Sting is certainly not averse to jazz. That much is clear from his collaborations with the likes of celebrated American reedman Branford Marsalis and compatriots keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and drummer Omar Hakim, to mention but a few.
And, basically and a mite simplistically, all you need in order to venture into improvisatory musical domains is a good strong melody anchor. Sting has always been a master at creating that.
So it makes perfect sense for someone like Paul Dunlea to try his practiced hand at revisiting some of the smash hits that put Police well and truly on the global pop map and, thereafter, allowed vocalist-bassist-songwriter Sting to continue onto a hugely successful solo career.
Cork, Ireland-based Dunlea is one of the stars at this year’s International Jaffa Jazz Festival, the seventh edition of which takes place at ZOA House in Tel Aviv October 13-15, with founding artistic director and veteran saxophonist and educator Amikam Kimmelman once again at the helm.
All told, around 70 musicians will take the stage over the three days, jetting their way over here from – besides Ireland – Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Austria, and Turkey – and, of course, there will be plenty of our own talented guys and gals doing their sonorous thing.
The 42-year-old Irish trombonist says he is delighted to be making his first trip over here and to have the opportunity to devise and perform new arrangements of such memorable Police numbers as “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take” and “Walking on the Moon.”
“I’m a big fan of The Police, and a big fan of Sting,” he says, adding that the trio’s sound suited his instrumental outlet. “Being a trombone player, I listened to a lot of reggae music. I suppose, in the pop music area, The Police sort of lend themselves to that.”
The man has a stylistic point. “Walking on the Moon,” off the band’s second studio album Reggatta de Blanc which came out in 1979, certainly has an undercurrent of reggae vibes, as does the title track. “Some of the rhythms they use remind me of reggae,” Dunlea says.
In fact, Dunlea notes, Sting tended to weave all kinds of rhythmic feelings and lines into his work, citing the Englishman’s Live in Tuscany album, recorded at his Italian villa on that fateful day in September 2001 when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, killing close to 3,000 people in the process. “There is a swing version of ‘Roxanne’ from that,” he explains.
“He’s got [acclaimed jazz artist] Christian McBride on bass. So Sting has kind of dabbled in rearranging his own music.” There was also a pal of Dunlea’s, called Clark Gayton, who played trombone at Sting’s Tuscany date.
All of this left Dunlea with plenty of raw material to work with, but also a stiff conundrum. “I suppose the hardest thing about arranging this music, and I suppose any music that is really well known, is that it is very easy to make it sound very cheesy.” There is a fine line to tread.
“If you are dealing with songs that so many people know so well, subliminally as well as upfront, you have to respect the song and the way they know it. You have to be very careful about not making it cheesy. I hope I’ve pulled it off.”
“If you are dealing with songs that so many people know so well, subliminally as well as upfront, you have to respect the song and the way they know it. You have to be very careful about not making it cheesy. I hope I’ve pulled it off.”Paul Dunlea
DUNLEA, and the rest of us, will know that for sure at 11 a.m. on October 15, when the trombonist walks onto the ZOA bandstand, along with Canadian saxophonist Alison Young and Dutch pianist Mike del Ferro, who has gigged over here on several occasions in years gone by. They will be joined by an Israeli threesome of trumpeter Gregory Rivkin, bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Yacki Levy.
Mind you, Dunlea clearly has the experience, genetic baggage and street-level credentials to stay on the right side of the cheesy divide. He had the best of starts on his musical road even though he took on his chosen instrument by default.
“My mum’s side of the family has been involved in one of the local brass bands, here in Cork, for as long as I can remember.” The tot was soon recruited to the peripatetic ensemble’s ranks. “At the age of 4 or 5, I joined the percussion section of that band. It was a marching band.”
Starting out at basement level
Dunlea started out at basement level. “I was given a triangle,” he laughs. A more serious berth soon materialized. “In the 1980s, a lot of people left Ireland to work abroad. Economically, it was a pretty challenging time here.” The trombonist slot in the band opened up when the incumbent wind player left to seek employment offshore. “I wasn’t given much of a choice,” Dunlea says. “I was just told I was going to play the trombone.”
Luckily that worked out all around. The youngster had to find his feet in double-quick time. “They gave me three lessons, bought me an instrument and I played with the band until I was 17.”
DUNLEA SAYS he has no regrets about being thrown in at the deep end. “I didn’t have any formal education. I didn’t go to [music] college or anything like that. I’d say I was 20% instructed and 80% self-taught.”
He soon landed himself a stable bread-winning gig, which offered him plenty of opportunities for honing his craft – as a player, arranger and composer. “I studied electronic engineering at college and then I saw an ad in the local newspaper for the defense forces. They were taking on musicians and I thought I’d give it a go. I did the audition and got the job.”
That was to be an enduring and mutually beneficial engagement that only ended recently after over 20 years, during which Dunlea wrote, arranged and played a wide range of music for the army big band. He has a particular penchant for large ensembles. He also eventually got himself some formal training in music, taking bachelor’s and master’s degrees while he was in the service. “I really got into improvising, and writing and arranging for big bands and other things. I just took off from there.”
Thus far, he has put out three albums, although he says he has at least 10 on the launching pad. Over the years, he has mixed it with a broad slew of artists, both within the jazz fraternity and other fields, including the likes of now 88-year-old pop icon Frankie Valli, stellar jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, celebrated Irish singer-songwriter Mick Flannery and American jazz bassist Peter Washington and drummer Billy Drummond.
At the end of the day, Dunlea is Irish born and bred, and that necessarily informs his cultural and musical consciousness – and his output. “I have listened to a lot of Irish traditional music, and I suppose the treatment of melody in Irish traditional music, whether it is instrumental or sung, is pretty much portrayed in the same manner as I play.”
An Irish-flavored jazz take on the strong pop melodies that are such a part of The Police’s global success sounds like an alluring prospect.
Elsewhere on this year’s Jaffa Jazz Festival roster of jazzy tributes to rock and pop giants of the Sixties and Seventies, and beyond, you can find salutes to Cream, the Animals, Blood Sweat and Tears, Radiohead, the Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
For tickets and more information: http://eng.hotjazz.co.il/