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Pianist and Composer Kait Dunton Joins John D'earth at Capital Ale House

Kait Dunton plays the piano in front of a live audience.
Image by Peter Figen

Los Angeles-based composer and pianist, Kait Dunton remembers clearly the day she met composer and trumpeter, John D'earth. “I came to UVA and I found out there was a jazz ensemble,” Dunton recalls in an interview with VPM Jazz host Peter Solomon. It was in an audition for this jazz ensemble that Dunton first met D’earth. “He very kindly said, ‘Hey, you sound great, but you should take some lessons.’” Little did Dunton know she would one day create an album with John D'earth.

Planet DearthPlanet D’earth is Dunton’s sixth and most recent album, featuring her inventive arranging style. Dunton thought of John for Planet D’earth from the start. “I could write so well with him in mind because his musical voice has been so important for me,” said Dunton. D’earth’s voice became so important to Dunton’s musical process while she studied with him at UVA. “He had this incredible evening class where people who didn't know how to improvise would just all get together and bring their instruments,” said Dunton. “It was everything I needed along with those piano lessons to just get where I wanted to go.” 

Dunton credits her success in D’earth’s class to his encouragement. “Anyone who has met John just knows what a passion he has for teaching,” said Dunton. “I found this old journal where I was saying, ‘Oh my gosh, you won't believe this. But my teacher said he really hears something in what I'm doing.’ And yet I personally didn't know what he was talking about.” Dunton found D’earth’s belief in her especially encouraging because she had not had anyone affirm her musical talents before. “I didn't have anyone telling me that kind of stuff until I met John. He was the one who really pushed me to go continue and get the masters. I probably wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for him.”

Since D'earth’s tutelage, Dunton went on to receive accolades for her unconventional approach to composition. DownBeat wrote in 2018 that “Dunton brings Technicolor sensibility to everything she touches.” With "Planet D'earth", Dunton intended to feature her inventive arranging style and she needed her mentor, John D'earth to bring it to life. “So I just made the phone call to John,” said Dunton. Of course, D'earth was “into” the idea of creating an album so Dunton said, “Let's plan it out.”

D'earth and Dunton brought on Dane Alderson on bass, Jake Reed on drums and Bob Mintzer on sax to play on Planet D'earth. While Dunton composed the majority of the album, D'earth wrote two of the songs on the record. “We also did this little Coda at the end where John and I just played together,” said Dunton. “We didn't even really rehearse that. We just said, Hey, let's just do this real fast. This is recorded. And it turned out it was so great. That was a really great moment too.” 

Planet D'earth reached #9 on the jazz radio charts and even made it on the ballot for the 62nd Grammys. Friday, October 18th at 8:00 p.m., Dunton will be playing with D'earth, Alderson, Reed, and saxophonist JC Kuhl in Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House. Dunton said, “It’s really nice that I’m able to still come back and be with these people and experience this energy again.”