David Howard: Jazz Fusion Is The Engine That Never Stops
by Susan FrancesMulti-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger David Howard began his profession by playing and creating a fusion of jazz, funk, blues, and soul. Four decades later, he continues to play and create a fusion of these elements, adding to the mixture the easy-listening ethos of bossa nova and Latin-inspired rhythms. His endeavors show that jazz fusion has been the stimulus that never stops being a catalyst for his creations.
Since 2022, he has made four CDs available to audiences. They include the Dave Howard Initiative’s Live Recordings from the Barn and Infinite Blu, as well as his duet with drummer Kenwood Dennard on Souvenirs. Most recently is his solo project Next.
Regarding the succession of CDs, he admits, “Well, this is a bit confusing.” He begins, “Souvenirs was recorded many years ago with the amazing Kenwood Dennard on drums. This was my first as a leader.”
He recaps, “Infinite Blu was released in 2017 under The Dave Howard Initiative, the band name that has remained to present. [Then] Dave Howard Initiative Live Recordings From the Barn was recorded in 2018, and the tracks were not released until 2022.”
Currently, he notes, “David Howard Next was recorded and released during the COVID lockdown.” The shutdown closed businesses and many public activities and events throughout 2020.
His first project as a leader, Souvenirs features his duets with drummer Kenwood Dennard. The recording not only earmarks his camaraderie with the legendary drummer, but it is also a keepsake of Howard and Dennard’s time while both teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In Howard’s case, he had been a professor at Berklee for 34 years of his life.
“At the time we met,” Howard recounts, “Kenwood was teaching at Berklee, and we played several quartet gigs around Boston and at the school. I loved his playing and history. His playing on Souvenirs made that recording special for me as my first recording as a leader.”
He points out, “The tune ‘Espresso’ was written specially for this recording with him.”
The track “Espresso” is a fusion that coalesces the robust thrusting of Dennard’s drumming and the fiery pellets of Howard’s guitar shreds. Each escalates the fomenting heap, thrashing and pummeling while propelling a strong, testosterone-driven simpatico.
Other tracks from Souvenirs bolster an easy listening strut like “Lido Marinella,” “Calabria,” and the title track, transporting the listener into a balmy setting. A funky twang swathes “The Change” with a country blues tone, and the giddy pulse underpinning Howard’s rollicking guitar riffs along “Threesome” imbues the track with luxuriating bubbles.
Souvenirs is followed by Infinite Blu. The first recording Howard made with the Dave Howard Initiative, which then had been comprised of Howard on guitar, Steve Gutherz on keyboards, Sam Biancuzzo on drums, and John Debossu on bass. Also on the recording is saxophonist Jay Silva.
Howard recollects, “The saxophonist on Infinite Blu is Jay Silva. Jay and I played for years together, and I included him on that recording date because I was hearing more than guitar on melodies.” He adds, “Also included were vocals and violin.”
Vocalist and bass player Michael Johnson sings on “Every Time You Go” from Infinite Blu. An elevating bossa nova-infused melody that Howard reveals, “‘Every Time You Go’ was a special track for me. It was a co-write with Michael Johnson, bassist and vocalist in the Initiative at the time. I wrote the music, and Michael wrote the lyrics and vocal arrangement.” He attaches, “The group Greenline X-Tension was a fantastic vocal ensemble he directed. It was a nice collaboration, and at the time, I was looking for a multi-vocal idea that feels like it worked well.”
Another meaningful track from Infinite Blu is “Montepaone,” which Howard explains, “‘Montepaone,’ is named after a town in Calabria, Italy where I live now. A special tune written and recorded during a stay several years ago. It started as a solo guitar piece that developed into a two-guitar arrangement tracked on my laptop in the church in the beautiful piazza. The guitar used was a beautiful instrument pre-owned by my friend and long-time teacher Mick Goodrick, who just recently passed away.”
He reminisces, “Mick was a master of guitar that will be missed by all guitarists.”
As the listener can anticipate, Infinite Blu showcases a variety shades of bluesy guitar riffing. From the summery atmosphere of “Ida and Paolo” to the bossa nova sway of “Every Time You Go,” the recording delves into easy listening tremors along “Ginseng,” lulling grooves caressing the title track, and soft rock vibrations flasking “Mo Hu Hazzu” with an ornamental tooling from the Hammond organ. The jubilant mood of “You and I” is enhanced by Johnson’s uplifting timbres, and the slinky violin strings strutting across “Three Day Week” augment Howard’s own howling riffs. The recording closes with the wispy, sonorous, enveloping “Montepaone” in glistening silhouettes.
Gutherz, Biancuzzo, and Debossu join Howard on the Initiative’s following release, Live Recordings From the Barn. He provides, “The Band in The Dave Howard Initiative, Steve Gutherz – keys, Sam Biancuzzo – drums, and John Debossu – bass, had been the live band for most gigs in the States unless I traveled as a guest or sideman.”
He cites, “The current US Initiative band is Chris Billias – keys, Sam Biancuzzo – drums, and John Debossu – bass. When I return to the States, this band is the lineup for gigs through January 2024.”
Live Recordings From the Barn explores Latin-inspired rhythms further, particularly the dulcet swells of “Calabria,” reprised from his recording Souvenirs with Dennard, and the sensual percussive beats shingling “Night Time.” The moonlight glow of “Vincenza” also delves deeper into Howard’s bossa nova sensibilities.
Also on the offering is a selection of covers from the blues jazz canon. Howard encrusts Carly Bley’s “Healing Power” with a buoyancy that fills the listener with warm, resounding sensations. Changing course, he fashions Sam Rivers’s “Beatrice” with smoldering guitar licks, while his interpretation of David Newman’s “Hard Times” is tailored with a smooth, bluesy swagger that wraps the listener in soft undulations. Howard injects a part of himself into these tracks, improvising on the melodic motifs and scrolling freehand ruminations communicated by his guitar notes.
He enlightens, “The tracks for Dave Howard Initiative Live Recordings From the Barn were all recorded live at the barn where we rehearse. It is a cool, relaxed room owned by a musician friend, John Keegan, who added some sax tracks on David Howard Next.”
John Keegan’s return on Howard’s release Next widened the funky blues-infused dynamics with his soaring saxophone toots. Also joining Howard is, once again, Michael Johnson on vocals, keys and bass, Paul Davis on bass, Steve Gutherz on keys, Sam Biancuzzo on drums, John Debossu on bass, Keith V. Gilchrist on vocals, and the vocals of Roseann Sureda on the bossa nova-embossed “Your Smile.”
Howard shares, “‘Your Smile’ was a collaboration with Roseann Sureda, who wrote lyrics and sang on the tune.”
Next can be viewed as a bluesy, mellifluous, incendiary blaze. The pleasing flutters strewn across “No Boundaries” are bridled in the lyrical musings of Audley Reid on saxophone and the gentle pulsations of Brendan Rothwell on bass, as Howard sows vibrant surges intermittently into the track. The willowy strokes foddering the cozy blaze that inflames “Lawns” gather into a soothing elixir for the ears, transitioning into the funky ripples binding “Hard Facts.”
“Next was motivated in the time of the COVID lockdown,” he regards. “A tough time for all,” he remarks as he deems, “It was different during that time, and it helped.”
He describes, “The writing was motivated by the times… Look at some of the titles: ‘Somethings Got To Give,’ ‘Hard Facts,’ ‘No Boundaries,’ ‘Lonesome Lockdown.’ The process was interesting. I would try to break away from the feel of the times and wrote ‘The Real Feel,’ ‘Funky Groove,’ and ‘Your Smile,’ a bossa nova and vocal tune. And arranged ‘Lawns’ with vocals written by Carla Bley, a favorite musician who just passed too.”
A track that epitomizes this period in time is the delicate riffs draping “Lonesome Lockdown.” He imparts about the track, “‘Lonesome Lockdown’ was written during the COVID lockdown. I wrote it and recorded it all in one day at my studio. I played all the tracks, and it was the last tune on the Next CD.”
Playing multiple instruments is deep in Howard’s roots as he recollects, “I found the piano and bass were easy instruments to adapt my guitar knowledge to. And later in my career found them both, plus drums and sax great for my composing and arranging for my clients. It was also important for my 34 years as a Berklee College of Music Professor.”
“My Father played piano, and I loved it,” he muses, “but with older friends and witnessing bands and the interplay among players, I was driven towards the guitar maybe more for its portability and variation of sounds it produced. I started on basic guitar lessons at seven with an older jazz-based teacher.”
“I was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, a great location,” he observes, “for all styles of music.”
He recalls, “I started playing with blues groups and jam sessions around town at an early age with older musician friends. I remember my father having to accompany me to gigs because I was underage.”
“I played with a jazz big band in New Haven for years in my teens,” he chronicles, “when my father’s client was the conductor. During my teens and 20s, I was called a lot to perform with funk fusion groups because of my advanced chordal playing. I really enjoyed that style with a mix of more complex chords and jazz basis for soloing.”
“Growing up in New Haven,” he considers, “gave me the opportunity to see and hear players from Hendrix, Cream, BB King, and many rock groups. Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Kenny Burrell and many other Jazz guitarists that I loved. During my undergrad college years, I studied with Sal Salvador and Larry Coryell, an amazing experience.”
“I started writing original compositions in my early teens, 23-24,” he admits, “when I was performing with jazz-funk fusion style bands. I found I could experiment more in this context and stretch out with grooves and more rhythmic and complex harmonies.”
“My inspirations,” he reflects, “varied from just development of a particular harmony or song form, to travel locations and special people in my life. I have alot of inspiration now in my life with our move to southern Italy. Bella Vista!”
His foray into becoming a professional musician took some prodding, as he purports, “In the years after high school and entering college, it was difficult. Pursuing a career as a professional musician was not such a popular direction. After encouragement from my mother, I got myself accepted to music school at the University of Bridgeport, which had a nice jazz curriculum with great instructors.”
“Undergrad,” he determines, “was when I really settled into working toward a career as a professional musician. Later in my career, after the move to Boston and getting my Masters degree from New England Conservatory [which] was when I was offered the position at Berklee College.”
Thinking about his days as a college professor, he concurs, “I have retired from many years of teaching, and I learned a lot as a professor. Now I can relax and enjoy. Listen better to everything, be open, learn about artwork and the visual relation between visual and audio.”
“I always practice guitar,” he proclaims, “you never stop learning. I compose with more emotional inspiration and find I can write with no writers block and fine tune my compositions. As a leader, I have grown to help my band and other musicians better understand the route to a better performance and tune interpretation.”
Though living a life of leisure has reinvigorated Dave Howard’s creativity, it has also given him an appreciation of other activities aside from making music. He declares, “I enjoy artwork, traveling, [and the] beach.”
David Howard began his profession playing and creating a fusion of jazz, funk, blues, and soul, and four decades later, he is still playing that blend of music. Jazz fusion is that engine that never stops working for Howard, finding stimulus for new creations and opening his mind to hearing more than the guitar in his arrangements.
About Susan Frances:Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.