[ADVENTURES IN JAZZ] As it has been on previous albums, the cover of David Ornette Cherry’s most recent solo disc, Eternal Monologue, shows the keyboardist’s last name in capital letters and colored red.
It’s a fitting tribute to his musical family, which includes fellow musicians Neneh, Eagle-Eye and Jan. But mostly it is there to emphasize the creative relationship between David and his famous father, the late jazz trumpeter Don Cherry.
It began when David was 16 and sitting in with his dad’s group for the first time. The relationship continues today, 16 years after Don’s death, with one of the centerpiece tracks from David’s new album, titled simply “Groove For My Father.”
“I really did it for him,” Cherry says, speaking on the phone from his Portland home. “I had just pulled into Los Angeles and was staying with my aunt and looking at the photos of my dad. And I went to the Watts Towers, a landmark in L.A., which is very powerful for me spiritually. I was hanging out thinking about my dad, and I immediately went back and started working on it.”
The African-inspired track features David playing some of Don’s favorite instruments, including flute and the guitarlike doussin gouni, with the melodies built into a steady, down-tempo groove. “I didn’t have to think about naming the song,” David says. “It was there. I can hear him playing the trumpet over this thing.”
Inspired by explorations of his African and Native American roots (David is part Choctaw) as well as the work he has been doing for theater productions, the rest of Eternal keeps a strong rhythmic core that dabbles in straight-up funk (“Unexplored Area”) and minimalist electronic beats (“Eternal Influences”) while also featuring ambient keyboard interludes that could have been lifted from latter-day Brian Eno albums.
David points to a larger theme of the last few years—traveling, working and recording—as influencing his sound. “It’s the feeling of being in the United States, and all the things I’ve seen and experienced: the environment, great artists. And it’s a culmination of my experience playing music for the past 30 years or so.”
The 53-year-old musician’s journey has taken him all over the world, performing with his father and with his own groups, as well as working on projects like a spoken-word jazz opera that should open in L.A. late this year.
That winding path brought him to Portland in 2007, when he moved here after visiting to compose music for a play by local writer Susan Banyas. Four years on, David Ornette Cherry (his middle name is a tribute to jazz great Ornette Coleman, a regular collaborator with David’s father) has settled comfortably in the local jazz scene, playing regularly around town with a band featuring guitarist Frank Tribble and drummer Carlton Jackson.
David embraces the responsibility imparted to him by his father—an idea wrapped up in his last name and in the long tradition of jazz in America. “What I learned from my dad is that [playing jazz] is a responsibility because of the heritage and the ancestors, and that there is a beauty in the music, a spirituality, a consciousness,” he says. “I have to understand those standards and continue to reach.”