Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas works hard at making creative music.
His numerous ongoing projects – he leads several bands and runs Greenleaf Records, his successful independent jazz label – seem to have lives of their own, but Douglas is the thoughtful progressive engine powering them.
His quintet, which comes to the Mondavi Center on Friday, Feb. 19, has been together since 2012 and released three albums. Though they’ve toured around the world, appearances on the West Coast are rare, and Douglas has never performed at the Davis venue.
The quintet touring with Douglas includes Jon Irabagon on saxophone, Linda Oh on bass, Rudy Royston on drums and Fabian Almazan on piano (regular pianist Matt Mitchell was unavailable for these West Coast dates).
Douglas doesn’t mind being depicted as an artful juggler with his many musical activities, which has included establishing and directing the Brooklyn-based Festival of New Trumpet Music (heading into its 14th year) and producing the weekly podcast “Noise From the Deep.”
“It’s a joy, really,” Douglas said from his home in the country an hour from New York City.
“It’s the music, the touring, running the label, writing the music, that’s what I love to do,” he said.
While it seems like a lot, Douglas wryly noted, “I only do one at a time, and the live experience is one of the most passionate, loving aspects of the whole enterprise for me.”
Because he loves it, Douglas plays as much as possible. In 2013 he and the quintet undertook “DD 50,” with the goal of playing in all 50 states in the year of his 50th birthday. They hit 49, missing only Hawaii.
Live performance has always been an essential element of the jazz experience, and Douglas said his schedule not only keeps him working, but plenty of other musicians as well.
“It gives me the ability to hire some of the most exciting musicians on the scene,” Douglas said. “Players who are younger than me and coming up. It’s exciting for me to see audiences get blown away by somebody like Rudy Royston or Linda Oh, Jon Irabagon.”
In some ways the quintet’s album “Brazen Heart” (October) was a companion piece to 2012’s “Be Still,” a set of traditional hymns that Douglas’ mother, Emily, asked him to play at her funeral service after her long battle with ovarian cancer.
“I knew that music from my early childhood, but I had never played it or performed it, and it just lead me to a whole new approach to looking and thinking about it and researching it,” he said.
A beautiful and contemplative record featuring progressive bluegrass vocalist Aoife O’Donovan, “Be Still” plays very much like an elegy. The recent “Brazen Heart” was recorded after the death of Douglas’ older brother Damon, but the trumpeter wanted the music to have more of a lift and sense of affirmation. Most of the tunes are original Douglas compositions except for two spirituals, “Deep River” and “There Is a Balm in Gilead.”
Experiences together on road and on the bandstand have created an adept interactive unit that’s able to do more collectively than just take turns improvising on a form.
“It’s one of the great things about music, you put five individuals together, and there are infinitely complex interactions and relationships that form and things that happen,” Douglas said.
“You also have the experience of playing the music night after night and something happens. It makes you think, and you react differently the next time, or you probe to see if you’ll get the same reaction or all those kinds of things keep growing, changing and getting deeper.”
Douglas said the music he writes now is different than before, freer in some ways and more composed in others.
“I’m inspired by this new generation of musicians who are employing a lot of new strategies for playing the music,” he said.
The time he’s spent recently with Wayne Shorter (one of his bands, Soundprints, with saxophonist Joe Lovano, is dedicated to Shorter’s music) has also inspired him in new ways.
“Wayne is one of the great living jazz composers. Obviously it would be no surprise to say that, but what’s so astounding now is how he’s allowed the freedom in his process to guide what happens with his compositions on stage in a way that’s kind of unprecedented. It really is a new way of considering playing jazz,” Douglas said.
Douglas has also been using his Greenleaf website to make music accessible through a variety of formats and at various consumer levels – for his music and that of other musicians, too.
Greenleaf has already released two Douglas projects since “Brazen Heart,” the “High Risk” electronic quartet collaboration and “Fabliaux” with the Monash Art Ensemble, music inspired by 14th-century Ars Nova composers in France.
“Situations in my life now seem to lead me to new music like playing hymns and spirituals, which was not something I was doing 10 years ago,” Douglas said. “I’m so lucky and blessed to be here and be led on this path by the music. That’s what drives me.”
Dave Douglas Quintet
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center, One Shields Ave., Davis
Information: 866-754-2787, mondaviarts.org