Dave Douglas takes his responsibilities as a jazz ambassador seriously. In celebrating his 50th birthday, the prolific trumpeter announced a plan to perform in all 50 states, a campaign promise that even well-heeled presidential candidates rarely fulfill.
"It's such a huge challenge," Douglas says. "I've visited a lot of parts of the country I've never been to and played for enthusiastic audiences, including where they're not supposed to be. We're at about 30 now, and I'm definitely not going to get to 50 before the end of the year."
A midcareer master widely recognized as one of the definitive horn players of his generation, Douglas certainly can scratch California off his list. He performs Sunday at Gardener Ranch in Carmel Valley in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Big Sur Land Trust, Monday at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz, and Wednesday at the Glen Deven Ranch Center for Nature, Art and Inspiration in Big Sur as part of a benefit for the Monterey Jazz Festival's jazz education programs and the Big Sur Land Trust Youth Camps (the event includes a reception, concert, and full-moon hike with the band to a Pacific Ocean overlook).
"One of the amazing blessings of playing this music is that I've gone to some of the most incredible places," says Douglas, who was the longtime director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in the Canadian Rockies.
The Big Sur performances are a prelude to his engagement as the Monterey Jazz Festival's showcase artist, a role that includes a weeklong residency at the Glen Deven Ranch with his quintet featuring bassist Linda Oh, drummer Rudy Royston, pianist Matt Mitchell, and tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, best known as a member of the theatrical quintet Mostly Other People Do the Killing and as the winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition (the band also performs Sept. 20 at the fairgrounds).
While the destination isn't exactly part of his 50th birthday tour, Douglas' most anticipated trip this year takes him to the luminous galaxy known as Wayne Shorter, a vast and harmonically mysterious realm emanating from jazz's most revered living composer. In 2012, Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano, the Monterey Jazz Festival's artist-in-residence this year, launched Sound Prints, a quintet christened after a Lovano composition conceived as a reflection on Shorter's classic tune "Footprints."
Pleased that the band was generating original music rather than reinterpreting his tunes, Shorter agreed to write several pieces for a Monterey Jazz Festival commission, and Sound Prints premieres the saxophonist's "Destination Unknown" and "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" on Sept. 21 in the main arena. Featuring Oh, veteran drum master Joey Baron, and rising young pianist Lawrence Fields, Sound Prints has performed widely over the past year, often sharing a bill with Shorter's celebrated quartet (which closes the festival Sept. 22).
The saxophonist had a chance to give the Sound Prints players his handwritten scores in person back stage at New York City's Town Hall in June before a concert celebrating his 80th birthday. While he presented the musicians with extensive, detailed and in some cases even completely notated scores, Oh says Shorter made it clear that the sheet music was "just a guide. He wrote a lot of intricate bass lines and indicated they were a guide. He was explaining the piece, talking it through, and the concept was writing more so we can take away what we need."
Born in Malaysia to ethnic Chinese parents, the New York-based Oh is a rapidly rising star who's performed widely around the West Coast with the Le Boeuf Brothers. She just released her second album as a leader on Douglas' Greenleaf Music label, "Sun Pictures." An impressive quartet session recorded live to 2-track, the album adds heft to an already weighty roster of releases by the likes of Santa Cruz-raised tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and the hugely influential quartet Kneebody.
It's difficult to overstate Douglas' influence as a player, composer, catalyst and insistently creative bandleader. The quintet he brings to the Monterey Bay area has honed a singular repertoire interpreting traditional American hymns and spirituals, a concept introduced on the 2012 album "Be Still" with the great newgrass vocalist Aoife O'Donovan. He followed up in April with an instrumental session featuring his original pieces inspired by the plain-spoken traditional melodies.
"The music we're playing now is a really interesting mix of modern jazz and rearrangements of traditional hymns," Douglas says. "I think there's this competition between extreme complexity and extreme simplicity in the music these days. I've always like the place where extremes can play off each other."
DAVE DOUGLAS QUINTET
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St.,