Press Bio

It was a cold November morning in the basement woodshop at Brighton Junior High school when Mr. Tucker, industrial arts teacher, approached Dan to tell him that he loved the saltshaker that Dan made for his wood lathe project but he was going to give him an F for it. Why? Because Mr. Tucker gave the students very clear instructions for exactly how to construct their saltshaker’s and Dan didn’t pay attention to any of them, deciding to make up his own structure. So, the next week, Dan brooded on his F as he passed the hall display window where he noticed, much to his suprise, Mr.Tucker proudly displayed for all the see his favorite students’ saltshakers, including his. Mr. Tucker loved Dan’s creation, but gave him an F for not following directions.

This is not the first or last time that Dan has ignored conventions and instructions to do his own thing, to follow his own ideas. A couple of years later, Dan was fired from his first rock band, Prism, for being too creative with the trumpet parts he was asked to do as a member of the band’s horn section. “Your too good for our horn section Dan, said Phil, the bandleader as he gave Dan the news.  

Dan’s way of going about doing things his own way and ignoring instructions and conventions has been his life path and is passed through writing music. For example, when preparing meals, he never follows recipes, preferring to improvise ingredients on the fly. The exception is rice. “Two parts water one part rice. I can remember that,” he says proudly.

Going through the formal music education system in school, Dan took trumpet lessons and sang in the school choir, but that was it for his formal musical education. He self-taught on guitar and all other instruments he plays.”My high school buddy Arthur taught me five guitar chords: C, F, G, E, and E, and that was it. Everything else I taught myself.” Another very creative and eclectic musician, Paul McCartney, has testified to the same thing, that he had no formal musical education, which Paul has said made it especially difficult when trying to communicate to a studio orchestra what to play in A Day in the Life.

This is been the spirit that Dan has applied to all of his songwriting and instrument playing. He hardly ever practices scales and never took a songwriting class. He is however a very careful listener, soaking up influences that inspire his creativity without dictating it. He uses those influences as a launchpad, but then goes his own way. That makes some of his quirkier music hard to describe. How do you describe the music of his former instrumental fusion jam band, the Wayward Monks? It’s not really jazz, nor rock nor classical nor New Age. “But I suppose you could say that you can hear all of those influences in the songs,” he says. Maybe that’s why one of those instrumentals, Polyunsaturated, won honorable mention in the 2006 International Song Contest. “When I wrote that song,” he says, “my goal was to write the weirdest instrumental I could think of. That meant odd meters, in your face guitar solos, a very fast bass line holding down the groove, and segments of soft madrigal-like folk music to break up the mania.

This attitude of going your own way and doing your own thing has driven his music. Coming off of a stint with his jamming hippie band Nervous Freedom in his upstate New York hometown, he headed out to graduate school at Stanford in California, only to forgo that musical path for punk rock in Stanford’s British Wire Gauge. BWG put out an album that bore fruit this year when the song Product City appeared in season five episode 11 of the popular crime family TV series Animal Kingdom.

As to life choices, Dan has always been one to try to find balance in what he does. He loves music but also loves to figure out clever ways to explain and stimulate new thinking. This is why he has spent half of his time as a musician and half as an educator. And what do they have in common? “Design” he says. “Thinking high level ideas and figuring out how to turn them into real products that can inspire and motivate.” Sometimes Dan will wake up and decide to apply his love of design to write a song and sometimes it will be to make up an educational product. For example, recently he made up a “protocol” for people to become more empathetic about how hard it is for law makers to make choices about how much to tax, who to tax, how much to spend, and who to spend it on. The League of Women Voters is using Dan’s protocol for public education events. He also made a protocol called Active Policy Reflection that helps voters make tough ballot proposition decisions by reflecting on their values and priorities.

When a young adult, he had to decide which path to choose as his “professsion” (i.e., the path that he would pursue to make money). Though music was his greatest passion, the life style of constant travel and starvation pay was not something he wanted so he picked education. But, throughout his educational career years, he always kept his music alive. This created some unusual situations, like running into students or professors of his who stumbled across him at Grateful Dead concerts or at his bands’ gigs. Conversely, he’s had to deal with with the puzzled look on the faces of some  bandmates when they’ve learned about his “other side.” “I’ve played with all types of people, including janitors and bus drivers, and I respect them all. I try to keep my non-musical background to myself but it has always felt awkward to me if they find out for example that I have a PhD in Education from Stanford.” In the past, this sense of double identity has sparked some soul searching. “I stereotyped my social circles into two boxes, my music people and my education people, thinking that one would not be interested in the other, and that has usually been true though I must admit that I haven’t done a lot to see if I’m all wet on that.”

Recently however, Dan has become more open to sharing his music with his non music circles, as well as with friends he’s gained who share his other great love, trail running. “I usually run about 20 miles a week and the trails where I live are mountainous, so a typical run may be about 6 to 8 miles and about 1200 feet of climbing. There’s nothing better for the spirit than a nice trail run, even on a cold day,” he says.

Dan’s many years as a career educator and educational researcher paid off, in that Dan built up enough of a nest egg to pivot a few years ago to do a lot more music, on his own terms, and less education work. He mastered music and video production and started playing in two bands instead of just one at a time (in two of these, he played bass, in the rest he played guitar and some trumpet). He also put out a slew of new albums. Just in 2020 put out three solo albums, Eclectica, Straight Ahead, and Resting Place.

You could say that Dan’s latest album, Resting Place is his “pandemic” album, mostly written and recorded during the time of Covid 19. Though only two songs on Resting Place contain his thoughts about the pandemic, “Ain’t No Stranger Times Than These” and “Hope Love and Trust,” the album is both a reflection of and an escape from it. “Doing the album was totally immersive for me,” Dan says. “I could do it on my own, while getting all the pandemic weirdness and social isolation out of my mind.” He even figured out how to get his drummer collaborator Doug Marks’ tracks electronically without ever having to see him, even though Doug lives only 15 minutes away. An example of how the pandemic drove Dan’s creative energies is the instrumental Rain or Shine. He wrote it watching the rain fall in his garden, basking in the comforting realization that he didn’t have to go outside of his own space to appreciate a beautiful little slice of nature. Dan produced all the tracks except two that composer, producer, and film music supervisor Marcus Barone produced, Leave It to the Night and Silver Moon in the Sky. Then, on his suggestion, Dan asked Bernadette Conant, a wonderfully expressive ballad singer, to sing Silver Moon in the Sky.

There are basically five types of music on Resting Place: upbeat rockers, ballads, country, blues, and jazz fusion. “Resting Place is my first album to include all genres that I separated out on my prior albums,” says Dan. “For example “I’ve never put my instrumental tracks on the same album as my vocal tracks until now. And I’ve never combined my blues tracks with other types of tracks either. I hope people will enjoy the sequencing and appreciate the different genres. I mixed them up so that you don’t have just one genre then another, and so on.” The lyrics are about different moods and subjects, from loneliness, struggle, and love lost to hope, joy and other positive vibes. There are two story songs about quirky characters, Slide Dog and Glass Half Empty. The three instrumentals are very distinct from each other. Rain or Shine is the closest to a traditional jazz song. Insight Out is in the style of fiery bluesy jazz fusion from the late 60s, and In Between is influenced by progressive rock and fusion bands from the 70s such as Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Traffic, and King Crimson. Some of the songs are short and to the point, like Driving through Wide Open and others are long and stretched out to include improvisation sometimes and very structured changes other times. The best example of the latter is the last song on the album, In the Light, which contains folk rock verses but also Indian influenced choruses, a string quartet bridge and a choral bridge. All the songs contain plenty of guitar parts, but some have keyboards too and there is ample trumpet soloing, more than Dan has done on any of his prior solo albums. 

Asked how he got the album title, Dan says, “there’s a song on the album called Resting Place. It’s a little morbid because it’s my reflections on life and death. But I wanted to expand the idea of a resting place to represent a place of desire, a place where you might want to end up that captures your passions best.” And keeping to the fact that Dan has no greater passion than music, his resting place, as shown on the album cover, is his recording studio surrounded by all the instruments he plays on the album.

Resting Place and Dan’s other two 2020 albums followed his EPs Edgyometry and Instrumentals (with his son Ian on piano), and his first solo album, the bluesy Waiting for My Train. He turned to multi Grammy award-winning music producer Scott Mathews to produce Edgyometry, and learned a ton from Scott and his engineer Tom that he could apply to all his subsequent DIY productions. Before those solo projects, he put out two albums with his fusion band Wayward Monks and two with his rock band Outer Half.

Growing up in the MTV era, he also started making quirky music videos, which he posts on his YouTube channel. The current count is 30. “I choose songs of mine for music videos if I think they lend themselves to abstract imagery, like the kiinds you might see behind a band at a live show.” Usually, he shies away from making videos that “act out” stories because they need real actors to look professional, and he doesn’t know any.” Two exceptions are the videos he made in 2020 for I’m Not A Doctor But I Play One on TV, and All Dressed Up And Nowhere to Go, two songs he wrote and recorded with Outer Half. During the pandemic, Outer Halfers Jen Gill, Doug Marks, Kevin Kriner, and Richard Huebner videoed themselves playing their parts, then Dan created composite videos showing them playing, and acted out some goofy scenes right in his living room  that supported the songs’ themes.

Dan’s biggest DIY music video solo extravaganza has to be Nut Raisin Blues, a bluesy Resting Place track. “Even though Nut Raisin Blues is a 100% solo project,” he says, “it feels like a live performance, the kind of song you’d imagine a blues band playing in a bar. So, I filmed myself playing all the parts and put all the clips together in front of a stage image. The video features a whole band’s worth of Dan as singer, rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, slide guitarist, and keyboard player, and there are even two trumpet player Dans in the back doing little horn section dance bits. All these guys “miraculously” appear and disapper when their parts come up. “I decided to call the ‘band’ “Dan and the Cloneheads,” he says.” “And what an ego trip it was..”

So, here we are toward the end of 2021. Dan is doing even more writing, producing, and performing. Modern DIY technology has made it all possible. “It’s a great time to be a creative musician,” he says, “as long as you’re doing it for the love of it. Even if you only have ten people loving your music, that’s still making ten people happy, and that’s something to be proud of.”