King of the World

Calling Dave King, drummer for The Bad Plus, on the eve of his triumphal homecoming

Reaching Dave King can be problematic. Not just because his band, The Bad Plus, may be in New York one week and Istanbul the next. Or because he’s also in a half-dozen other bands, from free-jazz heroes Happy Apple to instrumental-pop revivalists Junk Magic, who sound like the cantina band from Star Wars (“We’re bringing the sound back!” he says). No, sometimes it’s just because the world-class percussionist from Golden Valley, celebrated this month in the “King for Two Days” concerts at the Walker Art Center, can’t get his cell phone to work.

MM: What’s with your phone?
DK: It only works on speaker-phone at the moment. I’ve been having a lot of public conversations.

MM: On your voicemail greeting, you’re singing Surrender. Ever wanted to be that rare beast, the singing drummer, like Phil Collins?
DK: No one who’s heard me sing wants me to be that. But while Phil Collins may wear pleated pants and do horrible Disney songs, the most iconic drum fill is definitely from “In the Air Tonight.”

MM: While most teenagers were listening to Phil Collins, you were into atonal jazz.
DK: I liked John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. I’ve always been interested in the one wild-card guy doing his own thing.

MM: How’s that worked out for you?
DK: Let’s just say I’ve been the wrong musician for many scenarios in my life. For instance, there aren’t too many people interested in avant-garde wedding music.

MM: Now you’re being feted at the Walker.
DK: The Walker was incredibly important in my development as an improviser. Contemporary art is all about trial and error, and there’s nothing wrong with going for something and not landing it—there’s drama in that.

MM: If your arms fell off tomorrow, what else would you do with your life?
DK: I’d probably still try to make music. I’m not useful in any other way.