Amina Figarova can play faster and with more energy than any horn player. I tease Amina and the "crazy Euros" about their intensity, but I admire their joie de vivre and their work ethic. They challenge me artistically and every performance is a party. Amina is a world class pianist and is one of the most distinctive jazz composers in Europe today. I met her at the Monk Institute's summer jazz colony in Aspen a few years ago and we hit it off. In the years to follow, our international band became like a family, touring and performing all over the world together and having a great time always.


CHAMBER JAZZ ~ DM on Grant & Matheny 

Grant & Matheny may be my favorite project. Darrell Grant is simply the finest musician I've ever had the pleasure of working with. His conception is so complete that playing with him in duo is like being supported by a full symphony orchestra. And the two of us are such great friends; we really have a ball together on stage.

Our repertoire includes everything from Spirituals to Sting to Samuel Barber, allowing us the opportunity to blend the intimacy and precision of chamber music with the vitality, freedom and spontaneity of improvisation. The result is an elegant 'chamber jazz' unlike anything you've ever heard.

OLD SCHOOL ~ DM on Red Reflections 

Red Reflections was my first CD as leader, recorded when I was 29. We mostly recorded my originals. Art Farmer recommended that we include "The Outlaw" from the Horace Silver book. We also did a Michael Brecker tune we all used to play at jam sessions in Boston. We played a string of club performances and then went into the studio—old school—so the recording really captures our live quintet sound just as it was in the mid-'90s.

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.