Blowing in the wind
Trumpeter Danny DePoe says whether it's luck or fate that has brought him to Hong Kong, his life and music are falling into place
The seasoned punters who stalk the gaming halls of Macau are fond of leaning into your ear late at night and saying: "In life, son, you make your own luck." But Danny DePoe likes to share the credit for his own luck around.
Backtrack a few years and things were going according to plan for the Canadian musician. He had a cosy regular gig at an Italian restaurant in his native Toronto that was helping to fund the recording of an album, but when a new owner cut the restaurant's music programme, his life was suddenly left in limbo.
"Two days later and a call comes in saying that someone is looking for a trumpet player - and the first one who says yes, gets the gig," he says.
Needs must, as they say, and DePoe not long after found himself on stage at the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel's Bellini Lounge playing to the masses but looking around for opportunities at the same time.
"This was late 2011 and I started coming over to Hong Kong on my days off and exploring the scene over here. And that's how things all started," he says. "One thing led to another. Maybe it was luck. Most people would say it was fate or circumstance, but things have fallen into place."
The past two years have seen DePoe explore the outer limits of the music scene here, from gigging alongside fiancée Geneviève (Gigi) Marentette at the Four Seasons' Blue Bar, to mixing in all manner of influences when he takes control at places as diverse as the Mira hotel and Honi Honi Tiki Cocktail Lounge, sessions that can see the Canadian lean on his jazz background on trumpet, guitar and vocals, while weaving in live loops as he brings in his pop, rock and soul influences.
"The idea is not to be limited," says DePoe. "I think audiences here are really receptive to that and they allow you as a performer to just go where the mood might take you. That way I can play around with all the things I am into and really explore the sound."
DePoe first started playing the trumpet and singing with more serious intentions when he was about eight and his formal training took him through the Berklee College of Music, a background he says help set the stage for a career as a professional musician with a focus not only on performance but also on aspects of the trade such as the studio world and management.
"I wanted to play the trombone because my uncle was a professional trombone player," he says. "But when I auditioned for the school band, the band leader said I had an excellent ear for melody, I sang really well. He said I was in tune and my embouchure was really suited for the trumpet. And that was it."
Today we are talking while the sun beats down on a steamy mid-afternoon, and DePoe is being set up for our photo shoot, trumpet at the ready, and completely at ease as he takes in some shade. The influences on his trumpet playing, he says, are many, from Miles Davis ("Not just trumpet-wise but musically a genius"), through Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong and Harry "Sweets" Edison.
Back in Canada, DePoe won great acclaim for his lead role in a show which paid tribute to another true original - Time After Time: The Chet Baker Project. "It's more the bluesy soulful rhythmic guys than the technical showmen who have influenced me," he says. "It's about trying to make an original unique sound out of the instrument."
That search continues through his work as musical director for current projects by Canto-pop singer Jolie Chan and model/singer Rosemary Vandenbroucke, and through his own recordings, which can be found online via dannydepoe.bandcamp.com and soundcloud.com/dannydepoe
DePoe says Hong Kong has helped expand his musical horizons. "You get everybody from the electronic music scene coming through here," he says. "So I have got to meet and chat with people, and that has led to me working on some electronic ideas as well."
What has surprised DePoe - especially after arriving here from Macau, where tried-and-tested lounge acts are required by the casino crowd - has been the diversity of music available.
"What I first heard about Hong Kong was that there weren't that many trumpet players playing jazz - and that the scene was better than Macau. It's very different, very mixed," he says. "Audiences do enjoy live music, not just in clubs but at private events and functions. You don't necessarily get that in other parts of the world."
And he has been impressed by the commitment shown by the city's younger generation of musicians. "But what I do wish was that there was more of an indie band sort of scene. You sometimes see some kids down here in Central playing on the corner and you can see people are into it," DePoe says.
"There are a few places where you see that. So if there was a little bit more of a development or an embracing of that scene it would be cool. Clockenflap is there and on the way up. It will keep getting better so there is the support out there."
The DJ'ing side of DePoe's life is another aspect he is keen to explore, but in the live sense and when he returns to the recording studio. It is, he says, all about exploring every possibility. "There are so many kinds of music and I want to be involved in all of them. I don't think I could be really happy if I said I'm going to do this type of music and all other kinds of music aren't good. I can't relate to people who are like that - but [they are entitled] to their own opinion."