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From Glasper to Bieber: Chris Dave on jazz, collaboration, and influence

“I usually just like to play and not explain anything; it gets too confusing. Your expression is in what you’re playing.”

His is a discography that extends back to the early ‘90s with Mint Condition, while the last decade has seen him work on records with little-known artists including Robert Glasper, Adele, D’Angelo, Anderson .Paak and Justin Bieber. He, of course, is drummer Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave – instrumentalist, composer, bandleader.

This week, Dave returns to Melbourne with his band The Drumhedz, for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. A revered name across not only jazz, but hip hop and gospel music, Dave’s status within the contemporary music scene is unshakeable and undeniable.

The Drumhedz’s debut LP was only released in January, but for Dave the wheels hadn’t stopped turning since their fervent mixtape – Chris Dave Presents The Drumhedz Radio Show – was released last year.

“There’s been more work, definitely,” Dave says of last year’s schedule. “More work with new artists that I’ve gotten to meet, and I’ve been able to play with people I’ve never played with – I’m never complaining about it. I was able to reconnect with a few people [too] that I hadn’t had a chance to record with and write with.

“We’re getting to play more this year, so that’ll be fun. We’re already working on the next record too. We’ve got a lot of different projects that we did last year and earlier this year, that will be out later this year. There’s a lot of music coming out, finally. We’ll be able to get it out a little quicker. We won’t have to wait as long. Of course, I’m still writing and producing some surprises that I want to keep quiet.”

On their return to Melbourne, Dave expresses an interest in experiencing local music spots – meeting and connecting with like-minded people has always been a large part of what makes this music community (particularly on a global level) so energising. Especially when it comes to potentially forging new creative relationships.

“This will be our second time coming back,” Dave says. “We had so much fun the first time. We wanted to do it every year, but I guess there’s been some kind of stipulation that meant we couldn’t do it every year. They can’t have artists back to back, but it’s worked out that we were able to come back now, with the album having come out this year too.

“Each artist is different,” he says, detailing the diversifying roster of artists he works with. “I’m pretty cool with everybody, so I’m easy to work with. I already know the artist before I work with them, so it’s a little easier, when you’re working in different genres. I know personality-wise who they are and what they’re looking for in their music. My job is just to make sure that we get that across and that they’re happy. That’s the job at the end of the day. If you don’t make everyone happy, they’re definitely not going to call you back.”

As conversation turns to the way jazz has entered the mainstream, thanks to artists including Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and even Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar, Dave remains unsurprised about the genre’s wider exposure.

“It’s interesting. For us, it’s been this way for the last five or six years; now, it’s getting more exposed to the world. It’s good that it’s gotten out and it’s a little more popular and more people appreciate it; appreciate all the other musicians from across the world doing it. We all knew about each other from a while back, so this isn’t necessarily new. It’s a progression of whatever sprouted back then.

“I met Kamasi many years ago, and I think the first time Thundercat went to Japan was with The Drumhedz,” Dave remembers. “We all connected way back. We are all fans and friends of each other, so we always try to make sure we support and help each other. We were able to write something together on Kamasi’s new album, I was excited about that.”

Music and its expression, its core evocative energy, is at the root of what drives Dave as a creative; even talking about it in the context of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, there’s a feeling that while he’s happy to be conversing about his music and last few years on the road, he’s much more in his element when he’s creating and playing.

“I normally don’t even like doing it,” he says of technical masterclasses. “[But] I’m doing it for this festival. I usually just like to play and not explain anything; it gets too confusing. Your expression is in what you’re playing. When they’re like, ‘Give me that in words,’ I’m just here like, ‘I can’t give that to you in words, that’s why I play music.’

“We don’t label music in my circles,” he says, which makes collaboration all the more organic. “It all started with who you were playing for. That’s how people formed the opinion of how you played. It depended on how good you were at different genres, and then it expanded from that. It’s more about the experience, how you feel, that emotional energy.”

Chris Dave and The Drumhedz perform at 170 Russell on Friday June 8 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. He will also appear at The Channel, Arts Centre Melbourne on Thursday June 7 as part of the festival’s free Close Encounter series.