MP3 Damian Green Band - The Best of the Damian Green Band
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12 MP3 Songs
COUNTRY: Western Swing, JAZZ: Swing/Big Band
Show all album songs: The Best of the Damian Green Band Songs
In the Swing of Things
By James Reel
Classical violinists donât play Western swing. Dang! Someone must have forgotten to tell Damian Green.
Want to find out Damian Greenâs musical hero? The 16-year-old fiddler likes to tell a joke about Jascha Heifetz, the most famous classical violinist of the 20th century. âThereâs this story that Heifetz was trying to get his dog into his hotel room,â he says. âThe manager stopped him, and the violinist puffed up and said, âBut Iâm Jascha Heifetz.â The manager said, âI donât care if youâre Bob Wills, youâre not bringing that dog in here.ââ
Sure, Green knows his way around the classical violin; he has a lot of concertos in his fingers, and he plays in an orchestra in his native Texas. But at heart, heâs less of a Jascha Heifetz fan than a keeper of the flame of the great Texas swing fiddler Bob Wills. Wills and his Texas Playboys played country dance tunes as if they were jazz numbers. Wills didnât invent Texas swing in the 1930s, but he pretty much perfected it, and heâs Damian Greenâs hero.
In fact, Green keeps getting compared to Wills, both in his playing and his stage presence. Thatâs how Green wants it.
âYes sir,â he says with his polite Texas accent. âI like his overall charisma, the way he moved on stage, the way he got the audience going. I collect a bunch of Bob Wills recordings, and I listen to those a lot, and learn a lot, and I even get to play with the Texas Playboys and learn from them in person.â
Thatâs right. He hasnât even graduated from high school, but Green already has played with the old Bob Wills band, not to mention his touring with the famed Texas swing group Asleep at the Wheel in a tribute show called A Ride with Bob. The subject, you might guess, is Bob Wills. When Green, the band, and the showâs other participants played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., a few months ago, Green even got to shake hands with a big fan of Texas swing: President George W. Bush.
None of this exactly happened overnightâGreen got what you might call an early start. âI wanted to play the bass when I was two and a half year old,â he says. Heâd seen what that instrument and others could do because his aunt was a high-school orchestra teacher. âBut I was too little for the bass, so they gave me an 1/8-size fiddle and I started with a Suzuki program.â
When he was seven, Green attended a western-swing camp, where he got his first real introduction to the style. âIt combines the blues, the jazz, the country, and the big-band swing all into one,â Green says.
He couldnât resist.
âI love the classical stuff for the technical training,â he says, âbut I really enjoy playing the western swing and country jazz, to be on stage and to hear the audienceâitâs a different reaction.â
Says Greenâs teacher, Bill Dick, âThe thing about Damian thatâs most impressive to me is that he has a sense of the moment. By that I mean when heâs onstage heâs got the costume, heâs got the moves, heâs got the showbiz part of it down, but it doesnât seem cheesy. Heâs doing a great show and having fun doing it. But then, at his lessons, heâs matter-of-fact, and heâs not resistant to criticism or change. Whatever heâs doing, heâs doing it 100 percent and honestly. As a student heâs receptive and not insecure, and onstage heâs struttinâ with the best of them.â
He can switch styles easily, too, says Dick. âThis semester he played the 16th Paganini Caprice for All State, and heâs good about adjusting his bow stroke so heâs not swinging Paganini. He can address whatever musicâs in front of him, like thereâs a little needle that goes wherever it needs to go whatever the repertoire is. And heâs such a friendly, happy kid. His parents certainly raised a very secure kid without his being an arrogant jerk.â
If anybody has reason to be arrogant, itâs Damian Green. Success came to him early. When he was still a chubby-faced preteen he was called Fiddle Boy, which was also the title of his first CD. The CD cover depicted him dressed like Superman, flying through the air with a fiddle under his arm.
Like fellow Texan and teen concert violinist Caitlin Tully, Green was a Texas Cultural Trust Council Young Master, an honor he received in 2006. The year before, he won the American String Teachers Association alternative-styles award in his age category. Now heâs got his own band, and he goes around romping with Asleep at the Wheel and the Texas Playboys. Why wouldnât he be a little full of himself?
But, like his teacher says, heâs not. And he knows the next few years are going to be tricky for him. Before long, heâll be too old to get by as your friendly neighborhood child prodigy. Heâll have to establish a place for himself amid all the other great adult Texas-swing fiddlers out there.
Heâs homeschooled now, which gives him time to play gigs without missing out on his education. In a couple of years heâd like to be studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which takes alternative styles as seriously as most conservatories regard classical.
According to Bill Dick, itâll be a combination of being âdiscoveredâ by the right people, and proving that he can do more than emulate his hero, Bob Wills.
âThe sound heâs producing is going to have to be innovative,â he says. âRight now heâs a great mimic, but I donât think he does his own material yet. In Texas swing, I donât think he can just cover songs the way classical violinists cover the Mendelssohn concerto. If someone comes up just playing Charlie Daniels tunes, that wonât make it.
âHeâs got the show side, and if he can spin that off into something original, thatâs what it would take to get him to the top of his field. Heâs very hardworking and very gifted; heâs got things to learn, but once he picks up enough music theory to write his own stuff, the career is basically in his pocket.â
Thatâs why Green wants to go to Berklee, to develop that musical foundation. And he wants to keep learning secrets from all kinds of violinists, classical and jazz, living and deadâItzhak Perlman, Stéphane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, and Stuff Smith all are in his iPod. âI try to keep myself well-rounded,â Green says.
And, he points out, even though heâs gotten famous around Texas pretty fast, heâs had to work at it. âI never take time off from practicing,â he says. âIf Iâm getting ready for something special, like a concert or a competition, I spend four or five hours a day working on it. If Iâm just maintaining, I spend two-and-a-half to three hours a day. Bill Dick gives me a bunch of exercises for speed and accuracy, a lot of arpeggios and basic scales, and then sometimes different etudes like the Rode and the Paganini caprices; those help me maintain my technique.
âBefore a concert or a competition, we get the guys in the band together and have a rehearsal. We play a couple of hours and run over all our tunes and make sure we know everything and donât get nervous. Usually in a show I feel a lot more loose than in a competition, because in a show I feel like I have more control over what Iâm doing. In competitions I have to follow a more structured pattern.â
So heâs got all the right habits and strategies. Bill Dick repeats that thereâs just that one more thing he has to develop.
âHe needs theory,â he says. âThatâs whatâs going to unlock his creative side, and open him up to his own voice and his own music and his own career.â
This article appears in Teen Strings magazine, Aug./Sept./Oct. 2007, No.7
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