Mad Duran’s name is what most people notice first – that is, until they hear her play the saxophone.
“There is another woman in town with the same name (Madaline) and I have even gotten her mail, so my husband (San Francisco jazz guitarist Eddie Duran) suggested I call myself “Mad” and I thought it was fitting,” Duran said. “People are taken aback until I explain it, but they also remember it.”
Duran was tapped by her friend Brian Girard of the Vallejo Jazz Society to put together a band for the upcoming Women in Jazz concert at the Bay Terrace Theater in Vallejo.
“I’m not known necessarily for playing with other women except for the Montclair Women’s Big Band out of Oakland, but I love being around a bunch of women,” Duran said. “It is so unusual because since Day One of playing an instrument, it was always around men.”
While Duran acknowledges that there are differences in the way men and women communicate, when it comes to making music together, the synergy between people is what is important, not someone’s gender.
“The older I get, the more I like women. When I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of girl friends because they weren’t playing musical instruments and that’s what I was all about,” Duran said. “Now it’s almost like a sorority. Plus we are underdogs in this jazz field, so when we see other women trying to do it, we are so supportive of their endeavors.”
Duran handpicked the three other women who she will perform with and is excited about the musical journey they plan to embark upon.
“I played with drummer Beth Goodfellow in the Montclair Women’s Big Band, but that’s been a while ago and she has done some major things since then. I played with pianist Tammy Hall in Montclair also and what a pleasure to connect musically with someone of her talents. Bassist Ruth Davies and I go back maybe 25 years and it is always a blast to play with her,” Duran said.
Duran started on clarinet at the age of 10 and played it classically all through college. She played sax and flute as well. After college, she was at a crossroads because she’d never really thought about how to make a living doing what she loved. She met Eddie Duran and he suggested she had the makings of a great jazz musician, but needed to practice.
“So I then went into overdrive trying to find out how to play over changes, in time, and really become one with my instrument. It was challenging,” Duran said. “What I teach today is to try to steer people away from the page and into the tactile ability of playing your instrument with your ear. Every instrument has a key pattern and your ear and your fingers working simultaneously is the basics in learning how to improvise.”
Duran gravitated to playing freely without reading music as a teen and, while she knows some jazz theory, she prefers to feel it and not read it. Still, what really helped her was paying careful attention to the work of those who came before her who honed the craft.
“One super important facet to learning jazz improvisation is to listen to the masters,” Duran said. “Really listen, copy their lines and solos, and learn how to develop a solo, or as we say, ‘tell a story.’ That is the most difficult part of learning how to improvise, but when you get it, it’s so rewarding.”
At the Women in Jazz show, Duran has a basic idea of what she and her bandmates might play, such as ballads and bossa novas, but leaves plenty of room to explore and create.
“We will play familiar sounds and have an adventure,” Duran said.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vallejo Jazz Society Presents: “Women in Jazz”
Featuring Mad Duran, Beth Goodfellow, Tammy Hall and Ruth Davies
5 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10
Bay Terrace Theater, 51 Daniels Avenue, Vallejo