John and Marie LaBarbera Fellow


“I went through a long period in high school and college where I didn't think of myself as a composer. Partly, this is because I had a hard time finding musicians willing/able to work with new and challenging ideas. As my technique as a performer grew, though, I was able to write music for myself... A real light bulb moment came for me when the renowned jazz composer John Hollenbeck did a residency at my university… He showed us how he would set up a game or puzzle and write sometimes four or five versions of the same piece, not knowing ahead of time what it would sound like. This was a big moment for me, as I had started to think many of my experiments were dalliances and that real composers only wrote what they heard in their head and they knew how it would turn out from start to finish. When I realized that successful composition could be a process of continual discovery and surprise, I was hooked.”

— Danny Gouker


Danny is a trumpet player currently in Brooklyn, New York, where he is active in the improvised music scene. He released his debut album in 2014 on the pfMentum record label with Signal Problems, a long-standing group with a unique way of improvising, guided by Danny’s compositions. He leads additional projects under his name, featuring his compositions: “DG’s Misfit Toys”, and “DG’s Dog and Pony Show” and has released a recording for 3 trumpets and 3 basses entitled “Sanctuary” on the pfMENTUM label in the fall of 2017. He is active as a sideman and contributor in numerous groups, including Will McEvoy’s Curriculum Quextet, Dustin Carlson’s Air Ceremony, and the Wing Walker Orchestra. Danny also curates a weekly improvised music series in Brooklyn, A.E. Randolph Presents, which has presented over 100 musicians from around the world since 2015.

Guided by great bands and bandleaders throughout the history of jazz, Danny is particularly interested in the ways in which musicians can develop as a group. When looking for inspiration, he looks to the ways composers/bandleaders like Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Henry Threadgill, Duke Ellington, and Ornette Coleman crafted not only beautiful compositions, but also created one-of-a-kind ensembles to play said music.

Danny is also active in education and a wider understanding of the arts in society.  Since the fall of 2013 he has served on the national faculty for The Art of Science Learning, a NSF funded project investigating the link between art and science education and has co-founded SFZ Creative, a group that uses improvisation to help organizations practice innovative behaviors.