Q&A: Jazz drummer Daniel Dufour
360°Sound caught up with drummer Daniel Dufour, a fixture on the jazz scene in Austin, Texas. Dufour released his third studio album, Standards, in May. Recorded in a day at Orb Studios in Austin with guitarist Jordan Burchill and bassist Sam Pankey, the album features six standards, among them “All The Things You Are” and “Moon River,” bookended by improvisational originals. To read our full review of Standards, click here.
A native of Willis, Texas, the 31-year-old earned a bachelor’s in percussion performance from Sam Houston State and a master’s in jazz studies from The University of Texas at Austin. Before the pandemic hit, Dufour could be seen gigging at The Elephant Room and Parker Jazz Club, among other spots. He also gives drum lessons and does session work, even playing on the 2019 recording Side Effects from indie rockers White Denim. In this exclusive interview, Dufour talks about his new record, what makes a great drum solo and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
360°: Tell me a little about your approach to interpreting the standards on the album.
Dufour: I’m very thankful to now have four recordings. I’m not the bandleader. We all collaborate. I don’t put the Daniel DuFour Trio; I put everyone’s name. It’s this collective thing. We were coming up with these little intros, a lot of that was [guitarist] Jordan [Burchill]. [In the studio], we say the thing that we’re gonna say and we leave it raw and we move on. It’s kind of off the cuff. The recordings I’ve done for the most part have been like that. If it was original music, it’s been music, for the most part, that we’ve been playing on gigs.
My first record, Distance, is all original music. We did it all — 11 tunes — in one day. We’re just going in and we’re cutting it. We’re really embracing the collectiveness of the band. We’re not trying to over-arrange or play too long. For the Standards record, I wanted it to be a little shorter. I wanted to treat it like some of my favorite recordings, like the Miles Davis Prestige recordings. They did four records in two days. I love how off the cuff it is. We did Standards in one day. And it was in a comfortable setting. We’re not playing to impress. We’re just playing to support and embrace and just try to make really beautiful music.
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What do your jazz musician peers say about your drumming style?
They say that I’m lyrical on the drum set, especially with my soloing. People appreciate my [sense of] time. ‘Creative’ is another word people have said. I like to play with really solid time. With the music that I play that’s me playing the ride cymbal with my right hand. I’m real ‘on’ with the band. I’m locking in with the bass player with my cymbal beat. I’m trying to be supportive.
Part of playing drums is reading the musical room. Are we gonna hit this certain rhythm together? Sometimes we all hit that one rhythm together and the bandleader turns around and is like, ‘Yeah!’ Or I’ll just be playing quarter notes on the ride cymbal and the horn players will turn around and just be loving what I’m doing with the bass player. It’s us supporting the band and making it groove and making it move.
What are the keys to good chemistry with a jazz combo, particularly with a trio?
I’m a huge advocate of getting to know musicians and playing with them as much as you can. When Jordan, Sam and I started playing brunch gigs we were like, ‘Man, we could probably cut a record. This is cool.’ I wanted to get together and just play. Just go to work and have fun.
I love doing session work, don’t get me wrong. But if I’m really collaborating on a project, I want it to be this way. We’ve been playing with each other for a while, just to figure out the ins and outs of what we all do. You start to read each other and lock in in ways that maybe you hadn’t been.
When you’re playing standards is there pressure to reinvent them or offer something that hasn’t been done by other artists?
Personally, I don’t feel like I need to reinvent the wheel. A lot of [the standards], they’re not all necessarily reinvented. It’s the improvisation. It’s how they play the melody. It might be the same tune and it might be the same format, but it isn’t the same exact band.
As a player and a listener, I’m so interested in what everyone has to say with the same tune. That doesn’t have to stem from the arrangement. It can come solely from how we’re interpreting the melody, how we’re interpreting the harmony, and how we’re playing solos over it. I don’t feel like we need to do this tune in a really crazy meter and extend the form – I don’t want to turn it necessarily into a big band chart. It’s a small group. This is intimate music. This is for house concerts, quiet venues where we can just play and don’t have to over-blow.
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What are your approaches to creating a drum solo?
The drum solos that I normally play can be put into three categories. It can be an open drum solo, meaning I’m playing over a tune, over a form. I don’t have to play in time; I can go all over the place. I can be free. There’s a drum solo where I play over a vamp. And then there’s the one where I’m playing a solo over the tune and it needs to be in time.
I want [the solo] to be relevant with the audience. Wouldn’t it be great if the audience left after the set singing my little drum melody I created? That’s what I’m thinking about – if I can play something that’s positively very memorable.
Sometimes you don’t hit the mark. Sometimes you do. It’s like playing a game. It’s gambling almost. What’s in common with the three scenarios is I’m always thinking about melody in some way, shape or form.
Standards is available to stream on Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. To purchase a CD, reach out to Daniel by filling out the contact form on his official site. You can also follow him on Instagram @danieldu4.