Derek Douget Band’s concert to benefit Lobero Theatre
Derek Douget grew up with a love for rhythm.
Just ask his family.
“I would take all my mom’s pots and pans and laundry containers and make myself a drum set,” the jazz saxophonist told the News-Press by phone from his New Orleans home. “I would turn on the radio and play along with the radio for hours. I mean, for hours!
“When I went to a (school) band concert, my sister played clarinet in the band. I saw another kid playing the saxophone,” Mr. Douget said. “I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’
“The next year, my parents rented a saxophone for me. I was pretty serious about playing music,” he said.
His love for jazz came at age 13 when he received recordings by three legends. “I heard early swing music with Count Basie, bebop with Charlie Parker and free jazz with Ornette Colemen.
“I knew I was going to be a jazz musician,” said Mr. Douget, a Gonzales, La., native who moved to New Orleans when he was 17. “That was what I was going to be.”
Santa Barbara County jazz fans can watch Mr. Douget in action when the Derek Douget Band performs during “A Night in New Orleans.”
Recorded in the city known for Mardi Gras and all things jazz, the concert is live-streaming today through Sunday. Proceeds from the $15 tickets will benefit the Lobero Theatre, and you can buy them at www.livefromthelobero.org.
Mr. Douget also has participated in a residency at the Lobero for the past several years. This year the Derek Douget Band has a program on YouTube about the history of American music. (See the FYI box.)
Mr. Douget and his band recorded this weekend’s Lobero benefit during a session in December and another in January at Esplanade Studios in New Orleans. He played with trumpeter Ashlin Parker, bassist Jason Stewart, pianist Victor Atkins, and vocalists Don Vappie and Herlin Riley. Mr. Vappie is also the banjoist and guitarist, and Mr. Riley plays the drums.
“We were trying to create what it would be like to hear a set of music under normal circumstances in the city of New Orleans,” Mr. Douget said.
“It’s not Dixieland,” he continued. “We play two tunes you would consider New Orleans tunes, and the rest are pretty much modern jazz.”
Mr. Douget chuckled about one of his favorite songs: “Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing.”
He explained the song’s about a woman who tempts a man and pulls him away from his family. “It’s a fun, spirited song that Herlin Riley sings. I don’t know if the microphone picks up all of us singing along during the session. Everybody gets involved
“I just like the energy of the song,” Mr. Douget said.
The concert also features Mr. Douget performing his composition, “Sir Remy,” which he wrote for a trio (saxophone, bass and drums) in honor of his sister Nicole Douget’s Labrador retriever.
“The melody is a fun vehicle for improvisation, and it’s written for my sister’s dog who’s no longer with us,” Mr. Douget said. “His name is Remy. He carried himself like he was royalty, so I always called him Sir Remy.”
Mr. Douget said he and his band members were glad to be playing together again after a long hiatus caused by COVID-19. He said the pandemic has been a strange time for musically active New Orleans.
“Even in a hurricane, people are hanging out in the French Quarter,” he said. “This is unprecedented. New Orleans got hit by a wave of cases and a lot of deaths, and everybody became resigned to shutting everything down.”
Mr. Douget, who teaches private lessons and is an instructor at the University of New Orleans, said he and others were playing several gigs a week before the pandemic.
He described the recording sessions in New Orleans as “great and weird.” Mr. Douget explained he and his band members’ reflexes during improvisation weren’t as sharp as usual because of the long break from playing together.
“Under normal circumstances, when our reflexes are good, improvisation is the fun part. When you haven’t been playing, it’s kind of scary,” Mr. Douget said. “It’s fun, but it’s also very scary.
“Practicing by yourself is vastly different from playing with other people,” Mr. Douget said. “Most of us haven’t been playing with other humans. Everybody was thankful for the experience, for the opportunity to play.”
Mr. Douget explained what drew him to jazz when he heard Count Basie and others as a kid.
“Just the fact that you have 16, 17 people playing together all for one purpose, playing their instruments at the highest level you can possibly be playing, all swinging and grooving together,” Mr. Douget said. “That to me was amazing.
“I heard all the joy in what they were playing, but I also heard the seriousness,” he said. “I was a somewhat serious person, even at a young age. It struck me as compelling. Why are these folks so serious about music? Why do they care so much about it?”
Mr. Douget went on to earn two degrees in jazz studies at the University of New Orleans: his bachelor’s in the late 1990s and his masters around 2010.
He also learned a lot from someone in an acclaimed jazz family: Ellis Marsalis Jr. (1934-2020), a pianist and educator and father of saxophonist Bradford Marsalis. (Mr. Douget played with both father and son.)
“I started playing with Ellis’ band when I was 18 or 19. I learned how to play in his band,” Mr. Douget said. “The method would be he would start playing a tune, but he never said what the tune was. I had to figure out what the tune was by my ear, and I learned the chord changes. It was mostly improvised.
“You have to have the ability to listen and the ability to play around and throw ideas around with other members of the band,” he said.
Mr. Douget’s experiences included playing with Dr. John, a legendary New Orleans pianist and singer (1941-2019), during a benefit for the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.
“I got to meet Dr. John over the phone,” Mr. Douget said. “We hung out and talked. He was really humble, a down-home type of cat.
“He was not feeling well and had a cold, even had a fever,” Mr. Douget recalled. “He still came out and played and gave it a million percent. As soon as we started playing, he became alive and brought energy. It was a great show.”