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LAist Interview: Thelonious Dub

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Thelonious Dub is a Glendale-based instrumental trio that plays a jammy mishmash of jazz, reggae and pop, often featuring covers of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Charles Mingus – in between their original compositions and a few other surprises. “T-Dub” draws inspiration from groups and artists like Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation and Sly & Robbie.

The band was formed last year by guitarist Joe Bartone, and joined by John von Seggern on bass and Sean Rainey on drums. The three have played more than 100 shows throughout SoCal in their short existence, including a gig tonight at the Santa Clarita Valley’s Democratic Headquarters grand opening from 4-6 pm (address 23119 Lyons Ave., Newhall). And tomorrow night at The Mint.

We caught up with Bartone for a quick Q&A:

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Describe Thelonious Dub's style in 10 words or less.
I call it Metro Jazz Dub. It is a complete misunderstanding of both jazz and reggae.

Why not play straight jazz?
Frankly, because others do it so well. There is no point to my playing it. Besides, to master an art form that has already been presented achieves nothing - offers nothing.

Why not play pop and get a lead singer?
Well, I did that for along time. I was the front man for Fat Buddah, one of the cute indie bands in New England. We did two self-releases. But when I hit 35, I assessed where I was heading. I could see putting another 15 years in songwriting and could see me with a solo acoustic - but I could not see me doing it at 75. I wanted to be playing guitar at 75. So I had to think hard what I would like to be playing at that age. At that age all I would care about is improvisation. I could not imagine what I would have to sing about that I would feel a need to share. But I could see me living in the moment of pure improvisation until my final breath. The next question was - how was I going to change musically to accomplish this?

As far as singers go, I prefer to write my own lyrics and do not like most singers who are looking for a guitar player like me.

You formed only last year but seem to already play A LOT of gigs locally. How did you get plugged into the music scene so quickly? (Because I don't think you're from LA?)
I was playing the Artivist film Festival in Hollywood in 2005. It was a straight ahead gig. I was bored. The band was bored and the audience was bored. Everything about it was boring especially the pretense that we were all having a good time. I was soloing and looking out into the audience. We exchanged mild smiles. I realized that this is not what people want to hear at a film festival party. They want something more engaging - but not too far to the front. Not distortion and vocal, but not wall paper and tedium. they want to sway and groove, but all they get is smooth jazz (read yuppie f**k music) and that there had to be some way that I could be improvising and interacting with my band and the audience can feel swept away without demanding their undivided attention. So on stage it hit me - go back to my roots. I was always playing reggae gigs and loved delay pedals. I played Ju-Ju music with a West African band. I played in noise bands. I loved indie rock and radio head. I need to mix this stuff together in a new form of jazz. A Metro Jazz Dub. That's what I call it.

There's a socially conscious message about the music posted on your MySpace page. Tell us a little about that.
I do my share of community help. I spent most of my life doing nothing. Maybe I voted. Maybe I didn't . People that got involved with political and social protests where whack jobs to me. But after years of watching the news and doing nothing but partying, I suddenly noticed how much my neighborhood was affected by the changes I never stood against. People losing their jobs on my street. People losing their houses on my street. People hungry on my street. I had sat on my butt so long, that the issues had come to my very door...So we offer ourselves to worthy causes to play free shows. It's not a lot, but it is a start.

If you could bring back one of the jazz greats to sit in with you guys for one night only...who would it be and why?
Great question...Joe Zawinul or Thelonious Monk? Zawinul! Keyboard player for Miles and Weather Report. I am not sure Monk would dig what we are doing. I would like to think he does, but really, how can I play a Monk tune right with Monk on stage with me? He plays Monk right.

But Zawinul - he is the innovator that made this sound happen. He was the trip in "In A Silent Way," and he loved texture. He developed a way of playing that encourages others to inter-wind with him as opposed to play in front or in back of him. That is what I am trying to do.

Where can LAist readers find your music?
I am trying hard to finish my Thelonious Dub's first recording hopefully by Christmas. Youc an find live video on Youtube keyword search Thelonious Dub and I have some stuff posted at myspace.com/theloniousdub. If you want to join our mailing list, send your info to theloniousdub@gmail.com.