At the end of May 2009, Darcy James Argue and the Secret Society played their first dates outside New York City. Their short tour of Europe included Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, Dortmund’s Domicil and the Moers Festival in northern Germany where I caught an inspired performance by the band. After the encores were over and the standing ovation from the audience of some 2500 had finally subsided, there seemed little doubt that a major young talent in jazz had arrived – or, perhaps more accurately, was in the process of arriving.
What follows is a portrait of the then 33 year-old composer and arranger from Canada in interview form. Well versed in the history of the big band in jazz, he has brought this venerable institution, which has been around since the 1920s, into the twenty-first century with, amongst other things, an awareness of what is going on in the parallel universe of popular culture. It was no surprise, therefore, to read in the pages of Newsweek that Argue called his music “Steampunk big band music,” a reference to “the niche art movement that fantasises about modern tech innovations in the steam powered era.”
Argue successfully harnessed the power of the internet to launch his band and keep his followers abreast of his burgeoning career at http://www.secretsocietymusic.org. At the time of the interview he had just released his debut album Infernal Machines and we spoke about this in the afternoon prior to his evening concert at Moers, as well as the key influences on his style, such as Maria Schneider and the late Bob Brookmeyer, his composing aesthetic, the importance of jazz not loosing sight of what is going on in popular culture and how this is reflected in his music. We began by exploring his refreshingly inclusive musical vision.