Q&A with avant-garde jazz guitarist Christy Doran, on the corner of where prog jazz meets prog rock and beyond

"I guess that the 70’s were really important for the European jazz musicians to get recognized and to develop a thing of their own. The whole scene from the 60’s had opened a lot of doors: rock musicians got interested in jazz or free music (like me), classical musicians got interested in improvising, traditional jazz got mixed with R&B etc. This creative opening-up was important."

Christy Doran: High Level Music Lift 

Christy Doran was born in Dublin, Ireland and has lived in Lucerne, Switzerland since his childhood. His father was an Irish ballad singer, providing Christy with his first exposure to music. In the 1970´s he was a founding member (along with Fredy Studer, Urs Leimgruber and Bobby Burri) of the seminal Swiss band "OM". Tours throughout Europe, radio/TV - appearances, workshops, music for ballet, theatre and film. Over the years, his career has included countless solo concerts, in which he regularly pushes to the limits the capabilities of a single guitar. He has played in duos with Marty Ehrlich, Harry Pepl, Fritz Hauser, Dave Doran, Dom Um Romao, John Wolf-Brennan, Robert Dick, Ray Anderson, among others. After playing in a trio with Jasper van´t Hof, he went on to form the "Christy Doran´s May 84" septet with Norma Winstone, Trilok Gurtu, Urs Leimgruber, Rosko Gee, Dom Um Romao and Dave Doran. He has been a member of the "Peter Warren Quartet" with Victor Lewis and John Surman, and "RED TWIST & TUNED ARROW" with Stephan Wittwer and Fredy Studer (1985 - 1987).

(Christy Doran / Photo © by Francesca Pfeffer)

Other performances have included work with Carla Bley, Albert Mangelsdorff, Bob Stewart, Edvard Vesala, Charlie Mariano, Sonny Sharrock, Jim Meneses, Keven Bruce Harris, Martin Schütz, Daniel Mouton, Berne, Jim Black, Gunther Schuller, Airto Moreira a.o. He has toured in Europe, North-Africa, India, the Caribic, Mexico, Bolivia, the U.S. and Canada. In 1993 Christy Doran, together with Fredy Studer started the project "DORAN/STUDER/MINTON/BATES & ALI" play the music of JIMI HENDRIX". Since 1993 Christy Doran is working with American flutist Robert Dick and English drummer Steve Argüelles as the A.D.D. - Trio. 1994 Fredy Studer and Christy Doran refounded the double-bass - quartet with Jean-François Jenny-Clark and Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Christy Doran also teaches at the "Musikhochschule" of Lucerne/Switzerland. His latest project Christy Doran's Sound Fountain released the album "Lift The Bar" in 2020.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Jazz and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Turning 70 a year ago I have to say that my views of the world has not got any brighter. I guess we will always be the “underdogs” in comparison to the established scene.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

Well, I play acoustic and electric guitar, two very different instruments. For the electric guitar I like a crunchy sound, but only distorting so much that one can still hear the notes of the complex chords. The acoustic guitar sounds best with one (or two) good microphones. Philosophy: I try to be as open as possible, using all musical material as melody, rhythm, noise, space, sounds, all sorts of combinations, etc. I enjoy playing, alone or with other musicians. I also like walking (at the sea or in the Alps) and mostly during the walks some idea pops up; maybe I write it down, or just remember the idea. When I get home, I try it out and see where it goes from there.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Wow – meeting all the musicians I met and played with and have learned from! (Too many to name them all here). The best advice? My father (he was an Irish ballad singer) told me to always do the best I can (one can’t do any better). When I was about 19, he also told me that I was not easy go get on with (I was very surprised, ha!) It made me think about my behavior (now my wife and I are married for 38 years) Aside from the personal surrounding: if one wants to be a working musician, one also needs to be cool, to be able to hang with the musicians on tour, and not only be able to play well.

"Well, I play acoustic and electric guitar, two very different instruments. For the electric guitar I like a crunchy sound, but only distorting so much that one can still hear the notes of the complex chords. The acoustic guitar sounds best with one (or two) good microphones. Philosophy: I try to be as open as possible, using all musical material as melody, rhythm, noise, space, sounds, all sorts of combinations, etc. I enjoy playing, alone or with other musicians. I also like walking (at the sea or in the Alps) and mostly during the walks some idea pops up; maybe I write it down, or just remember the idea. When I get home, I try it out and see where it goes from there."  (Christy Doran / Photo © by Francesca Pfeffer)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, tours and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Meanwhile there are so many of my musician friends who have passed away, great human beings, I miss them: f.e. J.F. Jenny-Clarke, Harry Pepl, Olivier Magnenat, Albert Mangelsdorff, Muthuswami Balasubramoniam, and many many more.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would wish that music has only to do with music. A lot of the time other things get in the way and it’s not about the music as priority. Also, I would wish that promoters were more focused on the music than in the (show-) business, in prestige etc. Also, we musicians should be more careful with categorizing other musicians. It’s a changing scene and each one of us developes him- or herself – it does not mean that one stays in the same musical place all of our lives. For example: the free-jazz/avantgarde scene thinks I am too rockish (jazz-rocker), the more conventional scene thinks I am too “out”, ha! Would be cool if these pre-judgements were not there.

Why do you think that the "OM" music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think it is the intensity (which does not mean loud and heavy). Each musician is playing “his ass off”. OM is not a band like a project where you can hire and fire musicians. It’s a band where all are devoted to the music. It’s about nothing else but music – of course we are lifetime friends (which sometimes doesn’t make things easier, haha)!

"Wow – meeting all the musicians I met and played with and have learned from! (Too many to name them all here). The best advice? My father (he was an Irish ballad singer) told me to always do the best I can (one can’t do any better). When I was about 19, he also told me that I was not easy go get on with (I was very surprised, ha!) It made me think about my behavior (now my wife and I are married for 38 years) Aside from the personal surrounding: if one wants to be a working musician, one also needs to be cool, to be able to hang with the musicians on tour, and not only be able to play well." (OM, since 1970s: Urs Leimgruber, Bobby Burri, Fredy Studer, Christy Doran/ Photo © by Max Kellenberger)

What were the reasons that made the European '70s scene to be the center of avant-garde Jazz experiments?

I guess that the 70’s were really important for the European jazz musicians to get recognized and to develop a thing of their own. The whole scene from the 60’s had opened a lot of doors: rock musicians got interested in jazz or free music (like me), classical musicians got interested in improvising, traditional jazz got mixed with R&B etc. This creative opening-up was important.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I have been teaching at the jazz school in my hometown Luzern for 45 years and most of the young Swiss guitarists were students of mine. What is very notable: the ones that are still on the scene and have made a name for themselves are those who have found their own sound, their own musical personality! So that’s the thing to go after!

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I wish to take the people on a ride, on a journey, have them flying with me! Although my music is not too simple, I think there is a lot of emotion and energy to have a big impact on those who are open enough to listen.

Christy Doran - Home

Photo: Christy Doran's Sound Fountain / Christy Doran (Guitar), Lukas Mantel (Drums), Franco Fontanarrosa (Bass)

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