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Don Dietrich

April 8, 2020

Don Dietrich

‘Option’ is a live album which contains the first ever solo concert of Borbetomagus sax player Don Dietrich, recorded in Chicago last year.


“My favorite sax player? Jimi Hendrix”

Why is ‘Option’ only your second solo album?

Don Dietrich: It’s my second solo album but perhaps more oddly it’s my first solo concert. The reason it is my only solo performance to date is simple – no one ever asked me before Ken Vandermark (thank you, Ken)! It is my third solo record, however. The first, Chinese Root Letter 7”, was released a long time ago by Ecstatic Peace (thank you, T Moore). The second solo LP ‘Dietrich’ was at the request of Yves Botz.

Why do you never play solo?

The short answer to your question of why I never play solo is “Make me an offer I can’t refuse!”

Is this recording an exact representation of the concert? Or did you do any editing or layering afterwards?

The only editing was to find a pause in the concert to fit the LP format. The download should be the complete performance as it was.

“My setup took years to establish.”

What gear did you use for this recording, besides the saxophone? A loop station? Distortion and delay effect pedals?

My setup took years to establish. I use a half dozen (sometimes more, sometimes less) FX pedals (distortion, echo, etc). It’s important to note that these effects were designed to be used with an electric guitar not a saxophone so it takes a bit of experimentation. To further complicate things the order in the chain has an impact on the overall sound as does playing extended techniques.

Why did you initially chose to amplify your sax?

I originally amped my horn around 1972 when I was playing lead guitar in my rock quartet. It was an effort to expand my repertoire. Back then the only pickup available was the one used by Eddie Harris as well as Ian Underwood and Bunk Gardner of the Mothers. To install it you had to drill a hole in the neck of the instrument. I already had the SUNN Concert Lead amplifier so it was pretty easy to bring the volume up to 11! A few years later with my jazz group Industrial Strength (with Jim Sauter) I realized that it was easier to simply drop a vocal mic down the bell. This also brought out more detail in the ‘bells together’ technique.

Don Dietrich at Café Oto (photographer unknown)

Does amplification make you more ‘rock’? Do you see what you do as ‘playing jazz with a rock attitude’?

I suppose playing amplified sounds more ‘rock.’ A long running joke is when asked who his favorite guitar player is Donald Miller would respond “Albert Ayler” and when I was asked who my favorite sax player is I would reply “Jimi Hendrix!”

Do you try to make the saxophone not sound like a saxophone?

Of course and by doing so it becomes MORE of a saxophone.

Why do you prefer the ‘full sound’, maybe even the ‘too full sound’?

I’ve always been attracted to what I would describe as a ‘monumental’ sound. Perhaps that’s the sculptor in me (a photo of one of my pieces adorns the ‘Options’ LP).

Does playing solo give you more freedom than playing with a band?

It’s a good question. I certainly have more experience playing with others. I think that when playing in a group setting you have more data to process giving you more musical pathways to pursue. Either way I look for unforeseen events and ‘accidents’ which often provide direction.

‘Option’ is available for pre-order via Feeding Tube Records. Release Date: May 1st, 2020

How do you remember the evening of the recording?

The beer was very good. The atmosphere was very cordial. The concert sold out and the audience was very receptive. After the concert Ken Vandermark conducted a Q & A session around the relationship between my sculpture and my music.

Why is the album called ‘Option’? An option for what?

The concert series in Chicago is called ‘OPTION.’

Don Dietrich by Peter Gannushkin

Can you remember why you initially chose for the saxophone as ‘your instrument’? Was it a record? Or a saxophone player? Or the instrument itself?

When I was 9 years old everyone had to choose an instrument to learn to play in the school band. I chose the trumpet which seemed as good as any instrument at the time. As it turned out they ran out of trumpets so the band director said “How about the alto sax?” The rest is history.

– Joeri Bruyninckx

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