Marquee Magazine: David Thomas Bailey organizes Composer Collective to bring art music to the masses

Almost since the inception of music, high-art music — what many of us refer to as classical — came with two pre-requisites: a tuxedo and money. The concerts, almost exclusively black-tie affairs, were seldom affordable to the common man.

But one such common man, a musician from Denver, is trying to change that. Post-jazz guitarist David Thomas Bailey has recently started the Colorado Composer Collective, whose mission is to put high art music in environs that most of us would never have dreamed. “More Pabst, less red wine,” is Bailey’s motto for the project. “Let’s treat this like it is, music made by creative people, same as any band, no better no worse, ethically. The Colorado Symphony shouldn’t get to own it in their tuxedos and financial corruption,” Bailey  said in a recent interview withThe Marquee.

The concept isn’t exactly new territory for Bailey, who earned a music degree at the University of Colorado at Denver and a Masters of Music in jazz  studies from the University of Northern Colorado. Bailey, who plays in the bands FaceMan, Man vs. Village, and Micro Marauder, started a project last year called the Locus Project, for which he writes music for specific locations — like the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Highlands Bridge, both in Denver.

Bailey, who also teaches music at Swallow Hill and at the Pickin’ Parlor in Arvada, said he’s been driven to explore putting this type of music in different environments because of a common theme he has seen repeat itself over and over in the music world. “I knew a lot of people who were writing really creative music in college and it seemed like after college people got jobs and stopped really producing anything creatively. I thought was that kind of B.S. The same is true for orchestra musicians from college. They were doing really awesome things and if they didn’t get that symphony job, they just started doing other things. I thought that we needed to have some creative outlet for this community,” Bailey said.

For their upcoming performance, the Colorado Composer Collective will be configured as a double quartet with four string and four brass players, and Greg Garrison, the bassist of Leftover Salmon and Punch Brothers will be the featured performer, and the five composers involved in the project have all written music to highlight Garrison.

“Everyone wrote pieces specifically to match Greg. Everyone knows a bit of his story, and so Dean Hirschfield wrote a piece that’s a little bluegrassy, but still in a symphonic way. Scott McCormick of Boulder Acoustic Society wrote a beautiful hymn of four block chords moving along, a really beautiful piece. Carmen Sandim, who teaches at Naropa and Metro, wrote some bossa nova elements into her piece, but it also has an Americana feel to it,” Bailey explained. Wil Swindler, who teaches at CSU and is the assistant ensemble director at the school, and Bailey, of course, also wrote pieces for the collective. Giga Romero put together the string quartet, while Kerry Web put together the brass quartet.

In a separate interview with The Marquee, Garrison said he’s very honored to be part of this, and “to find that musicians hold me in that high regard and that they’re willing to throw me into the mix for a project like this.”

Garrison said that, particularly due to his time in Punch Brothers, he’s not foreign to the idea of putting classical music in a rock club. He explained that during his time with Punch Brothers, his awareness and appreciation for classical music has grown. “There was as much time with that band hanging out and drinking beer and scotch and listening to Brahms, as there was drinking beer and scotch and listening to Bill Monroe. I don’t want to call it high brow over low brow, but art music versus popular music, and they serve different audiences and it also serves different parts of a person. Almost like emotion verses intellect. Most musicians are emotional and intellectual,” he said.

It’s ironic that it took musicians who play rock and roll as their night jobs to bring classical music to these environs. It’s not like this is part of some government arts program where the stodgy try to act less hoity-toity for a night. It’s a night where the guys who are used to letting their hair down, get to play new classical music to people in an environment that they are already comfortable in. And Bailey truly believes that it’s that approach that will make it work. “Just come and enjoy. It’s not meant to be respected as an act of culture,” he said.

“We need a forum for new music,” he continued. “Places like community orchestras and cities and colleges all have symphonies, and they all play the same repertoire. There’s really no place to hear new music. Well, there may be some, but we need more and we need more proactive concerts like this,” Bailey said.