(Editor’s note: The November 26 performance has been cancelled due to a disagreement with management over Covid safety procedures, according to Douglas R. Ewart.)
By Dan Emerson.
Multimedia-ite, multi-disciplinarian, multi-instrumentalist Douglas R. Ewart does too many things to fit neatly on a business card. Depending on the day, or time of day, he’s a composer, improviser, record-label owner, sculptor, mask and instrument-maker, educator, lecturer, arts organization consultant, and – as his bio says – “all around visionary.” Douglas R. Ewart is bouncing back from the Covid-induced lull in public activity with two upcoming performances at the Icehouse in Minneapolis on Friday, November 19 and Friday, November 26.
On November 19 at the Icehouse, Douglas R. Ewart and his eight-member ensemble will stage “Songs the Universe Gave Us,” Collaborating with Douglas R. Ewart will be Mankwe Ndosi, vocals and poetry; Faye Washington, cello and flute; Jacqueline Ultan, cello; Diane Miller, guitar; Douglas Kearney, poetry and vocals; Baba Babatunde Lea, congas and vocals; Davu Seru, drums, and Douglas R. Ewart on woodwinds, percussion and voice. A week later, on Friday, November 26 at the Icehouse, Douglas R. Ewart will perform his work ”Sonic Magic,” along with Lea on congas and vocals, poet Tish Jones, vocalist-poet-percussionist Ndosi, cellist and bassist Anthony Cox, saxophonist Donald Washington, and percussionist Kevin Washington. The November 19 performance, “Songs” will consist of new compositions, along with some improvised works. “I believe in spontaneous composition. It’s endemic to a lot of things I do,” Douglas R. Ewart says. The groups include people Douglas R. Ewart has worked with for a number of years, except for a few.
“We have great rapport and they are people I love playing with because they are well-seasoned and very agile” at improvising,” Douglas R. Ewart says. “We all get along socially as well as ideologically as well. Those things don’t hurt in making an alliance and collaborating with people.” He’s only worked a few times with guitarist Diane Miller. “I love her approach to guitar. “ He met Kearney through another musician’s project and “I was so impressed with his work. Babatunde Lea is one of the finest congueros around. I can tell the way he tunes his congas he has a deep understanding of its history and what the instrument is capable of providing.”
Like most other performers, Douglas R. Ewart saw his gigs curtailed due to the pandemic, “but interestingly, it also provide some opportunities that might not have occurred.” One opportunity has been working with an arts group in Vancouver, which commissioned him to write music and also do ongoing workshops. He was an early adopter of the Internet. “Back in 1993 I did a concert with Wadada Leo Smith, who was in California, and Leroy Jenkins in New York, while I was here. We had to set up special lines to do that.” In 1963, Douglas R. Ewart brought the music he absorbed in his native Kingston to Chicago, where he became a member of the influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Douglas R. Ewart and his wife, Janis came to the Twin Cities several decades ago, where he’s been a positive example for musicians and other kinds of artists.
Douglas R. Ewart has a lengthy list of accomplishments and credits, including a 1987 U.S.-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship to study both modern Japanese culture and the traditional Buddhist shakuhachi flute, and also to give public performances while in Japan. He’s a past-chairman of the internationally renowned AACM. His ensembles have included the Nyahbingi Drum Choir. the Clarinet Choir, Douglas R. Ewart & Inventions, Douglas R. Ewart & Quasar and Douglas R. Ewart & Stringnets. He’s released music on his own record label, Aarawak Records (founded in 1983), which has released his Red Hills and Bamboo Forest, Bamboo Meditations at Banff, Angles of Entrance, New Beings, and Velvet Fire.
Believing that compositions should evolve and change, Douglas R. Ewart has created new or revised musical forms, such has his suite “Music from the Bamboo Forest,” which is in a state of constant evolution (its score currently comprises six movements employing a cornucopia of flutes, reeds, percussion instruments–many of them handmade — and significant audience participation). Douglas R. Ewart’s other collaborators have included Muhal Richard Abrams, Amina Myers, Beah Richards, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Alvin Curran, Anthony Davis, Von Freeman, Fred Anderson, Joseph Jarman, Yusef Lateef, Roscoe Mitchell, Ajule Sonny Rutlin, Rita Warford, Dee Alexander, Robert Dick, George E. Lewis, James Newton, Cecil Taylor, Richard Teitelbaum and Henry Threadgill.
Douglas R. Ewart also designs and builds instruments, from unique wind instruments to percussion instruments. His sculptures, sound sculptures, and individually handcrafted masks have been exhibited at Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.