David Katakalos

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David Katakalos began his performance career in the early '70s playing electric bass in rock & roll bands. He soon became reacquainted with the jazz he heard as a child: Rosemary Clooney, Steve Allen,…
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David Katakalos began his performance career in the early '70s playing electric bass in rock & roll bands. He soon became reacquainted with the jazz he heard as a child: Rosemary Clooney, Steve Allen, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Stan Getz, etc. His listening expanded to include Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and Thelonius Monk, and though his interests in saxophonists like Charlie Parker or Coleman Hawkins were indulged, the approaches of Wayne Shorter and Lester Young (or Jan Garbarek) have had more allure in his approach to improvisations.

In his subsequent years he met Henry Kuntz, then living in San Antonio. By that time he had been making new music in the service of Anthony and Ron Viola, exploring ways of integrating and defining the boundaries of unstructured improvisation within frameworks and contexts. Under Kuntz's guidance, he began to rethink the approach of finding the sounds and feelings evoked in the musics of Coleman, Coltrane, Ayler, Taylor, Braxton, Haden, Bley, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, etc. In retrospect, the depth of devotion to his praxis of music reached an apex here, perhaps too soon. But it was at this time that the sound of Dexter Gordon came to his attention, as well as the endless inventions of Albany, Montoliu, Peterson, and Tatum.

His experiences and tastes were further expanded when he got a job in a record store and discovered the variety of music available on vinyl at the time; the pull of modern and post-modern musics came to obsess him. The rediscovery of Third Stream and movie composers like John Lewis, Alex North, Jerry Goldstein, and Gunther Schuller were gateways to deeper material such as Messiaen, Penderecki, Bartok, Crumb, Henze, etc. In turn these reawakened his fascination with Mahler, Wagner, the Impressionists, and other post-Romantic music. His affinities for Indian classical music, especially Ali Akbar Khan, expanded to include African, Bedouin, Kurdish, Balinese, and Andean recordings.

He took up the double bass soon after his interest in jazz took hold. To learn proper intonation and coordination on the instrument he practiced with recordings of Monk at night in the dark, attempting to shadow the bassist on the record. Later he would meet face-to-face this and other "shadow artists."

Formal lessons followed with Eric Berman and later George Winters. Both teachers were of the Oscar Zimmerman/Simandl schools of instruction. Katakalos found this approach effective to a point, but it was clear that the Simandl method was aimed at keeping the student in the predictable orchestral attitude of performing. What was happening in the music of Monk, Davis, or even the formalities of the Modern Jazz Quartet was completely different in regard to what is expected and how the performance is delivered.

Katakalos attended the 1984 International Society of Bassists Convention in Chicago. There he met Paul Ellison, who had made "Rabbath's Nouvelle Technique de la Contrabass" his glad tidings to bassists everywhere. Most affecting were the thoroughness and artistry with which Ellison and the bass method presented a complete philosophy and "yoga" for approaching the instrument that transcended the boundaries and preconceptions about the role of the double bass as well as the attitudes one was to have about the music.

For a time he was involved in a jazz trio with the virtuoso guitarist Jackie King and consummate jazz drummer Kevin Hess, creating some dreamy standard interpretations of tunes like "Sunrise, Sunset," "Body and Soul," as well as bebop fugues like "Marmaduke & Scrapple" and "Lady Bird and Half Nelson." He also began working with famed tenor saxophonist Clifford "Honkytonk" Scott and former associate Stephen Lucke, a relentlessly penetrating guitarist, together forming Clifford Scott's Big Three, which expanded to four with the addition of the artful drumming of C.C. Pinkston. For Katakalos, the surrealism of jazz was in full swing at this time.

The death of Gene Ramey at the close of 1984 was a great loss; his friend and mentor had inspired him to begin a new search for ways to take the music Ramey and his Kansas City associates had created to new vistas, as Ramey had urged. Though the two had only known each other for a brief period, they seem to have had the same bass dreams and shared a feeling of purpose in what music can do.

Katakalos began studies in psychology in 1988, with a special attraction to the work of C.C. Jung. He had become disillusioned with certain experiences he had had while collaborating with other performance artists. Though several of his arrangements and directions had been realized and given strong performance reviews, the interpersonal tensions were too great to keep the collaborative efficacy a going concern. Subsequent efforts with other more familiar associates like David Underwood, John Ellison, and Ron Viola produced some of the most surrealistic recordings of free and channeled (or focused) works to date.

While completing academic work in his studies of psychology and sociology, he studied with Theresa Lesiuk in her Music Therapy program at Incarnate Word College. Here Katakalos found confirmation about many of the ideas he had either intuited and/or experienced firsthand in a variety of contexts in the past. In an archetypal sense he realized that the myths about Orpheus were yet alive and the Orphic mission to heal and enhance is a reality.

David Katakalos seems best represented musically by his 1989 composition, Mirandi, a 23-minute work of rich density and instrumental shadow for double instrumental trio. Two recordings of the same piece, the first featuring the bassist with David Underwood (on guitar and synthesizer) and Gib Wharton on guitar, and a second, later recording with Gene Fecci replacing Wharton. The two recordings were superimposed on one another for a dramatic and texturally interesting effect. It's unfortunate that this remarkable collaboration is presently not commercially available.