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Charlottesville-based trumpeter John D'earth flutters between the mainstream and the eclectic.

Virginia Jazz


When he was 16 years old, trumpeter John D'earth performed in a youth jazz band that opened for Duke Ellington at the Globe Jazz Festival in Boston. Since then he has played and recorded with a wide range of musicians, from Dave Matthews to Miles Davis. His long-running regular Thursday night gig at Miller's is something of a Charlottesville institution — a rare thing in the improvised and often transitory world of jazz.

D'earth has a distinctive sound, burnished and well defined; even the difficult passages have an accessible transparency of purpose. His clarity is complemented by the open-ended approach of his wife and longtime collaborator, vocalist/songwriter Dawn Thompson. "Her lyrics come out of a Jungian approach," D'earth says. "They're mystical, political, very psychological."

"Most of the songs are telling stories," Thompson says. "I'm very visually oriented; I see the music not as particular images, but as shapes and colors. It's like improvising a fantasy landscape."

The couple has been forging music from these contrasting elements since meeting, as young musicians, in the heady New York City scene of the early '70s. They formed a group called Cosmology with longtime D'earth friend drummer Robert Jospe. The band included a number of future jazz stars, including guitarists John Abercrombie and John Scofield, and Mahavishnu bassist Rick Laird.

"We were very influenced by 'Bitches Brew'-era Miles Davis," D'earth says. "I guess we were a jam band before that term existed." Their genre-transcending approach resulted in a self-titled release on Vanguard in 1977.

"That record started attracting a following, especially down in this area," D'earth says. "Dawn is from Virginia, so when we wanted to get out of the city one summer we came down here for a bunch of gigs. We ended up staying."

As time passed, the couple's musical collaboration took a back seat to making a living. Both started teaching, notably at the University of Virginia where D'earth leads the jazz ensemble. The trumpeter kept performing and recording, alternating straight-ahead jazz sessions and sideman gigs with the likes of Dave Matthews and Bruce Hornsby.

The couple began performing together again in the relaxed atmosphere of Miller's. "It's kind of a family gig," D'earth says. "It is just a lot of people who like to play together. We go back and forth between the mainstream and the eclectic."

The rebirth of Cosmology provided highlights to 1998's "Live at Miller's" CD. Though 2001's "Mercury" features DMB stalwart Carter Beauford on drums and an appearance by Matthews, the couple's amalgam of polish and poetry is the main event.

For the Glen Allen performance the group will reunite the couple with band co-founder Robert Jospe, along with bassist Randall Farr, pianist Wells Hanley and Bobby Read on sax.

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