David Plaine Interview
(The Dixie Kats)
For the past several years this band has been a staple at the Cornell University Alumni re-unions and pre-game Alumni activities during the Cornell Football Season Home Games.
The band has also performed at outdoor summer concert venues in the Central New York area, playing at the Gazebos of Homer, Dryden, Auburn, Myers Point State Park, Owego, Corning and Groton.
They’ve also been featured at Fat Cats Comedy Club and Restaurant in Corning, New York and over the past 5 years, for the Historic Sports Car Racing Association at the world famous Glen Club at Watkins Glen International Speedway.
We are of course talking about The Dixie Kats, formerly known as The Ithaca New Orleans Dixieland Jazz Band.
David Plaine, alto and baritone sax player and leader of the group, spoke with us about his group.
Q – David, I’ve always read about these bands that play at store openings, but your band is the first I actually saw do it.
A – (Laughs).
Q – How did you get that gig? Did Ollie’s (Erie Blvd. East, in Dewitt, N.Y.) call you? Did you call them?
A – It’s a very interesting story. We were on a radio broadcast in Ithaca called ‘Crossing Borders’. At that radio broadcast, in addition to simulating over the airwaves, there was a person there who did a 3 camera shoot of the band that night. He asked permission to put it up on youtube. Of course we granted permission for him to do that. We got a call I would say about 3 weeks later from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The promoter of Ollie’s was looking for a Dixieland band to open the Ollie’s in the Syracuse marketplace. So, the answer is youtube. Youtube was the catalyst in getting the gig for us. Ollie’s called us. There was quite an arm’s length transaction. There was a little bit of getting to know one another that had to go on. Fred Clousters as it turned out was quite a reputable and long-term agent in the Harrisburg area. He hired us to do this and he was very pleased with our work.
Q – Was he there that day?
A – He was not there. He received a report from the folks who were there, Ollie’s folks that we were a successful act for them. I haven’t heard from him since.
Q – Maybe it’s time to put up another video on youtube.
A – (Laughs). We’ve been up in a number of different ways. We just returned from a successful centennial celebration in Hershey, Pa. where a 5 camera shoot was utilized. That’s going to be youtubed as well as professionally edited. We’re very pleased about that.
Q – That was the first time you performed in Syracuse wasn’t it?
A – I think it was. We had seriously been unable to break into the Syracuse marketplace. The whole business of Dixieland is a word-of-mouth kind of thing it seems to me. People find out about bands as a result of either having heard them or being talked up by other musicians who play the genre to people who are looking for that genre of music. We have been playing for many years as a solid, traditional, Cajun-Gumbo style Dixieland band. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to branch out. We’ve been transitioning ourselves into a new moniker. We are calling ourselves now The Dixie Cats.
Q – Did any of you guys ever live in New Orleans?
A – No. I felt a little sheepish about that. About 5 years ago I had a chance to speak to a few native New Orleans folk and then also with a Big Band that came out of New Orleans that came through town. In that Big Band were about 18 musicians. They called themselves the New Orleans Orchestra. I was talking to them and actually knew a couple of them, one of them from college. I knew he was from Illinois. The five people in the conversation, not a one of them had even set foot in New Orleans, let alone come from New Orleans. According to them the business of New Orleans is a feeling. It’s a down-home, back-home feeling that one can capture whether one lives there or not, and I believe that strongly. I think we have our own style of New Orleans presentations. That style reflects the music of that area very well.
Q – Was it difficult to find musicians who could relate to this music? It is after all, a very specialized type of music.
A – The difficulty is, and the reason I think you find so many very, very, old musicians playing this kind of music is that in my judgement it’s the most difficult of all music to play. The necessity inside the New Orleans weave of putting 3 and 4 and 5 instruments together, all of whom are improvising at the same time to get a quality and conjoined sound is so challenging that one has to do it for years and years and years with the same people in order to make it work. The 3 people that I’m doing it with now have been with me for 7 years and we have grown each year. It’s a pleasure to feel it coming together. I know these two other musicians, the clarinet-tenor saxophone-flugal horn player and I’m the alto-bani player; I know them so well that I know what they’re going to do before they do it, and vice-versa, and in the process of doing that I can improvise something that will go with that. It’s almost a prescience. It’s challenging and not everyone can do it. Frankly, if you’ve been doing it for years with other people you may be able to come together with others who have also been doing it for years with other people and sound like something, besides mud. And, you don’t want to sound like mud and that’s what happens when 5 instruments play together and they’re all improvising on the same chord structure and they don’t know one another.
Q – So, you’re the guy who put this band together?
A – That’s right.
Q – What were you doing before this band? Were you in another band?
A – I had started a Dixieland band back in the 100th Anniversary of Louis Armstrong. I was inspired to put a band together at that time. That’s back in I think ’95 or ’96. During that time I was just finishing up my career as a Creative Director of an advertising agency. As a Creative Director I was doing a lot of work in music, radio and television tracks as well as feature documentaries.
Q – Having that marketing background can only help you.
A – Well, let me tell you what I’m having some difficulties with: I’m having some difficulty finding an interested agent. For some reason it seems that the speciality we have is so specialized that one needs to search far and away for an agent who will be interested in picking up on and helping us to reach the goals that we have for ourselves. They are, to travel internationally on a tour, in the international Dixieland Festival circuit, as well as cruises with interested parties. I’ve been trying to attract Frank Malfitano into bringing us into the Syracuse Jazz Festival for I would guess about 7 years. Frank has just really been unable; he’s been courteous and he’s replied, but, he’s been unable to have us in at any of his venues. I certainly understand it wouldn’t be the big stage, but I’ve been to the Jazz Festival many times and I know there are secondary and tertiary stages where bands have played and it seems to me, we would be good for that too, but, I have not been successful there.
Q – Have you put out any original material?
A – We just came out with a new CD that we launched in order to satisfy the Hershey Centennial experience in Hershey, Pa. that happened September 12th and 13th (2009). It’s called ‘An American Tradition’. It has an original tune on it that I had a great deal to due with. That was our first foray into original land and we did that for them.
Q – Is there enough work for this band on a steady basis?
A – Well, there certainly hasn’t been enough work for any of us to stop working our day jobs. Of course you know that is a challenge for any musician. You work, but you have to juggle whether you’re going to be able to go away to do the certain things you want to do without losing your day job in the process of doing it. You need understanding employers which I’m not certain I really have. I work for a school district now. You also need musicians who are in the same place as you are to make that travel possible, and we’re in the process of looking at our situation right now. We’ve ear-marked travel as an interest of ours for the next foreseeable future. We’re talking to everyone about their willingness to do that. We’re looking at targeting 3, maybe 5 national Dixieland festivals next year; Pensacola, New Orleans, a couple in the far West and traveling to those. For that we’ll need to put together a couple of fairly deep-pocketed patrons to help us out. That’s where my marketing should come in pretty handy.
Q – So, just to sum up things you want to make this band an international band.
A – That’s correct. I am looking to take this band internationally. We very much would like to go to Europe. We would very much like to go to the Far East. We would like to go wherever it is that jazz and particularly Dixieland jazz is appreciated and play our tunes, in our own style and excite the population.
Official website: www.ithacadixieland.com
Soon to be: The Dixie Cats!
© Gary James All Rights Reserved