It’s been a thrill to get to know Paul Motian — who ends his MJQ Tribute week at the Village Vanguard tonight — a little bit over the last 12-13 years. He joined me on numerous occasions while I was at WKCR, and I’ve written three pieces about him — a long DownBeat feature in 2001, a verbatim WKCR interview on the now-defunct jazz.com website, and the blindfold test that I’ll paste below. We did this in the Carmine Street apartment of a friend of Paul’s (I could kill myself for not remembering his name right now, as he’s a nice, extremely knowledgeable guy and facilitated the encounter). This is the raw, unexpurgated pre-edit copy.
* * * * *
Paul Motian Blindfold Test:
1. Keith Jarrett-Peacock-deJohnette, “Hallucinations”, Whisper Not, (ECM, 2000) – (5 stars)
I’m familiar with all the players. I don’t know who it is. It’s not Bud Powell, obviously. …For a minute, I thought it was Keith Jarrett. [JARRETT GRUNTS] Okay, it’s Keith. I know who the drummer is, but I can’t… I could guess and say it’s Keith’s current trio, with Jack DeJohnette and Peacock. Five stars. They sounded nice, man. Good players. Taking care of business. I haven’t heard Keith play in that style since I don’t know when. So for a minute I was thinking that maybe it’s a really early Keith Jarrett record from when he was going to Berklee in Boston or something. I did think that. I met him when he was playing… Tony Scott called me up. He said, “Hey, man, I’ve got a gig for you at the Dom,” which was on 8th Street. I went down there with him and Keith was playing piano. That’s when I met him. I said, “Wow, the piano player is great. Who’s that?” He said, “Keith Jarrett. I just discovered him.” [LAUGHS] Henry Grimes was playing bass. And I played with him that night. That’s when I met him. But I thought that might be early because… Well, it took me a minute to recognize DeJohnette. [What didn’t you recognize?] Sort of his style of playing and not the sound. From what I heard from the sound, I didn’t know who it was. It sounded familiar, but I didn’t know who it was. [Maybe he wasn’t playing his drums.] Could have been. I’m pretty much going to give five stars to everybody. I think everybody sounds great. Why not? [But if you don’t think something sounds great, it would devalue the stuff to which you give five stars.] Okay, that’s all right. If I don’t give something 5 stars, does that mean I have go and buy the record?
2. Paul Bley, “Ida Lupino”, Plays Carla Bley (Steeplechase, 1991) [Bley, piano; Marc Johnson, bass; Jeff Williams, drums] – (5 stars)
[AFTER A FEW NOTES OF IMPROV] That’s Paul Bley. I wish I knew who the bass player was. That’s “Ida Lupino.” Paul Bley, five stars, man. Why not? He sounds great. I don’t think it’s me on drums, but it could be! I don’t know if I can get the bassist. Charlie Haden and I played with Paul Bley in Montreal. I’m wondering if this is that! Those ain’t my cymbals. [You played with the bass player.] [AFTER] Wow. Man, I left Bill Evans to play with Paul Bley. And when he heard about that, he was very happy. At that time, there was a lot happening. I’m talking about 1964. There was a lot going on in New York. The music was changing, there was some interesting stuff, and things were heading out into the future. And I felt like I was stuck with Bill and that it wasn’t happening with Bill out in California. So I just quit. I left the poor guy out there. What a drag I was. I left the guy on the road like that. My friend, my closest friend and companion and musician. [But you had to go.] Yeah, I wasn’t happy. I came back and got into stuff with Paul Bley. [Can you say what it is about Paul Bley that makes you recognize him quickly? Is it his touch?] Well, it’s everything. It’s the sound. Mostly sound, I guess. Style, touch, everything. [So you knew it was Jack DeJohnette because of his style, but with Paul here you knew…] No, I was more sure about it being Paul than I was sure about it being Jack.
3. Scott Colley, “Segment”, …subliminal (Criss-Cross 1997) [Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums; Chris Potter, tenor sax; Bill Carrothers, piano) – (5 stars)
[ON DRUM SOLO] Nice drums, whoever it is. I like it. I like it a lot. It’s 5 stars. But I don’t know who it is. [You have no idea who the tenor player is?] No. The first two or three notes I said, “Gee, maybe it’s Joe Lovano, but it’s not. I feel like I should know who they all are. But I don’t. [LAUGHS] I like the tune. What’s that tune called? [“Segment.”] Oh. I think I played that tune. [LAUGHS] [Yes, with Geri Allen and Charlie Haden.] No wonder. Wow. Nice. Nice sound, the drums and everything. [AFTER] Potter? No kidding. That sounded really good. Very together. Nice sound. I liked the sound on the drums, the way they’re tuned. I liked it.
4. Joey Baron, “Slow Charleston”, We’ll Soon Find Out (Intuition, 1999) [Baron, drums, composer; Arthur Blythe, alto sax; Bill Frisell, guitar; Ron Carter, bass] – (5 stars)
I have no idea who this is, but I still want to give this five stars. They’re all playing, they’re good musicians, and it’s great! [LAUGHS] Nice groove. [Any idea who the guitar player is?] No. I like it, though. [AFTER] I didn’t know Frisell could do that. He played with me for twenty years. I didn’t know he could do that. See, I don’t know if I would ever recognize Joey anyway. It’s good for me to find out stuff about these guys. I can put it to good use! I haven’t heard Arthur Blythe much at all.
5. Warne Marsh, “Victory Ball”, Star Highs (Criss Cross, 1982) [Marsh, tenor saxophone; Mel Lewis, drums; Hank Jones, piano; George Mraz, bass] – (5 stars)
[IMMEDIATELY] Warne Marsh. There was one particular night at the Half Note playing with Lennie Tristano, with Warne playing… He played some shit that night that was incredible! I’ll never forget it. That record came out a few years ago. Tuesday night was Lennie’s night off, and we played with no piano player or a substitute piano player, and that night it was Bill. [Any idea who the piano player is?] The way the piano player was comping, for a minute I said, “maybe it’s Lennie Tristano,” but it’s not. Everybody sounds so good! It’s great. I have a feeling the piano player is going to surprise me. Five stars. I should know who the drummer is, but I don’t. [AFTER] Wow. I am surprised at Hank Jones. He usually plays with more space. It was a great experience playing with Lennie Tristano. I had a great time. It was a period in my life when I was playing with a lot of people, and that was a little different than what I was used to doing, and it was very enjoyable, man. I was playing almost every night.
6. Satoko Fujii, “Then I Met You” , Toward, “To West” (Enja, 2000) [Fujii, piano, composer; Jim Black, drums; Mark Dresser, bass] – (5 stars)
It’s worth five stars just because of all the study the bass player had to do. There are more players playing now than when I got to New York, and at a good level. What I’m trying to say is that the music I listened to in the ’50s and stuff came from that time, and you listened to Prez and Bird and Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday and Max and Clifford Brown and Bud Powell. I could recognize any of that in a second. Now there are so many players and so many good ones. One thing that’s… I heard a few things in the piano sound that I know it’s a digital recording, which kind of bugs me. I still hear that kind of tingy thing… I’m almost 99% sure I can tell when it’s a digital recording or whether it’s a CD, or whether it’s an analog recording from an old LP. I mean, there’s a solo Monk record I bought when CDs first came out. I played it once and threw it away, man. It sounded like an electric piano. Five stars. One time I was playing at the Village Vanguard with Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro, and we were playing opposite Stiller and Meara. Stiller came up to me afterwards and said, “You guys are really brave with the music you’re playing, that you would get out in front of an audience and play that music. There’s a lot of heart in that, and you’re really brave to be doing that. I feel that’s five stars for these guys, with what they’re doing and where they want to take the music. [AFTER] I’ve never heard of her. I love what they’re trying to do.
7. Ornette Coleman, “Word For Bird”, In All Languages (Harmolodic-Verve, 1987) [Coleman, alto sax, composer; Billy Higgins, drums; Charlie Haden, bass; Don Cherry, tp.] – (5 stars)
Ornette. Sounds like Charlie on bass. Blackwell on drums. Oh. Higgins, I guess. Well, Charlie for sure! Couldn’t miss that. That’s not Cherry either, is it? It sounds like he’s playing the trumpet! It’s not that tiny pocket trumpet sound. It sounds like a regular trumpet. Now that I’ve stopped and thought about it and listened, it’s Cherry, all right. Five stars. More if there are any.
8. Lee Konitz, “Movin’ Around” , Very Cool (Verve 1957) [Shadow Wilson, drums, Konitz, as, Don Ferrara, tp, composer; Sal Mosca, piano; Peter Ind, bass] – (5 stars)
[I want you to get the drummer on this.] [LAUGHS] I recognize the beat. [SHRUGS] Lee Konitz. It’s got to have 5 stars right there. It’s always great when a drummer can play the cymbal and just from the feel of the beat make music out of it. With the trumpeter, I hear something like that, I hear a specific note, and I see a person’s face that I recognize, but I don’t know who it is! [LAUGHS] That means that I know who it is…but I don’t. [LAUGHS] The style is recognizable. It’s beautiful. I KNOW that drummer. Can I guess? how about the piano player being Sal Mosca? Oh, Jesus. Is the drummer Nick Stabulas, by any chance? [AFTER] Wow! I hung out with Shadow, but… [LAUGHS] No wonder there was so much music in just playing the cymbal! You dig? [LAUGHS] That’s great. That means the trumpet player might be Tony Fruscella, someone like that. Someone like Don…what was his name… [It’s Don Ferrara.] Yeah, so there you go. I don’t think I ever played with Don Ferrara. Is the bass player Peter Ind? So it’s an older record. Shadow was one of my favorite drummers, and to hear him play now after so many years and to see all the music that he played, just playing a cymbal! Shadow was a motherfucker. 20 stars. Shadow Wilson. Shit. That’s Shadow Wilson on that Count Basie record, “Queer Street,” where he plays that 4-bar introduction.
9. Billy Hart, “Mindreader”, Oceans of Time (Arabesque, 1996) – (5 stars) [Hart, drums; Santi DeBriano, bass, composer; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; John Stubblefield, tenor saxophone; Mark Feldman, violin; David Fiuczynski, guitar; Dave Kikoski, piano]
The piano and drums sound like they’re in tune with each other. I’ll try to take a guess and say that bass player is Mraz. [It’s the drummer’s record.] Yeah, I figured that out. I didn’t say anything, but… He’s the one who’s out front. Whoever did the composition and arrangement, it’s great. It reminds me of back in the ’60s when we were doing stuff with Jazz Composers Orchestra. This sounds like it could be something that came out of that. But this is more complicated somehow, more written stuff. There’s a lot of people involved, and it’s very good. So who’s the drummer? Nice drum sound. Nice tunings. Very melodic. Nice ideas. He deserves some credit, man, a big organization like that. There are a lot of good drummers out there now. I don’t know who it is. [This drummer is close to your generation.] He sounds like he’s been around the block a few times! [LAUGHS] [AFTER] I would never recognize any of that. The vibe is great. The record is great. Good for Billy. Five stars for sure. Look at all the work that went into that. That was great.
10. Danilo Perez, “Panama Libre”, Motherland (Verve 2000) [Perez, piano; Brian Blade, drums, Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar; John Patitucci, bass] – (5 stars)
If the drummer isn’t Max Roach, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, I’m not going to know them. Five stars just because of the way they’re fucking with the time. It’s not Pat Metheny, is it? He sounds familiar, too! [Well, there’s 2 degrees of separation of everybody in jazz with you.] I like people who play with dynamics. You don’t hear it very much! Another reason for five stars. I think I’ve played with this guitar player too. Are you sure I hired them? Another thing about drums… I don’t know who the drummer is, but on recordings, did you notice how Billy Hart was so much in front, and now this guy is mixed so far back? I guess I’m not going to get this either. It sounds so familiar, man! [AFTER] Kurt Rosenwinkel keeps improving. He started with me ten years ago, and now he’s out there on his own, he’s got his own band and everything. He’s writing nice stuff and playing better. I recorded with Danilo Perez way back, but I wouldn’t recognize him. But that’s why the guitar player sounded so familiar. I should have known that sound. I said that sound was so familiar!
11. Joe Lovano-Gonzalo Rubalcaba, “Ugly Beauty”, Flying Colors (Blue Note, 1997) – (5 stars) [Lovano, tenor saxophone; Rubalcaba, piano; Monk, composer]
Someone said that this was the only waltz that Monk ever wrote. Okay, let’s figure out who this is. Okay, Lovano. [But you’ve also played and recorded with the pianist.] Oh, Gonzalo. I recognized Lovano. But when I was in England recently on tour with an English band, and I walked into the club to set up, and they were playing a CD, and I heard the saxophone and I heard it for two or three notes, and I said, “That’s Lovano.” The engineer said, “No, it’s not.” I said, “Oh yes, it is.” “No, it’s not.” “Oh, yes, it is.” And it wasn’t. I don’t know if I would have recognized Gonzalo except for the fact that I knew Joe had done a duo record with him. Man, five stars. Are you kidding? Everything’s going to be five stars. I can’t renege now. Joe’s great, man. So’s Gonzalo. They sound nice together.
12. Joanne Brackeen, “Tico, Tico”, Pink Elephant Magic (Arkadia, 1998) [Brackeen, piano; Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, drums; John Patitucci, bass] – (5 stars)
“Tico, Tico” in 5/4 time. Five-four, five stars! No idea who the drummer is. Maybe I should listen a little bit! [AFTER] That was interesting. They deserve five stars for sure. Was it Al Foster? I’m just guessing. [Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.] I’ve never heard of him.
13. Ralph Peterson, “Skippy”, Fotet Plays Monk (Evidence, 1997) [Peterson, drums; Steve Wilson, soprano sax; Brian Carrott, vibes; Belden Bullock, bass] – (5 stars)
“Skippy” by Thelonious Monk. I was going to say Steve Lacy, but no, it’s not his sound. Five stars just for playing a Monk tune! [AFTER] I would never have known them. The treatment was okay. It seemed like they just went straight-ahead and played the tune. That’s a hard tune, man. Even anybody to attempt that tune deserves five stars, for Chrissake. Steve Lacy says all you have to do is know how to play “Tea For Two” and you can play “Skippy,” but I don’t believe him. I said, “Man, ‘Skippy,’ that’s a hard tune.” He said, ‘Well, it’s ‘Tea for Two.'” I tried to sing “Tea For Two” along with it, but… [LAUGHS]
14. Bud Powell-Oscar Pettiford-Kenny Clarke, “Salt Peanuts”, The Complete Essen Jazz Festival Concert (Black Lion, 1960) [start with 3:46 left] – (5 stars)
That’s “Salt Peanuts” and it was a nice drum solo, but I don’t know who the players are. [You played with one of them.] You keep saying that! I guess it wasn’t the drummer. It probably was the bass player. I don’t know the piano player. I guess because of the live recording, the sound wasn’t as great as it could have been. [Play “Blues In The Closet.”] This is the same piano player? Almost sounds like Oscar Pettiford. I played with him in 1957 at Small’s Paradise for a couple of weeks. I went down south with him with his big band to Florida and Virginia. 1957, man! Wow, that was something else. Mostly black cats; Dick Katz was playing piano and Dave Amram was in the band. Jesus, maybe it is Bud Powell. Is it? So it’s a later Bud Powell. The drummer is Kenny Clarke. That’s the same people as on “Salt Peanuts”? That’s not really Kenny Clarke’s drum sound. [Maybe it wasn’t his drums] It didn’t sound like it. It sounded kind of dead. Max Roach got a lot from Kenny Clarke. All those cats got shit from Sid Catlett, too. He was a motherfucker, Sid Catlett. Five stars. Oscar Pettiford, man! After I was playing with Oscar, he split and went to Europe and was playing there, and I got a telegram from his wife saying “Oscar sent me a telegram and said I should call you and get in touch with you, and you should go right away to Baden-Baden, Germany, and play with Oscar.” I was playing with Lennie Tristano at the Half Note. I couldn’t get up and leave. There was no plane ticket! But he liked me. I was quite honored. People said, “You played with OP? Man, he’s death on drummers. How are you doing that?” I had at the time 7A drumsticks. After one set one time, Oscar came over and looked at my drumstick and started bending it. He said, “Man, what the fuck kind of stick is that? Go get you some sticks!”
I think it’s great that there’s really quite a few good young players on the scene now. It’s quite encouraging. I think it’s good for jazz. There may be a lot of them around. It’s great.