In the first of a new series of interviews, we chat with American jazz musician and Loop Loft artist, Doug Wamble.
Where are you from and how did you get into music?
I’m from Memphis, TN. Music was always around me, as my mother Linda played piano in our church and she even wrote some country songs. Her father, Charles Spencer, played guitar and sang hymns and cowboy songs. I always loved the guitar and was drawn to guitar based music from an early age. He showed me my first chords, but I didn’t start to play anything other than that until I started college. I was a clarinet player In the band, and I heard Benny Goodman with Charlie Christian. To me, he sounded like the electric blues music I was into like Freddie King and Albert King, but with more sophistication. I was hooked from age 18 onward.
Tell us a bit about your musical journey?
I began playing guitar to be a part of playing jazz. I got a Jazz Guitar degree from the University of North Florida, then my Masters at Northwestern. During school I had met Wynton Marsalis and was writing a lot of music inspired by him, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus but with Delta Blues inspired guitar in it. I sent tapes to Wynton and he encouraged me to come to New York, which I did in 1997. I did my first recording with him in 1998 and he’s always been a mentor to me.
I also began singing and writing other kinds of music, and in 2002 Wynton’s brother Branford signed me to his label where I did two records that blended jazz, blues, country and gospel. I toured a lot in that world but when my son was born in 2005 I became a stay at home dad for a couple of years. I wanted to get back to more touring but the economy collapsed and with it my touring career. But it worked out great! I have a 13 year old kid named Charles and we couldn’t be closer.
In about 2006 I started working on film composing projects which, again through Wynton, led me to working with Ken Burns and his company Florentine Films. During this time I also began writing more songs inspired by my love of Stevie Wonder and Jeff Buckley. I did two singer-songwriter records to document this. In 2012, I got hired to play guitar with singer Morgan James on a Nine Simone tribute. We began writing songs together, and I produced her debut for Epic Records entitled Hunter. We toured the world and got married and did a follow up called Reckless Abandon which I also produced. I’ve produced many wonderful young artists and I always love being in the studio.
How would you describe your approach to music/ playing style?
My biggest influences are Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk because they always play music first and their instruments second. Music should always come before instrumental widdly wanks.
One gig memory you will never forget? What made it so special?
I’ll give you two:
2001 at the Russian Tea Room with Courtney Love playing 1920’s songs. It was special because I got to lie on the floor next to Winona Ryder and teach her how to sing Long Black Veil by Johnny Cash.
The other is June 7-9 of this year with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center. He wrote an incredible new piece called The Ever Fonky Lowdown. He wrote a huge part for me to sing and play and it was one of the great honors of my life.
How often and for how long do you practice? What does a practice sessions look like for you?
It totally depends on my schedule. I try to at least get 30 minutes of maintenance work when I’m busy with scoring projects. On the road is great because I always get about 90 minutes between load in and soundcheck.
I practice technical stuff for 30-45 minutes and then usually just put on a Loop Loft groove in Logic and play stuff. Sounds like a plug but it’s true! Other times I just set the metronome to 2 and 4 and work on tunes I want to improvise over with more fluidity. And I love working on fiddle music! Really makes your chops stronger and it feels like you’re in a river when you play them right.
What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands like you did?
Don’t have a fall back plan because if you do, you’ll fall back on it.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Morphing from an all day every day jazz guitarist playing gigs every night into a multi-faceted musician that does a wide variety of eclectic projects in many styles.
What are you looking forward to?
Two exciting film projects that I’m scoring and touring this year with my wife Morgan. Also, taking a road trip with my son in July.
What's one piece of advice you’d give to up-and-coming musicians?
Go deeper. We all have the entirety of recorded music at our thumbs. But too often, we use those thumbs and our short-ass attention spans to swipe to the next playlist and never spend time with things like we need to. It’s like Tinder. Swipe to the next one and you’ll never know if you swiped past your soulmate. That’s how music is. Great music doesn’t always grab you on the first listen.
I was told how great The Rite of Spring was but I got a recording and hated it. HATED it. And it was Bernstein and the NY Phil! So because I’d heard how great the music was, I gave it a chance. It took me months of listening, but I finally realized that Stravinsky wasn’t the problem, Doug Wamble was. So I took that lesson and remembered that sometimes, music has to have time to reveal itself. Young musicians need to get an old CD Walkman and listen to one record for a month. That’s the way to go deep.