In his career, the inventive keyboardist-composer Dave Fox has created a distinctive and appealing musical personality along with more than his share of memorable music. He is easily recognizable whether playing modern mainstream jazz, avant-garde explorations, rock or original classical pieces. Dave has recorded a series of colorful and stimulating CDs that seem destined to make him well known throughout the United States as a creative musical force.
Dave Fox was born in North Carolina and spent time growing up in New Jersey, Texas and Kwajalein, an island in the Pacific Ocean. “My Dad worked for Western Electric and he would get transferred quite often.” Dave took piano lessons for a few years, taught himself guitar and bass to play in a rock band, and then became more serious about the piano when he was in high school. “One summer I sat down with the Beatles’ White Album and learned every piano part on that record, teaching myself to play by ear.” He first became interested in becoming a jazz musician when he heard Chick Corea on one of the early Return To Forever albums. Dave majored in classical music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro because they did not offer jazz at the time but he had an opportunity to play jazz regularly with the school’s stage band. “The first real gig I had was as a freshman. Some of the older guys, a saxophonist, bassist and a drummer, got a six night a week gig at a restaurant playing standards. They offered me the job and taught me quite a bit. It is one thing to learn the theory of how to play jazz and another thing to actually play it on the bandstand with more experienced musicians. I learned a great deal during that time.”
After two years of college Dave Fox raised a family, taking seven years off from music while working at day jobs. “After that long period, I missed playing too much so I went back to school. I finished my undergraduate degree in classical music and then went for my Masters degree which I earned in 1987.” Dave taught privately at first, then at the Greensboro Music Academy, and since 1996 has taught at Greensboro College, teaching both jazz and classical students. “The main lesson that I try to get across to students is how to focus on the task at hand. After one learns how to focus and has mastered the fundamentals, then one should develop the freedom to let creativity and improvisation into the picture.”
One of Dave Fox’s earliest recordings is a sideman on The Greg Hyslop Trio, a set from 2000 that mostly consists of inventive versions of standards, performed in a trio with guitarist Hyslop and bassist Charles Gambatta. However, while working towards his doctorate at Teachers College at Columbia University, Dave became very interested in the concept of free improvisation. “I realized that improvisation is more than just learning licks, scales and chords. It is a mindset, a musical philosophy. I devoted many hours to teaching myself about composing and how it balances with improvisation. I began to make up music on the spot and looked for other musicians who were into that concept. I met the great drummer Ian Davis who was part of the free improvisation scene in North Carolina. It was a revelation.”
Forming a quartet with Ian Davis, guitarist Michael Collings and bassist David Menestres, Dave recorded Gatewalk, a powerful set of avant-garde jazz. Playing electric keyboards, Dave Fox led the group through a dozen free improvisations on Gatewalk that utilized sparse and minimalistic melodies and put the emphasis on atonal and very spontaneous group playing. His next recording was the solo keyboard album Dedication Suite which finds Dave utilizing some stronger melodies, even while taking startling and improvisations worthy of Cecil Taylor.
In 2004, Dave Fox began an association with the innovative guitarist Eugene Chadbourne who lived in Greensboro. That year they premiered Dave’s composition “Sonata For Banjo And Piano.” “Eugene is a radical free improviser who in his career invented the electric rake (!) and started Shockabilly, a combination of bluegrass and heavy metal. I was very fortunate to make a live duet album with him, Foxbourne Chronicles. He took me to France and we performed a few shows overseas in 2007, one of the highlights of my career so far.”
The 2006 CD ORM, which features Dave playing with a quartet that also includes Ian Davis, saxophonist Frank Gratkowski and bassist Dave Menestre, again finds him creating some very passionate free form music. But he was beginning to search for something else. “I began to feel a need to explore more melodic music without completely abandoning the free jazz influences. There was a weekly performance slot at a very free and open church that featured musicians from the community playing for ten minutes before and after the service. At those sessions, I began to become very interested in playing chordal jazz in an improvised way, reworking standards or playing melodically in an original way. It gave me a lot of variety because I could range from completely structured to completely free with a lot of music falling in between.”
On 2007’s If These Songs Could Talk, a quartet date with guitarist Chip Newton, bassist Pat Lawrence and drummer Jon Marc Ryan Dale, Dave alternates standards (including an unusual version of “Cherokee” that is in 5/4 time) with originals. Due to his expertise with free jazz, his renditions of even such familiar material as “Going Out Of My Head” and “I’m In The Mood For Love” made the songs sound fresh and brand new.
One of Dave Fox’s best received recordings is 2008’s Home Again. Teamed with guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil plus Pat Lawrence and Jon Marc Ryan Dale, Dave plays a variety of inventive solos on such colorful titles as “Of All The Tapas Bars In The World,” “The Well-Prepared Suitcase” and “An Encounter With A Street Troll.” This memorable set was picked up by the German Konnex label and received a lot of attention. “For that project, Bruce and I simply let the tape roll. We recorded music for 12 hours straight, edited it a bit to make it more cohesive, and chose the best improvisations.”
Since that time, Dave Fox has explored a wide variety of musical genres, consistently stretching himself and growing as an improviser. He has composed classical pieces, some of which have unusual time signatures. He has performed with blues artists, and played soul standards with the popular group Soul Central. As a songwriter during 2012-13 his originals “A Lot Less Philosophy” and “Seventeenth Day” were semi-finalists in the Song Of The Year contest while his “Meldavian Dream” was a runner-up. And a few years ago he fulfilled his desire to record a rock album. “I had been on a few gigs with singer Melissa Reaves and became so impressed with her voice which could sound like a combination of Janis Joplin and Robert Plant! She could also improvise an entire spoken/sung part. Originally as the group the Meldavians we were just going to record two songs but soon decided to expand the project and record a full CD, resulting in Farewell Arigemon. Because of my participation and that of guitarist Scott Sawyer, it has a little bit of a jazz presence on it but it is basically a rock album.” Named after a mythical country from another planet, the Meldavians have become popular in North Carolina, with the pianist billing himself as “Dr. Drave.”
In addition to his work with that group and his classical and solo piano projects, Dave Fox has recently been working with a new quartet comprised of guitarist Chip Newton, bassist Zack Page and drummer Kenny Soule. Their upcoming CD, which will be called Remembering Dr. Drave Of Meldavia, features new music that reflects the pianist’s current direction which includes Americana, bits of Keith Jarrett, unusual but coherent time signatures, and a mixture of strong melodies and adventurous improvising. The reaction to the group’s live performances has been very favorable and Dave greatly looks forward to the CD’s release in early 2014.
Dave Fox is enthusiastic about the future. “I’ve been writing solo classical pieces, have been playing regularly with the excellent local talent to be found in North Carolina, and also lead the Draves, a rock group in which I sing. In addition, my teaching at Greensboro College continues to be rewarding on many levels, not the least of which is to open up students’ minds to ideas of creativity and improvisation. But most of all for the future, my goal is to have the new group play for receptive audiences after the CD comes out. I feel that I am really hitting my stride now and want to give 100% to every performance.”
Whatever direction he decides to go in the future, Dave Fox is a sure bet to be performing creative, colorful and memorable music.