Dezron Douglas

For Dezron Douglas, a musical career was a family legacy, and it began early. “I’ve been playing bass in church since I was seven or eight,” he recently recounted to graduate students at New York University’s jazz program. “I played with my brothers and my father and we were in a lot of [gospel] programs up and down—Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts. Then I got good at 12, and started to really study in Hartford. To this day, some of my favorite bass players are people you probably never heard of. But they were great local bass players on the gospel circuit.”

Douglas is a proud product of the jazz circle in Hartford, where he was born and came to study with Jackie McLean’s Institute of African American Music; drummer Michael Carvin is another mentor he mentions often. In the 15 years since he’s been on the New York scene, he’s become a first-call bassist, known for a sound that’s both muscular and melodic. Besides jazz, he carries a variety of styles in his toolbox: R&B of the 1980s and ’90s, roots reggae of the ’70s, and of course gospel. His 2013 album Live at Smalls is a solid keepsake of an evening’s performance at that club, and one of the strongest releases on its label; his most recent release is his fourth recording as leader, the diverse acoustic-and-electric six-track EP Black Lion.

Catching Douglas in performance—leading his own group, or supporting the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Makaya McCraven, Abraham Burton, David Murray, Louis Hayes, Brandee Younger, or many others—is to witness how consistently and economically he helps raise the level of the music, sometimes with just a nudge or a turnaround or a groove. It’s why so many wish to

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