melody and harmony leave the listener with an instant mood for the evening. This is a powerful song that can lead to whatever you have in mind. When I asked Barbara Morrison to join me on it, her interpretation brought just the right amount of style, attitude and jazz to the track. Her voice made me play my muted trumpet differently than I would have without her.
What is your favorite story about producing this CD?
I have a friend who is famous in Hollywood, who became very famous as a child actor. He told me about how dark and dangerous it was growing up in the movie world as we have all been hearing recently. I said I wish I could do something about calling attention to the terrors without making a preachy song or a song that would be hard to listen to. I asked him if he’d like to sing or speak on it and he said, “Yes, let’s do it.” I wrote a poem that became sort of a spoken word piece that fits in with the album, “Precious Innocence,” and sent him the tracks with my voice to show what I had in mind. He got stuck out of the country during the pandemic shutdown so we ran out of time. I decided to put my vocal version on the album and there it is.
Talk about the ensemble in this project and what they contribute.
I worked with pianist Rique Pantoja last year and discovered he has a beautiful feel for jazz. He was a pianist for Chet Baker for many years. Along with him I added drummers Tony Jones (Bob Dylan, Billy Preston and many more) and a European upright bass player Maciej Sadowski who lives in Warsaw. Because we were all stuck in the worldwide quarantine, I decided to take advantage of the unique opportunity to do our parts in a digital world. After a few Zoom video calls and emailing tracks, I assembled a collection of recordings that would not have been the same had we all been in the same room, but with the wonderful musicianship and the passion I wanted to capture.
When I was a teenager in Seattle, my drummer played concerts and club gigs with me and we reconnected a few years ago. It was fun to do a song with him on the album, “Summertime,” that features Promise Marks. As there are not many different musicians on the album, it was important that each one brought their own personality to the songs. Guitarist Doug Perkins from Kansas City played with us on that one too. On “Terra Pax” I wanted to add some Latin “sabor” (delicious flavor) so Dale Chung came in with congas.
Are the majority of venues in your area closed?
My studios are located a few steps from Los Angeles’ iconic jazz club, The Baked Potato. The visual scene of its boarded-up doors haunts me every day I go past. I am optimistic that soon we will be able to perform again with real live people enjoying the moments of musicians sharing their contributions. In the meantime we interact through virtual concerts and social media. Many new fans have discovered my music this year on Spotify where there is an eclectic collection of my jazz and dance music.
I love to blend the old classics with the new! Classic jazz that dates back to Louie Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis has made a big impact on my playing. I love to bring back some of that but I still need to do something fresh with it. And my more modern originals like “Look to The Sun” all have a different approach. Still, the first song, “Make the World A Better Place,” is a tribute to classic jazz but with current lyrics we can relate to.
Thank you for taking the time to ask great questions!
For more information visit http://www.davidlongoria.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of David Longoria.
(c) 2020 Debbie Burke