When I first talked to Mike Daigeau during a break between sets at O'Bar Lounge in West Hollywood, I learned that this man thinks deeply about a lot of things beyond his love of playing and composing music. Within the space of ten minutes, he was already talking to me about his idea of the paradigm shift in music. My imagination was intrigued, but I had to contain it for another time until we would have our chance for this interview which we held while walking among the art work at LACMA.
A conversation with Mike Daigeau is akin to a trip down the long and vast expanse of the Amazon River with its multitudes of tributaries that flow away and then rejoin the great body of water which contributes significantly to sustaining life on this planet.
Mike Daigeau was exposed to music very early in life. He said there was always a piano in the house. He started playing the trombone in the 5th grade. Its visual and physical aspects appealed to him. It was also his Dad's favorite instrument. It was his father who gave Mike his early education on music by quizzing him on big band music, such as: Is that Duke Ellington or is that Count Basie? Is the alto or tenor sax? He expands on his comment about the dumbed-down effect.
Mike: It is a lack of exposure. I don't have to say it to anybody about how the schools have very little music in the school; very little art, period.
He cites the example of his alumni high school, Inglewood High School, which is the same school his younger siblings, attended. When he started high school the band had 120 members, and by the time he graduated it had shrunk to a size of 70 members. Then by the time his youngest brother graduated the band size had dwindled to 30 members. As an artist, he has a deep connection to the subtexts of his music, and the levels of the paradigm shifts in our society as it pertains to music and the entertainment business.
Experience, Evolution and Transformation
A significant phase of his professional experience was the period of playing on the Tonight Show, between 1989 and 1992. He was the lead trombonist in Doc Severinson's band during the Johnny Carson era. He relays the story of how Doc Severinsin would tell the band "Let her be!" This didn't make musical sense to Mike in the beginning, until he observed that Doc Severinsin had a TV monitor next to him that allowed him to see the feed that was being broadcast to the audience beyond the walls of the studio. He learned it wasn't just about the music anymore. The music was now cast in a bigger realm of the entertainment world. When the commercial ended the TV audience would find the studio band was roaring - entertaining!
The new regime of the Tonight Show began with the retirement of Johnny Carson in 1992; and with Jay Leno behind the table, there was Branford Marsalis leading his new band. Mike observed that Branford Marsalis was more interested in making music that sounded good from beginning to end. There wasn't a consciousness and an awareness of the dynamics of playing for a broader audience - those outside of the studio. There would be moments when the commercial would cut to the guitar and the drum music playing as opposed to the whole band playing.
After graduating from high school he went on the road playing for 3 months with Tanya Tucker and Pat Boone. It was not a savory experience for him, so he joined the army on a dare. He was part of the ASA Army Intelligence. He alludes to that experience as a "whole other paradigm." While in the service he was also playing in a band; and after leaving the service in 1978 he spent a year in Germany being an itinerant musician playing jazz, funk, rock, fusion, classical with European players. It was a fun experience for him and expresses that he's into all kinds of music due to his upbringing.
Mike: "There's nothing I don't really like" - his taste is very eclectic, and adds that 'I mean everybody's always are, I'm sure."
He doesn't assume anything about any situation. He's content not to be right in any situation even while collaborating in music. He has his opinions of how music can be improved upon, but there are situations that what is really needed is what's good enough. He was a member of the staff at the Musicians Institute (MI) for a period of time. They had a staff for a big band that comprised of 5 saxes, 4 trombones and 4 trumpets. The students had an opportunity once a week to play with a big band. And he also taught a couple theory classes at MI. After MI he started gigging around LA.
Mike: This whole music thing is all about word of mouth, you know. You play each night a gig, and hope that somebody good hears you so that you can get another gig.
Hearing about his experience I commented that his journey in growing as a musician is more organic than going through music school. He never had any formal training in music, but that everything he sought out and absorbed is truly his own creation.
Mike: You know you just play here, you play there. One thing leads to another and somebody hears you, and one day someone from the Doc Severinson's band calls you… And you meet people, and you meet your childhood heroes, and you get a chance to play with them.
In 1986 he played at the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival with Dizzy Gillespie.
Mike: You know these guys like - Doc Severinson, Snooky Young, and all these guys that I'd heard of as a kid, all these guys that my Dad use to make me listen to sometimes, and I got a chance to play with some these people. Joe Williams from Count Basie…If I knew now what I knew then, I would've kept better track of the list.
Musical luminaries he's played with include Ray Charles, Don Henley, Aretha Franklin, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Rosemary Clooney.
Mike: I think one of the big lessons in that is - you start playing with these people and realize that they're just people. Most of them are cool, some of them are not… There's so much focus on celebrity, and I call it "the cult of personality"… It's like when you're playing in a band and you get the whole groupie business. People are trying to be with you, not because of who you, but who they think you are… But I think there's a certain hero worship everywhere. But then you find out that the heroes they're just other people. Some of them have a lot of ability some of them don't really… You find out the actual nuts and bolts of it, the technical part of it. Some of them, if you can quantify it, you might actually play better than some of the people who have these records out. (Laughs heartily) See I'm dating myself.
On Learning and Socialization Behavior
Mike: You learn a lot by observing and if you take the "me" out, things go a lot better.
AR: Is that the TM part of you?
Mike: It's the TM, the Taoist part of me, the mellow kind of - let's just make it work. I don't have to be right. That way will work too, let's do that if that's easier.
We came upon the works of German artist Richard Beuys, and our conversation shifted to align with the artist's work, described to be grounded on humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy.
Mike: Socialization has so much to do with how we act at first, and sometimes it's hard for us to overcome our socialization - to get out of the box. I mean there was a time even for myself when I thought 'this is what this is.' This is it, but it doesn't necessarily have to be this. Y'know this over here might work too. You may not even have heard of that or considered it.
I shared with Mike about a video I had watched by Jun Mhoon who is a digital aggregator and adjunct professor at Columbia College in Chicago. He spoke on the topic of Paradigm Shift in Music Distribution. Mike was pleasantly surprised.
Mike (laughingly): Wow! I didn't know that someone had actually put this down on paper… I haven't quite caught the wave. The deal is, it used to be a guy had an idea in his head, he'd have to write it down then give it to other people so everybody can play it. Then we got to the point where if you had an idea, you could write it down, then input into the computer, and play it back, it wouldn't be the real sound but it's close enough so you can get an idea. It's the same thing with copying. Copying is such a labor intensive thing. Now you have the computer program. I still copy by hand… I think these days people are forcing consumers to come along with them It's getting to the point where we are going to be so dependent on these machines…
He spoke of an article that listed the top 10 things not to buy which listed the CD and the DVD. Many of the information contained in these mediums can be downloaded to your computer. The key is to have the content accessible by the computer.
Mike: Everything is changing, and not just music. A lot of industries are failing. People are having to shift. I mean even something like the porn industry. As much money as that use to make, now people can get all that for free on their computer. All the money that was generated, all that economic stuff is no longer there.
He described how he grew up with a skateboard and a bicycle. But when he was growing up he never considered taking his skateboard down a banister. It never occurred to him to try it.
Mike: What people are doing now is approaching things in a completely different way.
Organic Music - Live or Studio
People will always appreciate live music. There are some types of music like big band that still needs the multiple instrumentalists to be part of the creation.
Mike: But the way technology is going, these days, the sounds are getting better so one person can actually do it themselves. You can't really do it live, but you can do it for the consumption of an electronic medium. I played with this guy who do these sequencer gigs. He could do a gig by himself, and it sounds good. It used to be people would do that and it would sound like crap, because the technology wasn't there. But now with the leaps and bounds that things are going now… There's a joke in the studio, and somebody would be playing something good, and somebody would say "Sample that." I just did a session for somebody, a reggae guy I play with. He said, I just have an idea I want you to play. He says, this is the idea I have. So I play that. Then he says, now play around with it. Okay, now play a harmony part to it. Then he said - okay you're done. It took 10 minutes. He's writing the music in a different fashion. Before you would get out the paper and figure it out what you're gonna do. But now, it's try this - oh that doesn't work. Okay, now let's try this… Before you had to have a clearer picture before you play it.
Composing Music - Then & Now
Mike: I've been writing music forever. I could write music and know how it would sound, based on the way it looked and based on what I would play on the piano. Then some friends of mine would write music, and their music didn't sound good, not just to me, but also to them. But as technology came they had a chance to hear it back so they could correct their problems. It was like an unfair advantage. It was almost like cheating is the way I use to think of it. But that's wrong, that's a wrong way to look at it. What they're doing is utilizing the technology to get done what they want to get done. By any means necessary. This is what I want to do; what do I have to do it.d
Commercial versus Non-commercial
He hesitates to judge what's commercial and what is not commercial in music. There are many talented artists whose talents have been watered down for reasons.
Mike: One of the reasons is we, as a society, don't know - we're more ignorant now than we were. Remember when we were talking about how people don't know what these instruments are anymore. They don't know what's good, quote unquote good. They know what they're use to. And they are forced fed this diet. So it becomes the big lie.
Mike: Hopefully it's still there. There is something about the human spirit that always recognizes what is intrinsically good… In being like water, that also means the ability to be soluble and move along with the wave. Because, if you do stay there, like that boulder, then you either get bypassed or get eroded away… It's a balancing act. What I think as an artist, you have to figure out how you're gonna catch the wave, because it's always changing. People talk about reinventing themselves, and I didn't get a chance to do all that, but you have to be aware.
I asked him when and how this realization came about. He explained that he did a show with Debbie Allen and James Ingram where he was tasked to take a symphonic piece they wanted to dance to, and he was tasked to reduce the piece from a whole orchestra to a smaller ensemble. He did it, and it sounded good, but it took a lot of time and the process was labor intensive in putting the ink onto the page.
Mike (to himself): 'You can't keep doing this.' They're not gonna pay you enough to make this worth your while. You have to get some kind of software, some kind of music copying software… I know that I have to overcome my inertia and start overcoming my fear of the learning curve. Because this is something I've always been good at, so I don't want to be not good at it… Like I said earlier, socialization has a lot to do with how we behave. There'll always be a place for a jazz quartet… We, in this society, we're on a fast track. But maybe a fast track to nowhere, but we're certainly on it.
Where is this paradigm shift going to?
Mike: People are going to do what they're going to do because it's better and more efficient.
He describes himself as a hedonist.
Mike: If 2 is good then 4 is definitely going to be better. And 8 is outstanding.
AR: Does that applied to everything in life?
Mike: Pretty much…
Seeing Mike play live is a treat, because he's a very dynamic player.
Mike: You know there's so many guys -some people say it's an LA trait, but I've seen it all over. They do what I call, they play confidentially, like they're almost afraid to let anybody hear it. In some ways they've been taught that, but the thing about is in terms of dynamic. It's good to play really soft, but it's also good to play loud sometimes. And if you don't play loud, then the soft stuff doesn't have a sound. The dynamic range is shortened. Now that's looking at it from a volumes point of view. Now, you can apply that in any part of life. Peaks and valleys exists. No guts, no glory is what I say.
When asked if he ever had a mentor, he said he never really had a mentor. He never sought for one.
Mike: I just kind of do things that seem to work - to me.
Sources of inspiration
Mike: It's the hedonistic nature. I want to feel good. I want to feel happy. I remember Paul Rodriguez, a comedian. We use to work out at the Greek Theater. He likes to hang out with the musicians. He said this, "When you're up there playing - that's the greatest time in the world. All your other situation. It's complete freedom and it feels great."
Catch the Wave with Mike!
You can catch Mike play live around Los Angeles. He's a regular at the Conga Room, and also on Tuesday evenings at O'Bar.
You can also read more about Mike, and listen to samples of his music HERE