Darcy James Argue is a New York based composer that leads the truly sweet Secret Society Big Band which performs in and around NY. He writes all of the material for this 18 piece monster, and with it (said monster), he manages to create an original sound that still leaves plenty of space for monster members to add their own improvised contributions.
Here’s a great video of the monster in action.
In addition, he is a constant blogger of interesting thoughtful content, and was a major influence on me in the creation of this site. Check out his band’s blog here.
1: What got you into creative/improvised music making, and what keeps you there?
What got me into it? I played trumpet in the highschool bigband, but I was a really terrible trumpet player. Piano was a lot less frustrating — you put your finger down on the right key, and the note you want actually comes out. Every time. Not like trumpet. Playing piano also allowed me to listen more to the big picture, to what the whole band was playing. I very quickly got the idea, “Hmm, that doesn’t actually sound all that hard. I bet I could do that.”
What keeps me in it? Believe me, if it was remotely possible for me to do something other with my life than lead an 18-piece bigband, I’d do that. In a heartbeat.
2: Breakthrough album(s) and Why?
One record: Maria Schneider’s Evanescence. Especially the first tune, “Wyrgly.”
Why? Goddamn, just listen to that track, fercrissakes. For better or worse, “Wyrgly” convinced me that bigband wasn’t a dead end. No, more than that — it convinced me that a bigband could express the precise kind of forward-looking jazz I was interested in, and do it better than a smaller ensemble.
The juxtaposition of those climbing half-time shuffle figures grinding against the wispy, scattershot double-time stabs (about a minute into the tune) remains one of the most audacious rhythmic conceits I’ve ever heard. And that noise Ben Monder makes during his solo break is everyone’s favorite Ben Monder moment.
3: How do other art disciplines affect your work?
Storytelling is key. The difference between good musicians and great musicians is that great musicians are genius storytellers. Any other art that happens in real time — theatre, film, television, dance, standup comedy, spoken word, performance art — is (or should be) tremendously instructive for the creative musician. But ultimately, everything always comes back to storytelling.
4: Favorite Film(s)?
How long do you have? Okay… limiting myself to a desert island Top 10 list? Citizen Kane for its punkrock badassery (who the hell does that with their first movie?); The Big Sleep for being the definitive noir; Notorious for the camera + Ingrid Bergman; The Third Man for showing everyone how to really introduce a character; Seven Samurai for being the most awesomest epic movie ever; Rififi for merging French existentialism with the cynicism of a casualty of McCarthy, and also for that breathtaking heist scene; The Sweet Smell of Success for being the definitive New York City film (now and forever), and for actually using Chico Hamilton’s band; McCabe and Mrs. Miller for the ecstatic patience, for being filmed in my backyard, and for making Deadwood possible; The Godfather Part II for Fredo; Blue Velvet for Dean Stockwell; and Goodfellas for the obsessive attention to detail. (Yeah, okay, I realize that’s eleven. No, fuck you.)
5: Favorite Film Score(s)?
Oh come now. Okay, fine — I will limit myself to just two:
Psycho and Vertigo.
(See, that was easy.)
6: Favorite Fiction Reading?
Ever? Crime and Punishment, with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a close second.
Lately? Honestly, I need to find a much healthier balance between online reading/writing and dead-tree reading. The last novel I read that really killed me was Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. At the moment I am (slowly) making my way through Against The Day (god, that one chapter with Webb Traverse and the railroad bridge is effing brilliant).
7: Favorite Non-Fiction Reading?
I am currently enjoying Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, which already, in the first 100 pages, contains everything anyone needs to know about contemporary American politics. On deck is Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
8: Favorite Guilty Pleasure Music?
No such thing. Seriously. You might (justifiably) feel guilty about, like, cheating on your spouse, or betting your kid’s college fund on an online poker game. But feeling guilty about enjoying music? Life’s too short, dude.
9: Favorite Under Rated Musician(s)?
Oy. Um… Mary Lou Williams. George Russell. Booker Little. Jimmy Giuffre (still). Late Duke Ellington. Sun Ra and his inner circle. Thad Jones as a cornet player. Bob Brookmeyer as a valve trombone player. Mel Lewis. Lewis Taylor. Post-1970 Gil Evans. Henry Threadgill. Scott Robinson. Andrew D’Angelo.
10: Recommended Artist(s)/Shout Outs?