November 15, 2012
He’s a piano teacher and an accomplished jazz impresario. He has his own internet radio station that he uses to connect with like-minded jazz aficionados worldwide. In the 80s, he played in a Scottish hair metal band that recorded for the BBC and rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Sharon Osbourne, the latter of whom suggested he might be happier packing his bags and returning home to Indiana. He’s recorded six solo albums in styles ranging from worldbeat to avant garde. He plays around town regularly with his own jazz trio. This last summer he participated in a jazz festival in Fort Wayne’s sister city in Poland and is planning a possible trip to another jazz festival near Bangalore, India, just to hang out and meet people. Now at the age of 50 and suffering from Crohn’s disease, Dave Latchaw is still going strong and is still excited about the same music he got into as a teenager.
“[I’m] just lucky that I’m still doing music full time. I like teaching and I still feel like a full-time student myself,” says Latchaw. “I’m still as curious about music today at 50 as I was as a teenager. Music rules.”
A native of Kendallville and graduate of East Noble High School, an elder schoolmate of Latchaw first introduced him to the jazz fusion and progressive rock music that was prevalent in the 70s and fueled his interest in music. He cites diverse artists such as Chick Corea, the Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and Yes that sustained his interest during the otherwise disco-drenched era.
After graduating high school, Latchaw pursued a degree in music education from Indiana University and eventually found himself moving overseas to join his then-wife who was stationed abroad in the U.S. Navy. While there, he auditioned for and landed a keyboardist spot in the Heat, a Scottish hair metal band which was gaining a fair amount of attention from the British press at the time.
“I just happened to be in the right place in the right time,” Latchaw says of landing the gig with the Heat. “We were in some of the big European magazines like Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, and Raw.”
The Heat may have seemed like the next big thing at the time, but their breakthrough never happened. Latchaw returned home after his manager failed to renew his British work visa, and the band broke up a few months afterwards. While Latchaw’s departure may not have been entirely of his own choosing, by the time it happened, he says, he had begun to grow tired of the band, and a chance run-in with none other than Sharon Osbourne had already made him reconsider his career path.
“We were one of the few unsigned bands to ever record for the BBC ... and the two other unsigned bands to do that before us were Led Zeppelin and Def Leppard,” he says. “You know, you have your foot in the door, but how long do you bang your head against the wall? And after hanging out with Sharon, she said that [her husband] Ozzy Osbourne would be like Ozzy regardless of if he was famous or not. And I was a piano player from Indiana hanging out in the British rock scene, but I really wanted to play jazz the whole time. I can play all styles of music, but my first love and passion is really jazz.”
And jazz is what he’s primarily pursued since his return to the U.S. in 1990. Latchaw’s most recent experience that he cites as a career highlight was another international journey. Last summer, he spent a week in Fort Wayne’s sister city of Plock, Poland, participating in a jazz festival there.
“They put me up in a fancy hotel there, and I taught during the day for about four hours,” he says. “And one of the leaders of the festival and the workshops had a jazz fusion group called Three Jazz Soldiers, and I played in that group, so I was an honorary jazz soldier for the week. It was about nine hours a day doing music over there.”
In between the Heat and the Polish jazz festival, Latchaw has launched an internet radio station that keeps him in touch with jazz heads nationally and worldwide. And his Polish experience has motivated him to seek more opportunities playing with his jazz trio and possibly touring.
“I’m starting to pursue more band stuff. This past summer, playing with the Three Jazz Soldiers [inspired me] to write some original stuff and to play with my current working trio and start trying to get out of Dodge,” he says. “I’ve had some opportunities to play out of the country and do some bigger things. And I just feel like after all these years of practicing and studying and whatnot I just want to go compete with people doing what I do, but at that level.”
Currently, Latchaw continues to teach and gig frequently with his jazz trio at places such as Club Soda and Skully’s Boneyard. He’s also recorded a series of six full-length albums of often-improvisational jazz. Fans of fusion musicians such as Bitches Brew era Miles Davis and postmodern composers such as John Zorn and Bill Laswell (the latter of whom Latchaw cites as an influence) may find interest in his experimental and free-ranging recordings, which are available on his website.
When asked what it is about jazz music that continues to excite him after all these years, Latchaw says simply that it’s the creative freedom allowed by the genre.
“It’s the improvisation aspect to it. I feel like I can play in any context, and if I know what the harmonic structure is, I can play a part that will fit just about any situation,” says Latchaw. “So for being an improvising musician, I think jazz is the thing that really gets me excited about playing music. It’s the freedom that excites me about playing jazz.”