Recomposing with Jazz Innovator Dick Turner

Musician Dick Turner — performing with “FEVER!” at 7 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 7) in Old City Hall — came to Redding after an illustrious musical career in San Francisco. It was quickly very clear to the local jazz musicians that Dick was quite different from all of the other jazz composers and arrangers in Redding, and perhaps anywhere else for that matter. What makes his music so unique was the main topic of the conversation that I had with him recently:

Dave: Dick, it is always a memorable evening when you perform at Old City Hall. Your band is ever-evolving, and so is your music. What do you have in store for us this time?

Dick: Thanks, Dave. The title of our show is “Recomposing.” I’m very excited to bring this show to the Redding audience, partly because I have written the arrangements for the show, but mainly because I am proud of the efforts made by the members of our septet to really bring it to a new level. We have several new members in the band now. Since you are a sax player you may be very interested in the fact that the group now features 5 woodwind players along with bassist Bruce Calin and myself.

Dave: This is really a departure from your previous ensemble so, as usual, I expect it to sound really different. I’m intrigued by the title of the show, “Recomposing.” What exactly do you mean by that?


Dick: Well, it took me awhile to understand it myself. As musicians, we often like to “arrange” music for our bands. This means that we take pieces written by someone else and restructure them to fit with the particular band and instruments that we are working with. There are several levels of arranging. The most basic approach is to use the same melody, harmony, and structure, but with different instruments. However, sometimes the arranger wants to do much more with the piece, such as changing the chords, lengthening or shortening phrases, and adding to it. It gets to the point where the basic theme of the original tune is still there, but the end result is no longer an “arrangement” of the original piece, but rather a whole new composition on its own. I recently discovered the term “recomposing” in a jazz text and realized that it describes perfectly what I have been doing all of these years.

Dave: One thing that is clear to me is that your wit and sense of humor really come out in your work. All I have to do is look at some of the titles of your pieces: “Suffocated Lady On A Train” and “Artistry In Requiem” just to name a couple, and I realize that you are coming from an entirely different place. Where do those titles come from?

Dick: Often, the piece that I have written contains elements from two or more familiar songs that share something in common, such as a similar chord structure, melody line, or even similar lyrics. The titles will sometimes give the listener a clue as to what’s to come.

Dave: Some bands that I have played in have a goal to play the music in an exact rendition of the original as much as possible. Your music seems to be the antithesis of this concept. Do you think that your approach might be a bit risky? In other words, do you think that you might alienate an audience that might expect to hear a tune, for example, like “Take The A-Train,” played just like Billy Strayhorn wrote it?

Dick: There is certainly still a place for musicians to strive to recreate the sound of the masters who have written great music, but there is also a place for what we do. As to me taking risks — over the years we have been fortunate enough to have a great deal of support from many who appreciate what we are doing. The fine turnout that we have for our concerts answers your question better than anything I could say.

Dave: You definitely have a point. Thank you for all of the work you do. I and many other musicians have benefited greatly from having you in the community. As one person put it, “I like to play in Dick’s band because it makes me a better musician.” What an amazing compliment!

daveshort-best1Dave Short, M.D., is a Redding family physician. He has been active in the jazz scene since moving back home to Redding in 1980. He loves to play the tenor sax, and has recorded three albums with the band Sax Therapy. His favorite project is “Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall,” a monthly concert series that features the finest north state jazz musicians. To learn more about Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall, visit daveshortjazz.com

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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