Described as a “maverick cellist” by his grass-roots music expression organization, Music for People, David Darling’s music has mixed genres—including jazz, pop, rock, country, and New Age—with intellectual curiosity, playful innovation, experimentation, and creative improvisation. His evocative, breakthrough compositions for cello have earned him international respect from experimental and jazz musicians, and teachers revere him for his delightful, transformative workshops in musical expression.
Born on March 1, 1941, in Elkhart, Indiana, Darling’s interest in music appeared early. At age four he began playing the piano, and by ten years of age, he began studying the cello. As a teenager, Darling took up the piano, bass, cello, and saxophone and became a bandleader for a dance band. At Indiana University, he focused on the cello and music education. Graduating in 1965, he continued in academia for four years, serving as a faculty cellist and conductor at Western Kentucky University.
In 1969, Darling’s career turned from education to performance. Striking out in a new direction, Darling went to Nashville and worked with many country musicians, most notably Johnny Cash. He has also worked with other such notables as Bobby McFerrin, Spyro Gyra, Arlo Guthrie, Peter Kater, and R. Carlos Nakai. Darling also became involved with the influential group the Paul Winter Consort, an ensemble he worked with from 1969-78. The Consort included Ralph Towner and Glen Moore, with whom he would also perform as part of the chamber jazz group Gallery.
The Paul Winter Consort was groundbreaking in many ways. It was one of the first proponents of world music—African, Asian, Brazilian, and Indian—and incorporated these foreign melodies, rhythms, and sounds into jazz. This ‘adventure through music’ explored a wealth of sound textures. From this point on, many North American and European artists began incorporating world music into their work. Learning ethnic music with the Consort and playing it on the cello was what Darling called “mind-blowing.” Prior to Darling, no one had taken the cello out of its classical context. After spending nearly a decade playing and experimenting with the Consort, Darling began his solo career.
Darling continued to experiment not only with new melodies and rhythms but also with electronic effects on the cello. His innovations with the cello changed the understanding of the instrument’s capacities. Reviews of his solo efforts have been positive and even swooning. Kris Larson from Egg magazine, in comments at the ECM Records website, said, “His music is emerald fire on a midnight sea, an arctic exhalation amidst stifling summer heat, a northwest wind driving out a confusion of fog. It is archaic, intense and yet almost always calming.” Down Beat magazine, in a review cited by ECM, said, “Darling’s range of stylistic evocations moves from early music to ethereal, from swarthy impressionism to folk sonorities…. All is dark and wintry but somehow transcendent.” A Jazziz magazine review, also available on the ECM website, stated, “No one has improvised on the cello with greater imagination and attention to texture, color, and tonality than Darling.” The purity of his sound and the rigorousness of his experimentation have caused artists from other disciplines to approach him for collaboration.
Writer Barry Lopez was so inspired by Darling’s solo work, Dark Wood, released in 1993, that he wrote a story to accompany it. “Disturbing the Night” was written to “create an emotional and narrative parallel to the music—a kind of literary counterpoint—with a story written under its influence…,” Lopez is quoted at the ECM Records website. It is “a recapitulation of the same emotional truth from a different perspective.” The wildly innovative dance ensemble Pilobolus, known to general audiences from commercials showing the company flying through the air in impossible, angular combinations, approached Darling to collaborate with them. European film director Wim Wenders has also used Darling’s music for his films Until the End of the Earth and Far Away, So Close, and the legendary French film director Jean-Luc Godard felt that Darling’s music would act as a suitable aural counterpart to his images in the film Nouvelle Vague.
Despite the profound effect of Darling’s compositions on listeners and artists, they are not his only passion. Darling co-founded Music for People in 1986. The nonprofit organization offers workshops to bring the
Born on March 1, 1941, in Elkhart, IN. Education: Studied cello and music education at Indiana University; graduated, 1965.
Faculty cellist and conductor at Western Kentucky University, 1965-69; member of the Paul Winter Consort, 1969-78; began solo recording career with ECM Records, 1979; played with Spyro Gyra, 1980; formed chamber jazz group Gallery, 1981; co-founded Music for People, a nonprofit organization that encourages musical expression, 1986; contributed to film soundtrack for Until the End of the World, 1991; began recording meditative music for the Relaxation Company, 2000.
creative, improvisational power of music into everyone’s life. The project perhaps best illustrates Darling’s deeply held beliefs about the social and spiritual power of musical expression. The workshops are designed to set even the “non-musical” at ease and allow them to play with musical expression. The program’s manifesto, “A Bill of Musical Rights,” states that “human beings need to express themselves daily in a way that invites physical and emotional release…. Sincerely expressed emotion is at the root of meaningful musical expression…. In improvisation as in life, we must be responsible for the vibrations we send one another.” In effect, it explains the belief that music is an essential creative expression for everyone. Darling’s extensive work with Music for People has brought the joys of creative expression to thousands of people from all walks of life.
Darling has also dedicated over a decade of his life to the Young Audiences Art Program. The award-winning program’s mission is to “instill in young people from pre-kindergarten to high school an appreciation, knowledge and understanding of the performing, visual and literary arts.” Artists bring students educational, creative experiences designed especially for children.
Darling’s programs show how music can stimulate learning, imagination, awareness, and balance. The intention of his creative improvisation workshops is to enhance personal growth through music.
Journal October, ECM, 1979.
Cycles, ECM, 1981.
(Contributor) Nouvelle Vague (soundtrack), ECM, 1990.
(Contributor) Until the End of the World (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1991.
Cello, ECM, 1991.
Dark Wood, ECM, 1993.
Eight String Religion, Hearts of Space, 1993.
The Tao of Cello, Relaxation Company, 1993.
Musical Massage: Balance, Relaxation Company, 2000.
Musical Massage: In Tune, Relaxation Company, 2001.
Cello Blue, Hearts of Space, 2001.
(With Paul Winter, Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, and Colin Walcott) Winter Consort’s Road, A&M, 1969-70.
(With Ketil Bjornstad) The River, ECM, 1994.
(With Ketil Bjornstad, Terje Rypdal, Jon Christensen) The Sea, ECM, 1997.
(With Ketil Bjornstad, Terje Rypdal, Jon Christensen) The Sea II, ECM, 1998.
Down Beat, September 1996, p. 58.
Forbes, March 18, 1991, p. S27.
“David Darling,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 24, 2001).
“David Darling,” 800.com http://www.800.com/mz/Artistlnfo.asp?A=6418 (September 24, 2001).
“David Darling,” Musicolog, http://www.musicolog.com (July 16, 2001).
ECM Records, http://www.ecmrecords.com (July 16, 2001).
Music for People, http://www.musicforpeople.org (July 16, 2001).
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