THE SOUL OF A SONG ~ DM on Melody 

For me, melody is the soul of a song. It comes first and matters most.

Anyone can learn orchestration from Adler, or study arranging in school, but a melody is a precious, heaven-sent thing.

Some composers write religiously at the same time every day. Not me. I can't compose unless I'm inspired.

Occasionally I'll feel an overwhelming desire to write late at night or at some other inconvenient time. I've learned to pay attention to that feeling, to drop whatever I'm doing and "strike while the iron is hot."

I write most prolifically when traveling, so you might say that many of my compositions are inspired by my travels. 

Usually a melody will come to me and I'll sing it to myself, allowing the theme to evolve and develop organically in my mind. Eventually harmony, counterpoint and other formal elements will begin to suggest themselves. That's when I sit down and take out my score paper.

MEDIUM AND MUSE ~ DM on Technique 

For the serious jazz artist, technique and creativity are both necessary. They are medium and muse.

They're like your left foot and your right foot: you need both to get anywhere.

Technical mastery devoid of inspiration is bunk, and an artistic vision without the skill to express it is a tragedy.

I work on technical drills and etudes when I practice, but when I perform I endeavor to forget technique and play from the heart.

NEGATIVE SPACE ~ DM on Improvisation 

I'm working on eliminating nonsense phrases from my improvisations -- the musical equivalent of "like," "ya know" and "umm."

There are certain cliches that I tend to reflexively insert when grasping for the next idea. I'm training myself to embrace more negative space during those searching moments --  to simply be still and listen, to just pay attention, rather than compulsively fill the space.

PASSING THE TORCH ~ DM on the Jazz Lineage 

It has been my privilege to work with a number of master musicians over the years. The lesson I learned from all of them is to follow their example, aspire to excellence, and pay it forward.

Now that I'm having some modest success of my own, I try to encourage young talent they way I was encouraged. As James Williams used to say, jazz is about passing the torch, from one generation to the next.

INSPIRING ~ DM on Ingrid Jensen 

One of my favorite players on the scene currently is Ingrid Jensen. Ingrid is inspiring because she's expanding the vocabulary for trumpet and flugelhorn, extending the innovations of Kenny Wheeler and Woody Shaw in a very personal and compelling way.

Incidentally, Art Farmer was also a fan of Ingrid. He predicted that she will ultimately be recognized as a major artist of historical significance.

LIKE A SINGER ~ DM on Phrasing 

I try to phrase like a singer, so I listen to a lot of vocalists, especially Ella Fitzgerald. And because I favor a melodic, lyrical approach to improvisation, most of the jazz instrumentalists I listen to are also from that tradition -- people like Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Ben Webster.