Guitarist Dave Corbus is a seeker, and it shows in his music as well as in his day-to-day life. He has explored many genres of music, and his quest to grow musically is fueled by his spiritual quest as well as his musical search.
It was fun learning about his younger years, as Dave was a wild child and such a revolutionary he actually went to Nicaragua in his 20’s, when the war there was raging.
Dave was playing guitar at an early age and even left his family home outside Chicago when he was 16 to attend the Berkely College of Music for one semester. He returned for another semester during his senior year. But Dave didn’t believe in jazz education at the time—it seemed to him all the greats were self-taught.
As a young kid learning to play guitar, Dave admired Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Freddy King, Duanne Alman, but when his brother introduced him to the music of Miles Davis, Dave began to segue toward jazz by listening to Wes Montgomery, George Benson and then horn players like Clifford Brown. Then he found Coltrane and considered him a sort of spiritual guide. Later came Ornette Coleman. Then at age 16 he saw Pat Metheny play with Gary Burton, and that made a strong impression.
When he was 19, he moved to New York with a band to pursue his dreams of jazz music.
Life in New York was tough, and he supported himself early on by working in the garment district and other such day jobs while pursuing his music with a blues, funk, and jazz band called “Business of Blues.” Eventually, he applied to NYU and, while working and playing, earned a degree in classical composition.
His gigs in New York included opening for Buddy Guy and many other names, and he had a regular gig at Augie’s (now Smoke), but to start he played from midnight to 4 a.m. and even continued when the doors closed at 4 and Augie’s became an after-hours club. Later on, he earned a 9 to midnight spot on Fridays with his trio.
Today, Dave is an instructor at CU Boulder along with such luminaries as Jeff Jenkins, John Gunther, Brad Goode, Bijou Barbosa, Hugh Ragin, Annie Booth, and Victor Mestas.
I just had to ask Dave to talk about Frank Zappa, having seen and been in awe of one of his Zappa shows. Zappa is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse musicians of his generation and has an eclectic and experimental approach. His compositions are complex. Dave formed an interest in Zappa that started when he was just 19 and continues today. To Dave, Zappa is a classical jazz composer who used rock to support his family.
How much effort did it take to prepare to perform such music? Dave conceded it was a “heavy load,” and the amount of rehearsal is inordinate for a single show he might do once or twice every few years. One of his bandmates (whose name will not be disclosed here!) swears after each time that “this is my last time!” The prep work is stressful, and the music is such a stretch to do.
Dave’s spiritual search feeds into his jazz. He explains that when a jazz musician is really playing, he is fully “there,” in the moment, instead of thinking about changing the oil in his car. His studies of Baha’i, Buddhism, and such have contributed to his gift. This is someone who at age 12 was taught by his mother how to meditate. He told me he spends as much time on spiritual pursuit as on music.
It’s almost obligatory to list the biggest names our local musicians have had the honor to play with. Corbus said he has had a great relationship with Wycliffe Gordon and enjoys inviting him to town to play and has played with Bobby Watson, Red Holloway, Lonnie Smith, Joey DeFrancesco, Lewis Nash, Javon Jackson, and many others.
But his joy today here in Denver is that he has been with Ken Walker’s sextet for at least 22 years and loves playing with Jeff Jenkins’ The Organization as well as leading his own group. He has recorded with these groups as well as with Pat Bianchi and 3ocity and many others. He has two CDs in his own name, “Sound Down” and “Trios Time.”
He has enjoyed the way the music scene here in Denver has changed over his years here since 1993. When he arrived he was mentored by senior musicians and was a man driven to learn and succeed. With age (no, he’s not THAT old!), he has relaxed more and enjoys mentoring those that are coming up. I have to think that his spirituality has helped make the man!