Q&A with Daniel Godston: Musician and Poet

Living in Chicago since 2000, Daniel Godston professes that his family moved around a lot. He earned a BA from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, taught English as a Second Language in South Korea for several years, and then returned to the US to earn an MFA in Creative Writing at Mills College, in Oakland, CA. In Chicago, Godston teaches English Composition, Literature, and New Millennium Studies courses at Columbia College. He also teaches poetry to young people who are hospitalized, through Snow City Arts Foundation, and he teaches creative writing to high school students, through the Center for Community Arts Partnerships. When he's not teaching or publishing poems, he plays the trumpet with his trio, Ways & Means. Their recent CD, Fire of Dream, features poetry and experimental ritual music that is influenced by jazz and world music.


ArtStyle: What's your background in music?

Daniel Godston (DG): My parents brought my brothers and me up in a musical home. They both played music. My mom played the piano and my dad would play the guitar, and both of my parents always loved to sing. I took piano lessons when I was in 4th grade, and then I started playing the trumpet when I was in 5th grade. My parents encouraged me to take trumpet lessons. Then like a lot of teenagers I got into rock and roll, and I had some rock bands in Houston, and later in Pittsburgh. One of my bands in high school was called Lodged in Your Mind. We played original songs and covers of songs by the Police, Talking Heads, B-52’s, R.E.M., and The Jam.

Louis Armstrong

ArtStyle: Why did you pick the trumpet as an instrument?

DG: I love the trumpet, and I like to play other horns such as the pocket trumpet, slumpet (slide trumpet), flugelhorn, and cornet. The first time I heard Louis Armstrong‘s music it blew my mind. I first heard one of those “greatest hits” compilations, but then when I listened to the Hot Five‘s and Hot Seven‘s recordings — incidentally recorded here in Chicago in the mid-1920s — that was it. When I was in 5th grade I listened to Chuck Mangione‘s Feels So Good, but later in high school and in college I started to listen to the truly great masters of the instrument — Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Bix Beiderbecke, and others.

ArtStyle: How did you create your trio?

DG: Ways & Means is one of my projects. Joel Wanek (upright bass, percussion) and Jayve Montgomery (saxophones, percussion, electronic instruments) are very talented musicians. We have performed and recorded together; we all have a common interest in creative music, jazz, world music, an open approach to the arts. I have also worked with other musicians who live here in Chicago and elsewhere, such as Paul Hartsaw, Brahm Fetterman, Mars Williams, Bill MacKay, Clifton Hyde, Daniele Cavallanti, Tiziano Tononi, Jim Ryan, Eric Glick Rieman, Douglas Ewart, Mankwe Ndosi, Steve Hirsh, and others.

Also, I have an interest in combining music with other art forms such as poetry. As a musician I have had the honor of working with these dynamic poets — Ed Roberson, Lisa Hemminger, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Michael C. Watson, and others.

ArtStyle: Do you play professionally?

DG: Yes, but often the kind of music I like to play doesn’t really pay much money. It’s spiritually, emotionally and intellectually rewarding though, which is important. I’m involved with a collective that runs a live music and performing arts space. It’s called Brown Rice, after the Don Cherry record. It’s up in Albany Park, and you can check out our calendar of events at www.brownricemusic.org.

ArtStyle: What type of music do you play?

DG: I play jazz and improvised music. World music is a big component of the music I play, that is, I like music from Asia, South America, Africa, and other places.

Last weekend I was in New York, did a recording with a quintet. If that turns out all right, it might be released.

ArtStyle: Do you compose your own music?

DG: Yes, I do compose my own music. Some compositions are done with standard musical notation, but other compositions are graphic scores.

ArtStyle: What do you think about the music scene in Chicago?

DG: I think the music scene here is fantastic. There are so many opportunities for amazing shows. Chicago has amazing festivals — the Chicago Jazz Festival, Umbrella Music Festival, and World Music Festival are several. Two years ago I founded Chicago Calling, an arts festival that has great music.

Poetry Book

ArtStyle: When did you start writing poetry?

DG: I started writing poetry about 20 years ago. I studied poetry as an undergraduate, when I was at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and then when I was at the University of Michigan. Then I got an MFA in Creative Writing at Mills College. My poetry has been published in magazines, in online journals, and in several chapbooks.

ArtStyle: What other activities are you involved in?

My brothers and I are working on the Mingus Awareness Project 2, which will happen at the Velvet Lounge on May 7th. The purposes of MAP are to celebrate the life and music of Charles Mingus, to raise awareness about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and to raise money for the Les Turner ALS Foundation. Two years ago my mom died of ALS, and that’s the disease that killed Mingus.

I’m also editing a book of poetry which is based on collaborations that happened last year in Chicago, as part of the Forth Sound Back event I curated, as part of the Red Rover Reading series, which are readings that play with reading.

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