Doug Web Interview

 I ran into Doug Webb this year at the Namm show. He was at the Oleg booth demoing Oleg's new tenor and the Tubax, an Eb contra-bass sax. I had heard about Doug for for years, but it was the first time we had met. Doug is one of L.A.'s top call saxophonists and he has been featured on over 500 different recordings, as well as on hundreds of TV and movie soundtracks. When we started talking he told me that his brother lived in Portland and that he would be interested in coming up to play a few gigs just so he would have an excuse to visit his brother. I set up a gig for us on Sept. 22nd at Ivories Jazz Lounge with George Colligan and Alan Jones. I also booked some school clinics for Doug and will be presenting one right here at Casa Valdez Studios on Sept. 23rd at 11am. Here is the link for the Doug's Jazz improvisation clinic at Casa Valdez Studios. Please email me for more info at: casavaldez@comcast.net

 Interview with Doug Webb

DCV: When were you at Berklee?

DW: ‘79 through the end of ‘82.

DCV: So I got there just a few years after you, in ‘86

DW: I actually graduated with the class of ‘83 but I wasn’t actually in school much then – my last semester was fall of  ‘82.

DCV: What was your major?

DW: Jazz Composition and arranging.

DCV: Were you able to study with Joe Viola?

DW: Yes, I studied with Joe Viola for 7 semesters.

DCV: What was that like for you?

DW: Well, I was practicing a lot and sort of thought I knew everything and I wish I would have availed myself more of his teaching ability. I basically did what I wanted to do. He would sit and play chords for me and I would play tunes, and I never did any classical work or etudes or things that he actually teaches. He was more of a psychiatrist. You’d leave your lesson feeling really good about your playing and yourself and that you were doing the right thing.
Joe Viola

DCV: I think that was a big part of reason he was such a great teacher, he was just a supportive person. I never played much Jazz with him. He would mostly play duets with or we’d play etudes in unison. A lot of our time was actually spent tweaking different things on my horn.

DW: We’d usually play jazz. I think maybe once or twice we would play Classical etudes, but most of the time he would play chords on the piano and he would ask me to play tunes. He would also ask me to play solo saxophone for him. I guess he didn’t really care that I didn’t much want to do anything that he taught or wanted to tell me to do. I remember I had a later Mark VI at that time. He told me if I put the middle finger down on the right hand that it would actually… my C and C# were a little sharp, which is very common, so I would put the middle finger down on the right hand, on those two notes. On a D I would put the middle finger down and maybe the first two fingers, and he got me thinking and hearing pitch better. I’ve always tried to play in tune. You know, little things like that. And now of course I don’t play that same saxophone so I don’t need to do that anymore.

DCV: I remember that he had a ton of alternate fingerings for every note. His sense of pitch was pretty incredible.

DW: Yeah, he could hear a note and know if it was out of tune and also know why. He just loved the saxophone. And it seemed like he liked to hear me play, and I would just play for him, and he’d occasionally say something and we’d play tunes, and he’d smile a lot. You always left feeling good about yourself. As opposed to somebody who would try to teach you something every week, when I’m already learning something every day because at that time I was practicing quite a bit.

Herb Pomeroy
DCV: Did you also get a chance to play with Herb’s band?

DW: Yeah, I was in Herb Pomeroy’s recording band for 6 semesters. I was very fortunate, that was great. He got me playing and listening to the sound of voice, not just yourself, not just the saxophone. He’d play a voicing, and sometimes to make a weird voicing sound good, maybe if there’s a flat 9 in the voicing, it will sound good but maybe one of the notes has to be very soft. He would really get you hearing and blending with these other musicians. It was a great experience.

DCV: He was definitely one of the best things about Berklee for me. I played in his Recording band for three years, also did the Line Writing band and his small combo.

DW: My last semester I was in school I only took a lesson with Joe Viola and played with Herb’s band. And that was it. I had two classes.

DCV: So did you go straight to L.A. after school?

DW: Well, I was going to possibly go play with Buddy Rich. I was recommend, but that never materialized because Buddy had a heart attack right at that time in the Dominican Republic I believe. So I never did do that. But I went on board a cruise ship for 16 weeks. Then I got off the ship, got to L.A., took my trunk and walked off the ship. The ship was going two more weeks to Miami but they weren’t going to pay my way back to L.A. so I just said, “well, I’m getting off here.”

DCV: So you’ve been in L.A. ever since then?

DW: Primarily, yeah. My mother lives in New York so I tried to visit her a lot and play there more often than I do now. The busier I get, the more I’m working, the harder it is to take much time off and do anything besides work.

Doc Serevins
DCV: When did the Doc Severinsen band happen, was that right after you got to L.A.?

DW: I came to L.A. at the end of the summer of ‘83. I’m from Los Angeles. I was born in Chicago in ’60, my parents moved to Los Angeles in 1962, so I’ve been in Los Angeles my whole life. So when I came back after going to college and working on the cruise ship I guess I’ve been here ever since. I started playing with Doc in ’92 or ’93 when the Tonight Show just ended and Branford got the gig and Doc wanted to take the band on the road and apparently he could.

I actually took Pete Christlieb’s place because he didn’t want to go on the road. Pete was busy doing other things. At first I started subbing for Ernie Watts, he recommend me, and then when Pete didn’t want to do it I took his chair and Ernie and I basically did it together for quite a while. Doc just did a tour last year and Ernie went out with him. So it’s been something nineteen years now. I did pretty much all of that work from 1993 to about 2007. He did quite a bit of touring right after the tonight show ended and you’d be amazed, he was incredibly popular. People would recognize Doc Severinson all of the country, wherever we’d tour, the Southwest, Midwest or the South. Older people just loved Johnny Carson, but you could see how short-lived fame on television is because over the course of about 13 years of him doing one or two tours a year, usually seven to fourteen days. He would do one or two a year and you could really see the diminishing enthusiasm for the band. It was very expensive; he was paying us well and taking the guys who all did the Tonight Show. Another thing that started happening is that the guys in the band started dying. Quite a few of them, or they were unable to play. Bill Perkins got ill and didn’t want to play in the band anymore.

Bill Berry
DCV: Your fans were dying too, right?

DW: Yeah, the fans were dying and the band was dying. Snooky Young got pretty old and wasn’t able to play the way he used to. My job was wheeling him around in a wheelchair at the airport.

DCV: Did you ever play with Bill Berry? He was a great mentor for me.

DW: Yeah, I played in his big band and several times in a small group with him. We played at a club called Alfonso’s once with a quintet and I played with him at a placed called Chadney’s a few times. He was a very nice man. Great player and he had a great band. I played with a lot of big bands; I guess L.A.’s kind of known for that. I mean I still play in Bill Holman’s band and various other bands. I’m playing this Monday with a great big band, Emil Richards, and the sax section is Pete Christlieb, Lanny Morgan, Gary Foster, Gere Cipriano and I. I play in about six big bands were Pete Christlieb and I are the two tenors. They never get one of us; it’s always both of us.
Pete Christleib, Doug Webb, Lanny Morgan, Emil Richards, Gene Cipriano

DCV: You also worked with Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver. What was that like?

DW: Playing with Freddie was one of the greatest gigs of my life. Just incredible. Horace was an amazing learning experience. He really wanted you to play the changes and he grounded my playing in the idiom of Hard-Bop. I think he did that for all the tenor players that played with him. It was of the best things that ever happened to my playing. His approach to Hard-Bop had continued to evolve and it was quite different from what his contemporaries, like Herbie, were doing.

DCV: How much of your work is recording now?

DW: Well, I do a fair amount. I want to say every week usually something, but it’s not like it’s tons of stuff every day, but sometimes 3-4 sessions a week, sometimes one a week, this week I have a session Saturday. It’s various things. I’m actually trying to play a lot more Jazz, practice and get ready to write material for a new record on Posi-tone records.

DCV: How has the L.A. music scene changed in the last 15-20 years?

DW: I don’t know that it has changed. I’ve never been a huge studio guy. I’ve always been known more as a jazz musician, but I’ve always taken every gig I’ve gotten and tried to do the best I could.  Most of the success I’ve gotten has been from my playing and I have a bunch of unusual saxophones and woodwinds.

DCV: I saw a picture of all your horns out in your yard. It was pretty insane!

DW: Yeah, I’ve got a lot of weird things. Stuff I’ve never worked on. I have a full set of crumhorns that are tuned to A=440 and I’ve never gotten a call, never played them on any recordings.
Doug's horn collection

DCV: Are you kind of a mouthpiece guy too?

DW: Yeah recently I bought a collection of mouthpieces, really great vintage mouthpieces. Tons of old Links. So yeah, right now I have quite a few.

DCV: What kind of piece are you playing right now?

DW: Right now for the tenor it’s a New York Super Tone Master that had been worked on by Frank Wells. Frank Wells used to work on John Coltrane’s mouthpiece. He would do a thing that he kind of invented where he would take a hammer and hit them a little bit to get them to open up a bit. He would also give them a natural, rollover baffle. It made the mouthpiece take the air really well. Coltrane played a piece, or various pieces that Wells worked on. I think when Trane passed away he had boxes and boxes, hundreds of mouthpieces like the one I’m playing now.
Doug playing a straight alto with Richie Cole

DCV: How about on alto?

DW: I go back and forth between three different Meyers. The one I normally play is a 7, and it’s the most comfortable for me but when I really want to sound like an alto player I play a 6. I actually have a New York Meyer 5 that’s kind of bouncy, sound great with a King Super 20. Sometimes I switch off and play different things. I also have a really nice Dukoff tenor mouthpiece that I keep in my case that’s like the one Dexter Gordon played. It’s a really nice mouthpiece. I have a Stubby #2 that I got from Bob Sheppard that’s really nice. I like them all; they’re all a little different. I have several lengths that are various degrees of darkness. I used to play a Berg Larsen that I played for 35 years. I got it when I was 15 and played it up until about 2 years ago.

DCV: Are you doing a lot of teaching?

DW: Not really, not too much. I have one student that takes from me every week and occasionally someone comes over for a lesson.

DCV: What is your approach to teaching? If people come to the clinic that you’re doing, what can they expect that you might work on?

DW: it really depends on what level they are. I try to get people to understand, from a theoretical level, harmony and what improvising over chord changes is all about. Even if someone is playing modally on a D-7, which is basically a C major scale, the Dorian mode… getting them to hear the chord and hear the notes of the chord and how they sound, and base their improvisations off of harmony and how harmony works. If they’re more advanced, getting them to be aware of creating tension and release through the resolution of the dominant seventh chords. If they’re a little more advanced, then modern reharmonization based on…

DCV: Coltrane’s 3-tonic system?

DW: Well yeah, or taking it in and outside of the harmony, ala Steve Grossman or Brecker, the way things move in and outside. Giant Steps-type reharmonizations, other reharmonizations that are similar to that but not exactly Giant Steps. The function in that, like parallel harmonies and reharmonization and maybe if you have a ii-V-I, creating tension by adding another harmony in the line you’re playing. That’s something to do after somebody already can at least play changes in a basic way.

DCV: I was checking out your Renovations CD yesterday. Very good, I liked it, there’s definitely a lot of Coltrane influence there. Your “I Can’t Get Started” reharm was pretty cool, was that yours?

DW: John Coltrane did that.

DCV: That was a Coltrane reharm?

DW: That was. He never recorded it.

DCV: Wow.

DW: Those were his changes, and I got them from Art Davis who still has some papers in Coltrane’s hand. I got some other stuff that Coltrane played. I’ve been looking everywhere for them, I know I never threw them away. Lewis Porter did a book on Coltrane, I told him I would get them to him and get them copied and I’ve been looking everywhere. He just wrote this book on Trane.
Doug with Stanley Clarke
DCV: Would you say that Trane was your major influence when you were younger?

DW: Yeah, probably still is. I just love his playing, absolutely love his playing. But I also equally love other players and other styles of music. Everybody, from Eddie Harris to Stan Getz and Paul Desmond, I like players who play beautifully, and of course Bird, all those guys who really played beautifully. Hank Mobley. And Coltrane did too but when you say, “is Coltrane your main influence?” you expect to hear a guy squawking and grunting and histrionics on the saxophone.

DCV: What about modern players? Anyone you’re into?

DW: You know, I really like a lot of guys. I mean there’s a bunch of guys in New York that play great. My favorites are probably Wayne Shorter, Pharaoh Sanders. Other than those, the younger guys like Bob Sheppard and Pete Christlieb. Playing with him, he never ceases to amaze me. Younger guys in New York? I really love Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart plays great. I’ve heard some things that Joel Frahm has done that I really like. Ben Wendel just sounds great. There are just so many guys that are really dedicated and just doing wonderfully.

DCV: Well, thanks Doug. I’m really looking forward to playing with you up here in Portland.

DW: Thanks. See you soon.


Scooby said...

I first learned about Doug through the sax group on Facebook. Excellent player! Wish I could be there for the clinic.

bobbystern said...

Coltrane did in fact record his "Giant Stepped" version of "I Can't Get Started" on Atlantic titled "Exotica". It was never included on any of the original vinyl releases, but was listed as "Untitled Original" on all subsequent reissues where it was included. A playalong version can also be found on Aebersold Vol. 75 "Countdown to Giant Steps".