HeraldNet INTERVIEW: Cascade High grad
Dave Peterson a craftsman in jazz guitar

BILL PEDIGO   Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Dave Peterson, like this writer a 1973 graduate of Cascade High, went on to earn a degree in music composition at Western Washington University and followed that up by teaching at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle from 1977 to 2012. He has composed a volume of pieces, including his 2004 recording “Portal” with bassist Chuck Deardorf, which was used as sample music for Windows XP and provided the theme music for PRI’s “Selected Shorts” out of Symphony Space in New York. He also has played with some of the giants in jazz, such as Chet Baker and Big Joe Turner. His book, “Jazz Licks,” is a must-read for those who want to play jazz guitar.

When did you get your first guitar and what was the first song you played?

I got my first guitar in 1967 when I was 12 years old. I remember my parents bought me the guitar from a neighbor for $10 and it was a Japanese Norma electric guitar. I don’t remember the first song I played, but I do know I wanted to play songs by The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, so those songs of those groups would be some of the first songs I would try to play.

Your musical talent, going back to the (jazz choir and ensemble) Del Sonics days at Cascade, could have taken you in any direction. Why jazz?

Jazz was interesting to me, especially the harmonic part of it, and it was more of a challenge to play music with improvisation in it rather than other types of music. I have played just about every instrument and every genre of music, but I always go back to jazz at the end of the day.

Name some influential jazz players who got you on that road and what they mean to you. And, how did you connect with the jazz greats you’ve played with? 

Some of the influential jazz players who have inspired me were based on the first records I could find around Everett. These included the guitarists, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino. I also found recordings of Miles Davis and Chick Corea, which I listened to a lot. Their music was new to me when I was younger and I wanted to sound like how they did and emulate what they were doing. They sparked my interest for jazz and have inspired me until this day.

These gigs came about in different ways. Some I got calls from the owners of jazz clubs to back up the musician like Chet Baker and it was usually a week of performing with them. This was a way that I would be able to get gigs and create a relationship with these musicians on stage. Another way that these gigs came about would be a friend would refer me to a musician like Bud Shank and Big Joe Turner, who would then contact me and then we would go from there. Art Lande has been a great friend for years and we have played together for almost 40 years. He always calls or sets up gigs for us to do when he’s in the Seattle area or I travel to Denver where he lives and we play. Most of these gigs come from a network of knowing people, experience in the music business or being contacted by the musician.

What about influences outside of jazz?

Classical music has always been an influence of mine. I use aspects of 20th century composition techniques in my own composing. I also have influences of rock and Latin music that I try to incorporate into my musical style. I add these techniques from these different genres of music into my teaching, too. It all kind of ties back together to jazz and the breakdown of the techniques.

How would you describe the jazz scene in the Puget Sound area?

I would say it is pretty good. There are many good young musicians coming up, but not enough places to perform. That’s what I heard from most of the people who I’ve talked to around the country. Every city is the same with not enough places to perform.

Where has jazz taken you as far as travel?

I have traveled all around the United States for jazz: San Francisco, L.A., New York, Boston, Montana, Denver, Alaska, etc. Outside of the U.S., I have traveled to Switzerland and Germany and Canada. I travel all over Washington monthly for music as well.

Where do you see jazz going?

I see jazz as a mixture of many cultures that has been in all types of musical styles for years. Jazz is a genre that was very popular when I started out as a musician and as time has gone by and especially in modern day society, jazz is less sought out as a popular musical genre people want to pursue. There are several young jazz musicians who are very talented and want to have a jazz career, but there just isn’t enough opportunity.

Can you drop some names of those who have come out of the music scene at Cornish?

The first person that comes to my mind is Reggie Watts, an all-styles singer, who became a famous singer. Secondly, John Cage, composer of avant garde music, was at Cornish in the late 1930s who became famous for preparing a piano. There are a lot of great, popular musicians who have evolved from Cornish into the Seattle music scene and are well-known in the Pacific Northwest.

What brand is your go-to guitar?

My go-to guitar for jazz is a Sadowsky Hollow-body guitar and Ibanez semi-hollow-body for more modern types of music.

Improvisation in comedy is one thing, but in jazz it’s another world. Talk about that.

Well, I think that they are largely the same process except comedy uses words and jazz uses notes. To be good at either discipline, you need to quickly be able to draw from your hierarchy of choices to suit what’s happening in the moment. In jazz, you try to be innovative and create a dialogue with the other musicians. While on stage with other musicians, depending on who you are playing with, it takes a lot of time to learn how to truly improvise and react to what’s happening on stage rather than playing practiced patterns. Improvising is coming up with something new and it has always been what jazz is about.

In your book, you state one of the most important goals for the jazz musician is to develop a vocabulary of ideas that can be used to create and shape an improvised solo. What sparks the creative mind in music composition?

The ability to come up with a theme that is usually fairly short and let the song evolve from that point on. For the most part, this comes from knowing the craft or extensive studying and practicing. You are creating a story from notes instead of words and that is my creative mindset when I’m doing an improvised solo.