Category Archives: Drummer

For Jeff Watts’ 56th Birthday, A DownBeat Article From 2002 and an Uncut Blindfold Test From 2004

In honor of master drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts’ 56th birthday, I’ve appended two pieces that it was my honor to write about him for DownBeat more than a decade. On top is a Downbeat feature piece written on the occasion of his second release, Bar Talk, in 2002 (the Zinc Bar, which figures prominently in the piece, was then on the north side of Houston Street). Below it is an uncut Blindfold Test that Jeff did with me in 2004.

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Jeff Watts (DownBeat):

When he isn’t on the road with Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker or his own increasingly busy group, Jeff “Tain” Watts often plays in the cramped environs of Manhattan’s Zinc Bar, a low-ceilinged shotgun basement on the north edge of Soho where an international mix of New York’s finest workshop various projects. In the front section, patrons and waitresses vie for elbow room in a narrow aisle between a well-stocked bar and a long line of dime-sized banquette tables. The tables run past a 10’-by-5’ performance area between the waitress station and a sheetrock wall that conceals a pair of dimly lit restrooms. No matter how esoteric the material, the bands never stray too far from a groove of one diasporic origin or another, the better to keep the party going. Watts knows how to play the room and push the envelope as well as anyone.

The Zinc Bar’s skronky-cosmopolitan ambiance figures prominently in Bar Talk (Columbia), Watts’ 2002 release. Consider the CD’s cover photo. Shot in tones of boudoir red, Watts, in a leather jacket, perches over a drink, perhaps anticipating a round of conversation with Jean-Claude Rakotoniaina, a Madagascarian charmer and bon vivant who until recently mixed and poured $10 mojitos, caporinhas and martinis to a varied clientele. Watts signifies their profound banter—“He’d say, ‘Tain, you are the man’; I’d be like, ‘No, J.C., you know you’re the man!’”—on “JC Is The Man,” a singable five-note hook propelled by the drummer’s urgent, insouciant beat.

“Vodville,” which follows, celebrates another archetype of bar culture. Dedicated to the principle “in vodka, veritas,” it opens with onomatopoeic variations on “Giant Steps” by Branford Marsalis. This, Watts explains, “symbolizes the early stages of drunkenness, when guys suddenly are enlightened and aware of deep things.” There follows an abstract minor blues form where, “the conversation becomes more base; the time starts to slip around; the tempo speeds up; then the drunkard tries to make his way home, perhaps in denial about his drunkenness. In the third part the guy’s at home, drunk again, trying to cop a plea and pledging not to do this any more. Of course, the cycle starts all over again.”

For the remainder of Bar Talk, Watts eschews further exploration of the nuances of lush life. But he frames himself with an assortment of environments—a Brazil-inflected paean to Stevie Wonder; a tenor burnout by his two primary sources of income; a nasty blues; two harmonically luxuriant ballads; a post-bop evocation of Billy Higgins; even a contemporary-styled tune with a torchy lyric—that artfully convey the range of skills, predispositions and stylistic idiosyncracies that make Watts perhaps the most influential hardcore jazz drummer of his generation. He’s a storyteller, adept at extracting melodic motifs from challenging harmony and weaving his signature metric shifts and superimpositions organically into the form. He’s a drum virtuoso who plays with volcanic flash, but also intuitive taste, and he sustains a constant dialogue with bandmates Ravi Coltrane, David Budway and Paul Bollenbeck. On the heels of his 2000 leader debut, Citizen Tain, Bar Talk documents how deftly Watts, 42, has morphed himself from flow-shaping celebrity sideman to leader with an inclusive vision.

“I’m still trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing in general!” Watts exclaims with a raucous laugh from his spacious Brooklyn apartment. A video of the Miles Davis Quintet, circa 1967, flickers on the television. “I want to be able to interface with almost any type of musician. Stretch jazz vocabulary abstractly, but keep elements that are heartfelt and centered—music anyone can understand—and always keep what’s raw. I want to deal with the whole world rhythmically. As drummers, our prime function is rhythm. So we should know as many as we can.

“I’ve questioned my rationale for writing music or addressing stuff on the instrument that isn’t straightahead jazz,” he continues. “It took me a long time to resolve this. Maybe because I felt for so long like I was in the trenches trying to save the world with jazz, there’s an unspoken guilt about loving a simple song with three chords, or one groove and two fills. But when you analyze things in fusion or things Miles Davis did that people find questionable, often it comes down to a different base rhythm. But if there’s a dance and invention and interaction and a group sound and a certain level of quality, then the jazz thing is still there.”

Perhaps Watts retains a fresh attitude to jazz became he discovered it so late. Immersed in funk, r&b and fusion as a Pittsburgh teenager, he matriculated at Duquesne University as a classical percussion student, anticipating a future in the studios. Then he met Steel City trapset giant Roger Humphries, transitioned from a devotee of Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu and George Duke into, as he puts it, “a jazz head,” and transferred to Berklee College of Music. There, Watts encountered a cast of talented, ambitious peer-groupers—including Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Greg Osby, Kevin Eubanks, Wallace Roney, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Cindy Blackman and Gene Jackson—eager to investigate the future upon a solid bedrock of tradition. In the fall of 1981, Marsalis, aware that his trumpet-playing younger brother was looking for a drummer to play a few gigs, recommended his friend.

“I always felt that Tain was the guy,” Branford says. “I liked how he constructed his comping behind soloists at jam sessions. As opposed to being a complete, thorough historian of the music and playing all the right things at the right time, he played strange things at the right time, imposing his fusion influences on a jazz context. I appreciated that and thought it would be great for Wynton’s band.”

“My brother liked Tain,” Wynton Marsalis recalls. “There were no auditions. Kenny Kirkland had an apartment, and we started rehearsing. At that time, they knew about jazz and kind of liked it, but they were mainly into fusion. I was into jazz. I liked Tain because he was funny, but he has a phenomenal level of talent and intellect. He’s a master of form, with perfect pitch and tremendous reflexes. Over the years, he developed a vocabulary that only he plays. All those pieces with time changes and different meters came from playing off of him, because he could do it. It forced me to shape my lines that way, too.”

“When Wynton started his thing, we stepped up the learning game,” Branford says. “Tain talked to Tony Williams and hung out with Art Blakey. He hooked his stuff up. When we first got to New York, he didn’t know how to play four-on-the-floor. His cymbal sound was OK, kind of splashy. He would hit the cymbal for hours, getting that together. Then he spent time learning Max’s stuff, then Art Blakey’s, one person by one person. The more you do that, the more sophisticated your language becomes, so eventually you can play almost anything. But on top of that, he was doing it his own way.”

Watts describes himself as less apt to break down his major influences stroke-for-stroke than to create something that outlines their essence. “Perhaps I’ve helped people to operate within the tradition but also independently of the tradition,” he notes. “Early study in jazz drumming tends to focus on bebop because it was so codified. Each guy had a signature vocabulary—a certain set of licks—that you can use to try to create the illusion of being melodic over a form. You can get hung up on someone like Philly Joe Jones, and it dictates how you approach a tune. I gravitated to drummers like James Black, Ben Riley, Frankie Dunlop and Papa Jo Jones, who aren’t out of any specific bag, but just swing and make commentary. This freed me up. Wynton pretty much specifically asked me to find things that Tony Williams didn’t play. We used that music and got ideas from it, but it was important to work on a voice.”

That voice has inspired two generations of esthetic descendants as a gateway into jazz lineage. Watts combined the vocabulary of Billy Cobham and Narada Michael Walden with the vocabulary of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. He found ways to codify the equations of metric modulation, or pure polyrhythm (Vinnie Colaiuta defines this as “playing an alienated group of notes evenly dispersed throughout a given number of beats”), into a consistent improvisational style. “During my second year at Berklee, I skimmed Gary Chaffee’s books and figured every polyrhythm that I would need,” Watts says. “Once again, rather than learning all the specifics, I made my own decisions. That informed the more linear style of my earlier playing with Wynton.

He sings a rhythm with an abstracted second-line feel to demonstrate his point. “Kenny Kirkland would comp that a lot in Wynton’s band to give things a disjunct feeling. People call it playing five, but it isn’t. It’s playing eighth notes grouped in five; it goes over the bars, resolves in a different place, and makes the music flow differently. By 1984, I wanted to do some things that transcended jazz vocabulary, and I started to experiment, play a pure five beats or seven beats over four beats or three beats. To this day, a few recordings are really radical on that end, like Live At Blues Alley and parts of Marsalis Standard Time, Vol.1, as well as Gary Thomas’ first record and Geri Allen’s The Nurturer. It’s like a 20th century classical music device, and it’s evolved and become more complex. People aren’t afraid now to use pure polyrhythm for the ensemble or for soloing.”

Still, the fact that Watts became a household name among jazz cognoscenti during the first decade of his career had less to do with what he played than with whom he played it. He remained with Wynton Marsalis until 1987, went on the road with George Benson and McCoy Tyner, rejoined forces with Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland after their sojourn with Sting, and moved with them to Los Angeles in 1992 for what became a three-year stint on Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show.” Out of the fray, Watts began to compose, figuring out ways to translate his take on modern trapset vocabulary into the compelling narrative he presents on Bar Talk.

“I had fun for maybe the first year-and-a-half—and then it became a job,” Watts relates. “I was in purgatory. But looking back, it was almost like a paid sabbatical. Wynton was always encouraging me. He said, ‘Write it, and if it’s halfway done, we’ll play it and make it right.’ But I didn’t have a lot of theoretical knowledge, and I was shy about composition for a long time. If I’d stayed in New York I might not have had the time to open myself up and pursue it. Being denied a lot of playing opportunities and access to a pool of musicians made me focus on other routes. And living next door to Kenny Kirkland was not a bad impetus.”

“Kenny and Jeff would work from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., then they could leave and do whatever the hell they wanted,” Branford says. “They were always in one another’s houses. Kenny had the Mac set up with the software, Tain would go in, and they would just write tunes, work on things, and play gigs from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., maybe get a full eight hours sleep, and still wake up in time to get to work.”

During the ’80s, Watts had supplemented polyrhythmic explorations with tutorials in Afro-Cuban music from Kirkland; these led to marathon master class listening sessions and occasional gigs with Jerry and Andy Gonzales. He continued his homework in L.A.’s dynamic Latin community. “I sat down with people, got some specifics and actually implemented the vocabulary,” Watts says. “Playing Latin music is a bridge to an African sensibility. It helps you get away from bar lines and conventional phrases; you feel a basic heartbeat, but then you cut it up. You have the freedom to create from nothing—a personal world of music with just the drums.”

Watts resettled in New York in 1995, well-prepared to tackle the Pan-American rhythmic mix of Danilo Perez, with whom he played and recorded for two years. “Tain had done enough homework where now it was just a matter of execution,” Branford says. “He was able to apply what he had already peeped and find out if things worked or not. Danilo was smart enough to hear that Tain would bring more of a jazz dynamic than most Afro-Cuban drummers.”

“People will always emphasize authenticity,” Watts says. “But some Latin and quasi-ethnic folk call me because they also want something that doesn’t sound like what they’ll get from somebody from their country. Now I’m not afraid to add some American stuff or things I make up. People are taking chances compositionally, and you want to make it sound real within the first 10 minutes, to let them know they’re on the right track.”

Watts put some Tainian mojo on a recent no-rehearsal hit at the Zinc Bar with an Afro-Jazz sextet led by Nigerian-American bassist and Jazz Messenger alumnus Essiet Essiet. He propelled the band with four-limbed variations on a set of vernacular juju rhythms that Essiet had shown him a few years earlier, ratcheting the intensity, conjuring from the trapset a sound not unlike that of the talking drum choir with King Sunny Ade and his African Beats.

His playing recalled a comment by Brecker, Watts’ frequent employer since 1997 and himself an avid drummer. “Tain has come up with a new language on the drums,” Brecker says. “When I’m not playing, I stand next to him every night, transfixed, and hope some of it will sink in. Sometimes I think I understand it, then when I sit down at the drums, I can’t do it.”

On “Like A Rose,” the final track of Bar Talk, Brecker constructs an ingenious variation on a stutter-step rhythmic modulation that occurs after the bridge, a construction inspired by Meshuggah, a Swedish heavy metal band Watts admires. The leader brings forth his soulful alter ego, Juan Tainish, to sing an affecting lyric reflecting the side of Watts “that’s almost corny, that loves unapologetically sweet things, like Stevie Wonder and Elton John ballads.” He wrote it on the road last year after a nostalgic conversation with Sting – appropriately, at the bar – at the Central Park after-concert party during Sting’s Desert Rain tour.

Watts and Sting go back to Sting’s ‘80s quasi-jazz period with Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland, when Watts unsuccessfully auditioned for the band. “In those years, when I was immersed in jazz, I listened to a lot of things, but kept a mental log rather than actually address stuff I’d want to incorporate into a contemporary style down the road,” he says. “Branford had been telling me about the audition for months. But I was a wild and crazy guy, and as the months went by I was just in the street doing my thing and doing my jazz gigs. The night before, I went to Branford’s house, grabbed four Police records, put them on cassette, went to the rehearsal the next day and jammed with Sting, Darryl Jones and Branford. To make that transition at that point of my life, I would have had to spend some time.”

Fifteen years later, Watts remarks: “I want to practice a lot, and see what happens if I’m studious and conscientious. I might as well find out before I’m 50. Most of what I’ve done has been through musicianship as opposed to technique. I want to change my approach and get better purely in a drumming way; instrumentally, I want to refine everything and not be limited by lack of preparation.”

Well aware of what he’s accomplished, Watts anticipates his next phase. “Dave Holland said in Down Beat a few years ago that he writes tunes, records them and plays them on the road to find out what he can do on them. He uses that knowledge to determine what he writes later. I look forward to being in that artistic cycle. I get a percentage of it from my very close sideman associations, because I usually end up shaping the rhythm. But being able to write stuff, get it recorded and play it with people you choose—having control entirely over your musical world—is a cool thing.”

 

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Jeff Watts Blindfold Test (2004):

1. Chucho Valdes, “Sin Clave Para Con Swing” (from NEW CONCEPTION, Blue Note, 2002) (Valdes, piano, composer; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, congas; Lazaro Rivero Alarcón, bass; Ramses Rodriguez Baralt, trap drums) – (2-1/2 stars)

That’s like some quasi-progressive, Latin-based… I guess a lot of stuff that I began to become aware of maybe in the early ‘90s, people utilizing odd time signatures but still retaining clave structure. It comes into some of my writing, some arrangements I do, and of course, on “The Impaler.” It’s stuff I got from talking with various, mostly Cuban musicians, and also stuff that Danilo Perez started to experiment with, maybe in conjunction with but maybe as a reaction to stuff that was going on in Cuba. It’s a logical progression. If you have Latin jazz musicians listening to early jazz… It’s mostly a combination of fusion and what happened with jazz in New York in the ‘80s, stuff that we were experimenting with in Wynton’s group, and also Steve take on permutations of structure and time. So it’s a natural progression with Latin jazz musicians to try to use this to get to something else or whatever. Sometimes it really works and it feels natural; sometimes it can be kind of gimmicky. But I think that the end result of this experimentation will be down the road, probably in the next five or ten years.

But this particular one? It was cool. There’s kind of a problem that exists with…well, even in a lot of jazz tunes. Not enough of the material that’s used for the exposition is actually improvised on. And it’s cool. It’s not etched in stone. Something can be an introduction to something, to take you into a vibe, and then cats can solo on whatever material they choose. I kind of prefer when it actually uses some of the material that’s in the exposition. But it’s fine. I really don’t know who it is, though. Pianistically, it didn’t sound strong enough to be someone like Chucho, but then again, it could be. And I’m not familiar enough with his writing to say that it’s him. It’s definitely not Danilo. It didn’t strike me as being someone like Ed Simon or even Luis Perdomo. Those are the obvious culprits that come to mind. I’m not really sure who it is. It was just coming from a whole lot of places. Then there’s the little swinging kind of section on one chord that comes in, and it’s just kind of there… I’d be interested to know if this is part of a suite or if it’s just a straight-out composition.

The drums were fine. It’s not someone like El Negro, and I don’t think it’s Robbie Ameen, and I’m very sure that it’s not Dafnis. There’s like a couple of different schools of this type of drumming that are around. Those guys I just mentioned, even though they have very different styles, were they want the drumset to come from is more folkloric, as opposed to… From the sound and instrument choices, this feels like someone reinterpreting, for an example, I’ll say Dave Weckl’s contribution to that style or whatever. It’s more of a fusiony style, more somehow American-sounding than folkloric sounding, just from the choices of drums and cymbals and the way that they played. Do I have to give this stars? [LAUGHS] Unfortunately, 2 stars compositionally and 3 for the performance. So 2-1/2 stars. [AFTER] It was Chucho?!!? Sorry, bro. It’s from his last record ? I’ll pick it up. I know there’s some stuff on there somewhere.

2. Donald Harrison, “Heroes” (from HEROES, Nagel-Heyer, 2004) (Harrison, as, comp.; Ron Carter, b; Billy Cobham, d) (2-1/2 stars)

Kind of a little poem. The alto was the antithesis of a Kenny Garrett or someone like that. It’s kind of a folky and open vocal sound kind of thing. The approach reminds me of Miguel Zenon or someone like Myron Walden, but I don’t really think it’s either of them, and I can’t venture a guess on who it is. The drums? There’s more than a handful of guys now who are coming out of a Jack DeJohnette type of thing or whatever. When I hear that sound, I kind of grade it on a different scale. I look at it creatively as opposed to looking for a serious swinging thing. And I can safely say that this was not swinging at all, so I have to throw that out immediately. But it’s cool. Because a lot of stuff that I really, really enjoy by Keith Jarrett is not swinging in the traditional sense. So it doesn’t necessarily not mean a thing! Imagine playing that for Lou Donaldson!!! But anyway, it’s cool. It’s not my flavor. I probably would have played it like a little groovier or put some kind of thing on it. It kind of floats around, and then it starts walking. It never gets to a real THING, which is cool. It could be something from Europe that I haven’t heard, from the ‘70s or something like that, or it could be something from almost anywhere now that I haven’t heard. But it’s loose and open, and sound-wise and melody-wise it felt like it was trying to come from a folky kind of place—an earthy place. But whenever it was time for the drums to do something besides kind of swing, like to actually play some stuff, it felt like he was just trying to see what he could fit into that space as opposed to trying to speak or groove or whatever. But it’s cool. Should I try to be generous? I should be honest. 2-1/2 stars. [AFTER] Oh, Billy!!! No!!! No!!!! I didn’t say anything bad about Ron Carter. Donald Harrison? Are you serious? I’m glad you didn’t tell me before, because it would have influenced me, because I would have been merciful to Billy in some capacity. That just wasn’t it, man. And everybody knows he can do it. If he keeps doing this for a couple of years, it will be a whole nother thing. I love him so much. He’s so important to me, man. I can’t kiss his ass enough. But damn, Bill! He’s trying to do his thing, man. It’s cool.

3. Baby Dodds, “Spooky Drums, No. 2” (from TALKING AND DRUM SOLOS, Atavistic Unheard Music Series, 1946/2003) (Baby Dodds, solo drums) (3-1/2 stars)

Nice press roll. Felt pretty good. The character of it sounds like some early jazz stuff. My first thought was of somebody like a Baby Dodds vibe. I don’t think it’s Big Sid. Chick Webb came to mind, but it didn’t seem virtuosic enough for him. He feels a little more aggressive than that. It sounds like an older drummer, but something about the kit sounded like it was maybe something later in their career, because it sounded like there were at least three tom-toms. That’s about it. It was cute. It could easily be somebody I love, but it sounds like it’s later in their career or something like that. Or it could be Cyrille or someone like that, who is more associated with the avant-garde, kind of messing around with an older style. 3-1/2 stars. [AFTER] Oh, my first thought. Get down, Tainish!! Go ahead!! What year is it? So it’s late in his career. I’m BAD, man!!

4. Stefon Harris, “Red-Bone, Netti-Bone” (from EVOLUTION, Blue Note, 2004) (Harris, vibraphone; Marc Cary, keyboard; Casey Benjamin, as; Anne Drummond, fl.; Darryl Hall, bass; Terreon Gully, d; Pedro Martinez, percussion) (3 stars)

Lovely. Oh, yes, indeed, a very fine selection. I’m not really sure who it is. The Rhodes kind of puts it in a time space, but then as I listened to the drum sound, with the thicker hi-hats and higher snare, it put it later—like at least late ‘80s to today. The presence of the mallet instrument, the vibes or marimba or whatever, put me in mind of the Caribbean Jazz Project, but it doesn’t have to be that. At first the alto put me…it didn’t put me anywhere. It sounded like a few guys. But when he went to the altisimmo, then it put me in mind of Paquito, obviously. The tune is cool. It’s kind of good for summer festival listening, have a couple of rum drinks and walk around and look at some bikinis and stuff like that. It serves its function. The tune is cool. It’s fine. It’s not trying to be ground-breaking. It’s just an excuse to have a good time. The arrangement was cool. It was pretty much all in clave. And I have no idea who it is. There’s a lot of other Latin Jazz I would purchase first, but it’s fine. But maybe it’s the drummer’s thing. Then I would look at it differently. It’s not? Well, it could be Mark Walker or someone like that. That’s who I thought of. [You thought it was a Latin band.] Didn’t have to be. They had a couple of breaks that… I mean, I know them, so they can’t be that deeply folkloric! But it’s cool. A very hefty 3 stars. [AFTER] That’s Blackout? Really? Well, with those guys, that’s not bad. I’m sure there’s some funky stuff on the record and other stuff. Pedro Martinez sounded good, and for that to be Terreon, that’s really cool. He just called me right before you came. He’s up the street having some soul food. It was well done, and over the scope of the whole record and what Stefon is trying to do, it’s fine. Terreon took a lesson from me when he was in high school, and his attitude was really cool. He’s staying really open, and he functions pretty decently in a number of contexts. I guess his real strength right now is he can really play some up-to-the-minute hip-hop and funk and stuff like that. He checks out what people program, and also a lot of R&B, so he’s up on some Timbaland and stuff like that, trying to get that effect and those sounds on the drums. So this level of Latin drumming from him, that’s pretty good.

5. Cyrus Chestnut, “Minor Funk” (from SOUL FOOD, Atlantic, 2001) (Chestnut, p; Christian McBride, b; Lewis Nash, d) (3 stars)

That was cool. I’m a lot more liberal than in the past. Everybody has to do what they have to do to get to what they’re tryin’a do! Piano trio. Tasty. People that can all play. It was tight. I don’t know what to think about it. There’s something about that that’s cool. It was trying to have that standard of whatever it is that the piano trio has, that sound or whatever. It’s almost like it was trying to break through its traditional gloss and be a little bit modern at the same time. It didn’t really work like that, but I could feel it kind of trying to break out of those confines. Cool tune. Snappy. Peppy. I have no idea who the pianist is. But he sounded good. The bass player sounded good. The drummer’s like a younger person, but somebody that’s heard Philly Joe, knows about that, and has good hands. For some reason, I don’t think… It’s not Lewis Nash. Greg Hutchinson came immediately to mind for some reason. He came to mind, and with some of the stuff that was happening on the cymbals, I thought about Winard Harper, and at the beginning, before I heard the sound of the cymbals and the cymbal beat, I thought of Billy Drummond for just a second, but I don’t think it’s him. I dug the solo more than the actual stuff in the rhythm section. They were playing beboppy things, but once in a while, some of the independence would indicate someone has heard some stuff that’s more modern. But then at the same time, it had a skippy kind of cymbal beat, swinging, but it’s not completely laying it down at that tempo. But I’m sure it’s somebody I really like. I’m stuck in that 3 star zone. It’s cool. [AFTER] Wow! Nash. Okay. I guess I haven’t listened to Lewis in a long time. I thought it was him, but then I felt like it wasn’t. I knew it was somebody who good, though, professional and cool. There’s kind of a bouncy thing that drummers play whenever the tempo gets reasonably fast, and the challenge of it is to have… Even though you’re skipping in between the primary notes, the challenge is to have that quarter note really laying with the bass and stuff like that. And it didn’t seem like it was quite doing that. The grace notes were bounced out as opposed to being articulated. It makes you have to lean on the bass a little bit. I just didn’t associate that with Lewis. Well done. That makes me see the tune in a different way. It’s a good blowing tune, but the melody is actually almost like some funk or something like that. I guess you could put it in the hardbop zone.

6. James P. Johnson, “Victory Stride” (from THE BLUE NOTE JAZZMEN, Blue Note, 1944/1998) (James P. Johnson, p., comp; Ben Webster, ts; Vic Dickenson, tb; Sidney deParis, tp; John Simmons, b; Sid Catlett, d) (5 stars)

Early ‘50s? I don’t know what it is! The tenor player could be Coleman Hawkins. But I have glaring holes in my knowledge of early jazz. The drummer was great. He’s easily one of the great ones, whoever he is. When this vibe is on… Papa Jo comes to mind, even though a lot of the stuff I have him in, he’s already moved on to the ride cymbal as opposed to the hi-hat, so I don’t have enough examples of him wearing that thing out. But the touch and the wit reminded me of him. It could be some old guy from New Orleans that I haven’t really checked out. But it felt like that. The tune is fine. Just some real swingin’, swingin’ stuff, man. The cats are completely in control. The tune is cool. It could be a riff written on another tune. But that’s what it’s about. That shit was swingin’. I’m sure some people had fun dancing to it, too. The level is pretty obvious. I don’t want to be like because this is some old, bad shit, I’m going to give it 5 stars, but I know it’s on a certain level, so I’m just going to do it. [AFTER] That’s Big Sid?!! Damn. Well, I said somebody from New Orleans. He’s from Chicago!? Well, you got me. It’s somebody bad. Somebody playing the drums. Big Sid. Ben Webster!? Oh, man, I’m all jacked up. I’m all messed up. I have a good record with these things. I don’t like this. It’s fair game, though. The only recording I have with Big Sid is Pops’ Symphony Hall. I guess I’ve heard too much of Ben Webster playing ballads and not enough of him just all-out swinging. You got me. It’s cool.

7. Andrew Cyrille, “AM 2-1/2” (from C/D/E/, Jazz Magnet, 2001) (Cyrille, d; Marty Ehrlich, as; Mark Dresser, b) (3-1/2 stars)

Ah, tricky-tricky! I thought it was good! I thought that was kind of cool. Everybody sounded good, I thought. The obvious thing when you hear an alto and the piano isn’t there, you think of an Ornette vibe. But it had that vibe, in a more tonal kind of way. I liked everybody on there, and I thought the song was cool. It feels like it comes out of the Ornette kind of conception, but it’s more contemporary. But it had that sound. I liked the drummer. He was tasty and light and cool. He was playing some simple stuff that was cool. It reminded me of Higgins, in a way. It almost sounded like it could be him, but later. But something tells me it’s not. I don’t know who it is. 3-1/2 is not terrible, right? It was pretty good. A nice 3-1/2. [AFTER] Really? Wow, that’s cool. They had a nice vibe on it. The composition was cool. It was cool.

8. Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez & Robby Ameen, “The Moon Shows Red” (from EL NEGRO AND ROBBY AT THE THIRD WORLD WAR, American Clave, 2002) (Ameen & Hernandez, drums; Jerry Gonzalez, tp; Takuma Watanabe, arrangement, string direction; Hiroyuki Kolke String Quartet) (4 stars)

That was kind of fresh. The rhythm was interesting. Sounds like two drumsets playing together. The strings were kind of hip. It had an experimental quality to it. It would actually be nice in a film. I don’t know what kind of scene. But there’s a lot of activity. It’s pretty obviously Jerry Gonzalez! [LAUGHS] My teacher, who I love so much. It’s great. It’s finding more vehicles for expession, and it’s cool. Of course, he’s a master conguero and bandleader. But he has a distinctive trumpet tone and style. I’m not sure if this is his record or not, though. I haven’t heard how deep he’s gotten with his flamenco thing. But they were trying to do something. I liked it. There was a lot of stuff going on, but it wasn’t random, and it had a vibe. The two drumsets give it a looseness but also a steadines. I’ll give it 4 stars. [AFTER] Is it like “Deep Rumba”? Oh, it’s their record. I like those things Kip Hanrahan does with Robbie and Negro. I have a few of those “Deep Rumba” things. Nice piece of music.

9. Fly, “Child’s Play” (from FLY, Savoy, 2004) (Jeff Ballard, d; comp; Mark Turner, ts; Larry Grenadier, b) (4 stars)

Wow. That was very cool. Some more tasty, Latin-based music. He had a lot of stuff going on. I don’t know what to think about that. At the beginning, the horn had an alto type of flavor, but then as the solo went on, it sounded more like a tenor, and just the way he was playing reminded me, for some reason, of Joe Lovano, but I don’t think it was him. Somehow it could be David or someone like that. It sounds like this branch of that music. The drummer definitely reminded me of Antonio Sanchez, for some reason, in the choices that he makes. For that music, these days, he’s kind of like the Tony Williams of that school. He tends to play drums a bit more open-sounding, cymbals that are less dry, and he tries to control their attack with the stick pressure. I liked the stuff at the beginning, with the kalimba and things like that for texture. It was a really good performance, so 4 stars. [AFTER] Really! Wow, that’s Ballard! There you go. They made some music, it’s cool.

10. Marcus Roberts, “Cole After Midnight” (from COLE AFTER MIDNIGHT, Columbia, 2001) (Roberts, p; Thaddeus Exposé, b; Jason Marsalis, Leon Anderson, d) (3-1/2 stars)

Stumped once more. Not a clue. But it’s one of those things that’s in two places at the same time. The sound in most of the playing feels like an older guy, who’s pretty proficient on the piano, but the structure of it is kind of different from a time standpoint. It’s like they’respending 12 beats on each chord, which gives it a different feeling. It still has a nice feel to it. The drummer for the most part is functioning like a percussionist, just giving it little accents. He doesn’t really lay down very much functional time until right before the end. But it sounds like some kind of early experimental group. Sounds like early ‘60s, in a way. They were trying to mess around with some stuff. It’s an older vibe with a little twist on it. I enjoyed it. 3-1/2 stars. Who the hell is that?

11. Ramón Vallé, “Kimbara pá Ñico” (from NO ESCAPE, ACT, 2003) (Valle, p., comp; Omar Rodriguez-Calvo, b; Liber Torriente, d) (3-1/2 stars)

It’s a Latin fiesta here. The writing is kind of modern and cool. The playing is loose. It’s in clave, but it’s kind of loose, like a jazz kind of texture on it. Some of what the piano player is playing reminds me of Danilo, but for some reason I don’t feel it’s him. But the architecture of his solo reminds me of him. I don’t know who anybody is. But I liked it, and I’ll give it my hefty 3-1/2 star rating. [AFTER] More of them damn Cubans! He sounds like he’s listened to Danilo. Sounds like he checked him out, definitely.

12. Chick Corea & Three Quartets, “Quartet No.2, Part 1” (from RENDEZVOUS IN NEW YORK, Concord, 2001) (Corea, p, comp; Michael Brecker, ts; Eddie Gomez, b; Steve Gadd, d)

It’s a live recording. Pretty obviously Michael Brecker or someone who loves him deeply. So Mike is there. At first it sounded like a piano improvisation, then everything came in. There were some harmonies that were extracted from Monk, but then it went to a few different places. Other than that, the bass solo was somebody. I couldn’t really place them. At first, I thought it was Patitucci or someone like that, but as it went on… I have no idea who this could be. The only thing I could think of was perhaps a live version of Charlie Haden’s group or someone like that. [Any idea who the piano player is?] No, I don’t. I really have no idea. The drummer sounds like somebody I know and probably like, but as soon as they started swinging, he was playing kind of an open hi-hat on all four beats, and at that tempo, that’s kind of strange. So I’m thinking it’s a younger guy trying to do something to make it different. They were going for it, but something about it makes me want… Michael took a nice solo. The piano player can play. 3-1/2 stars. [AFTER] I should know that. And that did come to mind. That’s well within Gadd’s style. But it didn’t sound like Chick to me. Cool.

13. Dave Douglas, “Catalyst” (from STRANGE LIBERATION, RCA, 2003) (Douglas, tp., comp.; Bill Frisell, g; Chris Potter, ts; Uri Caine, keyboards; James Genus, b; Clarence Penn, d.)

The drums were cool. The drums were right in between kind of playing some fusiony rock influenced stuff, but kind of loose. It was never really like locked-in. But I think that’s the effect they were going for. Easily some Miles “Bitches Brew” influenced stuff. Obviously not Miles. The guitar reminded me of Scofield for a second. The tenor player reminded me of someone like Chris Potter, so my off the top of my head guess would be some Dave Douglas type stuff. But I’m not really sure. It could be a lot of people. I don’t have Dave’s records where he experiments with that; I’ve just been reading stuff about that direction being there in one of his many bands. I couldn’t guess as far as the drummer’s identity. It was kind of splashy and loose, and kind of in a groove—not really in a serious, serious groove. 3 stars. [AFTER] Clarence Penn. That would match my guess. The thing about the drums that made it contemporary, something as simple as hearing a splash cymbal. Clarence is cool. He usually plays the appropriate thing. He can be creative, but then he can play out of bags and stuff like that, and that’s cool. But the bass definitely sounded like James to me. It had that air, that little excitement that was around that period of Miles. It got that color.

14. Horace Silver, “The African Queen” (from THE CAPE VERDEAN BLUES, Blue Note, 1965/1989) (Silver, p., comp; Woody Shaw, tp; Joe Henderson, ts; Bob Cranshaw, b; Roger Humphries, d) (5 stars)

Thanks for the gift. That’s got to be Horace Silver with Joe Henderson, and I guess that’s Woody Shaw, and I’d think you’d give me some Roger Humphries. Something about the crispness and the different style of placed me in that direction. I only have SONG FOR MY FATHER, and I’m not sure if this is on that or CAPE VERDEAN BLUES or whatever else Roger recorded with him.it was good for me to grow up seeing somebody like Roger Humphries. At the time I grew up, there was a big separation between this mythological world of jazz musicians and what was actually going on at the time. Because a lot of people didn’t come through Pittsburgh then. Prior to my moving to Boston, Roger was the prime evidence of there being virtuosos in the world who played the music. Actually, right after I first found out who Bird was and who Trane was and started to listen to that stuff, my pianist, David Budway, told me, “Well, if you want to learn to play this stuff, there’s a guy who lives on the North Side who will take you as a student.” It was Roger Humphries. His number was in the phone book, and I called him, and I went to his house. Mostly we just talked, and he showed me a few things, and I’d practice and he’d be across the room shooting pool with his friends. Then I’d go to his gigs and watch him. He chose to be in Pittsburgh and deal with his family, and yet still, I can say that there’s no one substantially greater on the drums today. Roy Haynes sounds better than ever in his seventies, and Elvin Jones the same way, but there’s not a significant difference between them and Roger Humphries. He makes me proud to be from Pittsburgh and all that stuff. He’s a beautiful person. Very much involved in education today, making sure that people understand the essence of what the music is about and that they have a good time with it. He gives them a good reason to love it. I gave Sid Catlett 5 stars, right? I’ll give this 5 stars, just because!

You got me, bro. You got me a couple of times. That’s all right. I’ll be ready next time.

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For Lewis Nash’s 57th Birthday, A DownBeat Feature From 2006, and WKCR interviews from 2005 and 2006

For the 57th birthday of the unparalleled drum master Lewis Nash, I’m posting the text of a DownBeat article that it was my honor to write about him in 2006, and a pair of WKCR interviews from that year and from 2005.

 

Lewis Nash (Downbeat Article):

Midway through a late Friday set at a half-full Village Vanguard during the dog days of July, Lewis Nash stated a medium-slow groove on the brushes as 83-year-old trumpeter Joe Wilder improvised six lovely choruses on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair.” It followed a series of songbook tunes and blues, and Nash could easily have settled for keeping time. But he was not, as the saying goes, merely “digging coal.” Instead, on each cycle through the form, Nash executed a different pattern and timbre on the snare drum, imperturbably articulating the beat with crisp precision. The back-of-the-bar patrons might not have noticed the subtlety and ingenuity of Nash’s design, but Wilder did, and he tossed his drummer a nod and a broad smile as he lowered his horn.

It was not an anomalous moment. As Andrew Cyrille noted several years ago in a 5-star Blindfold Test evaluation, Nash, now 47, has “dotted all the i’s while coming up with some great inventions in the traditional style of jazz.” After remarking that “all the great brush players like Kenny Clarke, Ed Thigpen and Philly Joe Jones would have to give kudos to that playing,” Cyrille added, “Lewis is working very hard on the drums to make sure that we all remember whence we came and also what’s happening on the contemporary scene.”

If the vocabulary of the aforementioned masters and a timeline’s worth of hardcore swingers stretching from Max Roach to Edward Blackwell is encoded in Nash’s rhythmic DNA, so are ideas drawn from drumset abstractionists like Cyrille and Jerome Cooper, dance-infused grooves from the funk and R&B that Nash played in his pre-jazz years, and a bracing array of Afro-Caribbean meters. He weaves them together smoothly, conveying tried-and-true swing and Latin rhythms with idiomatic authority. Then he tweaks them, working with a full complement of pitches and intervals across the drumset to animate his beats, displacing figures normally articulated on one component and playing them on another, positioning his phrases to suit the overall architecture of each piece.

Nash titled his 1989 debut album Rhythm Is My Business [Alfa/Evidence], and continues to use the motto. The self-description is apt. He was one of New York’s busiest drummers in the ‘80s, building his reputation on prestigious gigs with Betty Carter, Ron Carter, Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Don Pullen, and George Adams, and cementing it during a ten-year run with the Tommy Flanagan Trio. As the ‘90s progressed, Nash became an A-list freelancer, building a 300-plus album resume that includes Grammy-winners by McCoy Tyner (Illuminations), Nancy Wilson (R.S.V.P.), and Joe Henderson (Big Band); Gerald Wilson’s 2003 Grammy nominated New York, New Sound; important recordings by both Carters, Joe Lovano, Jim Hall, Horace Silver, Russell Malone and Regina Carter; and a slew of equilaterally oriented trios with Flanagan and such lustrous keyboard talents as Roland Hanna, Don Friedman, Kenny Drew, Jr., and Cyrus Chestnut.

“I am thrust into different situations day in and day out with people who may have completely different musical objectives and viewpoints,” Nash said last December from his Hudson Valley home. “I try to bring the same seriousness to each situation. If there’s written music, and time allows, I put the chart under a microscope. If you don’t assimilate the basic character of the piece, you can’t use your interpretative skills to be creative—you’ll still be hung up on how to get from this place to the coda.”

At the time, Nash was decompressing from a week in Osaka with a quartet of Japanese mainstreamers. That occurred not long after a one-nighter in Noumea, New Caledonia, with a pair of Hammond B3 organists, two weeks after he brought his own quartet to Taichung, Taiwan, for a four-night run. He was preparing for a week-long New Year’s engagement in Orvieto, Italy, to be followed by a three-day jaunt to Uruguay with pianist-composer Cedar Walton, an increasingly frequent employer.

“When you are rooted, you don’t have to be afraid to try new things,” Nash said. “You’re manipulating time, beat, phrase, and timbre within a continuity of groove and feeling, so when the timbres change, people may not know exactly what you’re doing, but they know something feels and sounds different than in the previous chorus. I try for subtle transitions. There has to be a certain sense of freedom, of not the commonplace. Sometimes a little craziness is necessary to break through.”

In a recent conversation, saxophonist Steve Wilson, Nash’s partner on a dozen or so speculative improv duo concerts since 2003, observed that Nash’s attitude that a form is less a ball-and-chain than an opportunity to stretch boundaries makes his tonal personality a first cousin to that of Billy Higgins, who suited the needs of such antipodal stylists as Walton and Ornette Coleman with equal effectiveness while always sounding like himself.

“Higgins was always listening, and that’s how it is with Lewis,” Wilson said. “He’s deeply aware of everything happening on the bandstand, and he addresses the entire legacy of jazz and the drums—all the way back to all the way forward. Everything he does is out of the logic of where the line is going.”

Since 2000, no leader has collaborated more frequently with Nash than Lovano, both on his bop-to-free nonet and his more recent freedom-within-structure quartet with Hank Jones. “Lewis’ rhythmic attack is precise, but his phrases are lyrical, not just patterns that you play over,” Lovano said. “If I say something in a melodic phrase, he will answer and say something back at whatever tempo. His approach is refined, but his playing makes you want to jump out of your seat; it’s a force of nature, but that force changes on every piece.”

Tommy Campbell, like Nash a Sonny Rollins alumnus, remarks on his encyclopedic command of the lexicon. “Lewis makes the most intellectual and technical things sound so natural and effortless that you forget about what it takes to play it,” said Campbell. “He uses so many different degrees of character on one groove or style. For example, he must have 20 ways to play a shuffle. He does all the little things, too. For example, he never makes unwanted sounds when he’s changing from sticks to brushes to mallets. In 20-plus years I’ve never seen him miss or muff a beat. He can go from soloing to the groove as fast as anyone. It seems he’s always in both places; it’s all one thing for him.”

“Lewis will stay right in the pocket, while doing some of the most creative stuff being played,” affirmed bassist Peter Washington, Nash’s long-time partner in Flanagan’s trio. “A lot of guys feel swinging and grooving holds them back. To him, it sets him free!”

[BREAK]

“I don’t know if I made a conscious effort to be adaptable,” Nash said. “I always played in a way that I felt would add flavor and variety rather than bring all the attention to me. I’m looking for the beauty in my instrument. There’s beauty in power as well. But a lot of sounds are available to utilize. People hear the tonal detail and clarity, and they tell me that my approach is like a percussionist in the symphony. But my concept comes out of hard-swinging jazz. I try to interject the energy and swagger of funky rhythms into swinging, straight-ahead music—although when you play the rhythms of R&B and hip-hop on a drumset tuned for playing jazz, the sound is not the same.”

Nash came to hardcore jazz rather late in the game. As a teenager he played football (cornerback) and played drums for fun in dance bands around Phoenix, Arizona, his home town, before catching the jazz bug.

“My mother listened to a lot of blues—B.B. King and Muddy Waters and so on,” Nash said in July. A T-Bone Walker jump blues on the car stereo cosigned the statement. “I was less attracted to Rock elements in the drumming of Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette with Miles, and other guys who played fusion, than to the funkier, danceable things. My influences went from James Brown’s drummers or the feeling of Al Green’s Stax records to the people who laid the foundation in jazz drumming. Fusion influences came later, as my knowledge of music increased, whereas that’s the first stuff some people from my age group got into.

“R&B wasn’t played as loud and hard in the ‘60s and ‘70s. More guys played time on the ride cymbal, like in jazz. Once disco and a certain period of funk became prominent, everything was on the hi-hats, and the bass drums and everything else got a fatter, heavier sound that you wouldn’t normally play in a jazz context, so the genres started to separate sonically.”

During the disco era, Nash, who majored in broadcast journalism at Arizona State, was a fixture on the sparse Phoenix jazz scene, playing in local rhythm sections with hired gun saxophonists like Sonny Stitt and Art Pepper. He led his own combo, and wore bells on his ankles in a duo with saxophonist Allen Chase that opened for acts like Old and New Dreams, Sun Ra, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

On the strength of a grant to study drums with Max Roach and a concurrent phone call to audition with Betty Carter, who hired him on the spot, Nash moved to Brooklyn in the winter of 1980-81. There he joined a talented crop of young drummers who included Kenny Washington, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Jeff Watts, and Ralph Peterson.

“We had a lot of leeway to pursue our individual approaches,” Nash said. “For instance, Art Blakey or Jimmy Cobb might influence how you kept time on the ride cymbal, while at the same time you’d study the solo concept of Max or Elvin. The major innovators from the ‘40s through the ‘60s dealt with a true swinging jazz conception that wasn’t terribly influenced by rhythm-and-blues, and didn’t drastically change that approach. But the advent of genre grooves from soul and funk and R&B, and the greater visibility of Latin and Afro-Cuban elements, caused the concept to adapt from the swinging, triplet-based ride cymbal feeling to a less linear straight-eighth feeling.”

Ensconced in New York, Nash refined his approach, going to clubs to watch Higgins, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Arthur Taylor, Billy Hart, Victor Lewis and Freddie Waits, figuring out which techniques to use and which to discard. On the road with Betty Carter from 1981-84 and as an ongoing member of Ron Carter’s two-bass quintet and nonet for the subsequent decade, he found tough-love laboratories in which to apply his discoveries.

The singer insisted on precisely calibrated tempos and feels, but took great pains to discourage her young accompanists from playing sets by rote.

“My whole time with Betty, at every rehearsal, she stressed not to lean on clichés, to search for something fresh to play,” Nash recalled. “You knew you couldn’t go on automatic pilot; she’d turn and say, ‘You already played that; play something else.’ You’d be on edge, wondering what change of pace is coming.”

“Ron likes to use a lot of different colors,” he continued, adding that he considers the bassist a primary mentor. “He taught me a lot about tuning, and on some of his music I could be more percussionistic, and utilize finger cymbals, wind chimes and castanets. Steve Kroon often was playing percussion, and I incorporated what Steve did into my drumset.”

“Betty told me that he read music very well,” Carter said. “One thing to his advantage is that he plays the form. Many drummers don’t. I had Lewis take up vibes, to help him visualize the piano keyboard when he soloed. He did very well. He started to study composition, wrote some nice melodies, and expanded his view of the drums as more melodic than they normally are thought to be.”

“I tune the intervals wide enough to give the impression of melodic movement up or down a scale when I play a fill,” Nash elaborated. “I like to interject phrases not just to fill space, but to continue articulating the line I just heard the soloist play. If it’s a horn player taking a breath, I’m almost thinking of continuing his linear thought process until he returns the horn to his mouth, and maybe inspire his rhythmic direction.”

During the ‘80s, while Nash was refining these ideas, Marvin “Smitty” Smith developed ways to make complex meters flow with Steve Coleman and Dave Holland. Jeff Watts began to merge the rhythms of timba with the patterns of Elvin Jones. Ralph Peterson, Carl Allen and Herlin Riley layered New Orleans streetbeats into swing feels. Younger drummers went to their gigs, copied them, and mainstreamed each vocabulary increment into next-generation argot. With the exception of a year of steady touring with Branford Marsalis, Nash played with established, older musicians “with one foot in the history of the music,” and interacted less frequently with his peer group.

“I wanted to immerse myself in the lineage, to interact with movers and shakers in the music from further back,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to lose my desire to be creative or forget how to explore.”

Some think that Nash’s impact on the younger branches of the drum tree is less pronounced than it ought to be.

“Most of the younger drummers weren’t in the audience when Roland Hanna and Ron Carter and Tommy Flanagan were playing,” Washington said. “But on every level, Lewis brought something to the drums as unique as the guys who played with Branford and Wynton or M-Base.”

“Once critics hop on a guy’s bandwagon, young drummers looking for someone to listen to will go that way,” Carter said. “Lewis isn’t flashy or domineering in the negative way that drummers can be. I can’t think of another drummer in any age category who plays brushes so well. Not many read as well as he does, and even fewer know how to tune the drums. But critics are less aware of these aspects, and they don’t tune into Lewis when they talk about drummers who are important and can take the drum scene another step, unfortunately for them and for the history of the drums.”

“My influence would have more to do with the sound of the instrument and the clarity of execution than any stylistic development,” Nash remarked, and younger drummers agree.

“Lewis can play with authority like Elvin Jones and also the way Vernell Fournier played with Ahmad Jamal,” said Yellowjackets drummer Marcus Baylor, a former Nash student. “That’s a lot of ground to cover. He’s the most musical drummer of our time period, one of the musical drummers ever.”

“A lot of situations that I play in cause Lewis to pop into my mind,” said Kendrick Scott. “I’ve studied his playing so much that I think, ‘Oh, what would Lewis play right here? It would probably be perfect.’”

[BREAK]

“We’re not supposed to stay where Tommy was,” Nash said during a January engagement at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Coca, where a quartet under his leadership—Washington, pianist Renee Rosnes and vibraphonist Steve Nelson—was performing Flanagan-associated repertoire. “He gave us a carpet and said, ‘Okay, I’m giving you these tools; now what are you going to do with them?’

“Tommy didn’t necessarily want me to play in a way that was reminiscent of the ‘40s or ‘50s or ‘60s. He wanted me to play with him right now—which was the ‘90s. He was an open book. When I did things that come out of developments more recent than you might associate with his roots, he’d look up and I’d see him smile and his eyes gleam. If you remain open moment to moment with all your intelligence and skills, and don’t preconceive or predirect where you’re going, that’s as fresh and modern as you can be, whatever style you’re playing.”

In 1998, Nash decided that it was time to augment his numerous opportunities “to interject my ideas and musical viewpoint in groups where I’m a sideman” and construct a context to allow him “complete freedom to express what I feel.” He organized a septet, and booked himself into the Village Vanguard, the first of several Vanguard combos of various sizes, comprised of long-time associates and talented youngbloods. Building on his yearly Vanguard gig, he’s expanded his activity, and in 2003 and 2004 recorded the Japan-market CDs It Don’t Mean A Thing and Stompin’ At The Savoy, with Washington, Nelson, and pianist Jeb Patton. As of this writing, his 2007 calendar includes 10 weeks as a leader.

During the JVC Festival in June, Nash played the Vanguard with a quintet comprising Wilson, Washington, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and pianist Gerald Clayton. The less-traveled repertoire, spanning the ‘60s through the ‘80s, included well-wrought tunes by Walter Davis, Jr. (“Pranayama”), Don Pullen (“Sing Me A Song Everlasting”), Thad Jones (“Ain’t Nothin’ Nu”), Kenny Barron (“New York Attitude”), James Williams (“Alter Ego”), and Johnny Mandel (“I Never Told You”). Nash emceed and took a couple of drum features. Otherwise, he gave the soloists much rein, swung mightily, and functioned, as Washington noted, “as the same supportive, musical drummer.”

“Everything depends on how daring you want to be,” he said. “Parameters exist in any musical situation, and they force you to get the most from the least. You try not to limit yourself to ‘this is how you’re supposed to play this kind of music.’ You jump in, let your ears dictate, and keep all options on the table. I might borrow some sound or approach from an avant garde context that works in the middle of trading fours on a blues. Sound can cross genres and styles. It’s just a sound. It’s your job to figure out how to use that sound tastefully and in context. The more things you’ve done, the more you’ll be able to interject something new.”

————

Lewis Nash (WKCR, December 1, 2005) – re Nash-Wilson duo at Sweet Rhythm:

TP: [MUSIC: McCoy Tyner-Lewis Nash duo]

Duets. Lewis records so much and in so many different contexts and situations, that doing an hour on your work is like looking for the needle in the haystack. You’ll be quite present in NYC area in December and directly after the New York. Next week at Dizzy’s Room with Donal Fox and George Mraz. The following week is week one of Cedar Walton’s annual fortnight at the Village Vanguard with Roy & David. Then Umbria with Joe Locke. Then at Dizzy’s Room on January 10th with Flanagan tribute, with Renee, Peter & Steve Nelson. Frequent associates.

How did the duo project with Steve Wilson come to pass? You go back a ways, and you a few records with him on Criss-Cross in the early ‘90s.

LEWIS: That’s correct. Steve and I have played through the years in various situations. As far as the duo format, I enjoy that with the horns, and, as we just heard on the cut with me and McCoy Tyner, with the piano, and I’ve done duo with organ, of course, duo with guitar even. The duo situation is a challenge in many ways. In other ways, it’s pretty much just like any other time you go to play music. You deal with certain repertoire or whatever, with one another musician, and you try to make music as best you can interacting with that person.

TP: But this is a working duo, of sorts, and a duo you’ve both chosen to stick with. It’s not a one-off situation.

LEWIS: That’s right. Steve came to mind for me when I was thinking about doing this as someone I enjoyed playing with, number one, and also someone whom I felt I’d have a nice working rapport with musically for a number of reasons, not least of which is that his time is so great. So when someone has really good time internally, you can try a lot of different things which don’t necessarily have to spell out where you are metrically or in a form. A lot of times, Steve and I come out at the right place as if it just happened naturally. I don’t have to worry about making sure that I mark time for him when we’re playing. He’s one of the musicians I enjoy playing with in any situation, but particularly in the duo.

TP: How would it differ than playing in a rhythm section with Peter Washington or George Mraz, two of the master jazz bassists on the planet?

LEWIS: First of all, there’s a lot more space without the chordal instrument being there. How that would differ from a bass and drum situation is that the sound of Steve’s instrument, of course, won’t be in that bass range, to fill out some of that range I’ll often play different patterns or motifs between the low toms and the bass drum, things like that, to give some weight and low-end sound to the duo. Sometimes Steve will even play bass-type lines, whether walking or harmonically in the bass range. We basically try to give as much of a feeling of arrangement and orchestration as we can with the two instruments.

TP: You mentioned to me that your duo playing goes back to college days when you attended Arizona State University, where one of your fellow underclassmen was the saxophonist Allen Chase, who now runs the jazz department at New England Conservatory. I think you mentioned that you and he would open up as a duo for groups like Old and New Dreams, the Art Ensemble of Chicago…

LEWIS: Mmm-hmm. Sun Ra.

TP: George Adams and Don Pullen. So not all your fans may know that you have roots in that direction as well as creating modern extensions and variations on the masters of jazz lifeblood, Kenny Clarke and Max Roach. People who played with those people appreciate your playing for your ability to put your own spin on what they did in an idiomatic manner, but they don’t necessarily know about that other aspect of your tonal personality.

LEWIS: Well, those were interesting times. It’s before I moved to New York. I was still going to college. It was a good time and a good place for me to experiment with some different things, and Allen Chase and I had a duo, and we played around Phoenix. We opened for those people you mentioned, groups like that. That’s when I first met Ed Blackwell, when he came to Phoenix, playing with Old and New Dreams. I met the guys in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I was always open to fresh things. Even though, as you mentioned, a lot of fans and listeners may not be aware of that experience I’ve had in that realm, still I always try to bring, even to the more conventional (for want of a better word) situations I play in…I always try to bring a feeling of freshness and openness to those situations that you might expect in a more open musical situation.

TP: One thing that might also be surprising to some people is that you came to hardcore jazz fairly late in the game. You weren’t a teenage student of every record of Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones. It didn’t really happen until college.

LEWIS: Right. In my high school years I was playing a lot of R&B, Funk, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown type stuff, and I was playing football and playing sports, and being a jazz musician was the furthest thing from my mind.

TP: Is there any connection between the way you developed—not starting early, but learning rudiments, time, vibe, etc.?

LEWIS: You know, I wonder. I don’t know if I can say with any certainty. But the fact that it was always something I did for fun and I never thought in those earlier days about “this is what I want to do for a living, this is what drives me, this is what I’m here to do”—I didn’t have those thoughts. I was a broadcast journalism major, and my mentor…I didn’t know him, but Max Robinson, who used to be on ABC News, the first African-American anchor. I wanted to do things like that, and follow in those footsteps. But the music started to rope me in.

TP: When did it start to become apparent to you that you were going to become a musician and not a voice?

LEWIS: I’m a voice on the drums, I hope. But I had a professor at Arizona State whose name is Charles Argersinger. He still teaches in Washington State now. One day he pulled me aside in the hallway at Arizona State, and he asked me point-blank: “Lewis, you’re not a music major, are you.” “No.” “You’re not planning to go into music as a career, are you?” “Nope.” He said, “I think you’re making a mistake.”

TP: Why did he think that? Did he say?

LEWIS: He didn’t really spell it out, but I assume he’d heard a lot of young musicians and people he felt had potential or didn’t have potential, and he probably… He did say that “‘I think you’re someone who could go somewhere in this, and you should think about it.”

TP: What qualities were people hearing at that time? You were playing in Phoenix in rhythm section, behind Art Pepper or Sonny Stitt. What were those experiences like? Were they harsh? Were they supportive?

LEWIS: They were demanding, but not harsh. I met Sonny Stitt on the stage. I played a week. We had no rehearsal, we just came in as the local rhythm section. Of course, he used to do that all the time. The first tune he counted off I think was Cherokee at some breakneck, ridiculously fast tempo, and that was, “Hello, I’m Sonny Stitt.” Those kinds of experiences for a young musician…it’s great. It just throws you right into the fire.

TP: As far as learning the correct tone… Were you thinking by that time of the way Max Roach might be handling this situation, or Billy Higgins, or Philly Joe Jones, or Shadow Wilson, etc.? Were you trying to bring any of that vocabulary to bear by that time?

LEWIS: Definitely.

TP: How did you do that without seeing them? Drums is kind of a visual instrument, isn’t it? You have to learn to put your body in position to make transitions and so on.

LEWIS: That’s true. I didn’t have very much exposure to these great drummers—I should say none—in terms of watching them. I didn’t see any of the great names drumming-wise… Actually, that’s not true. I did see and hear Dannie Richmond with Mingus in the late ‘70s, and Blackwell. But Max and Elvin, Tony Williams, until I came to New York, I didn’t have a chance to observe them up-close, the way we do, putting them under the microscope and watching every little thing they do.

TP: How did you pick up vocabulary?

LEWIS: What I heard on the records, I tried to emulate and find the best way to reproduce those kinds of sounds and phrases, and hope that what I came up with was close.

TP: you came out of Phoenix with Betty Carter, didn’t you.

LEWIS: Yes, I did. Another into-the-fire type situation. Freddie Waits actually recommended me to her. I had met him. He came through Phoenix with the Billy Taylor Trio.

TP: I recall you saying that she was very specific and precise about tempos and feels, but wanted you to be creative within those parameters.

LEWIS: That’s very correct. It’s a good way of putting it. She knew exactly what she wanted, and sometimes we didn’t quite know how to give her that in the best way, but we’d try to find it. It was a challenge to play with her at that stage of my career. It was probably the best thing for me then.

TP: The same could be said for a number of musicians in your generation who came up in that tough-love crucible that was the Betty Carter band.

[MUSIC: “Stomping At the Savoy”; “Tickle-Toe”; then with Celtic Jazz Collective, w/ Paddy Keenan on bagpipes]

TP: You were saying that part of the appeal of performing with Steve Wilson is his musicality, his time. You both share a quality of being extremely well-grounded in the fundamentals. He plays a lot of big band sections, studio things, but when it comes to improvising and doing something creative, he’s completely prepared to do that as well. You’re a few years older, but coming out of similar experiences. Last year, there was a month when you did a weekly duo at Sweet Rhythm. How did it evolve from beginning to end.

LEWIS: Each time we did it, of course, you build on the previous time in terms of ideas, the way things evolve musically. That was good for us, because we’re both busy doing so many other things, and we have a limited amount of time that we can dedicate to the duo projects. So when we had that string of performances, that really helped us to solidify the sound we heard for the duo at that time.

TP: Did the sound evolve over the month, or did it remain on the template on which it began?

LEWIS: I don’t know if the sound evolved, but the way that we approached probably became freer than when we first started. We’re still trying to find that happy medium, that balance between freedom and the opposite of that…

TP: Freedom and form, or whatever it is. You’re the kind of musician who’s able to find freedom within form in situations that other people might handle by rote. You take those fundamentals and you always seem to find a new twist or some vocabulary of your own. How much do you work on that off the bandstand? How much comes to you when you’re on the bandstand?

LEWIS: I would say that a lot of it comes while you’re on the bandstand in the middle of the moment. But you have to be daring, brave enough to take a chance in a particular situation where it’s easy to play it safe. I’m always trying to make whatever I play be logical. Just because it’s logical doesn’t mean it has to be corny or rote. But some of the most creative things done in a musical situation I think can be considered logically a part of what’s going on without them being done over and over again or something common.

TP: But you play on a lot of one-off sessions. You might not have played with the person before. You might be seeing the music for the first time. A lot of money is at stake—studio time. How do you keep both processes going, the imperative of trying to do something to at least satisfy even yourself that you’re not doing it the way it was done before, but also fulfilling the function? Is it a process of logic really?

LEWIS: It really is. I think so. I can think of many recording sessions where just what you mentioned is the case. You’re seeing the music for the first time. You’re probably not going to play it again after that live, it’s just for this recording, but maybe the music is challenging in certain ways, maybe form-wise or changing meters or something you’re just not familiar with, or maybe it’s musicians who you don’t play with all the time, so you’re still trying to establish the kind of rapport in the studio playing. So when you have these kinds of challenges, you always fall back on your basic musicianship. For horn players, it might be: Am I playing in tune? Am I reading this part correctly? Am I making these changes? And so on. For me in the rhythm section: “Am I setting up the figures, or am I making the transitions in the music smooth enough so there’s a certain flow where the other musicians can do whatever it is they need to do? Am I helping make sure that everyone who’s playing feels a certain comfort zone that allows them to play to the best of their ability? Is the time feel steady? Am I helping them to feel whatever changes might be going on in the music to the best of my ability from the drums?

TP: A lot of people in jazz particularly, when improvising on their instruments, think of other instruments. Trumpeters think of saxophones, that sort of thing. In that regard, I’ll bring up a comment I once read from Max Roach, which is that you don’t play melody on the drums, you play rhythmic designs on the drums, which is a slightly different thing, and almost gives the illusion of melody. I don’t know if you would subscribe to that statement or not. But one characteristic of your tonal personality is that you play rhythmic designs within the flow of a moment. Can you talk about creating in that way?

LEWIS: The melodic impression comes from the fact the rhythmic variations that may be played on the drumset give the feeling of a melodic line in the way the rhythms are put together. Every melody has a rhythmic component. So when you’re expressing yourself in phrases which have the same types of rhythmic components that melodic lines have, then you’re going to give the impression that you’re playing a melody. But this kind of linear approach to playing the drums of which Max Roach was the founding father in the music is something that really attracts me. It’s something I like to do or attempt to do. I’m always trying to find a way to keep that approach to playing the drums somehow involved in the evolution of the music, so that’s not just thrown away or thrown out as something that was done in the past, but it’s being made to find a contemporary way… I don’t know if that’s the best way of putting it. But a way of today’s creative jazz playing or creative improvising, utilizing that approach to the drums as well as all the other ones.

TP: Try to parse that a bit. By “today’s approach to the drums,” are you talking about incorporating the way drummers play in contemporary dance-oriented music, or the broader rhythmic palette that’s more commonly available to jazz drummers now?

LEWIS: I mean that in the sense that a lot of other influences have become a part of playing this music, influences from the various so-called world musics, and also in terms of the more recent developments in drumming going back to the ‘60s and ‘70s with Tony Williams and Elvin and Roy Haynes, who has been a part of it, it seems like, forever—and still is. That kind of freshness, without losing the approach of that linear style. I guess always trying to find a way to keep that as a part of the equation.

TP: Playing 100-150 gigs a year with Tommy Flanagan for ten years, and many gigs over a long period with Ron Carter, would be a very good way of honing those skills and that sensibility.

LEWIS: I would say so, yes. And all of the recording sessions as well. Because there you have a chance to hear back right away things that you try, and you can go in and listen and say, “Oh, okay, that didn’t come out quite like I wanted it to; I can go back and try a different thing again.” So being in the studio a lot has been helpful in refining or defining whatever it is I’m trying to do.

[MUSIC: From Sea Changes, “Verdandi”; Love Letters, NTB]

TP: You’ve done five-six dates for Japan with this group (Chestnut-Mraz-Nash), and performed about a month ago at Dizzy’s Room with them. By the way, wasn’t Elvin Jones the drummer on the original performance of Verdandi, which Tommy Flanagan made a staple of his ‘90s repertoire. With Manhattan Trinity, it’s a configuration put together for the studio that becomes a working group. It must be very different when you do it live.

LEWIS: Yes. Especially since we hadn’t really established a live group personality yet. Everything had been done in the studio.

TP: And the producer gives you the tune list and tells you to do something with it.

LEWIS: Yes. But given the level of musicianship with Cyrus and George, we could pretty much do whatever we wanted and make it work. So it’s a great situation to be part of.

TP: We were talking about being creative and fulfilling the function in the studio. We’ll play now one Grammy-winner and one Grammy-nominee record that Lewis was part of. You performed on Nancy Wilson’s RSVP this year, which won the 2005 Jazz Vocal Grammy, and you appeared on Gerald Wilson’s 2004 Grammy-nominated date, New York Sound.

[MUSIC: Nancy Wilson, “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart”; Gerald Wilson, “Jeri,” from In My Time]

TP: Since 1998, you’ve been leading ensembles of varying sizes—septets, quintets, quartets, trios, been in the Vanguard, been at Dizzy’s at the Kaplan Playhouse. No records yet, though. Only a couple of dates with trios for the Japanese market on somewhat circumscribed repertoire. It seems every year that you’re doing more and more, gradually building up repertoire and a base of concerts on which other people can draw in recognizing you as a bandleader. What are your aspirations in this regard?
LEWIS: I think they are never-ending for someone who desires to continue to grow musically. I think about various things I’d like to do every day that I haven’t done yet. Wearing the bandleader hat takes a lot of work and takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s worthwhile to watch things come to fruition that began as just an idea or a thought. With that in mind, I’d like to do a lot more things in the future. Nothing specific comes to mind right now, but we have unlimited possibilities.

[MUSIC: Diaspora, from Blues for Marcus]

[END OF CONVERSATION]

———-

Lewis Nash (WKCR, June 26, 2006):

[MUSIC: Kenny Drew Trio, Apasionata]

TP: That featured one of the most prominent drum-bass combinations of our time, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington, who’ve been playing on bandstands countless during the ‘90s with Tommy Flanagan, and are performing together this week in the Lewis Nash Quintet at the Village Vanguard. Since 1999, when you first seriously undertook leading groups and performing out with them… This will be your second group-leader gig this year on New York bandstands. You were at Dizzy’s Room in January. You’ve played often with a septet, and lately a trio as well with Steve Nelson and Peter Washington, and a duo with Steve Wilson. Is this quintet a new band for you?

LEWIS: The newness this week is basically having Gerald Clayton on piano. In the past, generally it’s been Mulgrew Miller or Renee Rosnes or no piano, and others on occasion. But Gerald is a fantastic young musician who is certainly going to make a name for himself. Many people are aware that he’s the son of bassist-arranger John Clayton.

TP: New repertoire this week?

LEWIS: A few things. We do have all this various repertoire in a soup, and each night, depending on the vibe or feeling, I decide whether we’re going to play it or not. Basically, this week is not so much about new repertoire, although I generally like to do a gig in town when I do have something new to offer. But I didn’t want to let a whole year go by without playing at the Vanguard. So this week really is about our creativity on the stage in the moment no matter what we play, because there won’t be any incredible unveilings of new material.

TP: Do you approach your role, your performance in any different manner when you’re leading a group versus playing as a sideman? Does your point of view become the guiding flow for the performances when you’re leading the group? Although of course, it would in other ways when you’re a sideman.

LEWIS: Of course, since it’s more or less my musical vision in that sense, I am providing some direction for how I want it to go pacing-wise and all of that. But I am actually trying to allow everyone else to establish a direction without dictating where I feel it should go. I don’t like that kind of dictatorial way of approaching it from a bandleading standpoint. I like to be open to the input from everyone else. So while I am selecting the set and the pieces, and kind of deciding how long they’re going to be and all that, I just give some basic parameters and then let everybody go where it’s going to go.

TP: You’ve also developed a circle of people around you, good friends with busy schedules who’ve made time to play on your gigs and help develop the sound of your band.

LEWIS: You bring to mind several things to me. For me, I was listening to and enjoying Bill [Stewart]’s interview on the way here, and some of the things you were talking about… As a sideman, I have a lot of different varieties of things that I’m really happy to do, and fortunate to be able to do. So I get a lot of different looks and feels, musically speaking, from all these different things I’m doing, so when I come to do my thing, I can bring elements of those various things to mind. But also, I don’t feel like I have to necessarily explore some of the other things that I explore in other situations to greater depth just because it’s my situation. I might feel like I can do some other things. And those things may change each time I play live as a leader. But I’m so satisfied that I don’t feel a need to explore so many different varieties of things in my own situation. I can concentrate on certain things.

TP: Has being a leader evolved your own drum technique or sense of flow as a drummer? Do you find that you do certain things that are idiosyncratic to you more readily than you would in sideman situations? Ways of hitting beats…

LEWIS: Not so much now. Maybe in the earlier years of deciding to do things as a leader, that might have been the case. But I’m not even sure then how much it was the case. Because so much of how I approach the instrument and how I approach making music with people is consistent, no matter what. So whereas there may be things I’m less apt to do in one situation versus another because of the type of music or the style or whatever, I think generally there is a consistent thread that you can hear running through everything. I can tell it’s me. Whether it’s a piece of music that’s quirky and out, or if it’s a piece of music that’s straight down the middle, swinging, I know how I touch the drums, I can hear that same consistency throughout that. I think that’s an important thing.

TP: You went out with Betty Carter in 1981. So you’ve been a working professional New York musician for 25 years. There’s 25 years of musical history that you’re part of now. In an overall sense, what are some of the salient things you’ve seen change in the musical ideas people are articulating now vis-a-vis 1981, when you came up. There are continuities, but it’s a very different world.

LEWIS: You could say that in many respects. I’m not sure I’d be the best arbiter of that. I came here in 1980 the first time, and I was going around to hear as much music as I could possibly hear. At the same time, I was taking some lessons with Freddie Waits. There were certain guys who were working quite a bit. Billy Hart seemed to be everywhere in those days; he was playing every week somewhere, or it seemed like two different places a night at times! Some of the greats were still leading bands—Woody Shaw, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Betty Carter (whose band I was in). There were these kind of iconic leaders who were still around, and young guys wanted to be in their bands and hone their craft and whatnot. For me, I tried to bring a certain sensibility to the music. When I got here to play with Betty, before that in Arizona, I had been playing a lot of different things with people who’d come through town—Sonny Stitt and people like that when they’d pick up a rhythm section—but I also had an ear to the more exploratory things. I had a duo with saxophonist Allen Chase, and we opened concerts in Phoenix—before I even moved to New York—for Old And New Dreams, which is how I met Ed Blackwell and Dewey and Don and Charlie Haden. Then we opened for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, we opened for Sun Ra., playing this duo. I had bells on my ankles. We were doing a lot of interesting and exploratory things. So I always had an ear to those kinds of things. But what I realized was that I didn’t want to marginalize myself… I don’t know if that’s really the right way of putting it. But I wanted to take advantage of whatever I could get from the people who had been the movers and shakers in the music further back, the Betty Carters and Ron Carters and Tommy Flanagans and people like that. I didn’t want to not be able to associate myself with that lineage.

TP: You didn’t want to cut yourself off.

LEWIS: No. So I felt like, okay, at some point in the future, I can always… I’m not going to lose my desire to be creative, I’m not going to forget how to explore. So I wanted to make sure I immersed myself in where the music was coming from to such an extent that I had an opportunity to interact with these great players. So over time, I have fortunately been able to do that. People like Horace Silver and McCoy and all these different people I’ve played with, all of that has contributed to whatever it is I’m offering as a bandleader, I hope.

TP: Another thing I touched on a little earlier with Bill, we were discussing about the ways in which over the last 15 years odd meters and world rhythmic structures have become more part of the musical vernacular rather than slightly more exotic, as it was in the ‘80s. From your perspective, as someone who became established during the ‘80s, before people like Danilo Perez and Ed Simon came to town, and when Steve Coleman was just starting to deal with the things he did with Dave Holland… How do you see those developments affecting the rhythmic template of jazz these days? Has that changed a lot?

LEWIS: I think it’s just become more of a wide palette, I guess. The stuff has always been there, people have been exploring things from Max and Brubeck and various people in the ‘50s, and there’s already a precedent in world music. So I think the foundation was already laid for people to explore a lot of different things, whether it’s odd meters, whether it’s interesting and different harmonic ideas or structural things with tunes that are not necessarily 32-bar song forms of AABA. People have been exploring a lot of different things for a long time. What you have to learn how to do is incorporate all of it, and not be afraid of any challenges, and then also not be afraid to be basic, too. You can be complicated and simple, and both things work. Also, everyone has a different thing to contribute to this thing. We’re not all supposed to do the same thing.

TP: Did anything new happen in the last 15 years? How would say the sound of jazz in 2006… If you’d left the planet in 1990, came back now, and hadn’t heard any jazz since, what changes would you discern?

LEWIS: I leave the planet on a regular basis, but I do come back. You know, Ted, I really never think of it in those terms. But I suppose the same way there’s new technologies… If you left the planet, came back 15 years later, and the Internet. So I imagine for your ear, yes, but when you’re in it, you can’t hear or observe the changes so clearly, I guess. It might be like if you go away and come back home and see someone who was an adolescent when you left, and when you come back they’re grown up but it’s the same person. That probably didn’t answer your question.

TP: It didn’t, but that’s fine. As Charlie Parker once said immortally on that video, “music speaks louder than words.” In 2003-04, or maybe in 2004-05 you did a few recordings for M&I, the Japanese label…

[MUSIC: “Tico, Tico”]

What’s it like to play so much with the same bass player? You’ve played a lot with George Mraz over the years, with Christian McBride and Ron Carter. But the names Washington and Nash go together in a certain interesting way. How has it evolved?

LEWIS: There are certain vibes that you feel from musicians when you play with them for the first time. Even though I’ve played with a lot of different bass players, as you’ve mentioned, the special rapport I have with Peter… I have a special rapport with the other guys you mentioned as well. But with Peter, I don’t have to worry about whether he’s going to be doing what I need him to do to make everything come across like I’d like it to. You were asking me if I’m thinking about the directions of how things are progressing as we’re playing with my group. With Peter as the bass anchor, there are certain things I know are going to be in place, and I don’t have to worry about those things. They are unspoken things. It’s telepathic almost. So it’s kind of a comfort zone, a comfort level having him there that allows me to feel free to do a lot of things that I might not attempt.

TP: Can you name what a couple of those things might be?

LEWIS: He can sense when I’m orchestrating things a certain way and breaking the time, exactly what to do to keep the forward momentum of the time going, so it doesn’t seem like we both pulled the rug out from under everyone else. In other words, we kind of share the duties of keeping the forward propulsion of the music going. Also, sometimes I can just look to him and nod if I want to change the feel, and he knows to go wherever I’m trying to make it go. His ears are wide open. He picks great notes in his walking bass lines. I’m often keying off of the bass for the harmonic structure and framework of the tune much more than the piano comping or something like singing the tune in my head. I’m more focused on the movement of the bassline.

TP: I recall reading Max Roach saying that there’s no such thing as melodic drums, but there is such a thing as rhythmic design, and people sometimes confuse rhythmic design for playing melody on the drums. You seem always to be very conscious of rhythmic design within the forward motion. How has that concept evolved for you?

LEWIS: That rhythmic design that Max was talking about, in the sense he’s speaking about the melodic interpretation… Another word I’ve heard for it is linear. I tune the drums in a way that the intervals are wide enough that it can give the impression of melodic movement. If I play certain fills, and the drums are extremely close in the tuning, you don’t get the sense of separation and you don’t get the sense of movement up or down a scale. So if I tune the drums at wider intervals, then it seems to give more of an impression that I’m playing some types of melodic things. I like to interject phrases that are not just drum fills, but maybe necessarily a continuation of the line I might have heard the soloist just playing, except I’m articulating it on the drums, so when he takes a breath (if it’s a horn player), I’m almost thinking in terms of continuing his linear thought process on the drums until he puts the horn back to his mouth, and maybe inspire him to go rhythmically in one direction or another, rather than just a drum fill for the sake of filling space and very drum-oriented—I might make it more linear.

TP: Let me repeat a couple of questions I asked Bill Stewart before. I asked him early on in his career how aware he was of the history of the drums in reference to his own development, and, if he emulated other iconic drummers, who some of those drummers might have been. That led to asking him at what point he got beyond those influences and began to assimilate them into his own thing.

LEWIS: Of course, anyone who gets involved in this music at the drums is going to have to go through a certain group of players if they’re really going to say that they’ve studied the music and the history of jazz drumming. For me, in my earliest development, before I really started playing jazz, I was playing a lot of R&B and funk, and that’s pretty much what I was playing. So I wasn’t as… Coming from an R&B, funk and blues… My mother used to listen to a lot of blues—B.B. King and Muddy Waters and that stuff. Coming from that kind of background, I wasn’t necessarily as attracted to the Rock elements, the fusion stuff so much. Even though I could appreciate the drumming aspects of Tony and Billy Cobham and the guys who played in the fusion genre, I was more attracted to the funkier, danceable things at that time, in those earlier years. Then once I became aware of people like Max Roach and Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones, Elvin, Jimmy Cobb, and all the various people, then I started to explore the possibilities of that approach to playing the drums. So my influences went from James Brown’s drummers and the Stax records, Al Green and that whole feel, to the guys I just mentioned in straight-ahead jazz, Kenny Clarke and those people who laid the foundation in jazz drumming. So in a way, I have less of the influences of, say, the fusion era, like Tony and Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette with Miles, in that context. That stuff actually came later rather than earlier, whereas for some guys that’s some of the first stuff they got into. Whereas for me, I got into the other stuff, and then I kind of backtracked. With my knowledge of music being a little greater, than I think I was able to appreciate and assimilate more of the elements of the more modern players…

TP: How would you assimilate vocabulary? Playing along with records and trying to replicate the style?

LEWIS: Yeah. Playing along. Because then you turn it up loud, or you have headphones and you’re playing along, and you can almost interject yourself into the band, in a sense. That’s one way of beginning to assimilating some of the vocabulary, just playing along.

TP: Were a lot of these guys coming through your town?

LEWIS: No, not that many people came through Phoenix. I didn’t see much.

TP: Probably you’d heard Ed Blackwell before you opened for Old & New Dreams.

LEWIS: Yes.

TP: But seeing him probably put a whole different spin on what he was doing.

LEWIS: Definitely. But I didn’t get to see that many great players. Only towards the end, before I eventually came to New York in the late ‘70s… As I mentioned earlier, Sonny Stitt came through town and I played with him, and I’d meet and see other people that way. I heard Tony Williams with VSOP I think in ‘78 or ‘79. Yeah, I began to see and hear a few people like that. But coming to New York and being able to sit in the front row of the Vanguard to watch and listen to Elvin, yeah, there wasn’t anything like that going on in Phoenix, I’m afraid.

TP: Many young aspirants will be sitting in the catbird seat or the Vanguard this week, and get there when the doors open at 8:15 to get a bird’s eye view of Lewis Nash and quintet… This puts you together with Billy Hart, who as you said was playing everywhere when you came to town… Dark Shadows.

[MUSIC: “Dark Shadows:; Ray Bryant (RRB), “Glory, Glory”; Hannibal-George Adams, Cry]

We heard Lewis getting into a very African conception of the trapset. I think you said you heard Sunny Ade’s talking drummers and were trying to get that quality, as well as Edward Blackwell. And it doesn’t get any more fundamental than Glory, Glory.

We’ll hear recordings Lewis made with several people who recently passed on. Jackie McLean, and John Hicks, with whom you performed on three Joe Lovano nonet recordings. Did you ever record trio with John?

LEWIS: I didn’t record trio with John, but I made gigs in trio with him. He brought something special to any situation. But in the Lovano dates and in the nonet, John was such an integral part of the sound of that group.

TP: That nonet gig is an interesting one, because there’s lots of room for you to roam and travel rhythmically and sonics to weave in and out of. Since Lovano himself likes to play drums… Unfortunately, the only tracks that are applicable are 10-16 minutes…

[MUSIC: w/ Jackie McLean, “Little Melonae”]

LEWIS: It was an interesting date, because I think that may have been the first time that Jackie and Junko met, in the studio. Of course, that happens quite often in jazz anyway. I remember it very well, because I remember someone in the studio mentioning something about intonation, probably someone associated with the label, some peripheral person, and I remember hearing Jackie say, “I’ve played out of tune my whole life; why should I start playing in tune NOW?” I thought that was the funniest thing I had… It was tongue-in-cheek, it was just everything. It lightened up the session and allowed us just to go ahead and play. It was a funny comment.

TP: When you hear Lewis Nash, you’ll be hearing someone who’s embodied the experiences of playing on a regular basis, at one point or another, for ten years with Tommy Flanagan, on many occasions with Tommy Flanagan’s good friend Sonny Rollins, with Ron Carter for years, with Betty Carter, with McCoy Tyner, with Don Pullen, and with just about every significant musician who made a mark on jazz from the 1940s on up, and even going to a date with Doc Cheatham and Benny Carter and Hank Jones. All those experiences are encoded in Lewis’ playing and performance and presentation in one manner or another, and you should not miss him when he’s leading a band.

[MUSIC: w/ McCoy Tyner from Illuminations, The Chase]

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Filed under DownBeat, Drummer, Lewis Nash, WKCR

For Lenny White’s 66th Birthday, An Uncut DownBeat Blindfold Test From 2010

For drummer Lenny White’s 66th birthday, here’s the uncut proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that I conducted with him in May 2010. His remarks were unfiltered and trenchant. We did this in a high-end midtown recording studio, which I mention because of Lenny’s comments on how the positioning of the drums in the mix of several of these recordings affects our perception of what the drummers are doing.

 

Lenny White Blindfold Test (Raw):

1. Roy Haynes, “The Best Thing For You” (LOVE LETTERS, Sony, 2002) (Haynes, drums, Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Christian McBride, bass)

This is one of the six masters. This is the history of jazz right here—the living history of jazz. Do I have to say who it is? Roy Haynes. He’s the living history of jazz. He’s played with everybody, done everything, and he’s one of my six heroes. The others are Philly Joe, Max, Elvin, Art Blakey, and Tony. It’s Roy Haynes! That’s all you’ve got to say. All the drummers that I named transcend the instrument. They’re not drummers. They are musicians who happen to play drums. Because they have such a unique approach to playing music, they don’t play just drums—they play music, and the drums are the instrument that they use to interpret the music. 9 stars. I’m not even listening to the other cats. No disrespect, but Roy commands such attention when he plays the instrument… Is that Christian on bass? I wasn’t listening to the piano player, so I didn’t hear his solo. Is this Marcus Strickland on tenor? No? I’ve got to tell you a true story with Roy Haynes that helped shape my musical life. Roy Haynes used to have a group that he called the Hip Ensemble, and every night, the last tune he would play on the set would be the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” At the end, he’d go, BAH-DAH-DOO-DAH, BRRMMM, and he’d play a drum cadenza. He was playing at Slugs’, and he knew I was there, and said BAH-DAH-DOO-DAH, BRRMMM, stopped, and called me up on the stage, and had me play the drum cadenza. That’s all I’ve got to say.

2. Jason Marsalis, “Puppet Mischief” (from John Ellis & Double Wide, PUPPET MISCHIEF, Obliq, 2010) (Ellis, tenor saxophone, composer; Marsalis, drums; Brian Coogan, organ; Matt Perrine, sousaphone)

Is it Dave Holland’s band? No? That’s very interesting, because of the use of the tuba, and they can negotiate their way through 7/4 pretty seamlessly. The drummer is playing within the music, doing an admirable job within the music. I haven’t a clue. It’s cool. He’s not getting in the way. You know what’s interesting with the younger guys? I think they’re very technically proficient, but there’s no particular emphasis on a sound—an identifiable sound, whether it’s choice of cymbals, or how they tune their drums, to the point where I say, “Oh, I know who that is” immediately. It sounds great, though. 3 stars.

3. Kendrick Scott, “Short Story” (from REVERENCE, Criss-Cross, 2009) (Scott, drums, composer; Mike Moreno, guitar; Walter Smith, tenor saxophone; Gerald Clayton, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kenny Dorham, composer)

Is it Tain? No. I like it. He’s killing. I like the organic sound of everything. It sounds great. My only problem, sometimes, is how the recordings are today. See, what drives the music is the ride cymbal. A lot of the guys now play more drums than play cymbal. See, I don’t get a sense of the real hard drive with the music with a lot of drums. It got it when they were playing in open 7, but when they started to swing over the changes it didn’t work as well. From that standpoint, I’d like to really hear some hard swinging. 5 stars. Kendrick Scott? A new guy. But when they start to play straight-ahead stuff, it’s a little weird. From another perspective, what music is, is how you break silence.
So when you make a statement, it better be good. If you’re coming back from silence… That’s why it’s a little strange. There’s this flood of music, and then the music has to compete with movies, it has to compete with games. So the emphasis is not on art, like it used to be, or the art has been fragmented.

4. Brian Blade, “Joe Hen” (from John Patitucci, REMEMBRANCE, Concord, 2009) (Blade, drums; John Patitucci, bass, composer; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone)

John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, and Brian Blade. I don’t know the record, but I know them. It’s ok. 4 stars. I like Brian’s playing. [If I run this entry, it would be nice if I had a little more than “I like Brian’s playing.”] What is it that you want me to say? [Just your response…] Let me ask you what do you think? [Of this piece.] Yes, and Brian’s playing. [Open, interactive piece, Brian’s responding on a dime like he always does…] Everybody that you’ve played me so far has done exactly the same thing. Everybody’s responded and played, and it’s great. The drums sound great. The sound is great. The thing about it is that conceptually…what defines concept, or helps make up concept, is your choice of cymbals, how you tune your drums, and hopefully that will come out in a recording. This is recorded well. The drums sound fantastic. In conjunction with the music, it still sounds great, and all of that. I think it’s great. 4 stars.

5. Dafnis Prieto, “Si o Si” (from SI O SI QUARTET, Dafnison, 2009) (Prieto, drums, composer; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone; Manuel Valera, piano; Charles Flores, bass)

You’re giving me all these weird time changes. I like this, though. Great composition. Is it the drummer’s composition? Tain? It’s great. I love the composition. It shows that drummers can be musicians, too. That’s why I think I know who it is, but I don’t want to say yet. Is it Jack deJohnette? No? Who is it? Dafnis Prieto? Nice, man. You can tell that he wrote this composition. Very musical. It says something when someone comes here who is not from the United States, and they take their culture and adapt it to jazz. He’s not trying to play jazz; he’s playing jazz within his culture, which is cool. Oh, it’s live. I really like it. Who’s the piano player? [Manuel Valera.] Are they all Latin? [The tenor player isn’t.] It’s killer. Very believable, very honest, and they were going for it. It’s not as much as Roy Haynes, but 6 stars. Whoo!

6. Teri Lynne Carrington, “The Eye Of The Mind” (#2) (from Tineke Postma, THE TRAVELLER, EtceteraNOW, 2009) (Postma, piano, composer; Geri Allen, Fender Rhodes; Scott Colley, bass; Carrington, drums)

Great-sounding recording. Whoever this is has been influenced by Jack. Unless this is Jack. No? Oh, Teri Lynne Carrington. The statement was accurate. I thought it sounded great. It’s kind of hard for me, because I don’t want to sound cynical or jaded, but I have such… The best way that I can explain it is that jazz is not a style of music to me. It’s my heritage. The reason why I say that is that those six heroes I mentioned all took me aside and told me things about how to interpret and represent the music. I got a lot from listening to their records, but it really made sense when they said what they said, when you sat and listened to somebody and they’d say, “Ok, you see that? This is how you make that turnaround.” Or, “You see this? This is what you need to…” Every one of those guys I mentioned actually did that with me. So they gave me their perspective of how to represent the music the right way. That’s why for me it’s a heritage. Everything you’ve played is a very good representation of where the music is today, or where it’s going. But you haven’t played anything yet that was a true sense of swing from the perspective of all of those guys that I named, and all those guys that I named, maybe with the exception of Philly Joe and Buhaina, they took the music from a straight-ahead swing situation, and amped on it, and made it into something else, to what this is right now. But I still haven’t heard that link back to those guys yet. I’ve heard great representations of what the music is today, but with the exception of what I just heard with Teri Lynne, I can’t say where the influences of the drummers have come from. She sounded great. 4 stars. You haven’t played me anything that I did not like and which sounded bad—and was a bad representation. And I would hope you wouldn’t write about either! It’s just from the standpoint that what keeps a music pure is that there’s a source point, and you can trace the lineage from A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and it goes down the line. But when there’s an offshoot that is something that doesn’t have a point on the chain, it becomes something else. Now, it might be totally valid. I’m not saying that nothing else is valid. That’s not what I’m saying. Just that to this point you haven’t played me anything where I can see a link. The reason I haven’t been able to recognize some of the people is because I don’t hear those influences in their playing. When you played me Roy Haynes, I knew who it was in a second.

7. Ali Jackson, “Dali” (from Ted Nash & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, PORTRAIT IN SEVEN SHADES, JALC, 2010) (Nash, composer; Ali Jackson, drums)

Does anybody play in 4 any more? Not a clue. Don’t know who the band is. It could be Gil Evans—I don’t know. There’s not too much the drummer can do, because he’s playing in odd time, and it’s pretty much arranged—so he’s kind of in handcuffs. Is it a ‘50s or ‘60s recording? [Neither. It’s 2010.] Whoa! I was just thinking of how far back the drums are. [Ali Jackson with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.] That’s really interesting. See how far back the cymbal is? I know Ali, and I like his playing. But this doesn’t represent his sound. They’re probably all great musicians, but there’s no drive. You can’t hear any drive. All you hear is the bass, but the drums have no drive.

8. Ernesto Simpson, “We See” (from Manuel Valera, CURRENTS, MaxJazz 2009) (Valera, piano; James Genus, bass; Simpson, drums; Thelonious Monk, composer)

This must be the piano player’s record. That’s all you can hear. You can’t hear any drums. Well, you can hear the drums, but you don’t hear any cymbals. When was this recorded? A year or two ago? The piano is so out in front, you lose perspective. I spent a week playing with Danilo and Avishai Cohen when he was doing the Panamonk stuff in the ‘90s, and I had a ball. It was great. [Did you play Afro-Caribbean music, salsa, when you were a young guy?] I did a lot. I played in a band called Azteca. I actually did a record called Afro-Cubano Chant with Bob James, Gato Barbieri, Andy Gonzalez, Mike Mainieri, and Steve Berrios, and we did all stuff like that. We played Lonnie Hillyer’s “Tanya” from the Soul Sauce album, Cal Tjader. But I don’t know about this…

9. Cindy Blackman, “Vashkar” (from ANOTHER LIFETIME, 4Q, 2010) (Blackman, drums; Mike Stern, electric guitar; Doug Carn, organ; Benny Rietveld, electric bass; Tony Williams, composer)

This is Cindy Blackman. This is her Tony record. I don’t like the sound of the recording, but I love what Cindy’s playing. The recording is weird. No clarity. Cindy knows how to tune the drums, she has a great choice of drums and everything, but I don’t really get that. It sounds muddled. It sounds like drums and guitar. You’ve got to be able to HEAR the drums. That’s Mike Stern on guitar and Doug Carn on organ. I knew it exactly because I know the music and I knew they made the record. The guitar is way too loud. I’ve been reluctant to do a tribute album for Tony. His playing comes out so much in me, I didn’t think I had to do that. I’m not saying that Cindy shouldn’t have done that; I’m not saying that at all. But I’ve managed just to be able to trace through him and find what I needed to find. And anybody that listens to me play can hear his influence on me. If there’s any negative about this, it’s the sound of the recording. That’s all. 4 stars. It sounds like the snare drum and bass drum in the mix. There’s a whole bunch of stuff she’s playing that you miss. Cindy’s playing some great stuff, but you don’t hear it. Who’s the bass player? [Benny Rietveld.]

10. Paul Motian, “Abacus” (from LOST IN A DREAM, ECM, 2010) (Motian, drums, composer; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Jason Moran, piano)

Ringing snare drum. See how far back the bass drum is from the snare drum. These engineers and producers make jazz records try to sound like pop records. Jazz music is ambient music like classical music. You need to hear the air around the instruments, and then you hear it in direct proximity. You don’t hear a first violin louder than the viola. It’s a section. It’s a drumkit; you should always hear the whole kit, not the snare drum louder than something else. Is this a younger guy? [No.] I didn’t think so. It’s Paul Motian, but it sounded like Roy Haynes, from some of the things he did. I liked it. 3 stars.

11. Jeff Watts, “Caddo Bayou” (from John Beasley, POSITOOTLY!, Resonance, 2009) (Beasley, piano, composer; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone; James Genus, bass; Watts, drums)

Finally we have somebody swinging. Same thing, though. The cymbal is not loud enough. The music doesn’t swing if you don’t get… And the guy can be really swinging, but it suffers in the mix. I believe what happens is that guys are set to play, and they’re not content enough to make the band swing just playing the ride cymbal. They want to play a whole bunch of drums, and it overpowers everything. So the producers that make these jazz records bring down the drums because they’re afraid that it’s going to overpower everything. But you miss the ride beat. It doesn’t swing if you don’t hear that. It just sounds like a rolling thing. You hear the bass, but you hear the low end of the bass. You don’t really hear any finger noise. And you hear the soloist way up front. So the rhythm section has this rumbling thing, nondescript. Is this one of them new trumpet players? Now, let me ask you a question. Listening to the drummer, who is his influence? [This sounds more coming out of Tony with Miles than anything else, at least in intention.] No way. Because the stuff Tony played, he played off of a ride cymbal. [Is that from the recording or the actual vocabulary the drummer’s playing?] A little bit of both. I mean, the stuff that Tony played was so intricate, it wasn’t just a rolling thing. There was great coordination between hands and feet, and a ride pattern. It was the cymbal beat which keeps the rhythmic perspective, so that when he played some other stuff, it was really amazing, because he played it against and coordinated with the cymbal beat. This just sounds like it’s a whole bunch of stuff going on, but there’s nothing to keep it focused. I don’t know who it was. 2 stars.

I honestly think that the recording made Tain’s contribution suffer there, because I know he has more of a cymbal ride beat than that, because you couldn’t hear it. That’s what made me say what I say. [This is  illuminating for me. Because so many records sound like this, I’m used to projecting what I hear live onto the record, and it becomes like a ghost sound…] See, the problem is it’s as if you went to a jazz club and heard a classical orchestra, and you got used to that sound, so that when you went back and heard a classical orchestra in a correct auditorium, you’d say, “Wow, that’s really interesting, because I’m used to hearing it in….” One of the things that is important in maintaining the history and giving the right perspective about the music is how you record it. When I listen back to the records I came up listening to, the Blue Note records and Columbia records, it had a sound that we all loved and got used to hearing, and it was a quality sound. It didn’t sound bad. That sounded bad. {Is that because of compression?] I think it’s basically attitude from the producer and the engineer. The engineer gets the sound, but the producer says, “This is the sound that I want,” and the artist usually leaves it up to the producer. Or maybe the artist doesn’t know enough to say, “Hey, let’s use this amount of compression on the piano, let’s use ribbon mikes on the cymbals so we can get a sweeter sound.” They don’t take that impetus or study enough to get a great-sounding record. And if the record doesn’t sound good, how are you going to get what it is you want to get across to people? Today we listen to music on phones! It’s like, “Please!” It’s gotten to that point. So I think basically what made Tain’s sound suffer for me was the way it was mixed.

The reason why I became a producer was out of… I was so disgusted playing on someone’s session, and someone sitting behind a glass telling me to do this, and listen to the sound, and the sound sounded horrible. I said, “Man, I’ve got to think and do my homework to find out what it takes to have a good drum sound, and record it.” If I want to make records, then I’m going to need to know how to make my drum sound. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else, to say, “Ok, that sounds good.” No. So I had to take control.

[These aren’t self-produced recordings, but are independent labels, producers who have a point of view, so I’d suspect they think they’re putting some effort into the sound… For example, Paul Motian is on an ECM record; Manfred Eicher puts out a very curated sound…] Yes, and that sounded eons better than the last one. [But you were critical of the sound on that.] No-no. The point is… Yes, I have my opinion. But that was much more of a representative sound of what the music was like. It was a live recording. He had a very open bass drum, and I don’t know who decided, but some producer decided, “We don’t want to have ringy drums like that, we don’t want the snare drums to ring, so we’ll put tape on it and do this and do that.” Motian probably took control and said, “No, this is my sound, this is what I want to…” That’s why I said I knew it when I heard it. Roy Haynes plays a big open bass drum like that, too.

See, Ted, I just want to go on record as saying that what I say is not gospel. It’s just my perspective on it. When I am asked about it, I say what my perspective is. It took me a while to decide to record a record again, because I had listened to what the landscape was and thought about it and said, “Well, do I really want to make a statement in this particular landscape?” My statement is a lot different than what I just heard. But it’s my statement, and I take pride in how to make my instrument sound and how to mike it and all of that. I would hope that would come out in my recording. That’s why I’m so critical about the sound, because I don’t want great artists to make statements and for them not to be heard—and I’m talking about not to be heard while listening. It’s one thing that you don’t hear the record, but if you don’t hear the statement that they’re making while the record or CD or MP3 is being played…

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Drummer, Lenny White

For Terri Lyne Carrington’s Birthday, A Jazziz Feature From 2011

To acknowledge the birthday of the estimable drummer-producer Teri Lyne Carrington, a force on the scene since her late teens, here’s a feature article that I was given the opportunity to write about her for Jazziz  magazine in 2011. (Her inclusivity and incisive taste come through in this excellent Jazz Times “Before and After” with  Larry Applebaum.)

* * *

When Terri Lyne Carrington was 17, about to matriculate at Berklee School of Music as a full-time student, her fellow Bostonian, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, intoned the now-famous aphorism, “all politics is local.” Without implying any direct influence, one might say that Carrington—now a 45-year-old tenured Berklee professor, long-standing master drummer, and respected producer—operates by the imperative that “all music is social.”

That principle applies to Carrington’s new release, The Mosaic Project, her fifth as a leader, and fourth on which she coalesces, as she states on a promotional video on her website, “a lot of different textures and colors and pieces to make a whole picture.” There are 13 genre-spanning selections, including her arrangements of songs by Irving Berlin, Al Green, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Nona Hendryx, and the Beatles, and originals that refract the Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and M-Base schools of hardcore jazz and fusion. To perform them, Carrington assembled nine singers whom she’s either worked with or produced (Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carrington, Hendryx, Carmen Lundy, Gretchen Parlato, Dianne Reeves, Patricia Romania, Esperanza Spalding, and Cassandra Wilson), and an ace ensemble including, in various configurations, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, and Helen Sung on piano and keyboards, Spalding on bass, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Tineke Postma on alto saxophone, Anat Cohen on clarinets, and Sheila E. on percussion. She propels the proceedings with a global array of beats, navigating each flavor with idiomatic authority and a point of view, unfolding an intricate metric web in whatever direction the music suggests.

With so many moving parts in play, the outcome could well have been disjointed, or by-the-numbers stiff. Instead, Carrington creates a cohesive suite—the flow is relaxed and kinetic, the soloing is intense and probing, the ensemble breathes as one. “Terri has a broad, clear voice, and knows how to state her intentions so people understand,” says Reeves, who met Carrington when the drummer was a 10-year-old prodigy. “If she’d painted this picture with somebody else on drums, it would still be uniquely Terri Lyne Carrington’s music.”

“Terri is a connector,” Allen says of the way Carrington’s calm demeanor inspired the tight-yet-loose chemistry. “She knows how to pull together the right combination of people and energies and give them a sense of freedom within the context of her projects. This setting felt like home, a family thing where nobody’s sitting with their arms folded, waiting for you to prove you deserve to be here.”

Notions of family, both biological and musical, deeply inform Mosaic Project and two prior Carrington recordings from the aughts. On 2001’s all-instrumental Jazz is A Spirit [ACT], she convened several first-call peers, as well as Herbie Hancock, her frequent employer, and the voice of drum icon Jo Jones circa 1984, with a year to live, telling Carrington, “As long as I’m here, you run into any problems, call me—because of your grandfather, because of your father, and because of you.” She explicitly acknowledged bloodlines on the 2008 session More To Say (Real Life Story: Next Gen), a creative take on the funky side of smooth jazz (with brief blasts of Afro-Carribean and hip-hop). On that album she plays the contemporary grooves with an attitude that recalls the function that her grandfather, drummer Matt Carrington, fulfilled when jazz was swing, and swing was dance music. He died a few months before her birth, and his drums became her first kit.

On the aforementioned projects, Carrington, like many prominent sister musicians accustomed to being the only woman on the bandstand, recruited almost exclusively male associates to convey her vision. But on Mosaic Project, Carrington makes a firm statement on what it means to be a female jazz musician in the 21st century.

“People always tried to put me in situations with women, but it never felt comfortable or natural,” Carrington said. Influenced by recent engagements with Spalding (she performs on her 2010 release Chamber Music Society), and with Allen (they’ve shared numerous bandstands since the ‘80s, most recently in Postma’s quartet), her feelings shifted. “For me, Esperanza completed a circle,” she continued. “Nothing against other female bass players, but I felt like-minded with her, as I do with Tineke and other female horn players I’ve met recently. I won’t think twice about accepting a gig with them or calling them for a gig, because I like the way they play.”

Carrington provided detailed charts, each catering to the idiosyncracies of the vocal and instrumental soloists. She conveyed the nuances not only through in-studio instructions, but by sending to each participant an MP3 demo containing horn parts, basslines, chord changes, harmonic voicings, even her own interpretation of the lyrics in the style of each singer. “I composed every note you hear, other than the solos,” Carrington says, noting that she wrote nightly last spring after putting her three-year-old son to bed.

Sometimes, Carrington loosened the reins, instructing the players to do “something more personal” by focusing on the chords and not the written voicings. That flexible perspective and attitude of trust was crucial in actualizing her “jazz means no-category” aesthetic. “Terri doesn’t play drums like a groove machine that I need to lock into with a bass part,” Spalding said. “To me, she plays drums sort of like a piano. Each register and drum of the kit is like its own instrument that you could say she’s orchestrating, as though each drum has a voice. Playing bass, I have to be solid keeping the time in a specific place, but stay on my toes and be ready to dance with this orchestrated, multi-faceted momentum she’s creating. She’s so diverse—in her playing, you hear all the styles of music she’s mastered.”

In Allen’s view, Carrington’s encyclopedic knowledge of drum history bedrocks her cool boldness. “Terri has the foundation together, and she’s always felt confident to push ahead and mix, in a seamless way, the root with the future,” she says. “She understands drumming from the perspective of different world musics. She understands technology. She understands the pulse of what’s happening today.”

“I’m a jazz musician who is influenced by many other things,” Carrington said. “I try to mesh them together in my presentation, but jazz is still going to come out.” In this regard, she mentioned her father, Sonny Carrington, a professional saxophonist who went 9-to-5 to raise his family. “When I was doing TV shows in the ‘90s (she was house drummer on the Arsenio Hall Show and Vibe, hosted by Sinbad), I was playing very little jazz jazz, and I told my father I didn’t want to put the word ‘jazz’ in front of my name, like ‘jazz drummer’ or ‘jazz musician.’ He said, ‘You can’t run away from who you are.’ It stuck.

“I grew up listening to his music, jazz-based stuff that felt good—Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball, Hank Crawford. That swing conception is my root. Then I allow all my experiences as a child, teenager, young adult, and now adult, to seep in. Obviously, classic jazz is not of our generation—though I’m not putting down people who live more in the past, because they’re keeping that alive. It goes back to art for art’s sake or art for social consciousness. If you want to be socially aware through your art and tell people how you feel about life in general, what you’re doing has to reflect who you are, and current music is important. With instrumental music, it’s challenging for the listener to really know your intent. That’s why vocal music has always been so important to me—the message gets out to the listener.”

[BREAK]

Carrington remarked that she predicates her musical affiliations on “who I can connect with without thinking too hard,” and that playing with women “doesn’t feel particularly different” than with men.” Indeed, as she states in the publicity materials, the whole point of The Mosaic Project is that “you don’t hear gender.”

Reeves concurred, stating that she felt only “the vibration of creativity.” Yet she also states that on her album, That Day, a Carrington-supervised opus from 1997, “it was exciting to have a woman’s voice” in the producer’s chair. “As an artist, you want the producer to respect you for what you do—your ideas, your ability,” Reeves said. “I’ve known Terri so long, I knew I was in capable hands; she allowed me to feel I could be vulnerable—that I could stretch. She hears everything, she has strong opinions, and she came up with specific ideas that she knew would appeal to me. She knows how to do that with other people, too.”

Spalding opined that gender plays a subtle role in musical production, parsing the Mosaic Project experience through a music-mirrors-life approach. “Working with all these women, for the first time I experienced what most men always experience,” she stated. She noted that women are raised by similar codes, encounter similar “social stigmas and social habits,” and that, since music “is an extension of our identities and personalities,” these affinities “can’t help but seep into the way we choose to interact with music as it passes by us in real time—maybe we’re communicating a little closer to the same language. Sometimes I feel it in a subtle, sort of unconscious way, but as soon as I try to identify something, it’s gone.”

For Carrington, that “something” is the female predisposition to be “a little more in tune from a compassionate perspective, a serving perspective, a ‘let me make this bed for you’ perspective, whereas a guy more naturally just steps in. I like both things, and both are happening in most women. The best male players have it, too. But a woman’s nature, I think, is to hold back for a second, assess the situation quickly, and be supportive. That nurturing quality—without trying to—makes the music feel more beautiful. Sometimes I have to work at not doing that too much, so everything doesn’t sound too polite.”

She observes such reticence among the young women who study with her at Berklee. “I think it’s less natural for women to hit things,” she said. “Even though we’re making music, it’s still a somewhat aggressive action that a lot of women—not all—don’t gravitate to. The majority are still a bit apologetic. When kids play catch, say, a girl’s instinct is to throw or pass the ball. A guy’s instinct is to grab the ball and hold onto it.”

It was hard to imagine that this had ever been an issue for a musician who spent consequential time on bandstands with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Danilo Perez, following postgraduate New York associations in the ‘80s with such high-pedigree jazzmen as Clark Terry, Frank Foster, James Moody, Pharaoh Sanders, Kenny Barron, Lester Bowie, Stan Getz, and Mulgrew Miller, not to mention M-Base innovators like Greg Osby and Gary Thomas.

“No, I think it has been,” Carrington responded, recalling past engagements at the Village Vanguard when she “wanted to put my best foot forward” before her drummer peers in the crowd, “to show off and say, ‘Yeah, I’m bad; I can play.’” Often, she added, “I couldn’t get past a hurdle to do that ownership thing. I wanted to stand out more, but I couldn’t make myself do it if it didn’t come naturally at that moment.”

It seemed that this response might pertain more to the demands of apprenticeship than some inherently female characteristic. “That’s true,” she said. “But I felt a lot of the younger drummers were more willing to step all over the music. To me, that’s a male quality. Some people perceived that as overplaying or being inappropriate, whereas many people felt I was always appropriate, didn’t overplay. As I got older and more seasoned, and played with peers or younger people, I became more confident and comfortable with myself. I know that I’m naturally about serving the music and fitting in, so I don’t mind saying, if necessary, ‘We’re going over here for a minute, and we’re doing this.’ I’m always going to be appropriate. But now I see being appropriate differently.

“My father told me, ‘You never give anybody a show.’ He felt I could. But that’s not what I do. I like playing through everybody’s solos, and bringing something to it. I’ve started realizing that this can be captivating in itself. People tell me they couldn’t take their eyes off me, and I hadn’t taken a drum solo. So I allow myself to be featured without featuring myself. I know that when I get deep inside the music, it can be a force, a magnetism, that draws people in.”

Few drummers could conjure as much contextually appropriate dazzle as did Carrington in November with Danilo Perez and John Patitucci during a Philadelphia concert exploring the repertoire of Perez’ landmark 1996 date, Panamonk, on which she and Jeff Watts split drum duties. Earlier in the month, after several gigs in Spain with Perez and Patitucci in the Wayne Shorter Quartet—she recommended them to Shorter at the end of the ‘90s—as a sub for Brian Blade, Shorter told Carrington it was as though she “had never really left the group—I was like the fifth member all that time.” He backed the words by asking her to join the group in Brazil in June.

Still, Carrington’s 2011 itinerary includes numerous encounters with women, including various Mosaic Project offshoots, tours with Spalding’s trio, a collaborative Carrington-Allen-Spalding trio, and hoped-for follow-ups to a program of young girls’ songs that debuted at the Kennedy Center last October on which Allen and Rushen played Steinway Grands. Over the summer, she’ll play drums and serve as music director for a tour called “Sing the Truth,” on which Reeves, Angelique Kidjo, and Lizz Wright will interpret songs written by African-American women from Bessie Smith to Lauryn Hill.

“I might want to do a Joni Mitchell song, even though she’s not African-American, because she’s such a strong songwriter,” Carrington says of the latter endeavor. “It doesn’t have to be just writers either—it could be a Mahalia Jackson song.” She expounds on her ecumenical tastes, referencing Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, neo-soul, “organic rock with a blues orientation” a la the Allman Brothers, and drummers “who aren’t mechanical” like Mitch Mitchell and John Bonham. “From TV, I developed respect for all the genres, because I had to sound as close as possible to people who specialize without imitating them. You focus, come on strong and make the point, because you have less than a minute. There’s no room for error.

“I’ve always put my heart into whatever I do,” she continues. “One of my favorite gigs ever was with Bill Withers when he came out of retirement to do a party. If I was just about playing the drums, then playing with Wayne or Herbie would be much more satisfying than playing with Bill Withers. For me it’s about making music and being creative.”

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Filed under Drummer, Jazziz, Terri Lyne Carrington

For the 83rd Birthday Anniversary of the late Paul Motian (1931-2011), Some Unedited Interviews Between 1993 and 2005

Paul Motian (1931-2011) was born 83 years ago today in Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly after his death, I posted a few encounters with Paul — one link gives you a 2008 WKCR interview that I published on the www.jazz.com ‘zine and a 2001 feature article for DownBeat; another takes you to  an uncut Blindfold Test from around 2000.  I’ll use the occasion as an excuse to post several complete interviews that I had an opportunity to do with Paul over the years. . I actually can’t remember what the occasion was for the 2005 encounter — maybe a DownBeat Readers or Critics Poll article (that text is somehow mysteriously missing from my files). There follows a 2007 conversation for a lengthy obituary of Max Roach that I wrote for DownBeat. Then comes an interview from 2000 — I think this was done live on WKCR — in which many topics are addressed, not least his Electric Bebop Band. Finally, I’ve posted my first interview with Paul, from 1993 on WKCR, during one of the many weeks he did at the Village Vanguard with the trio he formed in the early ’80s with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Finally, as a reward for plowing through all this stuff, the post concludes with a full set of  interviews that I conducted with various PM associates and musical partners (Stefan Winter, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Brian Blade, Joey Baron) that I conducted for that 2001 DownBeat article.

 

Paul Motian (Ted Panken) – (July 30, 2005):

TP: I need to ask you about the scope of your activity right now.

PAUL: One thing I’m excited about is that the week after next I’m going to mix the last Electric Bebop Band record I did, which we did in the studio last November for ECM. On some of the tunes, there’s three guitar players—Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, and Jacob Bro. It’s the same band that played the Vanguard last January. [Malaby-Cheek]

TP: So these days you’re playing in New York and doing special hits in Europe…

PAUL: No, I haven’t been in Europe… I haven’t traveled for almost two years. I got burnt out. I hate it.

TP: All these projects with Enrico Pieranunzi that came out on CAMI-Sunnyside were in 2002-03. One’s a duo, with a few trios with Potter; one is a quintet date on Fellini music; one is a trio with Charlie Haden and him.

PAUL: Those were done a couple of years ago in Italy at Morricone’s studio. Nice. Charlie Haden didn’t like it, but I liked it.

TP: So you’re doing this thing with Bill McHenry, you’ve got the Electric Bebop Band, and there are a few records coming out that Tina Pelikan has sent with, with Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani.

PAUL: Those are nice. I like that.

TP: Then this thing with Bobo Stenson.

PAUL: That’s nice, too. I just got a copy. I’m surprised how good that was.

TP: You went to Europe for those?

PAUL: No-no.

TP: They had to come here.

PAUL: Right.

TP: Everybody’s got to come to you now.

PAUL: Right.

TP: You only go out of New York for vacation?

PAUL: I don’t go on vacation. I go to the Vanguard. That’s my vacation! You know what I was excited about? I just played the Vanguard the first week of June with my band that’s called Trio 2000 + 1. That was great. [Poo Kikuchi, Chris Potter, Larry Grenadier; maybe another record]

TP: Are you now contracted to ECM?

PAUL: No, I’m not contracted to anybody. But I have been working with ECM lately. The last trio record with Frisell and Lovano we did for ECM, and the very first record with that trio we did for ECM.

TP: That was the end of your first go-around with them.

PAUL: Sure. It was in 1984-85.

TP: But you did your first trio records, with Izenson and Brackeen for ECM. So this is your second go-around with ECM. How is it?

PAUL: Great. Manfred Eicher is great. I trust him 2000%, especially during the mix. He’s got such great ears. Wow, he’s incredible. I love the sound of that trio record we did with Frisell and Lovano. Also the sounds of Enrico’s record and Bobo’s record. So I’m really looking forward to this Bebop band record.

TP: This thing started again when you went into the studio with Marilyn Crispell a few years ago.

PAUL: That’s kind of true, I guess.

TP: How did this happen? You had a very productive relationship going on with Stefan Winter from about 1987-88 until maybe three years ago.

PAUL: I must have done more than a dozen records with him.

TP: I think you did. And he gave you a lot of opportunity to put out all your different projects.

PAUL: Yes. In fact, there are still some records coming out now that have been re-released. A trio record with Frisell and Lovano that was recorded at the Vanguard that’s coming out now. We’re going to be playing in September at the Vanguard for two weeks.

TP: Has the trio been working?

PAUL: We played Carnegie Hall. That’s it.

TP: Were most of the pieces on this new record fairly recent?

PAUL: Yes. By not going on the fucking road, I’ve been staying and writing music. I think there are 7 or 8 new pieces I wrote for that record, and there’s I think six new pieces I wrote that will be on the bebop record.

TP: This bebop band record won’t be repertory…

PAUL: Well, there are a couple of Mingus tunes on there. It’s been so long since I’ve heard it; I’ve forgotten most of it. There’s a lot of my new tunes, and I think we did Mingus’ Pithecanthropus Erectus and Goodbye Porkpie Hat, and I think we did a Charlie Parker blues.

TP: You played with Monk that one week in Boston.

PAUL: Right. In 1960.
TP: You said you were scared to death, but you got through it.

PAUL: I was.

TP: You also said that Monk had you sing him your beat, and then he said play it this way.

PAUL: “Try it this way.”

TP: I don’t think you ever played with Bud Powell.

PAUL: No.

TP: And you didn’t play with Bird.

PAUL: I saw Bird play once.

TP: Did you play with Mingus ever?

PAUL: I sat in with him once at the Vanguard. I never really worked with him. I hardly remember it. I heard an interview with Jackie Paris once on WKCR, and he said he was with Mingus on the Vanguard, and he remembered a night when he threw everybody off the stage except Paul Motian. And I wasn’t working with him. I must have been sitting in or something. In those days at the Vanguard, there was always two bands. I might have been playing with Bill Evans opposite Mingus.

I’ll tell you, man, I forget a lot of shit. Somebody asked me, “Did you ever play with Jimmy Nottingham, the trumpet player?” I said, “No.” Then they showed me a picture of me playing with him.

TP: I’d figure that playing with Mingus would be a fairly memorable moment. And you have the gig book.

PAUL: No, it was mostly.. I did play a lot with Oscar Pettiford, though.

TP: The reason I’m asking is that at the time you put together the Bebop Band, there was almost a coming full circle quality. You came up in bebop, you expanded your vocabulary, your way of playing, your notion of time, and in your sixties, as a fully mature player…

PAUL: What’s happened with the bebop band now is that I started incorporating my own music. It started out only bebop, and then we went from that to putting in some standard songs, and then I introduced a couple of my tunes, and now I’m playing a lot of my songs. I’m just mixing the whole thing up.

TP: The way you approach the band changed. Initially, it was a head-solo-solo-solo-head kind of thing, but then you started changing up the arrangements, doing shout choruses…basically orchestrating it. I think it was the first time you used a larger ensemble as a vehicle for your music.

PAUL: Yes. It’s nice having that instrument. All those players, all those instruments…man, it’s great. Did I tell you the story of what Ornette said one time? I had just come from a rehearsal of the bebop band. This was years ago. I met Ornette in the street, around Broadway and 72nd Street. He asked me what I was doing, and I said I just came from a rehearsal with the bebop band, we were playing bebop tunes, and everybody was playing in unison. Ornette said, “all music is a unison.” I said, “Oh great.” That made me feel good!

TP: Lee Konitz told me about rehearsing with Ornette, and he was a bit nervous about there not being changes, and Charlie Haden told him and said, “don’t worry, we play changes…”

PAUL: That’s the story Dewey Redman says. They were rehearsing for a recording, and they were playing this melody that had no changes. Dewey said to Ornette, “Man, it would be great if this had changes.” So the next day Ornette came in with the same tune, and there was a change over every single note. So Dewey said he never asked him about changes again!

TP: You told me a story about Max Roach sitting in on your drums and telling you they were very hard to play, because they were so tightly tuned.

PAUL: Yes. That was at the Half Note.

TP: So the Electric Bebop Band recorded in November…

PAUL: It will probably be a year before that comes out! The record I did with Bobo Stenson is just coming out now, and I did that record when I did the trio record with Frisell and Lovano. [April 2004]. The bebop record I did around the same time I did Enrico Rava’s record.

We did the MFL record date right after I had a root canal. I had a fuckin’ toothache like… I called the dentist, and I went in, I had a root canal around 9 o’clock in the morning, and I went to the studio around 10, and we did that whole record that one afternoon.

TP: That’s very old-school, Paul.

PAUL: Well, I’m old. Anyway, we’re going to play in the Vanguard with the bebop band in January. It would be great if the record would come out at that time, but I doubt it.

TP: What is it about the way Manfred Eicher hears you…

PAUL: It’s him, but it’s also the engineer. James Farber was the engineer on just about all those records we’re talking about, and he’s got my sound down great. He’s got my sound on my drums that’s really wonderful. He’s really good at that. I’m very happy about that.

TP: In some of these conversations you’ve said contradictory things about drum-sound. On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter to you what drumset you play, you just go out and deal with it. You said you decided not to take your drum-key on a tour, and nobody had a drum-key on the whole tour, and you just dealt with it. You’d hear a sound and you’d play it. But on the other hand, you said that starting with Paul Bley, really, after you left Bill Evans, you became much more acutely conscious of the sound and timbre of the different components of the kit, and that this set off a sea change in the way you conceptualized the drums. Is that more or less how it was?

PAUL: That’s kind of true. But the thing is, when I went to Europe, I didn’t have my drums, so I had to deal with whatever I got. But I sort of managed to get through it and I was still able to play how I play. That’s what I meant. The sound was nowhere near what I really love, which are my own drums. Being in New York and playing just here and recording and always having my own drums, it’s a pleasure. I love that. But I have to deal with that stuff in Europe, playing on other drumsets. Sometimes I would manage to get my sound, but not really my sound as if I get them on my own drums.

TP: Are you still a Gretsch artist? Can you articulate what you like about the kit?

PAUL: No. [LAUGHS] It’s just the sound of the drums, the way they’re tuned. There’s kind of a bottom sound that I really love, especially with the bass drum and the tuning of the drums, the intervals between each individual drum. It’s great. It makes a lot of sense to me. It’s very musical. I played at Dizzy Gillespie’s Coca-Cola Room with Joe Lovano, Mulgrew Miller and George Mraz, and it seemed different to me. I had my own drums and my own cymbals, but it seemed like after the second or third night I changed the cymbals. That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that. It seemed that in that room, the cymbals I was using didn’t quite sound right. There’s a huge glass wall behind you, there’s a wooden stage, and there’s a wooden floor in the club. People in the club say the sound is great, but for me it was very different. I changed the cymbals. But after I changed my cymbals, I was satisfied. It sounded good.

TP: I guess another first for you is playing with Hank Jones on these several hits with Lovano. But you didn’t tour with Lovano, did you.

PAUL: No.

TP: You can only play with him and Hank if it’s in New York. How was it playing with Hank Jones?

PAUL: I loved playing with him. It was great.

TP: That isn’t totally a straight-ahead record, but it sort of is. I guess that never goes away, does it.

PAUL: No. Somebody sent me a CD of something I did with Andrew Hill, and I’m just playing straight-ahead 4/4 time. I don’t really do that any more. It’s a Blue Note record.

TP: I recall that Blackwell was sick in the early ‘90s, you subbed for him with Lovano.

PAUL: I don’t remember that. I remember playing with Dewey Redman when Blackwell got ill.

TP: Joe had a bunch of tunes that were kind of customized for Blackwell, and you dealt with them very much in that style. I hadn’t heard you do that before.

PAUL: Oh. Okay. [LAUGHS] There was a club on West Broadway years ago [Axis], and Dewey had the gig and he called me up. Blackwell was there, but he was so weak, he couldn’t play. I went down and played. Blackwell was really weak, and he was there trying to set up the drums. He was bent over, so weak that he couldn’t put the drumkit together.

TP: In 2001 when you were at the Vanguard, I was standing to the left of the doorway, watching you, and some musician was next to me and said, “Lovano and Frisell are playing the time; Paul isn’t playing the time.” You told me that was true. A lightbulb clicked on or a door opened, and I started hearing certain things. When did you stop hearing 4/4 time within the framework of your own music? You certainly were a helluva time player; you satisfied very demanding people. Why is it no longer part of your customary palette?

PAUL: It depends on the music. It depends on what I’m playing, who I’m playing with and what they’re doing. I’m sort of feeding off of them. The time is there. It’s already there. You don’t have to beat it to death, I don’t think. There was no one particular time when a lightbulb went off and I said, “Oh, man, I’m going to change, I’m going to do this or that.” I never thought that way at all. I never thought about doing anything special or doing anything on purpose. It just happened. It depended on who I played with. I remember the day when I first played with Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro, the way Scott LaFaro was playing. I’d never played with a bass player who played like that before. I was playing with Oscar Pettiford, Tommy Potter, Curley Russell, Wilbur Ware, people who just played straight-ahead 4/4 time. Here was Scott LaFaro playing… People used to say, “He sounds like a guitar player.” All of a sudden, the time started to break up. I guess maybe during that period was when I first started to realize that the time was already there; you don’t have to play it all the time. Maybe. Now it seems that every bass player plays like that. But in those days, it seemed that nobody played like that. Maybe Gary Peacock might have, but I didn’t know Gary yet.

TP: I think he came to New York a couple of years later. So the trio is playing in September. Do you discern any difference in the way the trio sounds? Might it be just the way Lovano and Frisell have evolved? I assume you listen to these records pretty closely?

PAUL: I think I take it more or less for granted now! I don’t think Frisell or Lovano play that much better now than they did 20 years ago. They played great then. But if I told people about it, they wouldn’t…

TP: You said “they were famous then, but no one would believe me.”

PAUL: That makes sense! I guess they’ve made some progress, I would hope!

TP: Both of them have 20-year careers as leaders, but when they play with you they blend together, and it’s interesting to hear it because of who they’ve become…

PAUL: Yeah, that’s true. I was playing some of that older stuff recently, and the difference is in their sound. They’ve developed different… To listen to Frisell from the first quintet record we did to now is really different. Lovano is not that different, but still there’s some difference in their sound.

TP: Does that have to do with the instruments they use, or the way they think about projecting…

PAUL: Partly. Frisell was using a lot of electronic shit in those days, too, and sometimes now he’s not.

TP: Then he was playing with Zorn and doing a lot of wild shit…

PAUL: This was even before that. I talked to him recently. He’s up in Canada now playing with a group, and it sounds like they’re playing folk music festivals.

TP: Another thing I was wondering: As a kid of Turkish-Armenian descent, and having listened to a lot of that music then, were those complex, wild rhythms ever part of your palette?

PAUL: I don’t know about the rhythms. The melodies would be more of an influence. The melodic part, not the rhythmic part. A lot of the music I heard as a kid, if I hear now… Not only Turkish and Armenian, but some Persian music and music that comes out of Iraq and Iran—the Middle East… Some of that music is dear to me. Some of those melodies are really beautiful. I heard something the other day by the Egyptian woman singer who passed away in the ‘70s… I can’t remember her name, but she was really great. She was singing on television with a 20-piece orchestra playing behind her. It blew me away. It was beautiful.

TP: Do your current compositions draw on those early experiences?

PAUL: Oh, yeah. Sure.

TP: Do you still listen to Middle Eastern music?

PAUL: Sometimes.

TP: You said you listen to classical music as well.

PAUL: Yeah.

TP: Are you listening to much jazz at all?

PAUL: I don’t know!

TP: Are you hearing anything you like?

PAUL: I’ve been pulling stuff out and listening. I haven’t heard any new stuff that’s come out. If I listen to stuff it’s probably older… As a matter of fact, the other day I was in a restaurant and I heard something that blew me away. It was Miles Davis, and I was sure it was Kenny Clarke. It just sounded great, and I went on a research and bought a bunch of records until I found what it was, and it was the the soundtrack from the movie, Elevator To the Gallows. There’s this one track with just trio, Miles and Kenny Clarke and Pierre Michelot. Boy, it’s fuckin’ great! Kenny Clarke was one of my big, big loves.

TP: You told me you wondered how he could get so much music out of such a small drumkit. You use not such a huge drumkit yourself.

PAUL: It’s just a normal set. Bass drum, two tom-toms, floor tom-tom, two cymbals, hi-hat, snare drum.

TP: Do they customize it for you?

PAUL: No.

TP: So you don’t give Gretsch specifications?

PAUL: No. As a matter of fact, James Farber asked me when I got my drumkit, and I couldn’t remember. Then he remembered because he said it was on Bill Frisell’s first record on ECM; I had the same drumkit. That means I’ve had it for 15 years or so, and I didn’t realize that. I just went into a drum-shop and bought it.

TP: You’re so matter of fact when you talk about these areas of your career…

PAUL: Yeah! It’s not no deep fuckin’ secret! People talk about this shit like it’s some kind of…

TP: But you were involved in a lot of cataclysmic events. The Bill Evans Trio, which influenced every pianist who came after. You’re involved in the Keith Jarrett Quartet, and a ton of people are still drawing on that vocabulary. You came in on Albert Ayler and Paul Bley and a certain way of organizing that kind of thing. Frisell and Lovano, that trio set a template for everybody under 40 (who went to a conservatory anyway). So that’s at least four major shifts in the music that you’re part of.

PAUL: Well, okay.

TP: Well, you know this. It seems to be part of following your instincts, the quotidian thing of being a working musician in New York. “I like it, I go there, I play it.”

PAUL: Yeah-yeah. That’s it, man. There’s no…

TP: But wasn’t it a conceptual leap to play behind Albert Ayler after you’d been playing with Bill Evans?

PAUL: No.

TP: Maybe Scott LaFaro prepared you for that.

PAUL: Nobody prepared me for… No. No! No, man. None of that stuff is true! Somebody calls you for a gig, and you go, and you play, and you play with the people that you play with, and you play with them, and you try to make music. You try to make music with the people you’re playing with, and then play a certain way, so you might play a certain way just to make it musical or make it magic or make it something that’s worthwhile.

TP: Then it becomes part of your style, doesn’t it.

PAUL: I don’t know.

TP: You don’t let it go. It becomes part of your muscle memory or your brain memory…

PAUL: I don’t know! [LAUGHS]

TP: Has that always been your attitude towards music, from when…

PAUL: When I was first in New York playing with all these fuckin’ great giants of jazz, man, I was thrilled to be doing it and I was happy to be doing it, but when I think about it now, I think I was just lucky to have the opportunity to do that. Someone asked me, “Did you ever play with Sonny Rollins?” I did play with Sonny Rollins. One night at Birdland. It was like a Monday night in Birdland. Sonny Rollins, Tony Fruscella playing trumpet, Curley Russell playing bass, and it was the piano player’s big, Bill Triglia. Bill Triglia called me to make a Monday night at Birdland. I went in there and played, and those were the people I played with. I was kind of scared at the time, when saw it was Sonny Rollins and all these people. But I did my best, tried to play my best, tried to play with them, and learn…I don’t know, just play!

TP: What was the quality in your playing that got you entrenched on the scene? You were working 300 days a year for five-six years, and that probably started around ‘55.

PAUL: Looking at that gig book, there was a time when I played every single night.

TP: So it’s not just luck. You had skills. It can’t be just luck. What was it about you that got all these very diverse personalities to call you?

PAUL: I don’t know.

TP: What do you think?

PAUL: I don’t know, man. Even with Edgar Varese, man. I rehearsed with Edgar Varese, and he recorded it on a tape. Teo Macero still has that tape, man. I don’t even know who called me for that.

TP: Is it just because you had really good time.

PAUL: I don’t know.

TP: Do you think you had really good time?

PAUL: I don’t know. Maybe I was getting high with somebody and they liked me.

TP: But no speculations?

PAUL: Somebody would call me for a gig, and I would be really happy that they called me for the gig. For instance, that night when I played with Sonny Rollins and those cats at Birdland, Zoot Sims was in the audience, and he asked me to go to Cleveland with him. He heard me play that night there, so he must have liked what he heard, and he needed a drummer to play that gig in Cleveland, and he asked me to play that. I did it, and I ended up playing with him and Al Cohn at the Half Note quite a bit. I guess because I was on the scene, and playing so much all over town and in a lot of places, people heard me, and if somebody needed a drummer and liked what they heard from me, they called me. I don’t think it was anything any deeper than that.

TP: By the time you got to New York, you had enough skills together that you could fit into the scene.

PAUL: I don’t know. That time when I played with Monk, I didn’t know his music. I just kept my fingers crossed that I didn’t fall on my fuckin’ ass!

TP: Moving to the present with Bobo Stenson and Enrico Rava: These were set up to put them together with you, I’d think. What sort of preparation do you do? Any rehearsing beforehand?

PAUL: No. We didn’t get together beforehand. No rehearsal. I don’t do that with anybody.

TP: Why not?

PAUL: I just don’t. What for? I’ve been playing long enough. I’m old enough to know what the fuck I’m doing at this point in my life! I don’t need a rehearsal. I’d rather depend on my own skills and my own whatever to play good and play well when the time comes. I don’t want to rehearse. I think a rehearsal takes away from the beauty of the music.

TP: Is that the case with the Bebop Band also?

PAUL: No, we don’t rehearse. The time we rehearse is when we’re setting up and getting ready for a gig.

TP: The soundcheck is the rehearsal.

PAUL: Yeah. That’s what I’m going to do with Bill McHenry, too. On Tuesday I’ll go down there at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and we’ll go over a few tunes, and that’s it. That’s what happened on the trio record with Frisell and Lovano. We didn’t rehearse. I brought the music in, I showed them the music. We might have tried a few things in the studio, but we didn’t have any specific rehearsal time.

TP: Even though you’re more involved in composition than ever, the aural quality of music is still very important to you.

PAUL: Oh, yeah. Sure. I thought this was going to be a short interview!

TP: When you were a kid learning drums, did you… I think you said you played in high school bands. Did you learn to read, to play in big bands?

PAUL: Yes.

TP: You have those skills.

PAUL: Well, I don’t…

TP: Or had.

PAUL: I did that, sure. I took drum lessons and read the drum books, went through that. I played, even in pre high school, in the band. I was 12 years old when I started, and any time there was an opportunity to play in a band in school, I did that, and as soon as I got out of school I played. I went on tours with the big band throughout New England before I went into the Service, before the Korean War. Then I played in the band during the Korean War when I was in the Navy. I was in a band!

TP: How did Bill Evans rehearse the band? Was it a bandstand process? You told me you’d go to his apartment and play?

PAUL: It wasn’t rehearsals. We would play. He had an apartment on 82nd or 84th Street.

TP: You said there were a lot more sessions then anyway, so those sessions were like de facto…

PAUL: Right. I saw Bob Dorough the other day, and we talked about that. He used to have a place in the east 70s. I used to play there a lot, up four-five flights of stairs and play. Sessions around town. I used to play all the time. That’s the way it went.

TP: that was the musical culture of the city then.
PAUL: People don’t do that now, I suppose.

TP: How did the association with Bill McHenry begin?

PAUL: He called me to record with him. I guess he knew me. I had never met him. I might have heard about him. I’m not quite sure. But he called me to record with him, and I did, and when I did the record, I really liked it. I liked his music, and I liked playing with him and the band, and the recording was really good. Then when he got a gig at the Vanguard, he called me and I said okay. I think this is the third or fourth time for us at the Vanguard. I think we’re going to record live in the coming week.

TP: Did you decide to do it after he sent you a tape of his stuff, or you just liked the way he approached you?

PAUL: I don’t think he sent me a tape.

TP: What are you looking for in the musicians you play? You seem to keep adding young musicians to your circle.

PAUL: I’m a little careful about what I’m doing. In fact, somebody called me recently from Boston, left a message on my machine, told me he was a piano player and told me his name, and told me the name of the bass player, and said they wanted to come to New York and do a record, and they wanted me to make a record with them. I didn’t return the call. I didn’t know who they were.

TP: But you knew who Bill McHenry was.

PAUL: Yeah. Somebody calls me out of the blue like that, I won’t even react to it unless I talk to the person and they tell me what they do and what the project is about, and maybe I might get interested. I don’t know. But if I don’t know them, I’m not going to get involved.

TP: Are you looking for any particular qualities?

PAUL: Good music.

TP: It seems a lot of your band members have come into your bands on recommendations. Bill D’Arango told you about Lovano, Pat Metheny told you about Frisell… Frisell told you about Kurt Rosenwinkel… But it’s the recommendations.

PAUL: Yes, that happens a lot. Matter of fact, with Malaby, Chris Potter was playing with me, and then he couldn’t anymore, and something else happened, and when I asked about other saxophone players I think he mentioned Tony Malaby…or it might have been Chris Cheek. But that’s the way it goes. Somebody would recommend someone, or I’d ask about someone… If I trust someone’s… Like, Masabumi Kikuchi has been telling me recently about Greg Osby. I don’t know Greg Osby; I don’t think I’ve heard him play. But Masabumi told me he likes him, and he recommended him, and I trust Masabumi. So if it came up that I wanted some… [END OF SIDE A]

TP: You would have no compunction about calling him, and might respond if he called you.

PAUL: Yeah.
TP: But you’ve heard of him. You know of him by reputation.

PAUL: Sure.

TP: So you’re doing this thing with Bill McHenry next week, and it’s been going on for several years. Then you’re going to mix the Bebop band record, and that’s maybe the 7th or 8th record by the Bebop band, but the first for ECM, and they’re going to play in January at the Vanguard. Then Lovano-Frisell-Motian is two weeks in September at the Vanguard. Any other new projects? We have the Enrico Rava and Bobo Stenson records…

PAUL: We’re talking about playing Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Room at the end of November with Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani. But I haven’t heard back from Todd Barkan, who books the room. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But I would hope it happens; I’d like to do that. In fact, the sound in the room with that trio might be more to my liking since there’s no bass.

Also I think I’m going to do two nights at Birdland with Enrico Pieranunzi and Marc Johnson in March. In April, I’m playing the Vanguard again with Trio 2000 + 1. Also, the two weeks with Lovano and Frisell at the Vanguard again, too. We do it every year around August-September. I love playing at the Vanguard. It sounds great in there. The sound is beautiful in there! I just love it. Every time I play in another club, it’s never as good. It’s amazing, isn’t it, man? I think the first time I played in there, it must have been in fuckin’ 1954 or ‘55. I played in there with Lee Konitz. I think it was 1955.

TP: You have a gig book entry for New Year’s Eve, 1956. Fifty years at the Village Vanguard.

PAUL: Yeah! I’m sorry I’m not more articulate. Some people are so good at that. Keith Jarrett is great at that. Bill Evans was incredibly articulate.

TP: How’s your book project?

PAUL: I’m looking at it now. It’s on the floor. Every couple of months I pick it up and look at it, and then I correct it. A lot of the stuff I’ve told you is in there.

TP: Last time I spoke to you, you said you had an editor.

PAUL: I don’t know any more. Sort of an ex-girlfriend of mine is a writer and screenwriter and filmmaker, and she helped me a little bit and said she would be an editor. But she lives in Canada, man. I was enthusiastic at one point, but now sometimes, when I read over some it, it sounds kind of stupid. My next door neighbor works for a publishing company. He said, “come on, Paul; just let it go.” Publish it!

TP: You wouldn’t do that with your drumming.

PAUL: It’s quite different, man. I’m not that good at writing.

TP: During the’50s and ‘60s, a lot of the artists were tight with… There was a lot of back-and-forth between the different artistic communities. Did you have a lot of painter friends, writer friends during the time?

PAUL: I remember there used to be sessions at Larry Rivers’ place in the Village. I think he played. Then he had another friend who was a painter that played saxophone. I think that kind of thing was going on. But my memory isn’t that good about it.

TP: Were you part of the Five Spot scene?

PAUL: I don’t think I ever played in there. That’s when I met Charlie Haden for the first time.

TP: I guess you didn’t have time to hang so much, did you. You were always playing, always working.

PAUL: Pretty much. Now everybody wants to hang and I don’t! I don’t have the time. Charlie Haden’s called me four times already to come to the Blue Note. I’m not going down there.

I knew Alvin Ailey. He used to live in my building. Matter of fact, one time he asked me if Keith Jarrett was black, and when I said no, he said, “Oh, fuck him,” and then he used his music anyway! [LAUGHS] That was funny because Alvin wanted to use his music, and then when he found out he wasn’t black, he wasn’t going to use it. Then he used it anyway!

I knew Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. They used to be on the scene.

I was just looking through part of my book where I wrote about Pee Wee Marquette. One was about the pronunciation of my name at Birdland.

TP: If you didn’t tip him, he would pronounce it wrong.

PAUL: Right. Then finally I gave him $5 one night, and he said something like, “Paul Mo-tee-ann!” Some shit like that. It was funny! Then I saw him later on when he was in front of his Hawaiian restaurant on Broadway, sort of like a street hawker. I stopped and talked to him for a while, and that was the last time I saw him. I remember once talking to him, when after a gig at Birdland he asked me where I was playing next, and I told him I was playing at the Vanguard. He didn’t know where it was. He asked me where it was. When I told him, he told me that he’d never been below 42nd Street in his life!

TP: It’s interesting. There were no clubs in the Village presenting modern jazz until the Bohemia until 1955. There were sessions, but it was Nick’s and Eddie Condon’s and that sort of thing.

PAUL: Well, the Bohemia, we used to play sessions in there before they… The Bohemia was one of the places where you could have sessions, where I used to go to play, to have sessions. Then they opened up as a jazz club, and Charlie Parker was supposed to open it, and he died. It was just a bar to go to have sessions, just like Arthur’s Tavern. These were places where you could go and play. There was no money involved; it was just a place for jam sessions.

TP: Randy Weston told me he did his first gig at Arthur’s in 1943 with Lucky Millinder’s guitar player.

PAUL: Wow!

TP: Where was Take 3?

PAUL: I think it was on McDougal around the corner from where Visiones used to be. I think it’s the third or fourth building north of Bleecker on McDougal on the west side of the street. I think there was a basement part and another part that was upstairs. That’s where I played with Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, John Gilmore…

[—30—]

 

Gretsch Artist:

Bass drum, 20″
Snare drum, 5-1/2″ wood
TwoTom-Toms on the bass drum, one is 8″ x 12″, the other is 9″ x 13″
Floor Tom-Tom is 14″ x 16″

Two cymbals. One is A. Zildjian, 20″ w/ rivets (had it for 50 years)
Other one is Paiste 22″ Dark Ride

Hi-Hats are 14″. One is a Paiste 14″ dark cymbal. The other is old Zildjian Army cymbal that he got in a parade somewhere (over 50 years)

Gretsch Permatone Drum Heads which are the closest thing to the old calf-skin heads. “They really make the difference. A lot of drumsets now have these seethrough plastic heads, which are good for rock-and-roll, but they’re not good for me.”

* * *

Paul Motian on Max Roach (Aug. 19, 2007):
TP: I assume you first heard Max Roach on the Charlie Parker recordings from the ‘40s and other bebop records.

PAUL: Yes. I was pretty young at the time. I was up in Providence, Rhode Island, maybe still in high school… I remember listening to live broadcasts from New York, maybe from Birdland, maybe even before Birdland opened. Birdland opened in December 1949, and I guess I was out of high school by then. But I heard stuff on the radio that Max was on, and I remember sending letters and money to whatever address it was in New York, and they send me back a 78 disc of the recording that I wanted that had Max on it. I used to get that in the mail, and that was the first time I heard Max, I guess. When I heard it, I was kind of in shock. I was pretty young at the time, and I didn’t know too much. But I loved what I heard, and I thought it was interesting and really great, and I wanted to have those records and recordings, so I used to send away for it, and I got these 78 discs.

Of course, he was a very strong influence on me. What he played seemed to be so hip and so modern and so great, and different from… Kenny Clarke was one of the important people in my life who influenced me, but Max was doing something a little bit different. His solos were a little bit different, and just seemed to be really hip and fit right in with what Bird was doing, and the bebop music that was being played. It just seemed really hip and strong, and very well done, and really great.

Did you ever see that movie with Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones) that Max was in, where they play music that’s sort of from Carmen? It was made in the ‘50s. With Harry Belafonte…

Then when I came to New York in the mid ‘50s, and I saw Max play when he had the band with Clifford Brown and Harold Land, and later with Sonny Rollins… That’s when I first saw him play. There was a club called Basin Street. That might have been the first time. No, there was another time. I had just graduated from high school, and Birdland had just opened, and I drove to New York. I had an old car, and I was 16-17 years old, and I went to Birdland. I saw a band that had Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, Bud Powell, all these all-star great jazz bebop players, and I thought the drummer was Max. I remember telling the story to Art Blakey one time in a dressing room when I was in Japan, and Art told me, “No, that wasn’t Max; that was me.” But I still feel like it was Max. That might have been the first time. If it wasn’t, then the first time had to be one of those times when I saw him in New York in that band with Clifford Brown.

TP: For Ratliff you chose “Carolina Moon” by Monk which Max was on. That was in ‘52.

PAUL: I didn’t see that. I heard it on record.

TP: You used to live a few blocks away from him also, on CPW.

PAUL: Yeah, right near me. I used to see him here a lot. If I was walking on Central Park West… I remember bumping into him a couple of times when he was standing in the street in front of his building. We used to talk, and he’d tell some stories. I remember we were talking about Bud Powell, and he told me that when they did the recording with Bud Powell where they played “Un Poco Loco,” he started playing a pretty standard Latin beat on the drums. DING-DING-DA-DING, DING-DING-DA-DING. That’s a pretty standard beat. He said he was doing that on “Un Poco Loco,” and Bud Powell stopped the shit and said, “Max, what are you doing? You’re Max Roach. Can’t you come up with anything better than that?” That’s how Max came up with the beat he played on that recording, which is so great.

TP: I heard Max relate that as “You’re supposed to be Max Roach.”

PAUL: Could have been. Then Max said he bumped into Bud Powell in Harlem after the recording, and he said, “Bud said to me, ‘Hey, Max, you fucked up my record.” Max was telling me, “You know Bud. He was crazy.”

TP: You remarked to Ratliff that once you saw Max with a bass player, Al Cotton, and he told you to watch how Max addressed the drums.

PAUL: How he played and how he moved. Al was saying, “Check him out. Listen.” I seem to remember that there was a balcony or something. I was kind of far away and sort of looking down on the stage, and he said, “Watch how Max plays. He’s not just using his hands and wrists; he’s using his whole body. Look how he moves.” I was checking that out and saying, “Yeah, man, that’s really got something to do with it. You use your whole body. It’s not just in your hands.”

TP: You also talked to Ratliff about the precision and clarity of his arrangements, specifically “Delilah,” but that’s characteristic of the sound of the Brown-Roach band.

PAUL: That’s true. I remember saying that. I love that record, and I play it now and then. The arrangements with that band are so great—and probably all the bands Max was involved in. How meticulous it was, how great it was. There was always an arrangement. There was always an introduction… It wasn’t just always the standard way, like “this guy plays, then he plays, then you take it out.” It seemed like it had something extra in it, it was something special, and it was arranged so beautifully, man. That shit was incredible.

TP: You also spoke about how Max played the form of the song, both accompanying and leading into the solo. Anything you can say to me about that?

PAUL: Well, just that. You can use what I told Ben. Max plays a great solo on that Monk record where they play “Brilliant Corners,” a great chorus.

On the day that Max died, it’s really strange… Before I knew that he died, I was on my computer and went to iTunes, and I played “Koko” by Max with Charlie Parker. Max plays a chorus on “Koko” that’s incredible. Really great. Then later on, on ABC News, they talked about Max, that he had just died, and I had already heard that Max had died, and then they played a clip on TV that was his solo on “Koko.” Sometimes people say that magic is all in your head and it’s not really true, but I think that’s bullshit. Sometimes there’s shit in the air that just happens like that. I guess it’s by coincidence, but it’s hard not to believe that there’s magic in the air sometimes.

TP: as a kid, did you try to play that solo, get it under your hands?

PAUL: Not that particular solo…

TP: But other solos by him?

PAUL: Sure. I tried to copy what I heard. Sure. I did that with a lot of drummers.

TP: Can you talk about what he did that distinguished him from Kenny Clarke or Art Blakey or Roy Haynes?

PAUL: I wish I could. One of the things is sound. Kenny Clarke played great, Art Blakey played great, Philly Joe played great, but they all had their own sound. Big Sid Catlett. If I listen to these guys, I can hear a different… Max’s sound was different from those.

TP: Was it his drum tuning?

PAUL: Could be. That would have something to do with it. But also his technique. The technique that he had, it wasn’t just technique—it was musical. He made music out of the technique that he had. I guess they all did that, but his sound was a little bit different. It could have been in the tuning of the drums, could have been the way that he played… Boy, it’s really hard. I wish I could make it clearer. I just read an interview of Sonny Rollins from Vanity Fair, and he said some stuff in there that’s hard for me to understand. He was asked about people he admires, and he said there really wasn’t anyone. But for me, I admire people like that, who can explain stuff in words that I can’t do.

TP: Some of the younger drummers say, for one thing, Max tuned his drums higher than other people, so he was able to set up intervals to enable his melodic concept of soloing.

PAUL: That’s kind of true. But I have another story for you. I was playing with Tony Scott at the Half Note in the late ‘50s, and my drums were down there on the stage, I was all set up, but I had another gig that day, so I was late when I got to my gig at the Half Note, and when I got there Max Roach was playing in my place on my drums. I said, “Wow, isn’t that great; my man, Max, is playing on my drums. I felt great, I felt proud, I felt privileged.” Then when he came off the stage, he said to me… At that time, my drumset was made by a company called Leedy, and I used to tune my drums really tight. The heads were…I guess the word is taut. It’s not easy to play drums when they’re tuned like that. But Max came off the stage and came up to me, and he said, “Man, I just subbed for you, but your drums were really hard to play. You keep those drum heads really tight.” He found them hard to play. But he played his ass off. Of course, he played great. But when the drums are like that, you can’t fake anything. You’ve got to play the shit, and he did. But he did tell me that it was difficult.
TP: I guess that was a good compliment.

PAUL: It sure was. My drums aren’t tuned like that now, but they were then. He had a hard time with it.

TP: People have also talked about the way he incorporated Afro-Caribbean rhythms and even East Indian rhythms into his beat flow, that he was ahead of the curve.

PAUL: I don’t know about that. I don’t know if I was aware of any of that. Although there were things in the paper about different groups he had, and M’Boom, with all the drummers, and the band he had later with Odean Pope and Cecil Bridgewater… I didn’t hear that much of that. When I was really into it… The thing that killed me and knocked me out was the band with Clifford Brown and Harold Land and Richie Powell—and Sonny Rollins later—and George Morrow. Actually, that was my first experience of being involved in the jazz scene, and learning about people dying and being killed. When Clifford Brown and Richie Powell got killed in that car crash on the turnpike, that was my first experience of that, and it was really devastating. Since then, there’s been multitudes of people! But that was the first time that ever happened to me, and that fucked me up.

TP: Do you recall when you first met Max Roach to get to know him? Did he come to hear you play, or at a Monday night at Birdland?

PAUL: It could have been. But I must have known him before that Monday night when he subbed for me at the Half Note.

TP: For one thing, you were playing with Tristano all the time, so he must have…

PAUL: I was. But the other thing is, there was an interview with him in Downbeat back then, in the ‘50s, and they asked him if he heard any new young drummers on the scene in New York, and who did he hear and who did he like, and he named me and Elvin as the two drummers he heard and liked. That made me very proud, and I felt really good about that. The other thing was, I did this recording with George Russell, one of the first recordings I did, and I remember going to the Café Bohemia with George Russell, and we walked in, and there was Max sitting at the bar. That might have been the first time I met him. George Russell went up to Max and said, “Max, this is Paul Motian; he just recorded with me. I wanted to know if I could use that quote of yours that Paul and Elvin are two young drummers you heard that you liked.” Max said, “Yeah, you can use that.” That made me really feel good.

TP: Among your peer group in the ‘50s, was Max respected as the main guy?

PAUL: I suppose. I don’t know. I would hope so. I would guess so. One thing that makes me sad is that Big Sid Catlett died pretty young, and he was still alive when I was in New York…

TP: He died in 1951, I believe.

PAUL: Oh. I wasn’t in New York then. But I never saw him play. That’s too bad.
TP: You saw Papa Jo Jones play, though.

PAUL: Sure.

TP: So you continued to know Max, but it sounds like you weren’t so up on what he was doing after the early ‘60s.

PAUL: I guess maybe not.

TP: What did you think of his solo compositions? Did you check them out?

PAUL: Sure. There was another time I was in Europe, Sicily maybe, at a jazz festival, where the bands played. It was outdoors. He played a solo. I remember seeing and hearing that. It was great! He put that shit together so good!

TP: During the late ‘40s and early ‘50s he was studying composition formally, and orchestral percussion and so on. Another thing people are talking about are the components of his kit. He had a floor tom with a pedal that was set up to sound like a tympany, and he used a little tom-tom on the snare that he’d use. So there were certain tonal things that were part of his sound.

PAUL: I didn’t know any of that. One thing I remember, though, that surprised me that I didn’t know about… I didn’t know too much about his history or what he studied. But I remember being in the Vanguard one time, and I don’t know if I was playing there or not, or if I was just there, or if Max was playing there… I don’t know. But there was no one playing at the time, it might have been at the end of the night, and Max was sitting at the piano, playing the piano. Knocked me right on my ass! I didn’t know. I said, “Wow, isn’t that interesting. He knows what to do on piano. I should have known that anyway, but I didn’t. But when I saw him play piano, I was a little surprised, and thought that was really great. It made me want to study music more, and get into composition, which I wasn’t at the time. I’m not sure if I was playing with Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett; it was a while ago. But when I saw that, it sort of turned me on to want to do more… Because I didn’t get into composing and trying to study piano and all of that until I was in my mid forties. So when I saw that at that early time, it made me think about that, and wanting to be better at what I did, and getting more into learning more about music. When I first studied drums, I didn’t know that a song had 32 bars, or changes, or whatever. But seeing Max do that, and then getting into that, just turned me on.

TP: Do you think a lot of drummers were like you, not as trained, and Max inspired that?

PAUL: Yes. The joke always was, “Oh, he’s not a musician; he’s a drummer.” That made me mad! [LAUGHS]

Max was very intelligent and very articulate. He knew what he was talking about, and he made people like me understand… He wasn’t a fuckin’ dodo, man. He knew what he was talking about, he was very articulate and very sure of what he said, and very strong.

Look at all the stuff that he did. He wasn’t just a drummer who had a band and shit. He had the double quartet, the M’Boom thing, the Freedom Now Suite, all those different things. He was incredible. He was great. What about that documentary about him, where he plays with the hip-hop group. That documentary also has a clip of Kenny Clarke and a clip of Big Sid Catlett.

[END OF CONVERSATION]

* * *

Paul Motian (9-7-00):

TP: Vis-a-vis the electric bebop band, what was the motivation for going back to the repertoire that I suppose you began with?

MOTIAN: Well, that band started ten years or so even before that, but I didn’t do anything with it. I just had a rehearsal with different people. It was Mike Stern and Bill Frisell on guitar and Mark Egan on bass and myself. We had a rehearsal in my house, and I taped it, and then I kind of forgot about it. then ten years or so later, I was on tour with Charlie Haden, and Charlie’s son, Josh, who is also a bass player and has a band of his called Spain… I just mentioned it to Josh, about bebop music and what I was doing back then, and he said, “Oh, that sounds really interesting; I’d like to hear that. At that time I was playing at the Vanguard with Geri Allen and Charlie Haden, and I said, “Okay, in the afternoon let’s get together and we’ll have a little rehearsal. So we did, with Josh Haden and Kurt Rosenwinkel and another guitarist, Dave Fiuczinski. That was the late ’80s or so. Then I got interested in it again. About ’90 or ’91 or ’92, Kurt came over to my house and we talked about it, and then we put this band back together, and it was just two electric guitars, electric bass and drums. The bass player was Stomu Takeishi at the time, and Brad Schoeppach and Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar. It grew out of that.

TP: You’ve played the whole realm of improvising and been on the forward tip of it at any particular time you’ve played in, playing with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh and Oscar Pettiford in the ’50s, and getting into the true outer partials in the ’60s, actually leaving Bill Evans to do that, with Keith Jarrett’s very influential band in the ’70s, and of course the trio with Frisell and Lovano that’s influenced so many younger musicians. Why moving back to bebop?

MOTIAN: Oh, I love bebop!

TP: Does it feel fresh?

MOTIAN: Yeah!

TP: Was it something you had to not do for a while to really appreciate.

MOTIAN: Well, no, it’s not a thing about that. It’s just that that’s the music I kind of grew up with, you know, when I first came to New York in the early ’50s, and it’s the music I love, and I was involved in it… I think it’s great music. There’s a lot of great players, a lot of great players that came out of that, from Dizzy and Monk and Bud Powell to Tadd Dameron.

TP: The tunes are unbelievable. It’s like an endless well of repertoire.

MOTIAN: Oh yeah! I just keep finding more stuff, more stuff. We played and recorded a Herbie Nichols tune recently, and someone was telling me about all his great music, and someone else was talking to me about Elmo Hope and all the great music he did. So there’s no end to it, man.

TP: One thing that distinguishes you is your direct contact with masters. You sat in with Thelonious Monk, and did you say once you’d sat in with Bird…

MOTIAN: No, I never played with Bird. I saw him play once, but that was it.

TP: I guess you came to New York in ’53, and you got into the mix pretty quickly.

MOTIAN: Mmm-hmm.

TP: How does the instrumentation affect what you do with the material? Also, what you do as the leader, as the drummer, in shaping the flow. What’s your intent in working with this music?

MOTIAN: I like to play good music. I like to play great music. I don’t know about any intent outside of that. It just keeps growing. I keep finding people, and… It started out, like I said, with just two guitars, bass and drums, then I said, “Well, it doesn’t have to be just that.” Then I added a saxophone, who at the time was Joshua Redman. Then we were playing in Ronnie Scott’s Club in London, and Josh could do half the week, and I hired Chris Potter to finish the week, and one night they crossed paths and two of them played. So I heard two saxophones, I said, “wow, I really like that,” and I hired two saxophones. So it got to that.

TP: It certainly gives you a lot of options. The band sounds very full now. People are doing spontaneous orchestrating. There’s always something going on.

MOTIAN: Yes. I wanted to get away from the usual thing of melody-solos-melody-end. So I try to arrange it. I try to make everyone aware. And I make them kind of be aware of it. I make them arrange it. I’m sort of like, “Step in it, man; go ahead; see what you can do. Why don’t you trade off with this guy and do this and that.” And they’re growing inventive about that. so it’s just growing into becoming more arranged and playing a lot of piano player’s music with no piano and stuff like that.

TP: It’s also interesting that there’s such a wide pool of strong young musicians who want to explore that music, which might not have been the case 20-25 years ago.

MOTIAN: Right. And I appreciate that. These guys are willing to go with me on tour. It’s rough out there! [LAUGHS] We went to Beijing, played in Shanghai… It’s been great.

TP: You travel a lot.

MOTIAN: Yes. But it’s not going all year long. You know what I mean? Maybe four months out of the year I’m on the road.

TP: But there are a lot of players who know your sound and want to articulate a musical experience that has the Paul Motian sound, whatever that may be. The next offering is from a recent collaboration of that nature.

MOTIAN: I was contacted by two French musicians, Bruno Chevillon, a bass player, and Stephan Oliva, a pianist. They really told me that they loved my music and they wanted to play with me. They said that they had arranged my music, and would I come to France and play a concert with them — which I did. It was very successful. People liked it a lot. Then we did it again at a festival in Paris. Then they arranged a recording, so we did a recording for the French BMG label. It’s mostly all my music, and I really appreciate what they did with it. It’s really great. We did play at a club in Paris for a couple of nights, too, which was a lot of fun.

TP: Did you do it before the recording as a sort of rehearsal.

MOTIAN: No, those gigs in Paris came afterwards. Before the recording we had played two concerts. That was it.

TP: What do you do when you go into a situation cold with musicians you haven’t known before, and you sit down and it’s unmistakably your sound imprint. You just go in and hear and play?

MOTIAN: I just play from what I hear. Sure. I sit down and play, and I react to what I’m hearing and play that. That’s it.

[MUSIC: Fantasm, “Interieur Jour”; Solal-Johnson-Motian, “Night and Day,” “Gang of Five”]

TP: Paul was saying that 37 years ago you performed with Martial Solal in his American debut at the Hickory House, and didn’t see him again…

MOTIAN: Right. Teddy Kotick on bass.

TP: You didn’t play together again for 35 years.

MOTIAN: Wow. [LAUGHS]

TP: Do these ironies present themselves in the moment of playing, or in retrospect?

MOTIAN: I guess so, yeah.

TP: You certainly sounded like you played together let’s say one week a year…

MOTIAN: Well, I played the Hickory House gig with Bill Evans one time, with Martial Solal another time, and with Joe Castro another time. That was a gig that went on for months. You played in this club for two or three months at a time. It was a steakhouse actually. I didn’t play with Martial for 30-odd years or more.

TP: You said he was a raconteur, very humorous. He’ll say, “Here’s the piano player” and point to the bench.

MOTIAN: Yeah, he’ll point to the bench. Actually Enrico Pieranunzi does that, too. [LAUGHS] These guys, I don’t know…

TP: It’s a European thing.

MOTIAN: Could be. He reminds me of Victor Borge, in a way.

TP: This record combines originals by you, Martial Solal, and a few rearrangements. You must have a book of a hundred or so compositions?

MOTIAN: No, not that many. About 50 or so.

TP: You’ve been composing for a long time.

MOTIAN: Not that much. But I don’t feel too bad about it Somebody told me Monk didn’t write that many songs either — 50 or 60. That’s fine with me. I was into it more… I’m not into it so much… I’m not doing so much writing now.

TP: So the ’70s and ’80s were a time when you were generating a lot of…

MOTIAN: Yes. Because I was putting together… Starting in ’76, when I put together my first trio with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson, and I started writing. I was studying piano and writing and trying to learn. Then it went to a quintet, and I had to write stuff for that. I did a lot of writing at that time.

TP: Let’s take you back to ’63 when you did those couple of months with Martial Solal at Hickory House. At that time you were still part of the Bill Evans Trio, which you left the next year. You spent the ’50s playing with Oscar Pettiford, you played with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, you played with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh and numerous gigs. Let me take you into some well-trod territory with those years. You grew up in Providence, Rhode Island.

MOTIAN: Right. Born in Philadelphia, then the family moved up to Providence; I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old.

TP: You became interested in drums around 10 years old?

MOTIAN: I started at more like 11 or 12. I took some drum lessons and whatnot, went through the usual stuff. I started playing professional gigs I guess when I was still in high school ,which is the late ’40s.

TP: By then bebop had hit. Things like “Shaw Nuff” coincided with your beginnings as a musician.

MOTIAN: I used to listen to jazz radio from New York and I’d send away for 78 records. I used to hear records by Max Roach, Bud Powell and Monk, and I’d send to New York for them and get these 78 vinyl records in the mail. I listened to a lot of big bands when I was a kid.

TP: Who were the drummers who impressed you early on?

MOTIAN: The first drum teacher I had was a drummer in the neighborhood, who really wasn’t a teacher; I heard him playing one day and got really interested in it, and asked him to show me some stuff. He gave me a couple of lessons, and then I went to another teacher. But he played me a record with Gene Krupa on it, and that impressed me right away. Then I heard Max Roach, and like I said, I was sending away for records from Max.

TP: The early Charlie Parker releases, “Koko” and that sort of thing?

MOTIAN: Right.

TP: So it just developed from there. And you said were playing professionally in high school. Were you working as a musician and going to high school simultaneously?

MOTIAN: No. Maybe a couple of gigs on a weekend. I hooked up with a neighbhorhood musician or musicians in bands, and a couple of players from high school — maybe we played a couple of weddings and stuff like that. Not really that much jazz. Playing in clubs and bars, stuff like that.

TP: When did it become apparent to you that you were going to become a musician?

MOTIAN: I guess right from the beginning. I never thought about anything else, I never did anything else, and I didn’t plan it or anything. It just happened. I just went along with the flow.

TP: That seems the operative thing. You seem to go along with the flow and surround yourself with strong personalities, and you have a strong personality, and…

MOTIAN: Well, I love music, man. [LAUGHS]

TP: You mentioned that you joined the Navy because you wanted to go to the Navy School, because it was a great way to get a higher education and get it paid for.

MOTIAN: And not have to go to Korea to a war zone. The deal at that time was, I was about to get drafted in the Army. I was the right age for that. Then I heard that there was a school of music, that if you joined the Navy you could pick what you wanted to do if you volunteered. I heard about their music school in Washington, D.C., so that’s what I did. I volunteered for the Navy and went to that music school, and then I got ill and never really spent any time there — and then they shipped me out! [Europe]

TP: Were you playing over there?

MOTIAN: Yeah, I was in the band. I was part of a band that was the Admiral’s Band, the Admiral of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. We were his band. Where he went, we went. When he transferred from one ship to another ship to another ship, we went with him. That was the deal.

TP: That wasn’t such a bad way to spend your Service time.

MOTIAN: No, I enjoyed it. Working out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around except the sea and sky and air. It introduced me to Europe. It was great. I was 19 years old.

TP: You’re one of the many musicians who came up at the time you did who got a good deal of education in the Armed Services. Then you were stationed in New York, you were living around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you were released and got into the scene.

MOTIAN: I got really lucky. Because when people got transferred… You did a tour of duty on a ship. I did I think two years. That was usually what happened. Then you would get transferred, and you have no choice; where they send you, they send you. I got lucky, man. They sent me to New York! It’s called the Central Receiving Station, which was across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But I had an apartment in Brooklyn. I’d go to work in the morning, there would be a band rehearsal, and then you’d go home, unless there was some dignitary coming into town who you had to play for or a parade. Otherwise, that was it. There were some nice musicians in that band, and we started playing then. Then when I came out, I just stayed in New York.

TP: You came here in ’53. Did you start hanging out right away?

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. I went everywhere. Wherever anybody played, I was there. I’d take my drums on the subway. Anything.

TP: You mentioned being at the Open Door quite a bit.

MOTIAN: Yes. There were a lot of things happening at the Open Door, a lot of sessions there. That was on Lafayette and Third Street, around that area. It’s all probably part of New York University now.

TP: Same buildings but much more expensive.

MOTIAN: [LAUGHS] I heard Charlie Parker there, man. It was incredible. And there were sessions there you’d go to. A lot of people, man. You played. It was great. There were other places. There was a place called Arthur’s Tavern in the Village that had sessions. There were sessions at a lot of places. You’d go to people’s houses. I met Bob Dorough; we used to have sessions at his house on the East Side up in the 70s. There was a pianist named Don Rothenberg who used to have sessions. I met Ira Sullivan there, and we used to play there. Every chance I got. There was a place up on 110th Street, a bar in Harlem where you lined up, man, took your turn and played.

TP: When did people start hiring you? You mentioned that Monk took you to Boston for a week around ’55 or so?

MOTIAN: No, that was ’60. January 1960. I played for a week at Storyville in Boston with Monk, Scott LaFaro and Charlie Rouse. I was scared to death!

TP: But by then, you’d already played with Oscar Pettiford, Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans. I’m just looking for how you began to form the network of associations that kick-started your career.

MOTIAN: Well, in those days, when all those sessions were happening, you were out there. You were quite visible. People heard you and people called you and people hired you. Tony Scott hired me and he hired Bill Evans. Actually, when I met Bill Evans, there was a clarinet player named Jerry Wald, who used to have a big band, then he had a small group. Through the grapevine, I heard he was auditioning people to take a band on tour. So I went to that audition. This was almost after I got out of the Service. I went to that audition and Bill Evans also went to that audition, and I heard him play and said, “Wow, who’s that piano player? He sounds great.” Someone said, “Oh, that’s Bill Evans from New Jersey; he plays really good.” So I was thinking, “Wow, I hope I gets this gig and he gets it. He sound really good.” So we both got the gig and we went on tour with Jerry Wald. We went to Puerto Rico, we went around the East Coast different places. It was a sextet with a vibraphone player and a guitar player, a singer. Then somehow, Tony Scott hired me and he hired Bill. We went on tour with Tony. That was kind of the beginning. I guess with Jerry Wald it could have been ’55. With Tony Scott, 1956-57, in there.

TP: You must have taken advantage of the opportunity of being in New York and being able to go around and study all the great drummers first-hand, who you could hear almost any time. I mean, Max Roach and Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey and Shadow Wilson and on and on. I know all those people impressed you, but talk about how it worked. Your transition from being talented to being a working New York professional.

MOTIAN: I don’t know if I can follow that path! But at Birdland at the time, the original Birdland, which was on Broadway and 52nd Street… I heard Art Blakey in there with his band. It wasn’t called the Jazz Messengers at that time. It was with Horace Silver and Curley Russell maybe. Anyway I heard that band a lot. Max Roach with Clifford Brown and Richie Powell; I heard that band. At Cafe Bohemia, Kenny Clarke playing with Oscar Pettiford and George Wallington. I was in those places daily, nightly, all the time, man, listening to those people.

TP: The most amazing education you could get.

MOTIAN: I thought that was par for the course. Everything happened like that.

TP: We’ll hear something that wasn’t released until a few years ago, the Lee Konitz-Warne Marsh Quintet at the Half Note with Bill Evans and Jimmy Garrison. You played quite a bit with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz has been a friend and recording colleague for years.

MOTIAN: True. There was a club downtown called the Half-Note run by the Cantarino family, and they talked Lennie Tristano into coming out and playing. Lennie hadn’t played or performed in public in a long time, and he didn’t plan to. Anyway these people called him and got him to come out and play at the Half Note, and I played there a lot with Lennie in the late ’50s-early ’60s for two or three years. One time we played at the Half Note ten weeks. Ten weeks at the Half-Note, man. And Lennie kept me and used ten different bass players during that time, everyone from Teddy Kotick to Paul Chambers to Peter Ind, Red Mitchell, Whitey Mitchell, Jimmy Garrison, Henry Grimes… It went on and on. [LAUGHS]

TP: He was very specific about wanting his drummers to keep things within a certain area.

MOTIAN: He never said anything about it, but you felt that your job was to keep time, man, and let these guys go and play. One time we were exchanging fours, and he said, “You know, Paul, your fours sound like a drunk falling down stairs.” I said, “Oh, that’s great. Thanks a lot, man.”

TP: I’ve heard that said about other drummers like Dave Bailey. Anyway, Lennie Tristano wasn’t in the house the night this was recorded.

MOTIAN: Yes, Tuesday was Lennie’s night off. He was teaching on Tuesday nights. So on Tuesday nights we would play sometimes without a piano player sometimes with. That particular Tuesday it was Bill Evans. Bill had been playing with Miles Davis, and he had just left and was about to start his own stuff. It was around that time.

[MUSIC: w/Konitz-Marsh, “April”; Konitz-Swallow-Motian, “Johnny Broken Wing”]

TP: The Electric Bebop Band plays a repertoire that mines the amazing compositions of the period when Paul Motian came musically of age, between 1945 and 1960… [ETC.] At once idiomatic and contemporary. The sound has evolved…

MOTIAN: We’re doing some of my music with this band, which is interesting. I have some very open kind of pieces where I like to have everybody playing at the same time and trying to make some music out of it. Interesting.

TP: In the next set, we’ll hear music with Paul Bley, who you’ve been playing with since the mid-’60s, and Keith Jarrett, with whom so many people heard you during the late ’60s-early ’70s. Let’s go through your bio again. You began playing with Bill Evans in Jerry Wald’s Sextet, and you’re on Bill Evans’ first trio recording in 1956 for Riverside. How did things develop? Did the trio work a fair amount up to 1959, when the next recordings are?

MOTIAN: Yes, we were playing. We were doing gigs. We didn’t go on the road. We played mostly around the New York area. Then Scott LaFaro came on the scene, the next record was with him, and then we did go on the road!

TP: In that interim, you were playing and touring with Oscar Pettiford. You were playing in one of his tentets, and he took an integrated band to Florida in ’57 or so.

MOTIAN: Yes, it was ’57. We played at the University of Florida, we played in Virginia. Went by bus from New York on quite a bus ride.

TP: You have an amusing story about Oscar Pettiford about the drumsticks.

MOTIAN: okay. We were playing at Small’s Paradise in a quintet with Ray Copeland on trumpet, Sahib Shihab on baritone saxophone, Dick Katz on piano, myself and Oscar Pettiford. At that time I had these very light, skinny drumsticks, 7-A’s, and I was playing with those. After the set, Oscar picked up one of the drumsticks, and he said, “What kind of sticks are these, man?” He sort of was bending them; they were almost like rubber in his hand. He said, “Get yourself some sticks, man.” So I went downtown to the drum shop, got some heavy sticks, came back the next day and played.

TP: He must have been a strong man.

MOTIAN: Yeah, he was great. He played great. People used to say, “Man, you’re playing with O.P. He’s death on drummers, man. How are you doing, man? What’s going on?” I said, “I guess he likes me.”

TP: Apparently so. And you were also playing a lot with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

MOTIAN: Yes, we used to play at the Half Note quite a bit. I loved those guys; they sounded so great. It always confused me, because it seemed like everyone always talked about Zoot and not many people talked about Al, and Al had this great big sound, played so great. Well, both of them; they were incredible. I couldn’t figure out how they… They used to drink so much. I couldn’t figure out how they could play so great and drink so much alcohol.

TP: I heard a story where Zoot Sims said he practiced that way.

MOTIAN: [LAUGHS] I guess so. And someone else told me another thing about Zoot, that Zoot walked into this bar on 52nd Street called Jim & Andy’s dressed in a tuxedo, and everyone freaked out. They said, “Zoot, what are yu doing in the middle of the day in a tux; what’s going on?” He said, “I don’t know; I woke up like that.”

TP: Let me ask you a question about drums. How has the drumset changed from when you started playing up until when you were playing with Bill Evans and to today? Has it changed palpably? Has the sound of drumming changed because of changes in the way they’re made?

MOTIAN: Wow. I don’t know.

TP: Are you very particular about the size and make and composition of the cymbals?

MOTIAN: No. I’m interested in sound. I don’t care what it looks like, what size it is. It has to sound musical. It has to sound right to my ears. People say to me, “Oh, we’ve got this rider that you’ve got to have this 18-inch bass drum. I say, “Man, I don’t care. It could be a 50-inch bass drum. If it sounds good and musical, I’ll play it. That’s the way I feel about it. Also, I like musical sounds, man. I want it to be pleasing to my ears. I don’t tune the drums to specific notes or anything like that. It’s just pleasing to my ears.

TP: When you go on the road for one of these long European excursions are you taking…

MOTIAN: No. I don’t take anything any more except for some drumsticks and brushes. Last tour I didn’t even take a drum key, and that was a disaster. Because no one seemed to have a drum key everywhere we went. So I dealt with it. So I have to deal with the drums, and that’s kind of a drag, but there’s no getting around it.

TP: Apparently, if recorded evidence is worth anything, which I think it is, I think people will know it’s you on whatever set of drums. But you’ve been an informed observer of drum construction for about fifty years now, so I wondered about your perspective.

MOTIAN: I guess the first drumset I had was during World War II, and the rims were wood instead of metal. Then they came up with more stuff. They just kept coming out with more stuff. I mean, cymbal stands that do certain things, boom stands…there was none of that when I first started.

TP: Before this digression, we were discussing your early years with Bill Evans. So the records came out in ’59, and the records became popular and an incredibly influential entity.

MOTIAN: Well, that kind of happened later. A lot of gigs we did, we didn’t have full houses and people screaming and clapping when we played. I remember playing in the Village Vanguard with Bill and Scott LaFaro with only 4 people in the club, and talking to Max Gordon and saying, “Hey, man, can we go home; there’s only four people,” and he says, “Oh, no, you’ve still got a table of people and you’ve got to play another set.”

TP: And it was probably the third set.

MOTIAN: Oh, in those days, man, we used to play from 9 or 10 at night til 3 or 4 in the morning. I didn’t see the sunlight. And we went from one club to another club to another club. You never went out of town. All the gigs were in New York. You went from one club to another, from Birdland to the Vanguard to the Half Note, then back to Birdland. Like I said before, we played ten weeks at the Half Note with Lennie Tristano, nine weeks at the Vanguard with Bill Evans and Gary Peacock. Then we’d go back to Birdland for three weeks, then go back to another club, and then maybe go to Boston for a couple of gigs and then go back. It’s the way it was. In those days you spent $2 in a taxi to get to a gig, and it took you maybe half-an-hour to get there, and you played for 6 hours or more. Now it’s like 8 hours on a plane, and play one hour, and 8 hours in a plane back. [LAUGHS] It’s quite different.

TP: It must make things sound different as well. Then as far as the Bill Evans Trio, as time goes on, there’s ferment in music in New York.

MOTIAN: Yeah, there was a lot going on.

TP: And you left Bill Evans to be part of it.

MOTIAN: Yeah, I left Bill Evans in 1964. I came back to New York and was playing with Paul Bley and the Jazz Composers Orchestra at the time. There was a lot going on.

TP: And your affiliations with that scene began during your tenure with Bill Evans. That’s when you met people like Steve Swallow and Charlie Haden?

MOTIAN: Well, I met Charlie when I was playing with Bill Evans at the Vanguard, and Scott LaFaro said to me, “You know, there’s a really great bass player playing over at the Five Spot with Ornette Coleman. I want to introduce you. I want you to meet him. Come on over. So I went over and Scott introduced me to Charlie. That had to be ’59.

TP: So you heard Ornette Coleman when he hit New York?

MOTIAN: Yes, at the Five Spot.

TP: In ’59 were you open to it? Did it sound right to you?

MOTIAN: Yeah, I was. You know, it was very different, and I was interested. Sure, I thought it was great.

TP: So basically, you’re aware of everything that was going on around you and you wanted to partake of it.

MOTIAN: Yeah. I was on the scene a lot. A lot more than now.

TP: You and Paul Bley have done numerous recordings, and we’ll hear from a Soul Note date from 1990 called Memoirs.

[MUSIC: Bley-Haden-Monk, “Monk’s Dream”; Keith-Peacock-Motian, “You And The Night and Music”]

TP: When did you begin playing with Keith Jarrett? ’68 or ’69?

MOTIAN: I’m not sure. When I met him was with Tony Scott. There was a club in the Village called the Dom. Tony Scott was playing there, and he called me. It was a Monday night. I was playing somewhere else, and I had the day off Monday, and Tony Scott calls and says, “I’ve got this gig for you, man,” and I said, “No, it’s my night off,” and he said, “No, come on, you’ve got to do this gig.” So I went and did the gig, and when I walked in the club Keith Jarrett was playing piano. I said, “Man, who’s that? Cat sounds great!” He said, “Oh, that’s Keith Jarrett; I discovered him.” Tony always said he discovered everybody. Bill Evans. Everybody. I think Henry Grimes was playing that night. So I met Keith then and we played. We played with Charles Lloyd together in ’68.

TP: So when Jack De Johnette left Charles Lloyd, you became the drummer with Charles Lloyd.

MOTIAN: Right. I did that for about a year. We did a very interesting tour at that time. We went to Laos and to Malaysia and Singapore, Japan, Okinawa, the Phillippines with Charles Lloyd, but Keith didn’t go because they were trying to draft him, put him in the army to go to Vietnam, so he couldn’t leave the country. A pianist named Jane Getz did that tour with us. But I had met Keith; we toured the country with Charles Lloyd then. Then when Keith wanted to put together his own trio, he called me and he called Charlie Haden, and he said the reason was that he always liked the work that I did with Bill Evans and the work that Charlie did with Ornette, and he thought that would be a good combination. That’s how that started. It had to be around ’68-’69.

TP: The sound of the music is palpably different than what you did with Bill Evans in the early ’60s, and I guess the role of the drums also becomes very different. Was it a transition for you?

MOTIAN: Yes.

TP: How did you approach that? Was it hard for you to change your mindset or did it happen very naturally?

MOTIAN: It did. Because there was a lot of stuff going on. Just little by little. When I first started playing with Scott LaFaro with Bill, I started breaking up the time and playing more open stuff, then that grew and grew and grew. Before I played with Keith, I was playing a little with Paul Bley. Then there was the Jazz Composers Orchestra where the music was getting more out and freer. Then joining Keith and seeing the way he played, that seemed perfect for me. I was really happy with that. It seemed like that was the way to go. It seemed like an improvement, it seemed like an evolution… Let’s play!

TP: At that time, did you change the drums you played?

MOTIAN: No-no.

TP: It was never about that in any way.

MOTIAN: No. It’s all inside.

TP: For you, in your learning process, were you ever someone who would internalize what other drummers were doing and try to do that as close as you could?

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. I tried to copy them! Yeah, man, until you find your own voice.

TP: Who were those drummers?

MOTIAN: Kenny Clarke mostly. Max Roach. Art Blakey.

TP: With Kenny Clarke it was the way he played time?

MOTIAN: Yeah, just the sound. And the way he played, and how he played, and how he got such music out of a little amount of equipment! Boy, when he was playing at the Bohemia, I was there every night checking that out. It was great. Then Art Blakey and Max. Listening to Max Roach on record and trying to play like that, to copy it exactly, and do the best you can that way. I remember listening to Charlie Parker and trying to play his phrasing on the drums, and stuff like that. That’s the way you learn. Then eventually, hopefully, you develop your own voice and take it out there!

TP: With Keith Jarrett it was a steady-working entity for about eight years.

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. It went on for a while.
TP: Dewey Redman joined when, in ’71 maybe?

MOTIAN: In ’72 at Slugs, the jazz club that was down at the East Village. Lee Morgan was shot on a Sunday night, they were closed Monday, and we opened Tuesday. And the vibe was very strange in that place! That’s when Dewey joined. That was ’72.

TP: Was the band very interactive? An equilateral triangle type of situation?

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. I mean it was his music. He wrote the music. We didn’t play standard tunes. Also, I had my first trip to Europe with Keith.

TP: So at the end of your tenure with Keith Jarrett you start forming your own groups.

MOTIAN: Right around ’76 is when I started doing that

TP: And I suppose your interest in composing music gestated while you were with Keith Jarrett’s band.

MOTIAN: Exactly.

TP: Was it again a gradual thing, you had to do this…

MOTIAN: Well, I never felt compelled, that I had to do anything. Like I said before, I play from what I hear and I’m listening and trying to make music, and integrate myself and my playing into the music, and go from there.

TP: I think your first record is in ’74 or so, Conception Vessel?

MOTIAN: My first record I guess was a trio with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson.

TP: I just want to take you up to the trio of twenty years standing with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. I personally was very struck by the records with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson.

MOTIAN: There were two. There was another record with J.F. Jenny-Clark, who died recently.

TP: But that particular sound and the Brackeen-Izenson trio; I’m interested in the personnel and in the way you were hearing. Basically you made a transition to being a bandleader, doing your music.

MOTIAN: Basically, the reason that happened is I was playing with Keith Jarrett, and at that time I was starting to think about doing my own stuff, and I asked the agent who was booking Keith, “If I put a band together, would you get me some gigs?” He said, “Sure.” So I put together the trio with Brackeen and David Izenson, and he got us one gig. In Michigan. That was it. And I was stuck with being a leader. Well, there you go. Okay, Paul, you got it.

TP: And I guess you kept doing it. Well, I guess part of your activity is that and part is these freelance assignments with various associates. Let’s hear the most recent recordings by the Paul Motian Trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, from a pair of recordings documenting the band at the Vanguard in ’95, Sound Of Love and You Took The Words Right Out of My Heart.

[MUSIC: “The Sunflower” & “Misterioso”]
TP: …one of the most influential bands of the ’80s and first part of the ’90s, when they played together with great regularity. Paul informs me that “You took the words right out of my heart” comes from a Bob Hope movie with Dorothy Lamour.

MOTIAN: When I first heard it was on a Thelonious Monk record. Monk was playing it. That’s what turned me on. Then I copied it off the record and started playing it. Then I saw a film that was made in the mid-’30s, in 1934 or something like that, called The Big Broadcast of ’34 or some year, with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, and Dorothy Lamour is singing this in this film! But I heard Monk play it first.

TP: The process of hearing things backwards didn’t just start with this generation of musicians.

MOTIAN: That’s right.

TP: A few words about Lovano and Frisell, and the chemistry.

MOTIAN: It started out as a quintet. First it was Billy Drewes and Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell and Ed Schuller. Then it became Jim Pepper and Joe Lovano. We did three records for Soul Note that I like very much. I guess they’re hard to find, but I think there’s some great music there. We were playing one night somewhere in Italy, and there’s one piece of mine that just called for the bass to lay out, and for a few minutes it was only Joe and Bill and I playing. At that moment I thought I could play my music with this trio without having a quintet. Economics was involved, and I liked the idea of playing without a bass and just to give it a try. That’s how that happened.

TP: That trio became one of the more influential bands of the time. A lot of musicians speak of hearing that trio just as people like Joe Lovano or John Scofield cite the Keith Jarrett Quartet as having an impact on the way they thought about music. It gave them a sort of paradigm shift, hearing what you did with Monk’s music, or the three albums of deconstructed show tunes. Did you embark on those projects as concept records, or were they part of the imperative of what you were doing?

MOTIAN: During all the years of playing, there were a lot of songs that I felt associated with, songs that I played with Bill Evans, song that I played on commercial gigs or whatever, and I just wanted to record those songs that I felt close to and that I had experience with. So I added Charlie Haden, and we did two records also for JMT…

TP: It’s been a great producer-artist relationship.

MOTIAN: Yes. Except you can’t get those JMT records any more. They’re gone. That’s too bad. So we did three records of standard songs, called Paul Motian on Broadway. There’s a funny story that the cover designer for the first of those records walked to Broadway and took a photograph of me and threw it up in the air and took a picture of that, and put it on the album cover. Then the third one was the same band with the addition of Charlie Haden plus Lee Konitz.

TP: Did your choice of material have to do with personnel?

MOTIAN: No, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking about the songs. They were songs I felt close to, and I wanted to record them. I did a lot of research. I was checking out all the composers. There was some great music there — Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter. I love that stuff.

TP: In the last five-six years, as Lovano and Frisell both have such busy careers, it’s hard for that band to get together. But obviously, when you do hit, you hit with a vengeance. Just a few sentences about Lovano’s qualities, Frisell’s qualities, the simpatico you feel. You said for one thing about Joe Lovano that he remembers everything, that you can pick up something you did eight years ago, and he’ll remember it.

MOTIAN: Yes, that’s what’s great. I don’t want to think about it if I don’t have to. I give it to Joe, man. He’s great for that.

TP: Anything salient about Frisell, how his sound meshes with you?

MOTIAN: I don’t know. I just like it. I tried to put together a band after the trio with Brackeen and David Izenson and then with J.F. Jenny-Clark. I wanted to put together the quintet. I talked to ECM at the time and they said, okay, they’d record. I heard Michael Gregory Jackson, the guitar player, play in New York one night, and for the first time I heard the guitar sound with synthesizers or whatever, and I thought, “Wow, the guitar can sound like a violin; isn’t that great.” Then I was playing with Pat Metheny, and the quintet was going to be Pat Metheny and Michael Gregory Jackson and Julius Hemphill and Charlie Haden and myself, and it was going to record for ECM. We did a quartet gig in Boston with Michaael Gregory Jackson. But then it sort of didn’t happen, and the quintet I ended up with was the continuation of that. Pat was the one who recommended Bill, and I heard Bill getting this sound I’d heard before that could do so many things, and that got my interest up. So that’s how it started.

TP: So it gave you a broader orchestral palette, as opposed to the more monochromatic spectrum of the Izenson-Brackeen trio. This is the The Paul Motian Trio Plus One, from 1998. Core trio is Chris Potter and Steve Swallow, and coming in on tracks are Poo Kikuchi and Larry Grenadier.

[MUSIC: “Three In One” and “Sunflower”]

TP: Back to 1983 for a track with the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, which you played with throughout the ’70s into the ’80s, and maybe the only big band I can remember you playing with as such. You didn’t do very much big band playing.

MOTIAN: Not much, no. The Oscar Pettiford Big Band for a little while. The Jazz Composers Orchestra was quite a big band. Charlie Haden.

TP: What memories do you have of the Jazz Composers Orchestra?

MOTIAN: Oh, I thought it was a great experimental kind of scene. There was some great music, the music was changing, getting more free. I met some good players. It was a nice scene.

TP: In ’64-’65-’66, who are some of the people you were playing with? Did you do gigs with people from the whole sonic range?

MOTIAN: It was mostly Paul Bley during that time. I never did play with Albert. I heard him a lot, of course. Also, there was a period for me during that time when I didn’t have that many gigs. Before I joined Keith Jarrett, there weren’t that many gigs. I took a bunch of commercial gigs. For a while I was playing floor shows and stuff like that in New York.

TP: So it was like taking a day job so you could do the things you wanted to do.
MOTIAN: Well, it was hard to do what you wanted to do in those days actually. For me it was. I mean, the time after I left Bill and then before I got with Keith Jarrett. Rock-and-Roll was more and more popular, and jazz was sort of not…

TP: Passe.

MOTIAN: Kind of. So there weren’t that many gigs around. I wasn’t hooked up with anybody special at the time. I did what I could. So I took a lot of commercial gigs, and sometimes didn’t gig at all, and no money, no nothin’!

TP: That was probably the last period when you could live in New York, however meagerly, and do that.

MOTIAN: True. Rent in an apartment… You could get by with $100 a month and have a decent apartment.

[MUSIC: Charlie Haden LMO, “El Segador”; Pietro Tonolo(?), “Wig Wise”]

TP: We’ll conclude as we began, with the Electric Bebop Band, drawing on the vast wellspring of music composed between 1945 and 1960, drawing on Tadd Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Herbie Nichols, and some original music as well…

A lot of musicians who came up in the ’50s and ’60s played a lot of Latin music as rent gigs. Was that part of your scene?

MOTIAN: No. No. Didn’t do that.

TP: The show demonstrates the interconnectedness of personalities in jazz. It seems in this music there’s only two degrees of separation! I think this afternoon is a living embodiment of that in addressing the career of Paul Motian, who since arriving in New York in 1953 has played with or shared bandstands with or been in proximity to every major improviser you can think of, from Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge and Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans and Lennie Tristano and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett and Dewey Redman and on and on, and always stamping his own sound on the music. So truly one of the legends of jazz music, and still thriving, about to go on a three week tour that will put you 20 flights in three weeks.

MOTIAN: Or so. One time we did a tour with the Broadway quintet, with Lee Konitz, Frisell, Lovano, myself, Mark Johnson. In three weeks we had 35 flights.

TP: So while 40 years ago, the life wasn’t the healthiest life, playing from, say, 9 to 4 a.m. every day, and the various hazards of the jazz culture, but now you’re going off flying every day on these extended tours.

MOTIAN: There’s always some dues to pay, man. If you don’t want to pay any dues, don’t do music. [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC: “Split Decision” & “Celia”]

* * *

 

Paul Motian (6-15-93):

Q: I’m very glad to introduce to the New York radio audience, his first WKCR appearance in 25 years, the drummer-composer Paul Motian, who is leading the Paul Motian Trio at the Village Vanguard this week, one of the most creative ensembles in the world of improvised music. Welcome back to WKCR, Paul Motian.

PM: Thanks. Nice to be here.

Q: This trio has been working together for 12 years, is it?

PM: Just about. I think so.

Q: How did you find these guys? Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano are now famous musicians, but in 1981 they weren’t.

PM: Yeah. I tried to tell people that in 1981. They wouldn’t listen to me!

Q; That they were famous?

PM: Yeah. [LAUGHS] I said, “These guys can play, man. Check ’em out.” Anyway, it takes time. I found them through the usual thing, word of mouth, other musicians. Yeah. Pat Metheny recommended Bill Frisell to me, and I think it was bassist Marc Johnson that recommended Joe Lovano. In the beginning, before this trio happened, it was a quintet, and before that it was a quartet with Marc Johnson, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano and myself. Then Marc ended up leaving, he went with Stan Getz, and blah-blah-blah…

Q: Was there an instant empathy?

PM: Yeah, there was. I mean, there were other people involved, and then it just… When it got down to the nitty-gritty, it ended up with Bill and Joe and I. And it’s worked out great.

Q: It’s a group that takes the ethos of improvising to real heights.

PM: Yeah.

Q; Nothing is ever treated the same way on a given night.

PM: Right.

Q: That must be very stimulating to you.

PM: Yeah, hopefully. Yeah, it is. It is. Because we’re playing some of the same music we’ve been playing for years, and it’s always a little different. And especially now, since Bill and Joe also have their own bands and we don’t get together as often as we used to, it’s really taken another turn — and it’s great. I love Bill and Joe. We’ve been together now for this while, and we’ve done lots of tours together, a lot of gigs together, records, and it works out good. They are both very helpful. Joe is great, Bill… I mean, they remember tunes and arrangements, and you know, also have suggestions and things; we work things out. It’s been great.

Q: There are very few bands with that type of longevity around.

PM: Uh-huh. Well, I don’t know. What about the Modern Jazz Quartet?

Q: Well, I said very few. I didn’t say none! The band plays this mix of standards and your original music that you’ve recorded.

PM: Right.

Q: You must have a huge book by now to draw on.

PM: Yeah, there’s a lot. But I mean, sort of like it’s settled into a few favorites, as it usually does, ha-ha…

Q; Define “few”.

PM: I don’t know, about ten or twenty tunes. [LAUGHS]

Q: I believe this is the first time that this band or a band under your leadership has appeared at the Village Vanguard. Am I right?

PM: That’s true… There were other bands that were…you know, there were coop sort of bands with trios and stuff that I was part of. But this is actually the first time for my own thing, yeah.

Q: However, your history at the Village Vanguard…

PM: Goes back.

Q; …goes back maybe a year or two.

PM: Heh-heh, it goes back, yeah.

Q: You were telling me your first appearance at the Vanguard you can definitely pin down…

PM: To New Year’s Eve, 1956, with Lee Konitz. ’56, let’s see…thirty…

Q: 37 years ago.

PM: Something like that. And I think I may have played in there earlier, because I was in New York actually in ’53, even though I was in the Navy at the time, but I was living in Brooklyn… So in ’53-’54, I was in New York then already. So I could have been in the Vanguard before ’56. But I started keeping a record in ’56, so I know that for sure.

Q; [ETC.] Tell us a little bit about Motian in Tokyo. We’ll be primarily hearing your own compositions.

PM: This is a record that was done in Tokyo, in Japan, a couple of years ago, a live recording, mostly my compositions. I think there’s one Ornette Coleman tune on there, but it’s mostly my tunes. A lot of them were pretty new at the time. We were actually reading the music and stuff. But there’s some nice things on here. I’d like to hear this track called “Mumbo Jumbo” that we play pretty often.

[MUSIC]
Q: We heard three offerings by the core of the Paul Motian Trio, augmented by Lee Konitz and Charle Haden on the last two selections. That, of course, was “Tico, Tico,” preceded by “Handful of Stars.” That comes from the most recently domestically issued release by the Paul Motian group, Paul Motian on Broadway, Volume 3. [ETC.]

I’d like to talk to you about your background in music. You grew up in Providence, Rhode Island.

PM: Right.

Q: Did you start playing drums very early?

PM: I was about 12 years old when I started.

Q; Did it really start at 12? Were you doing rough-hewn, hand-made percussion, or banging on things?

PM: No, I took my first drum lesson from a neighbor who was a drummer at that time. I was around 12 then.

Q: Was there music around the house, in your family?

PM: The music around my house, in my family was sort of Middle Eastern music, Arabic music, Armenian, Turkish, that kind of music. Old 78 records, and the wind-up phonograph… That’s what I heard as a kid.

Q: Did you ever get to go out and hear music? Was music part of family functions?

PM: No, not really. They liked that music, the records that they had. They enjoyed that. But as far as I know, there were no musicians in the family or any big interest. As a matter of fact, my mother was against me playing drums. She didn’t want me to do that.

Q: It must have made a racket around the house.

PM: Yeah.

Q; So what happened? You just took to the drums…

PM: I just took to the drums. I did. I did. I loved it. And still do! [LAUGHS]

Q; So this neighbor gave you the rudiments.

PM: Yeah, he gave me one or two lessons. He really wasn’t a teacher. And then I found a more legitimate teacher, and then played in school in the bands, you know, in junior high school and high school, like that.

Q; When did you first start listening to Jazz and to Jazz drummers?

PM: I guess I heard… When I was in high school in Providence, Rhode Island, from the radio, from broadcasts from New York, from other musicians that turned me on to stuff. I remember I was in about the tenth or eleventh grade in high school, and someone took me to a record shop and played me a Charlie Parker record.

Q; So you heard Max Roach there.

PM: Yeah. Right.

Q; So what did you think about that at that time? How did that sound to you?

PM: I loved it.

Q; Yeah?

PM: Oh, I loved it. I feel for it right away. And then I started sending away for records. I used to send to New York for records, like 78 records. I’d get them in the mail.

Q: What were some of the records you were hearing then?

PM: I’m talking about Bird and Max Roach, some of those, and some big band stuff, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington and like that. But I guess it must have been radio. I was hearing stuff on the radio.

Q: Were you listening to that analytically, in terms of yourself as a drummer…

PM: No.

Q: …or just in the total sound of the music?

PM: Yeah, to the music. I wasn’t analyzing it, no.

Q: When did you start really being serious as a drummer with the idea that it would be your life?

PM: I don’t know. Probably not much longer after I got out of high school, and then went into the Service and played in the band in the Navy. I guess from then on… And then started… When I was in the Navy and I was stationed down South, I used to go to jam sessions and try to find places to play all the time. I was about 19 or 20 years old at the time. And around that time, I guess, I was getting pretty serious.

Q: Now, for a lot of musicians of your generation the Army really was a great musical training ground.

PM: Yeah.

Q: Was that how it was for you?

PM: Well, in a way. I mean, the reason I went into the Navy was… It was during the Korean War, you know, and a lot of friends of mine were getting drafted and getting killed and stuff. And then I heard that there was a music school, that the Navy had a music school, that if you joined, enlisted, you could go to this school. Which I did. But it ended up I didn’t go to the school very much because I got sick, and I was in the hospital, and then they shipped me out! [LAUGHS]

But I met a lot of great, interesting people during that period, and I’m still friendly with some of them. And one of them is a bass player, Jack Six, that plays with Dave Brubeck — a close friend.

Q: Other well-known musicians you came in touch with?

PM: No. But I mean, through that music school… I know Bill Evans went through that school, and so did Eric Dolphy.

Q: What school is that?

PM: This is called the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. I didn’t see them, I didn’t meet them there at that time. But they were in there sort of. We kind of, you know, passed…

Q; Well, you wound up, as you said, in New York in 1953 or so.

PM: Yeah.

Q: Was that also through the Navy?

PM: Yeah, I was stationed in Brooklyn.

Q; Were you in a band?

PM: Yup. But I was living in… I had an apartment in Brooklyn. And we used to go in at 9 o’clock for a band rehearsal, and have a rehearsal, and then go home. Unless there was some function that you had to take part in, play in a parade or something like that — you did that. And I was there for about 10 months, I guess.

Q; So you got to New York in ’53, and I take it you took full advantage of the opportunities of being in New York.

PM: Oh yeah. Yeah, sure. Then after I got discharged, I stayed — stayed here.

Q: So you hung out a lot, you heard a lot of music.

PM: Yeah.

Q: Did you go to Birdland…

PM: Yeah.

Q; …and different clubs…?

PM: Yeah! Saw Bird play at the Open Door. There was a place called the Open Door. It’s down where NYU is now, Lafayette and 4th Street or 3rd Street, something like that. I saw Bird play there one afternoon. And actually, I got to play with Thelonious Monk there once. I went there to hear Monk, and Arthur Taylor was supposed to be the drummer and he wasn’t there, so Bob Reisner, who was running concerts at that time, knew me, he’d seen me around town, and he said, “Paul, if you want to play with Monk, go home and get your drums — you can play with Monk.” I said, “Wow, great, man.” So I ran home, got the drums, and played that night with Thelonious. That was at the Open Door. And that was in 1955. Because Donald Byrd was playing at the time, and recently I ran across Donald Byrd in Europe, and he told me he’s got a picture of me playing with Monk that night — that afternoon or whenever it was… I don’t even remember if it was night. I guess it was night. That was in ’55, man.

Q: ’55? I guess that’s before…? Was Monk’s cabaret license reinstated at that time?

PM: I don’t know.

Q; I take it you were also gigging around this time.

PM: Right.

Q: You were working with a number of people.

PM: Actually, I met Bill Evans at an audition for… There was a clarinet player at that time named Jerry Wald. He was putting a band together. He was auditioning musicians for some gigs on the road, a sextet — he had a sextet. And I went to the audition, and that’s where I met Bill. I think that was in ’55. And at that time also I was playing with Tony Scott, also with Bill Evans playing piano. And doing… You know, gigging around town, doing gigs, doing commercial gigs, doing jam sessions, doing whatever.

Q: I have here a liner note to a 1957 release that you appeared on with Warne Marsh, by Nat Hentoff, and he says: “He has worked with Oscar Pettiford, Tony Scott, Don Elliott and Zoot Sims, among others.”

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: Was that a one-off thing, or a semi-regular thing?

PM: Well, I was playing one night at Birdland on a Monday night, which was the off-night in Birdland; I was playing in there one night with Sonny Rollins. And Zoot Sims came in and heard me, and hired me — he took me to Cleveland with him for a gig. That was the first time I met Zoot. So that was in the mid-Fifties, probably ’55, ’56, something like that.

Q: What was it like working with Oscar Pettiford?

PM: Great. Oh, I loved him. People used to say to me, “Hey, man, how are you getting along with O.P.?” You know,, they’d say, “He’s death on drummers, man; he kills drummers.” And I said, “Man, I don’t know. He must like me!” [LAUGHS] But one day we were playing at Small’s Paradise, and after the set he grabbed my drumstick. At that time I was using these drumsticks that are called 7-A. They are very thin and very light. And he took the drumstick and he said, “What is this, man?” — and he started to bend it. He said, “This ain’t no drumstick, man.” He says, “Go get you some drumsticks.” So the next day I went down and got me some heavier sticks!

But Oscar was great, man. I learned a lot. He was a great bass player.

Q: Did other people give you… Was that type of advice-giving…?

PM: Yeah.

Q: That was a kind of frequent thing?

PM: Yeah, sure.

Q: What are some other things that people told you that you can relate to us?

PM: Monk asked me…he said, “Sing me your beat.” [HEARTY LAUGH] And I went, you know, “DING-DINGADING-DINGADING.” He said, “No, no, man. He said, “DU-DING-DING-DADING-A-DING…” [LAUGHS] I mean, stuff like that; you know, that came up.

Q: Do you think there was more collegiality among musicians then? That musicians were more open with each other in a certain way…?

PM: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if it was more or less. But I got along pretty good! [LAUGHS]

Q: I guess where you really came to prominence in the broader world of Jazz was through your work with the Bill Evans Trio.

PM: Yeah, I guess so.

Q: You’d worked before that, you were on records, but this is where your name really became…

PM: Yeah. It’s funny, too, because I mean, at the time you didn’t really think about it. And I remember when we did the Village Vanguard and we did the Vanguard recordings, which was the last time we played together, and as we were packing up we kind of said, “Well, let’s try and play more; let’s try and do some more things and play more often” — and that it would really be nice to make a music that didn’t have a date on it. And at the time I didn’t realize… One never thought about if that would happen — and actually it somehow.

Q: I guess the first recordings by the trio were in 1956.

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: But were you working fairly steadily together from then through the first records that really made their splash?

PM: Oh, I don’t know about steady. We worked… We didn’t work 365 days a year, you know, but we put in a few months a year. But I was pretty tight with Bill. We used to hang out a lot and play at his house a lot. But it was always music, you know. I mean, we’d be involved in it one way or another. If it wasn’t actually a gig, it would be a session I’d play or go somewhere. I used to take my drums on the subways, on the ferries, on the buses all over.

Q: We’ll hear a few selections from Portrait In Jazz, Scott LaFaro’s first session with the Bill Evans Trio. These are selections you picked out amongst the…?

PM: Well, it’s all good, man. I like this record. I think this is one of my favorites, if not my favorite Bill Evans Trio record.

[MUSIC: “Turn Out the Stars (Paul Motian/Bill Evans, JMT)

“What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” Portraits in Jazz, Bill Evans Trio.

Q: Before we continue, just a few words about Bill Evans and your sense of him as a person, a colleague, a friend.

PM: Well, I always kind of felt like he was an older brother, you know. He was a couple of years older than me. We were very friendly. We hung out together. Close friends. Great pianist. He influenced a lot of people. I had great times with him. I’m glad I have those memories, man. It will last forever. Great music.

And this thing you just played, “Turn Out The Stars,” I never played that with him, actually. I guess he wrote that after I had left. So that was a pleasure to do that. It was a pleasure to do the record.

Q: You said that in the late Seventies you were starting to really listen to the compositions…

PM: Oh yeah.

Q: …and get that together with him somewhat.

PM: Well, the thing was that when I left Bill, it was in 1964 or something like that, and then I didn’t see him, or we didn’t really hook up for many years — you know, ten years, fifteen years went by. And then, a few years before he died, I guess about four years before he died, we got together. He had a birthday party at his house, or it might have been a Thanksgiving party or something where he was living in Fort Lee, New Jersey. And I went there, and we hung out, and it was great to see him and great to hang out with him again. I took him a tape. I had a tape from an old radio broadcast that we had played together on from Birdland, and he played that. And it was nice getting back together with him again.

At that time, I was kind of getting into writing more, and… Actually, he called me. He asked me to play with him again. He called me and he said Philly Joe Jones was playing with him, and had just quit, and would I play with him again. And I had to turn him down, because at that time I had just formed my own trio with David Izenson and Charles Brackeen, and we were about to go to Europe on a tour. So I had to turn him down. And then when I was on tour in Europe, I was thinking, “Gee, it’s nice to get back with Bill and to hang out with him. I can learn so much from him, and now that I’m into writing music…” But then he died, so that was the end of that.

Q: Was that sort of the genesis way before of this project, of the Bill Evans project?

PM: No, not really. This Bill Evans project came up much later.

Q: Well, it’s one of a number of concept records, for lack of a better word…

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: …that you’ve done for JMT. There are three volumes of Motian on Broadway…

PM: Right.

Q: …with your own singular reorchestrations of…

PM: Standard songs.

Q: …standard songs, so to speak, and this, and there’s also an album of your orchestrations of Monk’s music as well, Monk in Motian.

PM: Well, the Monk In Motian idea was from the record company. They approached me. That was my first record for JMT. And Stefan Winter from JMT Records approached me about that. He asked. He thought it was a good idea if we did a Monk record with the trio. So that was kind of the beginning. And the Broadway records are songs that I just love and that I have been associated with through the years. And I think that the writers of those songs from that period, the Twenties, Thirties, Forties are some really great, great music! And I researched it and picked out the songs that I felt close to or ones that I liked, and tried to vary the different composers. Then I started reading autobiographies and biographies of George Gershwin and Cole Porter and Harold Arlen and…heh-heh, on and on. So I spent a lot of time researching that and picking out the tunes — it was a lot of fun.

Q: You also would have been playing in situations where this music was being played…

PM: Right.

Q; And I’m assuming behind vocalists as well.

PM: Sure.

Q: Who are some of the vocalists you’ve performed with over the years?

PM: [LAUGHS] Well, I did get to play with Billie Holiday once. That was great.

Q; What was that like?

PM: That was incredible. She was in the audience. I was playing with Tony Scott at a club called the Black Pearl, which was on First Avenue up in the Seventies somewhere; First Avenue, Second Avenue, somewhere on the East Side. Sam Jones was playing bass, Kenny Burrell was playing guitar, it was Tony, myself, and I think Jimmy Knepper was playing trombone. Billie Holiday was in the audience. And Tony just… Tony Scott got to the microphone and just started saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, Billie Holiday. Let’s have her sing, get her up here.” And she was shaking her head, no; she didn’t want to get up there. But Tony was insistent. So she came up. So I got to play a couple of songs with Billie Holiday, which I love! I was in Heaven playing with Billie Holiday. I also played opposite her at one time, once or maybe twice.

And other singers…I remember playing with… Well, when I was playing with Oscar Pettiford, somehow we ended up… We were playing at Birdland with Chris Conner. I remember doing a gig or two with Anita O’Day once. Like that. Not too many, though.

Q: But all the music on these project albums has a real visceral connection to you?

PM: Sure. Well, I mean, they’re songs that I feel connected to.

Q: It’s part of your life experience in a very tangible way.

PM: Sure. I would say that. Mmm-hmm.

Q: When you’re thinking about the reorchestrations… I know we’re kind of shaky territory talking about why you make the kinds of creative decisions you make…

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: The melodies are always there, but they are always twisted in a certain way. Maybe just take one of the songs, and talk a little bit about why you decided to treat it the way you did.

PM: Well, I don’t know. It wasn’t anything written out. There was just my ideas about who should play where and when and with who. I mean, that kind of thing. That was all. There was nothing really…

Q: So you’re leaving a lot of the content to your musicians, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano.

PM: Yeah. I mean, I may have an idea about, like, who should play the first solo, or who shouldn’t, or who should lay out here or lay out there, and when people should play together, you know, depending on how I hear it. And I would explain that to them or tell them about it, and try and do that. And we may have tried something that didn’t work, and I might want to change it or not, you know… It was like that. It wasn’t anything… I didn’t sit down and write stuff on paper.

Q: Another area of music that’s touched you very closely is the Bebop music of the 1940’s and early ’50s that you came up under.

PM: Sure.

Q: You’re currently leading a new band that I guess has been together maybe a year now…?

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band. [ETC.]

PM: Bebop, that’s the music I grew up with, man. I mean, that’s…. And I love it. And I just wanted to play the music, but I didn’t want to do it in the sort of standard way with trumpet-saxophone-piano-bass-drums. I wanted to do it a little different. And the idea was to have two guitars, two electric guitars, electric bass. It started out like that. Then later on I added the saxophone. The music that I grew up with, the music that I loved…

Q; How did you recruit these musicians?

PM: How did I recruit these musicians…? [LAUGHS]

Q: Josh Redman is the tenor player in the group. One of the guitarists is Brad Schoeppach…

PM: Brad Schoeppach and Kurt Rosenwinkel. You know, the same way that the trio stuff happened, and before the trio, the quintet — from word of mouth. Actually, I think Bill Frisell recommended both of those guitar players. Bill heard Kurt Rosenwinkel in Boston in a band. And when I was putting this thing together, I was… Actually, the first time I tried this was about ten years ago, and I had it with a band with Bill Frisell, Mike Stern and Mark Egan. We did a rehearsal at my house, but it really didn’t work. But at the time, we were kind of playing my music and not so much Bebop music. So that was kind of the beginning of the seed or whatever you want to call it.

And then it was kind of like word of mouth; someone would recommend someone. I had a couple of other guitar players. But the two that ended up on the record and now that did the tour with me, it’s working out real well.

[MUSIC: “Scrapple From The Apple,” Paul Electric Bebop Band; “Gaia,” Kikuchi-Peacock-Motian, Tethered Moon; “Monk’s Dream,” Bley-Haden-Motian, Memoirs; “Birth,” Keith Jarrett-Redman-Haden-Motian, Birth.]

Q: That set reflects one particular musical association with Keith Jarrett, who you played with from the late 1960s until the late 1970’s.

PM: Yeah, about ten years, I think. I think there’s maybe 13-14-15 albums I did with Keith.

Q: It was a very popular group at that time.

PM: Umm… I don’t know. [LAUGHS] It was fun. I loved the music. We had fun. It was great. And we did work fairly often.

Q: Do you find that the albums reflect the true quality of the group, for the most part?

PM: Mmm…yeah.

Q: Yeah?

PM: [LAUGHS] Sure.

Q: What was your hook-up?

PM: With Keith? Actually, Tony Scott called me to play with him at a club that was down on Eighth Street. What was that called? I forgot the name of that place already. So I went down with Tony, and when we walked into the club, Keith Jarrett was playing piano with Henry Grimes on bass, and I don’t know who else, and they were playing “The Song Is You.” And I said, “Hey, Tony, who’s that guy? He sounds great” — the young piano player. He said, “Oh, that’s Keith Jarrett. And that’s when we met, and that’s when we hooked up.

And then we started playing together a little bit. Then after Jack DeJohnette left, I played with that band for about a year or so. And then we did his trio stuff, and then it became a quartet. The quartet started in 1972. I remember we played at that club down on the Lower East Side where Lee Morgan got shot… What was the name of that place?

Q: Slugs.

PM: Slugs! Right. That’s when Dewey joined the band. We played in there the day or two days after Lee got killed in there. It was a very strange vibe! It was! So that’s how it started with Keith, hearing him at that club downtown and then getting together and hooking up.

Q: And during the existence of this band is when you start putting together your own groups and recording under your name for ECM.

PM: Yeah… I was actually thinking about Keith… When Keith formed that trio with me and Charlie Haden, he said that he had always wanted to do that because he admired my work with Bill Evans and Charlie with Ornette, and he always wanted to do that.

But anyway, I wasn’t really writing then. It was after that that I got into it. I did write a couple of things when I was back with Bill Evans, but I never pursued it too seriously.

Q; Your collaboration with Charlie Haden continues, particularly on record.

PM: Right.

Q; I don’t know how much you get to perform together in concert situations.

PM: Well, not so much any more, since he’s living in California now. But I’m still part of the Liberation Music Orchestra. As a matter of fact, we’re going to be doing a European tour next summer. And this coming September, we’re doing some gigs with the Liberation Music Orchestra, at the Monterrey Festival and a couple of other things during September. But I haven’t seen him now for a while. But yeah, we’ve been involved with different groups together.

Q; And does your relationship with Paul Bley go back to the Sixties, Fifties…?

PM: Oh yeah. Sure. With Paul Bley and Gary Peacock, we did a recording back in the mid-Sixties, a little later, that came out eventually on ECM…

Q; Was that the one with John Gilmore?

PM: No, this was before that. And I remember playing with… We used to play at a club down in the Village, around the corner from where Visiones is now; I forgot what that was called. But that was with Paul Bley. We used to make a dollar, two dollars a night! And it was Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, John Gilmore, Albert Ayler and myself. It was a hell of a band.

Q: Now, in the early 1960’s, you were working with Bill Evans, but you were also involved in a wide range of…

PM: Right.

Q: It seems you’ve always been involved in things that would just totally confuse anybody…

PM: [LAUGHS HEARTILY]

Q: I mean, to think of you playing with Bill Evans and Albert Ayler at the same time…

PM: Uh-huh.

Q: Do you feel that all things are possible in music?

PM: Yeah, man. It’s all music, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the main thing. I mean, when I was playing with Bill, I was also playing with Lennie Tristano, I was playing with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, Oscar Pettiford — a lot of people. I mean, just playing with Bill, I don’t think I could have made a living actually. We didn’t work that much.

Q: You had to be flexible over the years.

PM: Yeah.

Q; You certainly seem to epitomize that. We’ll now hear a set of Paul Motian Trio recordings… [ETC.] I guess I first really became aware of you as a writer in the late 1970’s with the release of two albums on ECM when you had the superb saxophonist, Charles Brackeen, in your band, and David Izenson was the bassist early on. [ETC.]

PM: Mmm-hmm. I think it was around 1976 when the Keith Jarrett band broke up; that was the end of that. And I kind of wanted to see if I could do something on my own. I can’t remember how or why I got together with Charles Brackeen somehow… It might have been from his record. He did a record called Rhythm X…

Q; With Blackwell and Charlie Haden.

PM: Right. And David Izenson, I can’t remember the specifics.

Q: You probably had hooked up at some point…

PM: Well, I knew David from before. I mean, we had played together and we had done some projects together. And I was starting to write; you know, I was starting to write some music. And I was with ECM, and at that time ECM put together tours, European tours. So we did the record and we did a tour. And that’s how that was.
Q: The date on the record is 1977. We’ll hear “Dance,” the title track, and then a few more contemporary recordings by the Paul Motian Trio… [ETC.]

[MUSIC: “What Is This Thing Called Love” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” Motian on Broadway, Vol. 1.

PM: We still play “Dance.” It’s one of the pieces that stayed with us, stayed with me.

Q: So there’s really a process of weeding out.

PM: Yes, there is.

Q; You write prolifically, and then you decide and establish…

PM: Yeah. You know, depending on what seems to work best of the ones that I choose or we choose.

Q: [ETC.] We’ve mentioned many different projects you’re involved with. There’s the Electric Bebop Band, you perform still with Paul Bley…

PM: Occasionally, right.

Q: The Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra. What are some of the other…

PM: I just did a record with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, and the trio with Masabumi Kikuchi and Gary Peacock is ongoing. I just did another record and a tour in Europe with bassist Marc Johnson and a very nice pianist, Enrico Pieranuzzi. And there’s more… I’m afraid that now I’m going to leave out some people; they’re going to get mad at me. But I mean, I’m involved in a few things. For me it’s all music, you know. Anything that’s happening that’s musical to me or to my taste, I’m going to get into it.

Q: We’ll conclude with two dates from a 1958 recording with Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz that produced two records. You played a fair number of times with Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz…

PM: Right, with Lennie Tristano. I’d say in the late Fifties, ’57, ’58, ’59, in there, ’60…

Q: A few words about Warne Marsh.

PM: Oh, wow. Well, a great player. As I was saying before, there was one night in particular we were playing at the Half Note, where he played so great that it just shocked me. It was incredible. A really great player.

[PLAY “YARDBIRD SUITE”]

Q: You hadn’t heard that for a while…

PM: Yeah, it sounds great.

Q; You mentioned with the trio that when selecting the standards, you did a lot of research.

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: Do you sing? Were these songs that you were coming up with even before you were playing?

PM: No. No, I don’t sing. But when I was researching, I was also trying to get into the lyrics, too, and try to really check them out…

[ETC.]

[-30-]

* * * *

Paul Motian Colleagues (Stefan Winter, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Brian Blade, Joey Baron):

TP: I’d like to speak with you about Paul Motian. In a sense, he’s commenting on a life and history lived in music — fifty years of experience as a professional musician. There’s a direct correlation between his association with your label and the flowering of what had been the beginning of a creative renaissance for him in mid-life. He’s been able to take projects that he was beginning to fully articulate in the ’70s and ’80s, and with you was able to realize their fullest implications. Again, what was the appeal for you? What qualities did he embody in his persona as an instrumentalist and as a composer-bandleader that made him someone you wanted for the label?

STEFAN WINTER: I discovered jazz very late, when I was around 20 years old. [43] I knew about jazz before I was 20, but there was nothing that I would say hit me. I came from Classical music, I started at that time in Classical music, and by whatever coincidence, I heard a Keith Jarrett album which I have to say is still one of my favorite albums. It was the first what I call jazz album I really heard, and I still love it. It’s the album Somewhere Before with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. It’s a live album. As far as I remember, it was released on Atlantic. This album is for me absolutely beautiful. Keith on the one side is playing some free pieces, and on the other side I think he is playing maybe a Joni Mitchell song. He is touching so many different fields, and he is reflecting on this album a lot of things, and I was totally touched by it. I also loved what Paul and Charlie were doing on that album.

A couple of years later I had the opportunity to meet Paul. I think it was Tim Berne who said to me, “Ask Paul to make a Monk album.” I thought this was a great idea, and I asked Paul, “Paul, what do you think about doing a Monk album?” and Paul immediately said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” That’s how we started our relationship.

TP: You have a knack for knowing how to market an artist in the best sense of the word, by giving them projects that allow them to strike a chord and yet be entirely themselves within a frame, which would describe the Motian Meets Broadway series and Motian Meets Bill Evans. Those records gave him a certain definite identity among the jazz audience beyond being a superb drummer.

WINTER: I am trying to think about where a musician or where a personality is coming from. I think everything you’re doing has to be connected with yourself. If you’re doing something that is connected with yourself, I think you give also the listener a certain kind of identification. Again, it’s like watching a movie, and if you can identify yourself with a certain character or with a certain time period of your life, then I think this movie will talk to you in a very specific way. If I start to work with artists, I m trying to listen to them and to hear where they are coming from, and when we are sitting together and drinking a glass of wine or whatever, just to talk about this and talk about that a little bit. The best is if then these artists start to realize that they want to do this and that project. I think it’s important that it’s not coming from me and I’m not saying to someone, “Let’s do a Broadway album.” That’s not how it happened. How Paul and I work together, we talked about it. We talked about where he’s coming from and what he loves and what he wants to do, and then this idea came out. Paul himself said, “What do you think about doing a Broadway album?” Basically, I was waiting for something like that. Then I’m just jumping on it and pushing that this was happening. Because an idea by itself doesn’t mean anything if you don’t realize it.

TP: Again, can you elaborate the qualities Paul Motian embodies that make him such a distinctive artist to you.

WINTER: I learned a lot from Paul from the way Paul works with his so-called sidemen. Paul is giving his sidemen, or the people with whom he’s working, a lot of freedom, and basically he giving them space to develop in his group their own personality. I would say Paul is for me like a godfather. I learned from him to watch people, to see what they can do, and then even support them or do something for them so that they really can develop their own language and their own style. I think that’s what he did, in a way, with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Paul is also able, like when he’s playing together with Charlie Haden, to respect other people and to work together with them and just give his identity, to add it together with their identity, and then build together something new out of it.

TP: So it really transcends instrument and technique. It has to do with the development of tonal personalities.

WINTER: It has a lot to do with tonal personalities, and I think it has a lot to do with how you look at music, if music should be made in a certain hierarchy, like how we know it from the Classical world, like there is a conductor and he is telling the people what to do, or if we look at music that it is played by individuals and we have to respect these individuals. I think Paul is one of the key people who is respecting individuals. I think how he played together with Bill Evans (and I still love today to listen to these albums) or how he played together with Keith and then later on in his own groups, like in the Broadway groups or in his trio with Bill and now with the Electric Bebop Band, he is opening up a world for other musicians so that they can develop their creativity.

TP: Particularly with the Electric Bebop Band he’s doing what you would think of as repertoire music. I had been not so impressed with that band, but when I heard them at Sweet Basil last time they were treating the music in an utterly creative way.

WINTER: I think this is very important, what you are saying now. Because even if he is playing with young musicians bebop music, he is giving them the understanding that they have to make their own story out of this text. For me it is boring if I hear today a musician who is playing as another musicians played 40 years ago or 30 years ago. It doesn’t give me anything. But if I hear that somebody has his own style and own language, but he can also work with traditional material, this is incredibly nice. And this counts also for Classical music. If a Classical musician is able to turn the text, for example, of Schubert’s music into his own music, if he can interpret Schubert like it’s his own music and make it to his own thing, then it makes sense to listen to it again. The repertoire by itself doesn’t mean anything. I think it’s really just some written notes on the piece of paper. The question is what you do with it. If there is somebody who is turning the text into his own language, that is his own text, then the music talks to the listener. Then it’s talking to me. I think that’s what Paul is doing. Paul is like the master of everything that he is playing. If he is playing his own music, his original music, or if he is playing Monk’s music or Bud Powell’s music or Broadway songs, he is making his own music out of it.

[BREAK]

TP: Let me take you back to the ’50s and recall your early encounters with Paul and what the affinities were? You worked together quite a bit from ’56-’57 on. Earlier?

LEE KONITZ: I don’t know about “quite a bit,” but we did work together, and I always liked Paul very much. He played with Lennie’s group a few times. Once I remember at the Half Note where the record came out with Bill Evans playing instead of Lennie, Paul and Jimmy Garrison really sounded great together, and Bill was sitting back a lot, not being part of the rhythm section too much, for whatever reason. But they sounded beautiful together.

TP: Do you have any particularly vivid memories of early encounters?

KONITZ: No, not really. I didn’t know Paul that well. I just loved the way he played. He played like a man who was listening and interpreting what he was hearing immediately.

TP: That was always part of what he does.

KONITZ: Always. Yes, as far as I know. In all the contexts that I heard him with Bill and with Keith Jarrett especially, and to the later days when he played with his own different situations, he was always very much interested in what everybody else was doing.

TP: Do you remember when you first did play with him? Was it the period when he was playing with Lennie Tristano?

KONITZ: That’s what I remember most. I’ve forgotten a lot of thing, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit to that.

TP: In our conversations he’s painted a picture of the New York scene in the ’50s where people would play month-long engagements at one place, then go into another place for a week, and let’s say the Half Note to the Vanguard…

KONITZ: I was the second band in the original Half Note for 13 weeks. I recall that. I’m wondering if I recall accurately. Mingus opened the club, he was in for a long time, then he moved on to the Vanguard or something, and recommended me. Then he wanted the gig back and tried to talk them out of having me there. That was extraordinary. Usually a week was still a good period.

TP: What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing 13 weeks straight?

KONITZ: Well, the obvious one is that you get to play a lot and get to pay the rent with a minimum of anxiety for that two months or three months. And mostly the opportunity to be out and playing.

TP: So not too many disadvantages to the situation except for fatigue or getting into a rut.

KONITZ: Yeah, you can get into a rut if you don’t stay fresh.

TP: You’ve developed a rather substantial friendship with Paul, yes?

KONITZ: I feel very close to Paul these days especially. He’s done some things recently that were very sweet, and I appreciate it very much.

TP: When do you recollect that your friendship started becoming something more than professional?

KONITZ: Well, we both lived in the same place on Central Park West for a while, and although I didn’t really see him that much, there was that kind of affinity. He asked me to do the project with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden, and that kind of endeared me a little more. Being asked into that environment was really nice. Most recently, I was playing in Vicenza, Italy, and I had a big kind of unpleasant scene with Ray Brown one night, and the next night Paul was in with Bill Frisell, and he cancelled that out immediately by extending himself in a very spontaneous way. So it’s just been increasing. Now we’re supposed to play… I asked for this Duos on the Hudson in October. I was supposed to do it with Martial Solal, but he didn’t do it, so I recommended Paul. I’m really looking forward to that.

TP: You were talking about his listening, and perhaps that’s a sufficient description. But is there anything more you can say about Paul in relation to his contemporary trapsetters of the ’50s and ’60s?

KONITZ: Well, Paul has a great sense of time, and that’s still the function of the traditional playing, and doing it with everybody else in the year means that you can do it with the right volume and get a sound. That’s still kind of a special ingredient for that instrument. There’s still a tendency to overplay the instrument. Joey Baron is another guy who can do that. There’s a lot of fine drummers who are very interested in what’s going on, and try to get a sound and a blend. But Paul was one of the first ones that really did that.

TP: Did you play with a lot of different drummers with your bands in the ’50s? On some of these ’50s Verve records, there’s Dave Bailey, Shadow Wilson on one of them, Nick Stabulas maybe. Was it difficult to find a drummer who suited you? Were there more of them around in the ’50s?

KONITZ: No, I don’t know that there were more around. I was just really trying to find out how to play with a rhythm section, and the drummer was the most problem for me usually in terms of getting a natural balance. So I always appreciated when someone like Paul was available to play with.

TP: Well, it sounds like he was pretty much an infinitely adaptable drummer. He played with Oscar Pettiford, he played with Lennie Tristano. Those are two very different concepts of what the beat should be.

KONITZ: Well, that’s to be considered in his overall ability to play. I just know him from my standpoint really, but I know that he did all these other things, and that just indicates how much he loved the music and could adapt to it.

[BREAK]

TP: But the first thing I want to ask is, at the point when you joined Paul were you pretty much aware of his persona as a drummer, and what at that point did his persona as a drummer mean to you?

BILL FRISELL: Yes, I was very much aware of it. For me, it was sort of like getting the Miles Davis phone call. I had been in New York for a couple of years, and things were getting gloomier and gloomier. It seemed like I was doing more weddings… I was getting pretty discouraged. I was getting to play a little bit of music of what I wanted to do, but I was getting kind of dark. And then, sort of out of the blue, the phone rings and it’s Paul. Oh my God, what’s this? It totally freaked me out. Because this was a chance to… I had done a few little things, mostly jam session things, or I was playing with Bob Moses a little bit, doing little things around town. But this was what I sort of think of as the first chance for me to really… He wasn’t calling me because I was a guitar player. He was calling me for…he wanted my personality, me as an individual. There’s a pretty big difference between working as a guitar player and trying to fill in some role that someone…

TP: You worked quite a bit in the ’80s as the trio, and less so in the last eight-nine years. Would you say that experience of working and rehearsing with him is something that helped open you up and helped you find your sound?

FRISELL: Yes, because it was just wide-open. It’s still like that whenever we play. That’s what’s amazing. We’ve been playing for 20 years, and every time we play, I still don’t know what’s going to happen.

TP: It seems that he takes pains to make it that way.

FRISELL: Yes. Every note he plays is like the first and last note that he’s ever… Every time he hits the drums, it’s like somehow he has this way of surprising even himself — and of course, it surprises everyone else. You know people say he plays like a little kid. He hits something and it’s like, “wow, what is that?” But at the same time, there’s this virtuosity in there, too.

I don’t know how he has managed to… Well, there’s some kind of genius in that, where he’s so deft and he has the technique and everything, but it never… The music always overshadows the instrument somehow. Ornette said something once… He did a recording, and he did two takes. He said, “the first take I played the song, and the second one I played the music.” There’s something about Paul that’s always…it’s like he doesn’t play the drums; he plays the music.

TP: But that said, is he unique amongst drummers you’ve played with? You’ve played with a strong personalities who are drummers. Would you say that the qualities you’re describing are the salient aspects of what makes him him, and not so much the actual ideas he executes on the drums?
FRISELL: Oh man, that’s a hard question. There’s nobody else on the planet like him. He’s absolutely unique. Also, there’s that history. It’s such an honor to stand next to that… I really don’t get that from anyone else, where his experience… When you play a tune with him, he played with Oscar Pettiford and Monk and Sonny Rollins, and he sat in with Coltrane and everything else that everybody else knows. These days that’s going pretty far back into the deepest recesses of the history of the music. So when we play a standard tune or a Monk tune, to get to do it with him, it just takes on a whole… That’s pretty rare these days. It’s really first-hand. He’s handing it to you straight from the source. He didn’t learn it off a record. He learned it from playing with those guys.

TP: When I saw you last August, it was the first time you’d played in the year 2000.

FRISELL: Right. And we haven’t played since until this week at the Vanguard. That’s what it’s been over the last few years. We play usually a few times a year. We haven’t rehearsed in I don’t know how long. At the beginning, when I first started playing with him, we rehearsed for like nine months before we ever did a gig, and at the beginning there was a lot of working out of arrangements… Not so much talking about stuff, but it was more worked out. We tried to figure out what we were doing. But then after a number of years, it got to be where we don’t have to talk about anything.

TP: I don’t know how you’re listening to the music as it’s going on. Do you see the not-rehearsing affecting the music in any particular way? My sense hearing you last night is that you’re talking as many if not more chances than ever, but there’s something very clear about it. That probably has to do with you and Joe continuing to grow and grow and become more defined in how you think about things.

FRISELL: I hope so. Sometimes I wish I could come outside of it and see it from the outside. When we start playing, it’s like you just enter into this thing. It’s like whatever kind of real intense sort of conversation that we’re having. I’m not really sure what’s coming out the front. It’s like I just jump into this thing and you’re in there, and when we finish playing I come out of it. So what you’re saying is encouraging. I hope it’s clear.

[BREAK]

TP: Paul said that Bill D’Arango recommended you to him? He told Paul that you and Billy Drewes played well together.

JOE LOVANO: Bill might have mentioned me to Paul. Paul knew Bill. But Marc Johnson was rehearsing with Paul and Bill Frisell as a trio, and they had some saxophone players come up. Paul was wanting to have a quartet at that time. Marc and I had played with Woody Herman together and we were playing with Mel Lewis, and Marc told me he had been telling Paul about me. Then one Monday night Marc said, “do you want to come up and play with Paul this week?” I didn’t even talk to Paul. I went up there, and we played quartet. From that moment, we started to play, and it was a quartet. Right at that time Marc got the gig with Stan Getz. Then I got Ed Schuller on the thing. Then we played as a quartet for a while. Eddie and I and Bill and Paul did one gig in Boston, and Paul wanted to have two horns, and I got Billy on the thing. It was a quintet for that first tour we did, and recorded Psalm.

TP: You played and recorded extensively with the trio for a decade. That was a rather frequent gig.

LOVANO: Yes, all of the ’80s. We went to Europe two-three times a year for a long time, most of the ’80s. We were recording for ECM at the beginning, and then Soul Note, when Jim Pepper joined the band. Then the trio emerged in 1984 really on a quintet tour with Pepper, and we recorded for ECM, It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago. Throughout the ’80s I was in heaven, man. I was playing with Paul, Mel Lewis and Elvin. In 1987 especially I toured with the three of those cats, and for the whole year I was playing in the most amazing situation.

Paul is one of the rare drummers that dares to be so creative and free from within the world of swing. He knows how to accompany in any direction. He could play for anybody in whatever style. But to play with him, how he… He plays with total feeling, and creates such an amazing texture within the form of a tune. Especially with the trio, with no bass, within the structure that we play, Paul plays with all different elements within the music. He plays like a pianist, where he’s playing the melody, he’s playing the changes, he’s playing the rhythm, and he doesn’t have to just play a repetitive beat. He leaves a lot of spaces. There’s a lot of counterpoint and things that happen. Paul is one of the most creative musicians in jazz.

TP: It often sounds in the trio like you’re the one who’s playing the time.

LOVANO: Well, we’re all implying the tempo as we move around. the tunes that we’re doing have really formal structures. Some are just a melody and are very free, but we’re approaching them and trying to create inner structures. But the implied tempos let’s say in one chorus of any given tune… A tune like “Crepuscule With Nellie,” let’s say. One time through that chorus can move at different paces throughout the chorus. Sometimes we can move through the whole form quickly. Sometimes we’ll stretch out a certain chord here or there, or a certain phrase. We’re trying to actually create the music as we’re playing. So the structure and melodies and harmonies are all there, but the freeness in the way we’re putting the time together… So there could be implied tempos on certain phrases or chord, and we’re just trying to follow each other and build it together as a group, instead of just counting a tempo off and letting the beat kind of give us the way of playing. Paul is one of the few cats you can play like that with and create that magic.

TP: When did you feel that the group came into its sound? Around maybe ’87 or ’88? Paul said that you rehearsed extensively the first few years.

LOVANO: We were playing a lot. We used to play at my pad all the time, and up at his place. Mainly we’d rehearse for recordings or for tours and stuff, and putting a lot of repertoire together. That was so great, because now we have such a deep reservoir of compositions and things we can draw from, and throughout an evening cover a lot of different music, from Monk’s music and Bill Evans’ music, standard Broadway tunes, some of Billie Holiday’s music and Paul’s originals. Both Bill and I have had the opportunity to have Paul play with us in our ensembles and record with us, too. That’s been really a great and beautiful education. Paul is on my second record for Soul Note, Village Rhythm and he’s also on a record called Worlds: Live At Amiens, that actually Bill and Paul are on. There’s some trio moments on that recording. It features Gary Valente and Tim Hagans as well.

TP: When you first met Paul, you’d first heard him playing with Keith Jarrett in the early ’70s, and you had to have known the Bill Evans stuff, and probably the stuff with Paul Bley as well…

LOVANO: His way of playing I was attracted to years before I ever met him, or even heard him live with Keith. The sensibility and the tone he played with, and the way that he was such a… He wasn’t just a drummer in the Bill Evans Trio. It was a trio experience when you listen to those recordings. I was drawn into that style and way of playing from digging the stuff that Max Roach was doing. I heard Max in Paul’s playing early on, in his sound and the way he tuned his drums. At that time he was playing more kind of traditional as a drummer, but not really. He made the Bill Evans Trio be so creative like that. Any other drummer in that group, I don’t think Scott LaFaro would emerged, and the way they played together would have never happened.

TP: He says that developed that way of playing through listening to Scott LaFaro, and it become logical that that was the way to do it. As he puts it, he follows the sound.

LOVANO: Well, there you go. You play with the people you’re playing with at the moment, and you don’t really think about it, and stuff happens.

TP: But then he’d do ten weeks… We went through his gig book from ’57 to ’60. I put it all on the tape. He’d have ten weeks with Lennie Tristano at the Half Note and with Eddie Costa the other two nights, or almost five consecutive months with Bill Evans, or Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

LOVANO: He was playing in different ways and having fun in every situation. And you know what? A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing in the last ten years has been a lot like that, too. Playing in different groups with different… It’s your personality and your tone, but if you can execute your ideas within the different genres and feelings in the music, man, it’s so expansive. Playing with Paul and digging his career and the way he’s done that has given me a lot of confidence to put myself in different situations a lot. I’ve learned so much from him.

TP: Would you say that’s the main impact that being with him has had on you as far as your own career?

LOVANO: Well, that has been one big thing. And compositionally and also just putting ensembles together and trying to play with people and create music together with trust.

TP: Can you break down compositionally the impact and say a few words about his tunes?

LOVANO: Well, yeah. As a player, as an improviser, all the songs that you play and study, no matter what they are, teach you something about how you can put ideas together for yourself. If you wanted to. Some cats play and they never write. There’s a lot of great improvisers and players who only play other people’s music. But I’ve tried to learn from every tune I’ve studied, to try to put ideas together with their own melodic invention or harmonic structures. Experiencing Paul’s music and playing with him, from his roots, the kinds of tunes he’s written from playing with Keith or Bill Evans… When you’re actually there and experiencing the music, it gives you confidence and ideas. It’s hard to say how. But a lot of my tunes… I do a lot of writing on the road. Trio Fascination, let’s say, with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland, we were on tour with Paul and Bill prior to that recording, the year before or something, and I was preparing for that date. After gigs, after we’ve played in such a creative way, man, I’m just full of ideas. I go back to the hotel and I’m hearing all these things. Of course, it’s 2 in the morning or whatever, you can’t take your horn out, but I sit and starting writing out ideas and sketches and stuff. I put a lot of my tunes together like that on the road, being inspired from a performance or something that happened during the gig. Touring with Paul all these years has been one of the most incredible, creative parts of my life.

TP: And that said, it’s obviously harder and harder to get the trio together. If it weren’t so satisfying, it probably wouldn’t exist any more, because it seems you and Frisell have to make a real effort to get the thing to happen.

LOVANO: And Paul, too. He has several different things. In the last four or five years, of course, Bill and myself have had a lot of bands and we’ve been on the road a lot as leaders. Paul also has been doing a lot of different projects with a lot of people himself. When we come together, it’s a real special moment. Last year we played one set all year, at Carremour. Man, I was looking forward to that set for months and months and months! Even though, yeah, okay, it would be great to play a three-week tour or something. But just that one set was perfect. At this point, it’s nice to come together like that. Because most of the ’80s we were on tour quite a lot. It’s been a thrill playing with Paul. He’s one of the most creative musicians in this music.
JL: [1995] Paul is a melody player all the way. All the music that he has experienced through the years, playing with the Bill Evans Trio and the things with the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Dewey and Charlie, those were the first things that I knew from records of Paul. I loved his playing, like, immediately. He was someone that was coming from Max Roach in the early days, but yet had his own feeling, and created his own atmospheres when he played. To play with him was a real dream of mine through the years.

I remember the first time I saw him play with Keith in Boston, I think it was in ’71 or ’72, and it was the quartet with Dewey and Charlie. Man, I went every night! Oh, man, it was the most happening quartet I ever saw live. The music just took off, every note everybody played. They were into what each other was playing. And it was maybe the first time I’d watched cats play that played like that. I was used to hearing Stitt and other groups that just played tunes that they’d known and played all their life. Keith’s group, when they played all their original pieces, the way they improvised together, the tempo changes, and just how they were listening constantly to each other, and shaping the music as a group — that was the direction I wanted to go in, right from that moment.
TP: Paul Motian and I went through his gig books, and talked about a very dramatic moment when he left Bill Evans at Shelley’s Manne Hole in California to join you in New York. He says that playing with you opened him up in many ways. When did you first hear Paul, what are your early impressions of him, and what chemistry allowed the two of you to work together so felicitously in the mid-’60s?

PAUL BLEY: We’ve been playing together so long, I can’t really answer the question. I don’t remember not working with him. I do remember that he and Sonny Murray were two of maybe a dozen players that introduced free playing to drumming. The drums were the last instrument to get free. Because the bass players were free, the horn players and the pianists were free, but the drummers felt a need to keep time. And eventually, one day in 1964, somewhere around the Cecil Taylor-Albert Ayler post, the drums woke up one day and said, “You know, if these guys are going to play waves, I’m going to play waves.” Now, up until then, through the Ornette period, the audience was still with the musicians. It was difficult, but they could understand the fact that it was done against drum time, and that meant they saw the continuum. Anyway, the drums were the last to realize that there was no necessity to play time, because everybody else in the band was playing waves. Now, the public thought that that, instead of being an incremental advance, was a revolutionary advance, and after having lost a good percentage of the audience by the other musicians playing free when the drums played free, the audience just said, “Forget it, get me a Capitol record of the Beatles, I don’t want to hear about it any more,” and they made a right turn. That left the musicians high and dry with the label “avant-garde.” The mainstream was over, and now the musicians were on their own. Even though not one musician in New York had changed their style, the fact that the drummers joined them made it extremely radical, even more radical to the public than the microtonality that preceded it.

TP: I would presume that you heard Paul with Bill Evans, or with Lennie Tristano or Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and those gigs where he was playing time, which was his quotidian for most of his first decade in New York?

BLEY: Right. I heard him in all those gigs..

TP: And what about what he was doing in those gigs made it evident that he would be able to make that transition in as sensitive a way as he did?

BLEY: Well, there was nothing in those gigs which indicated that he would make the transition. Of course, I had the same situation with Barry Altschul.. He was a recording engineer assistant, which meant that he got to sweep up the recording studio after the record session. We had a chat, and we talked about the fact that there hadn’t been free Latin, there hadn’t been free Indian, there hadn’t been free any of the other genres, that “free” just meant playing as fast as possible and as loud as possible and as free as possible for as long as possible! It was a single stroke that everybody jumped on, regardless of the instrument. I thought at the time that all the history of jazz could be advanced by using those principles. Barry agreed. So we had this chat, we had dinner and so forth, and we put together a trio which in ’65-’66 was at the same point as Paul was. He and Barry and I, in terms of drummer and keyboard, were simpatico. I took a band with Barry to Europe. I didn’t take Paul to Europe. Paul had heard that band… This is not gospel. My memory is not worth quoting without checking with the other people.

TP: But what do you remember about this gig on McDougal Street with Albert Ayler, John Gilmore, Paul, Gary Peacock and you?

BLEY: I remember a lot about that. It was a snowy winter (I’m not sure which month), and I had gotten a call from Gary, who was going to be the bandleader at the Take 3, which was on Bleecker Street (not McDougal) just opposite the Village Gate on the second floor. So Gary called and said he had this gig, and we were going to do a double gig. He and I and Paul would be the rhythm section for the double gig, and on one of the gigs it would be Gilmore and on the other gig it would be Albert Ayler. So we did one set with the one and one set with the other. The drummer also changed, as I remember. Paul was on one of the gigs, and Sunny Murray was on the other. The recording that came out for that on my label was the Gilmore record with Gary and Paul. The one with Albert and Sunny Murray was not a recording. And it paid $5 a night.

I accepted the job two or three weeks in advance, and after accepting the job I got a call from the drummer who was working with Miles at the moment (this was in December-January, snowy New York City), and he said, “How would you like to come down to the Caribbean and do a month with a band…” It was an all-star band in the Caribbean. I really got pissed with him. I said, “I’m really angry about this.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I just accepted a $5 gig with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian and John Gilmore. I would have loved to go down to the Caribbean, but the reason I am going to stay on Bleecker Street is that I have the feeling that jazz is going to change on this gig.” That was my quote. And you know, I’ve been doing crystal-balling for a while.

TP: But this wasn’t the first time you played with Paul. The first time was after he left Bill Evans in California in ’64. Had you ever played together before that?

BLEY: I’m positive we had, but I don’t have the record.

TP: So basically we could say that Paul, while playing with Bill Evans and Tristano and Al and Zoot is partaking of the events that were percolating in New York in the early ’60s.

BLEY: Yes, you could say that.
TP: Let’s jump ahead in time. You play with Paul until about ’68-’69, and then you go electronic and Paul goes with Keith Jarrett? Is that pretty much how that works?

BLEY: I’m very bad with the dates and times. [ETC.] Check the book. I wrote the book so I could get the dates straight!

TP: But in the last 15-16 years, the relationship has flourished, resumed and become quite fruitful. Maybe more like the last 12-13.

BLEY: Well, it was always on… Same with Gary. There was always a strong relationship. It’s just that the philosophy with these musicians is you don’t marry your mates, you’re promiscuous.

TP: Can you break down the qualities of his playing to you, how you hear him within the lineage of drummers, or other drummers that you play with. Give me some sort of paragraph or two about his sound.

BLEY: Well, the joke about Paul Motian’s is that it sounds like he fell down the steps of the Village Vanguard with a full set of drums, and it made a great idea.

TP: Is that the soundbyte? Please be a bit more elaborate than that on how you hear drums through the medium of Mr. Motian.

BLEY: In the case of Paul, he has since that time where I quote him… There is a famous painting of a woman walking the stairs, where she’s all disjointed (“Nude Descending the Staircase” – Duchamp). Well, that’s exactly how I heard Paul in that period, in the ’60s, was random. Now, the update on Paul in the last ten years is that in terms of the soloist he’s become an idea man as opposed to a language man. So I hear one idea on the drums, and there is a silence, and then there is another idea, and it has nothing to do with accompaniment per se. It’s way beyond that. He’s playing as many ideas as the people he’s playing with, and sometimes more vividly because of the silences.

[BREAK]
KEITH JARRETT: Let me get dumb. When tape recorders go on, things are never as good as when they’re off.

TP: This is for “Downbeat” and it won’t be so verbatim.

JARRETT: Okay. Then I can say anything at all. I was only kidding.

TP: A very basic question. In your formative years, when were you first aware of Paul Motian’s identity as a drummer?

JARRETT: Oh, it must have been with Bill. Actually, I wouldn’t say that was the first I was aware of his identity. The first I really knew of his identity was when I heard him play with a free player in Boston named Lowell Davidson. I don’t really remember much about what he did. If there’s a way to say this, maybe it was somewhere between Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley or Bill Evans, but that would be a very banal way of saying it. He had a touch, so that probably presented a little more of Bill’s direction. I thought Lowell’s playing was interesting, but what struck me is that when I heard Paul on a tape, I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t know who it could be. Then at some point I ended up sitting in at the Dom, on 8th Street, with the clarinet player…

TP: Paul ran this down. Tony Scott told Paul to come down on a Monday night, that he had to hear this piano player, who was you. So that was the first time you played with Paul.

JARRETT: Right. I hadn’t met him, but I had heard him with Bill in Boston when I was coming through town with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians when I was 15 or 16. The bass player in that organization and I both went to the Jazz Workshop, and I saw Bill there. Paul was sitting, looking really like businessman in his suit, the way some of the pictures from those early Riverside recordings suggest, and he was sitting pretty still, using brushes. Then the next I knew, I was hearing this Lowell Davidson tape with Paul, and I thought, “Who is the drummer?” I must have found that out when I heard the tape, but I can’t remember the circumstances.

TP: Did you hear him with Paul Bley as well during the ’60s?

JARRETT: No, not that I know of.

TP: Let’s get to your recruiting him for your trio when you formed it, not so much the how you did it, but the why.

JARRETT: Well, the Why was that the enormity of the difference between how he played with Bill and how he played with Lowell (and maybe there were other players he played with in a free context) made me think that he was not one of those players who would decide ahead of time what he liked and what he didn’t. It’s true. I mean, the guy worked with Arlo Guthrie while he was playing with Charles Lloyd! He doesn’t seem to have any categoristic…if that’s a word; it’s probably not…he doesn’t have a thing about categories. A lot of players maybe would say they don’t, but in their playing you’d hear that they prefer certain things. Paul is open in a way that… Paul likes music, and he was actually the first drummer I ever knew and probably the most vivid example of a drummer who liked music above his own involvement in it. Like, he would request that we play ballads in the early trio with Charlie.

TP: None in your experience had, I take it.

JARRETT: Well, not in the consistent way Paul… Paul just loved good songs. And that was one of the principles I would look for in a player, somebody who… We would be listening to Bartok together. We’d be listening to whatever was good.

TP: I’d forgotten before calling you about that year with Charles Lloyd, which Paul said was 1968. So you’d spent a good deal of time on the road with him by the time you had the trio.

JARRETT: Actually, he was in the trio first. I’m not sure about the chronology. I’m writing my own book, and I’m still not sure of the chronology. I think we started rehearsing… If my memory serves, I was rehearsing with Paul and Steve Swallow the very first time for a possible gig at the Vanguard. Whether it was for that or for a record, I don’t know, but we were allowed to use the Vanguard to rehearse, because we had no other place. And Steve was too busy with I think Gary Burton at the time, and he didn’t know if he could do both things. Then I used Charlie. That was probably ’65 or ’66, and at that time maybe I had started with Charles and Jack was in that band. Jack was in the band a couple of years more, if I’m not mistaken. Paul might have joined the band at the cusp of the end of the ’60s.

TP: [ETC. on dates] I guess it was about an eight-year steady musical relationship, until about ’76. Can you discuss how associating with Paul impacted your concept of music and composition and improvising, how the feedback went from him to you.

JARRETT: That’s not exactly an easy thing to know, not to mention answer.

TP: Speculate.

JARRETT: I don’t know. See, already I was in some way affected by the Middle East in terms of philosophy. I was involved in Sufism and Gurdjieff, and a lot of Paul’s heredity was involved there to some extent, being Armenian. He has this way of tuning his drums that isn’t a traditional jazz way. At least he did. We’d go into a studio, and they’d want to use a mute on the bass drum because it sounded too much like a real drum, and he never wanted to do that. If I was going to say how that kind of thing was working from Paul to me, it was that he was presenting that side also. Jazz drummers are generally jazzy, and Paul isn’t particularly jazzy. He sounds to me very much like who he is in terms of his background and his… His Armenian-ness comes through.

TP: He did say his parents played that music, and he has vivid memories of it from pre-school, and it had a huge impact.

JARRETT: Yes. He plays like he’s on a caravan. You know? [LAUGHS] I think what he ended up being able to contribute was this feeling of openness that wouldn’t have come if he were — I don’t know — even a hip jazz drummer. We had a group whose strangeness was both accidental and on purpose, the way we played. Everybody was an individual. And Paul was definitely not going to play like any other drummer, nor would he be able to be forced to at gunpoint. [LAUGHS] He just wouldn’t do it! Sorry! That was good for me, because I was younger than the rest of my band. I needed to know that there was this kind of openness that was deeper than just a whimsical thing. Now, if I were the same age now, I don’t know who I’d be able to have in my band. If we were talking about being the same age as Paul and Charlie. If I was told by a George Avakian type of guy “you can choose anybody you want and I’ll produce an album,” man, that wouldn’t be easy.

TP: Well, none of us would be the same person if we were a different age than what we are.

JARRETT: That’s true. That’s why “ifs” are important.

TP: I think you’ve given me a sense of that essence. I know you haven’t played together very much since the early ’80s. I do love that one record from the Deer Head Inn, which I think is very special. Can you address how you’ve heard his concept and playing evolve in the last 25 years?

JARRETT: When something evolves, it’s something… I don’t know what people think of when they hear the word “evolve.” Sometimes I think they think it’s a linear thing. You know what I mean? I don’t see that with the greatest players, and with Paul I don’t see it either. If it is evolution, which I think I would say it is, I might define it as remaining in some way yourself while being more and more inclusive of things, and Paul has certainly been able to do that. I never heard him swing as hard as he does on that Deer Head recording, and he wasn’t playing much, nor does he ever play that much as far as technical stuff is concerned. But I’ve played “Bye Bye Blackbird” with my present trio quite a few times, and that version on the Deer Head in terms of swing would stand up under all circumstances!
I think he was surprised, too. I don’t know if he had swung… That’s what makes Paul special. He probably didn’t know… It’s not like he brings his tool kit with him. He just brings himself along, and if something starts to click, he falls right in. It’s almost like he has no choice.

That whole quartet was like that. Although Charlie and Dewey had much more preference…they liked and didn’t like certain types of things. Paul would play everything, no matter what it was; he would try to find something that was appropriate to it. Otherwise, how could he play with Arlo Guthrie and enjoy it? But there is something that closes up in some players… Even though people would say they’re evolving, I might not agree if whatever that is closes on them or they close it themselves. Their playing can evolve, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the same as keeping the doors open. And that’s what Paul has done. He’s kept the doors open.

TP: Let me take this from one other angle. If you put on something representing Survivors Suite and then heard him on a record from 2000, is that instantly recognizable as the same tonal personality?

JARRETT: I don’t know, because actually it’s been so long since I’ve been listening. I’ve not been listening to anything for a while. But it’s a fair question. I have a feeling that the answer would be that I would recognize Paul right away. But it wouldn’t be because he has gimmicks. It would be because he’s always himself.

TP: There are no stylistic tropes. It’s his process of functioning in the moment all the time.

JARRETT: Yeah. It’s almost as though he’s purposely eliminated stylistic sophistication in order to stay pure. But that can really be a problem. If you get hipper and hipper, then all you’ve got left is hipness.

[BREAK]
BRIAN BLADE: I’m a big fan of Paul Motian. When you hear him… Or particularly Elvin Jones. Just one strike of the cymbal, there’s something transcendent in the sound.

Johnny Vidacovich introduced me to Bill Evans records. I sort of discovered them when I went to school, but he wanted me to listen a lot to Paul Motian, because he liked Motian a lot. He possesses this amazing looseness that is so lyrical, but also at the same time the pulse. A lot of people sometimes miss it, that Motian really moves the music and gets inside of it. It’s quite a different approach from records where you hear Art Blakey or Philly Joe Jones play the drums. But at the same time there is this swing and, like I say, this pulsation that injects the music with a good feeling.

[BREAK]
JOEY BARON: Around a certain point, I started hearing another kind of groove that was going on, and that’s the kind of interplay that wasn’t necessarily about stating 4/4 all the time. It was more like a floating kind of time, more like a circle than a straight up-and-down hard groove, like Paul Bley and Bill Evans, that kind of school — the way Paul Motian would approach playing a ballad. To hear him play a ballad was really incredible, because he made it interesting rather than just a straight boom-chick, which a lot of drummers did. He really played a ballad. That was also a really big influence, because ballads are great to play. There’s lots of time to listen to what’s going on, to think about and comment on it. That was a whole different approach that I started listening to parallel to Oscar Peterson, Red Garland and Wynton Kelly. I was kind of interested in being able to do both, because I liked them both. I didn’t bring with me this record called Ramblin’ by Paul Bley with Barry Altschul and Marc Levinson, who now makes high-end sound equipment. Hearing the way they played on that record, sometimes you couldn’t tell where the time was. Was it that important that you couldn’t tell where it was? The feeling was just incredible. It was a very forward-moving feeling. That intrigued me as well as the straight up-and-down kind of grooves that were coming from people like Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly and Red Garland.

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Filed under Bill Frisell, Drummer, Joe Lovano, Keith Jarrett, Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, Paul Motian, WKCR

For The 66th Birthday of Drum Master Thurman Barker, a WKCR Interview from 1985

When I started my 23-year run on WKCR in the fall of 1985, I made it my business to try to document the personal histories of many of the AACM musicians I had admired during the ’70s, when I lived in Chicago, and continued to follow after returning to New York City in 1979. One of them was drum-percussion master Thurman Barker, who turns 66 today. It’s been on the internet for 14 years on the Jazz Journalists Association website.

* * *

Thurman Barker
November 18, 1985 – WKCR-FM New York

copyright © 1985, 1999 Ted Panken

Q: Thurman is a product of Chicago, Illinois, and a founding member from a very young age of the AACM. It’s there really that the sources of his music are to be found. So I’d like to now start to talk about your early years in the music in Chicago, when you were coming up, even before you became a member of the AACM — how you picked up on the drums and began in music.

TB: Well, I first used to take tap dancing. That was my first exposure to a form of art, you know, was tap dancing. I really got into it. Of course, I’m in grade school now, and I’m taking these tap dancing lessons about three days a week. But during my eighth year in grade school, we used to have these concerts on Fridays. They called them assemblies, you know, the drama department would put on a show or something. This particular afternoon, it was a drummer, and he came up with a full drum set, and it was just him by himself. His name was Roy Robinson, and he left a very big impression on me at that point.

So when I started high school, I started taking private lessons. I studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, under James Dutton, who was head of the percussion department there. I feel I got a very good training, because for the first two years I really didn’t see a drum set. I worked out of these workbooks for harmony and learning the basic notation of music and things like this, and just working on rudiments on the snare drum. So I really didn’t see a drum set until later on.

Q: Were you also working with musicians your age, doing gigs?

TB: Well, sure. But at this time you’ve got to remember, the first couple of years I wasn’t really playing any gigs. But I was very active on the session scene in Chicago. Monday nights were the big nights for sessions. Club De Lisa, which was a very famous night-spot in Chicago, the Coral Club on the South Side, the C.C. Lounge at 66th and Cottage Grove — a lot of these places had sessions every Monday. In any other city, probably it would work the same. You would go down, you’d meet people, you’d get up and you’d play. So I was very active, and I made sure that I got there. Of course, I wasn’t thinking of working; I just wanted to play. Fortunately, the activity was there for it to happen. I got to New York in the fall of 1979. I don’t know if that kind of activity is still going on in Chicago. But at that time it was like a training ground for me.

Q: Let’s narrow down the years we’re speaking of right now.

TB: Oh, it was ’62, ’63, in that period. You had a lot of jazz clubs that were still very big at that time, which the most famous one, where Miles Davis recorded, was the Plugged Nickel . . .

Q: Which was on the North Side.

TB: Which was on the North Side. So I got very active on the session scene. Later on I started jobbing around with people. People would meet you at a session, and they would give you a Saturday night, a party to play or a wedding. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I started working with this saxophone player by the name of John Epps. He was a big local guy in Chicago that did a lot of parties. And that was my first steady employment, I would say, from music, was with this saxophone player. We used to work at a North Side Club in Chicago; I can’t think of the name. I was still young now. I was still in high school, you see, really my sophomore year.

Q: Who were some of the musicians in Chicago who you admired at that time?

TB: Well, Eddie Harris was a big idol of mine. Because my drum teacher used to work with Eddie Harris. His name was Harold Jones, and he was the drummer with Eddie Harris at the time. And Don Patterson, the organist, was around a lot. Of course, Von Freeman was very active. But I didn’t know Von; I knew his brother, George Freeman, who was a guitarist. So during those years I was pretty much working few jobs with George, and I didn’t get to meet Von until later on.

Anyway, so I had my first employment with John Epps, and we had this four- night gig on the North Side. I made $7 a night. And that was a big deal for me. In high school . . .

Q: This was pre-OPEC.

TB: So I had this gig, and my parents, of course, were into it, because they used to have to take me there, and go back home, and three or four hours later come back and pick me up . . . So it was a reassurance, of course, for my parents that I was getting active. Of course, for them they weren’t really concerned about the money I was making, but just the fact that I was getting active at something that they had taken some money to give me music lessons, and they were beginning to see it pay off. One thing led to the other, you know.

Q: You mentioned Eddie Harris. And in 1961, he and Muhal Richard Abrams began to form a rehearsal band that eventually became the core of the Experimental Band, and that became the core of the AACM.

TB: That’s right.

Q: This is a convoluted way of asking how you first encountered the Experimental Band and got into the AACM.

TB: At this time the Experimental Band was functioning. Of course, I didn’t know, but it was functioning. And how I got to meet Muhal was, when I was in high school, one of my best friends turned out to be Muhal’s son, and he knew that I was in the band in high school. And in high school, you know, you hang out together at lunch periods, and talk. Of course, I was a little different, and he wanted to find out what I was always doing after school. I was going home practicing, you know. And he told me that his father had a band rehearsal and was a bandleader, and for me to come down and check it out. So I said, “Wow!”

So of course, I took advantage of it. One Monday night he took me down to the rehearsal. Now, at this particular time the Experimental Band was rehearsing every Monday night at [the Abraham] Lincoln Center in Chicago. Lincoln Center is one of the cultural centers on the South Side. So they were in rehearsal. And that was my first encounter of the AACM.

Q: For people who don’t know, just describe what the Experimental Band was.

TB: The Experimental Band was a band put together of a lot of musicians on the South Side, including Eddie Harris, Phil Cohran, Roscoe Mitchell, Delbert Hill . . .

Q: And Muhal, of course.

TB: Muhal, of course! The Experimental Band was a band where musicians could come together and work on their own music. At that time there was a lot of energy among the musicians I just spoke of, Roscoe and Muhal, and they were at the point that they were doing a lot of writing. They were also jobbing around in Chicago and playing gigs and everything with big bands. Morris Ellis was one of the bandleaders around at that time that a lot of us worked with.

But this was a place, though, for everybody to come together and work on some of their original compositions that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to perform. It was run very orderly. Whoever had their composition up would direct it (of course, they would explain it first). Because we’re talking about people who had really gotten up into their music, man. In fact, they had changed the music notation. They used different music notation! At that time, you had a few people who just didn’t like the . . . Well, I’m not going to say they didn’t like it, but they just had their own symbols, you know. So they had to explain this, you see.

And of course, this was very different for me, because I’m a kid. For me, it was something really different and brand-new, you know. And I got such a big charge out of the fact that these people, not only was the music different, but they were serious about it. I mean, they could explain what they had on paper, and they had a feeling about what they were explaining and what they were doing.

Q: So you had musicians of different predispositions coming together in a rather unique situation. . .

TB: It was very unique!

Q: What do you think were some of the forces in Chicago that enabled this? Is it possible for you to say?

TB: Well, yeah. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were equal in terms of coming and discovering new ideas and new concepts of expressing and writing music. It’s funny how it seemed to all happen with everybody at once, you see. The period that I knew of was ’65. That was my first year of visiting the Experimental Band. So I think a lot of it had to do with, well, gee, nobody had any big record contract or nobody had 20 tours looking at him . . .

Q: It took some of the pressure off.

TB: It really did, I think. And the fact that we were all there together, and we were all equal in terms of discovering these new ideas. So there was no interference, I guess.

Q: Also there wasn’t that much work in Chicago at that time, was there?

TB: There wasn’t that much work.

Q: The urban renewal on the South Side.

TB: That’s true.

Q: The organ trios had changed.

TB: A lot of the clubs. . So it did affect the music. So right there at the Lincoln Center we were able to just start sharing these ideas, and it was like school, you know. Because I used to come down to rehearsal, and here was Henry Threadgill, Vandy Harris, Roscoe Mitchell and Delbert Hill, the first time I heard a saxophone quartet. I never even thought of it. Then I came down and hear these guys, four of them in a corner, going over these quartets, and it was just great! It was just something that I hadn’t seen.

But sure, I think a lot of the fact that it was easy for us to come together, there wasn’t a lot of work happening at that time, and it was just the opportune time for us to come together.

Q: Within the rehearsal band, there were different configurations and smaller groups that developed. I know you were playing with Joseph Jarman, and in 1967 you did your first records with Joseph Jarman and Muhal.

TB: That’s right, Joseph Jarman. Song For.

Q: Tell us how you met Joseph, and some of the connections with Joseph and with Muhal.

TB: Well, Joseph was right there in the woodwind section in the Experimental Band. Of course, he had a composition. Of course, by me going to school at the Conservatory, see, I had been introduced to playing mallets, like for tom- toms and tympany, you see. So he had a chart for mallets, you see. So we went through this chart, and he was a little amazed maybe, surprised that I had a touch for playing.

Q: You could play the charts.

TB: Yeah, I could play the charts. I could read.

Q: Your rudiments were very developed.

TB: Yeah, they were pretty developed at that point, that I could read, you see. And he had music; I mean, music for the drums. Of course, I had played all these other gigs with people, and there was no music. I would just go up and play. But here I come down to the Experimental Band, and these guys not only have music for the brass and woodwinds; they’ve got a chart for me. So that was in itself different.

But anyway, after the chart he came over and told me how much he really liked the sound, and what I was into. And I told him that, well, I would like to play some music, I’m not playing with anybody. So he asked me to come down and start rehearsing with his group. So I would get down on a Monday early. At that time in the Experimental Band there was a bassist by the name of Charles Clark. He was a very exceptional player, and he also was in the string section in the Experimental Band. Obviously, Charles had done some playing with Joseph before, because I could see that they knew each other, see. And Fred Anderson, a saxophonist in Chicago, also was in the woodwind section. So when I got to our first rehearsal, well, Fred Anderson was there, Billy Brimfield, the trumpeter who lives in Evanston, and Charles Clark and Joseph and myself.

Q: Was Christopher Gaddy on that also?

TB: And Christopher Gaddy, who was an exceptional keyboard player at the time. But we were all at this rehearsal, and that was the first time that I had got together with some people who were really playing some serious music, and I could see that it was just different. So I really wanted to be a part of that, you know.

Q: Let’s hear “Adam’s Rib” from the first LP on which you participated, Joseph Jarman’s Song For. Say something about the LP.

TB: First of all, I was going to say that after four or five months of getting really active with Joseph and playing some gigs around Chicago and the Experimental Band, the surprising thing came up one day that Joseph said, “Look, we’ve got a record date.”

Q: Had you been gigging? A few jobs here and there?

TB: We had a few gigs here and there. And it’s funny, my only experience with gigs were in clubs. All of a sudden, I look up and we’re playing in a bookstore. So immediately I knew that this music was going to take me in a different place. It was different, and it was exciting, you see. So just to make a long story short, I looked up one day, after I’d known Joseph four or five months I look up, and there I am in a studio making my very first record.

Q: Do you think that Song For is representative of the music that Joseph was doing at the time with the group?

TB: Yes, it is. Because the music that you’re about to hear is the music that we were playing during this period, and this is 1967 in Chicago.

[Music: “Adam’s Rib”; example of TB’S percussion music; Muhal Richard Abrams, “The Bird Song”]

TB: This is the stuff that was going in Chicago during this period.

Q: Programmatic music of all idioms.

TB: That’s true. Of course, during this time, we were doing this in clubs! We didn’t only do concerts at Abraham Lincoln Center.

Q: There were concerts at the University of Chicago campus.

TB: That’s true. There were a lot of concerts. I can remember most Fridays there were concerts at the University of Chicago. Also, the Student Union there used to put on a lot of concerts that the AACM members participated in. So we had some people that liked this music, and supported it, and wanted it to be heard.

Q: Meanwhile, the big band was still functioning.

TB: The Big Band was functioning every Monday. And believe me, no matter what happened, we all made that Monday night available for the Experimental Band. Because hey, that was the time that somebody got their music played, and that was a real serious and big deal then.

Q: Is Levels And Degrees of Light in any way representative of what was going on in the Big Band?

TB: Yes, it is. Because in the Big Band we had people like Henry Threadgill. Well, you know Henry, he’s really into theatre, you see. So for him to use the Big Band and use some recitation and some theatre, and be able to combine it, he definitely was one who would do it — and of course, Muhal. And Joseph was doing a lot of theatrical material. A lot of stuff.

So this was all a brand-new experience for me, and I had never seen it anywhere else. Of course, by the time of this recording with Muhal Richard Abrams, Levels and Degrees Of Light, my second record, I am really involved musically and, you know, as a group. I really felt I wanted to be a part of this movement here that was happening.

Q: I neglected to ask you about some of your musical influences outside the Chicago music scene? Who were some of the tough drummers who you thought well of?

TB: Well, the first guy that stands out is Cozy Cole. Cozy Cole was a very big influence on me, because in that period Cozy Cole made a solo 45 called “Topsy.” That was the very first drum solo that I memorized, beat for beat and rhythm for rhythm. I mean, I got that down. Because it just had a lot of emotion in it. So Cozy Cole was a very big influence on me at that time.

Also Roy McCurdy, who was the drummer with Cannonball Adderley. And of course, my drum teacher, Harold Jones. During the latter part of the ’60s there was a TV show that used to come on an educational station in Chicago, WTTW, a program that used to come on once a week called “Jazz Casual.” This was my first time actually seeing the music on TV. Of course, Ed Sullivan and all them people were on TV, but the band never really got featured. But here was a TV show that featured music, you see. So I was influenced a lot by, of course, Philly Joe Jones, Roy McCurdy with Cannonball, and Elvin Jones, who was with John Coltrane’s Quartet. I saw the original quartet on this show “Jazz Casual.” The host of the show I think was Ralph Gleason. Anyway, he ran this show once a week, and I saw Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, the John Coltrane Quartet, the pianist Bill Evans.

Now, these people were coming to Chicago, but I could not get in the clubs. There was this one club that they used to play at called McKie’s on 63rd and Cottage Grove, right there by the El. The El train is the elevated train that runs in Chicago, for those who don’t know. But I used to catch there right at 63rd and Cottage Grove, and I used to pass by this club, and I would see these names in big letters: The John Coltrane Quartet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins. And this was the club.

Q: And cats would be jamming there.

TB: Of course they might be jamming there.

Q: Gene Ammons might be strolling by and give a lesson for out-of-towners.

TB: That’s right!

Q: Were you playing in venues outside the AACM? Were you playing classical music at this time? I know you said you studied at the Conservatory.

TB: Well, mainly it was private training and ensemble classes at that time. At this time, ’66, ’67, ’68, those three years, most of my activity was with the AACM, with Muhal and Joseph Jarman. Those three years most of my activity was that. And we got some gigs!

Q: You went to Detroit, for instance, in 1967 and ran into John Sinclair.

TB: Yeah, exactly. John Sinclair was an organizer in Detroit who used to organize concerts at Wayne State University, and one year, I think it was ’67, he got us a big gig at the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. And you know, this is my first big out-of-town gig now. Joseph Jarman, the late Christopher Gaddy, the late Charles Clark, and myself on drums. So this music that we’re hearing on Delmark is a very good representation of the music scene in Chicago.

Q: And you’ve filled us in most thoroughly on things that were happening.

TB: I hope so.

Q: We’ll progress now and move to events that happened later. TB: Sure. As If It Were The Seasons, that was my third album at this time. This was a session that was put together by Joseph Jarman. We have Charles Clark on bass and cello, myself on all kinds of drums, a vocalist named Sherri Scott, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano and oboe, a very good flutist who really never got any attention named Joel Brandon, and Fred Anderson is on tenor sax, John Stubblefield, who has a big feature here, is also on tenor sax, and the late John Jackson on trumpet and Lester Lashley on trombone. This composition is written by Joseph Jarman, entitled “Song For Christopher.”

Q: Everything changed in Chicago after 1969, because that’s when Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Steve McCall and the Art Ensemble left for Europe.

TB: That’s right.

Q: This, of course, would have had its effect on Thurman, who was still a very young musician.

TB: Well, Joseph in ’68 had gotten involved with the Art Ensemble, and they were really into some intensive rehearsals. So boom, there I was, the late Charles Clark had died, the late Christopher Gaddy had died — and these two people were like my brothers; we did everything together. So it was a real lonely period for me, because Joseph now, you could say the quartet had broke up, and Joseph had joined forces with the Art Ensemble . . .

Q: They were lacking a drummer, however. Did the possibility of your performing with them ever come up?

TB: Yes, it did. And it came up at a bad time. And I swear, it’s one of the biggest mistakes that I regret in my life. Because the group had gone to Europe, and you know, they were pioneering some areas. They didn’t have anything really guaranteed, and they had been to Europe for a few years now. We’re talking about the years 1970-’71. So they were in Europe. But at this time, I had gotten involved with theatre, you see. In 1968 I started doing the Broadway production of Hair. Q: As a musician?

TB: As a musician. I got a call, and I was playing percussion, okay, so the Broadway show Hair was in Chicago at the Schubert Theatre — and I looked up, and there I was in theatre now.

Q: With a good union job!

TB: With a good union job! And see, that was a big deal for me. See, my father is a retired union man, so he was very pleased and very happy. So here I was working downtown at the Schubert Theatre at this time, doing Hair. That job lasted two years, from 1968 to 1970.

Q: Naturally, you didn’t want to leave that for the insecurity of roaming Europe.

TB: Well, of course. So what happened was, I get this call in the wee hours of the morning, something like two or three o’clock in the morning, and it’s from overseas — and this was Roscoe Mitchell. And Roscoe Mitchell expressed, “Well, look, T-Bird. . .” That was a nickname that came from Roscoe. He calls me T-Bird, and now it caught on, and everybody calls me that, now, you see. But he gave me that name. And he said, “Look, we’ve been over here working, and we’ve been thinking about it a lot, and we would like for you to join the Art Ensemble.” So of course, the first thing I said was, “Well, look, do you have any gigs?” And Roscoe was really honest. He said, “Well, no, we don’t have any gigs, and we don’t know where our next gig is, but we’re working on some things that we’re pioneering, some new areas.” So I said, “Well, look, I’ve got a gig; I’m doing this show” — and I never knew! Well, I had this full-time job, and I didn’t think I should leave it.

Q: It happened to a lot of musicians in Chicago, what happened to you.

TB: Yeah! So I said, look, I couldn’t make it, but I would like to join them if they got back into town. So Roscoe said, “Okay, I understand.” And the next thing I knew, months and months up the road,they came back.

Q: They came back in ’71.

TB: They came back in ’71, and they had Don Moye.

Q: That was that.

TB: That was that. I kissed that gig goodbye, and that was that.

Q: What else was happening as far as gigs in Chicago after they left for Europe? You were playing with Kalaparusha [Maurice McIntyre]?

TB: I was playing with Kalaparusha, and I was doing a few gigs with Leroy Jenkins now. He was still there, you see, after the Art Ensemble had cut out and everything. So we had these gigs at clubs on the South Side. I’m trying to think of the names of some of these places; it’s been so long. But George Freeman, Leroy Jenkins, myself, and. . .

Q: George Freeman playing the AACM type of music?

TB: Yeah, he was into it. He plays guitar, and that was the first time that I saw guitar into the music.

Q: Was Cosey doing. . .

TB: [Guitarist] Pete Cosey was doing a few things. At this time, Pete along Sherri Scott. . .

Q: Who played with Earth, Wind and Fire . . .

TB: At that time she was rehearsing with Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, and he was getting the band off the ground. They were doing a lot of rehearsing.

But mostly in this period I had really gotten involved in theatre. Not saying that the AACM was not functioning. It was still going on. It was just that we were still doing our concert series. . . You know, a lot of people had left, like the Art Ensemble, but at the same time we were recruiting new blood. Like Douglas Ewart, who came in at that time. So we were getting new blood, and the organization was still moving on along with the times.

Q: And the Big Band was still functioning.

TB: And the Big Band was still functioning. And you’ve got to remember, even though we had this concert series happening, we were very, very supported by the community which we lived in and participated in. And I think that was one of the main differences between then and now, was the fact that. . .

Q: In New York City.

TB: Yeah, but . . .

Q: But then in New York City as well. I think New York City is just not that type of town.

TB: It just isn’t that type of town. And at that time in Chicago, we were very well supported by the community. And we used to even go outside and play outside and jam. I don’t know, this was with Muhal, Muhal would bring his clarinet out, and Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, Kalaparusha, Charles Clark — We used to take our instruments out there in Jackson Park, which is a large park on the South Side, and just sit out there and play. For me it was like a rehearsal. Maybe for people like Roscoe and maybe Muhal, maybe they were thinking of, “Well, this is a way of getting this new music out to the people.” See, for me at the time, I had a comfortable gig, and I was getting gigs, and I was playing some music, and I was active.

Q: So you were active in theatre throughout the ’70s, is that it?

TB: Most of the ’70s.

Q: What made you decide to return to performing creative music, then? And let’s talk about some of the circumstances that led you to return actively to the scene.

TB: Well, one thing was that after playing in theatre, I had learned a great deal. Number one, I learned how to play with a conductor. I learned how to play in a section. Because in theatre, not only do you have a trap drummer, but you have two or three percussion players. And a lot of my training, and a lot of music that I was studying at that time, I’m having an opportunity to really try out now. But I learned a lot in the pit orchestra. And one of the main things was being able to play in a section.

So after, say, 1975-’76, I started getting back to the AACM, into that music. Because I had gotten all of this training, you see. And for the first time, I felt like I wanted to add something to the music of Muhal and to the music of Joseph Jarman and Roscoe, or whoever was doing something. The music took on a new meaning for me at this time, because I had the years from ’71 to ’75 to really think about all the music that I had performed in the late ’60s with Muhal and everybody. Because at the time I was performing it, I really had on clear idea of this new music, you see.

Q: I can think of an analogy. In the 1950’s, and in the ’60s, for that matter, a lot of musicians after their initial apprenticeships in the Army, and got their rudiments very much together in the Army by playing all the time.

TB: That’s true.

Q: And it sounds like this theatre job performed a similar function for you.

TB: It really did. And I was just able to sort of get a clearer understanding about the music. And keep in mind, I’m still studying, I’m practicing very hard. . . So when I returned in ’75, that was really a very progressive year for the organization, because everyone had really gone out and developed their personal concepts.

Q: George Lewis had hit the scene . . .

TB: George Lewis hit the scene in that year. So it was like a revitalization of everything, you know. And I think especially the Art Ensemble, Muhal, Jenkins, they all had had a taste of getting their music performed and recorded, and gotten a taste of the business, gotten a taste of the music scene outside of Chicago. Because you’ve got to remember, before that time nobody had left Chicago.

Q: And that was a time when musicians from all over the country began converging on New York.

TB: Exactly. Now, I must get in here that during the early Seventies, like ’72 and ’73, there was a collaboration of musicians from St. Louis, like for instance, Oliver Lake. Oliver Lake had formed a new music organization I think called X-BAG . . . I think that’s it; I’m not sure. But I do remember that there was a collaboration with the St. Louis musicians.

Q: I remember Julius Hemphill was coming to Chicago in the ’70s.

TB: Exactly. Julius Hemphill. We’re talking about Oliver Lake, we’re talking about Charles Bobo Shaw, Baikida Carroll. Who else?

Q: Joseph Bowie.

TB: Joseph Bowie, of course. So the AACM members even went to St. Louis. And they produced a concert in collaboration with both groups, and also we did the same thing for X-BAG, and Oliver Lake and Baikida and everybody came from St. Louis to Chicago to participate in a concert series that we did. And that was a real strong thing that happened in ’71 and ’72, or so.

Q: Let’s get back to some music.

TB: I was going to go with some more of my percussion duet record.

[Music from Muhal Richard Abrams, LifeaBlinec, “JoDoTh”]

Q: Now we’re in 1978, and in 1978 Thurman joined Anthony Braxton’s working band.

TB: That’s right.

Q: That was a very tight band.

TB: Yeah, it was. It really began in 1977. Anthony Braxton had come to Chicago, and I guess at that time he had just broke up the quartet that he had with Barry Altschul, Dave Holland and George Lewis that was his working band, they’d made some records for Arista. There was an AACM Festival I remember at McCormack Place.

Q: I remember that. Braxton played a gig all on clarinets, with you and Malachi Favors.

TB: He played a gig all on clarinets. And part of that concert was a quartet with Leroy Jenkins on violin, Leonard Jones on bass, Anthony and myself. After that concert, Braxton asked me if I wanted to join the band, and I was just thrilled. I was ready. So that’s the beginning of how that started. We went out. That was the fall of 1977. I remember my very first gig with the quartet out of town was the Quaker Oats Jazz Festival, which was in Philadelphia, I think. And that was my first big out of town gig with the Braxton Quartet. I must say, at that same time Ray Anderson also was very new in the band.

Q: Another Chicagoan.

TB: So Ray Anderson and myself were the new members of the quartet in 1977, and Mark Helias had joined the quartet a few months prior, so he had already played a few gigs. But for Ray Anderson and myself, the Quaker Oats Jazz Festival was our first gig.

Q: How did you like playing with Braxton? What’s the relationship of his music to a drummer, in some sense?

TB: Well, it was really interesting, because Braxton had a way, first of all, of notating his music. He gave me the same part that Ray Anderson had or that Braxton had, see. That was one of the big differences, see. It wasn’t a drum part. It was a part that everybody else had. So now for the time in playing improvised music, I could not only create my own drum part, but I could follow along with all the other instruments to see what they were doing. So it was exciting, it was different. In a way, it was a lot easier for me to adapt to his music, because this was, I would say, my first feeling how jazz and classical music could mix together. This was my first introduction. Because a lot of Braxton’s music had these sounds and compositions that were very close to classical music for me. So for the first time now, with all that training that I watched the percussion players play in the orchestra pits in Chicago, and watching my percussion teacher at the Conservatory. . . For the first time now, I was able to start executing a lot of the knowledge and strokes, and the finesse and touch on my drum set playing jazz.

Q: Did Braxton produce a lot of new music during that time?

TB: He was writing a lot during this time. And I think the way the band was going. . . I know we used to travel a lot. And he would be so occupied with turning out compositions every day, just for this band . . .

Q: And he’d play them on the stand that night?

TB: He’d play them on the stand that night.

Q: Nice for Braxton, to have a band like that.

TB: It was great for Braxton! I hope he had his ASCAP and all that stuff together. But it was great for me, for everybody, because we were not only playing some new music, but we were working, we were out on the road, and we had an opportunity to perform it that night, and to see how it would go for the first time.

So for me, for the first time now, I was able to start executing a lot of the percussion concept on traps. All those years with Joseph Jarman and Muhal, I didn’t really know how to. . . I mean, this music was brand-new. I was trying to find my way, you see. One thing about Muhal and Joseph at this time, one thing they did give me, and that was a lot of support. Even though I didn’t know what the hell I was doing — I was trying. But they gave me a lot of support. But by the time ’77 came around, I had a pretty clear idea about how I wanted to perform and how I wanted to construct.

Q: You were a mature musician at this time.

TB: Yeah, of course. Now I’ve learned a lot. I’ve played a whole bunch of gigs, and I’ve learned a lot. And believe me, that’s the best training you can get, is right there on the bandstand.

Q: Just playing.

TB: That’s true.

[Music: Braxton Quartet, “W6-4N-R6-AH0”]

TB: That recording was done while the quartet was on tour, so it was a real special time for me. Even though I had recorded with Joseph Jarman and Muhal, it was a very good time for me. Because to record with Anthony Braxton who at that time had risen to be a very popular figure in new music, and number two, he had a record contract at the time, so that was a little different.

Q: And later that year you recorded with Sam Rivers.

TB: That’s right. What happened was that the AACM gave its first concert on New York territory in 1976, right here at Columbia University. We were able to perform our first jazz festival right here in New York. And in the audience, of course, was Mr. Sam Rivers. I had performed with some of the groups and with the Big Band. So Sam was in the audience — and this was in ’76.

A few years later, I get this call right out of the blue. It was Sam Rivers, and he was asking me to come to New York and to make a record. Of course I was floored! I said, “Sure, when are the rehearsals and when can we get together, because I need to learn your music.” He said, “Look, we’ll just rehearse in the studio. But can you be here by this particular date?” I said, “No problem.” So my very first contact with Sam Rivers was in the studio, and we made the record that we are about to hear called Waves on Tomato Records. Of course, I am now very familiar with Sam Rivers in terms off what he’s done, and all the Blue Note records that he appeared on with Andrew Hill and Tony Williams — the early Blue Note dates.

Q: Not to mention that he had used Braxton’s previous bass and drums.

TB: Exactly. Now here I go, I’m beginning to think that I’m in a circle here, because somehow Anthony Braxton’s rhythm section went with Sam Rivers — and we’re speaking of Barry Altschul and Dave Holland. At the time I joined Sam, Dave Holland was still there. This recording features Joe Daley on brass, Dave Holland on bass and cello, and myself on drums and percussion, and Sam Rivers. Like I say, I was really back, because this was my first contact with Dave Holland and Sam, and here I am getting ready to make a record. So it was quite a special event for me.

[Music: S. Rivers, “Surge”]

Q: Thurman, you played a gig this past weekend in Boston with Sam Rivers as guest artist.

TB: Exactly. It was my gig. I was able to get two nights at a club in Boston called Charlie’s Tap, Friday and Saturday, the Thurman Barker Trio featuring Sam Rivers. Anyway, I had an opportunity to be able to join forces with an artist who I was able to learn a lot of music from, and we played a lot of gigs. As a matter of fact, after the Waves record, we went on tour. Contrasts was also done while we were on tour. Sam did spend a lot of time in Boston, studying at the New England Conservatory, and then throughout the ’50s.

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Filed under AACM, Anthony Braxton, Drummer, Interview, Joseph Jarman, Muhal Richard Abrams, Sam Rivers, Thurman Barker, WKCR

For Billy Hart’s Birthday, an Unedited DownBeat Blindfold Test from 2007

Billy Hart, known to some as Jabali, is 73 years young today. I’ve appended below the full proceedings of a Blindfold Test he did with me six years. In 2012, Jazz Times gave me the opportunity to write a feature piece on the maestro; two years ago, I posted a review of his Steeplechase recording Sixty-Eight and included an excerpt from my liner notes for the 1997 Arabesque date, Oceans of Time.

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Billy Hart Blindfold Test:

1.  Jimmy Cobb, “Green Dolphin Street” (from WEST OF FIFTH, Chesky, 2006) (Hank Jones, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums)

It’s somebody like me. I might even say Billy Drummond, who’s younger than me. But somebody that’s like me. It doesn’t seem like it’s Al Foster, and it doesn’t seem like Kenny Washington or someone like that. It’s more like Billy Drummond or that kind of player. It’s just the sound of it. For  me, it would be somebody who heard Tony Williams but also liked Vernell Fournier. Of course I like it, because I understand it. He’s playing in a way I would play. From the left hand, the  piano player sounds like a younger guy. When I say “younger guy” – ha-ha – I’m talking about somebody my age, like Hicks (though I don’t think it was Hicks) or Stanley Cowell (and I don’t think it was him) or Kenny Barron (but I’m sure it wasn’t Kenny Barron). Somebody in that vibe. The bass player had some chops. I’d be curious about who the bass player is. For the moment, I don’t recognize it. It was well done. It didn’t sound like they put a lot of time in it. It was just something that they could do, but it was well done. Everybody could play. When I say “Play,” it means they have a good traditional base, a good foundation. I liked everybody for that. 5 stars. Jimmy Cobb!! I should know Jimmy Cobb. That sounded a little light for Jimmy Cobb for me. Perhaps it’s the way it was miked. But then again, for certain kinds of those things, Jimmy Cobb is an influence. He influenced Tony Williams. Let me hear that again. No, I would have never guessed it was Jimmy Cobb. That’s not what he sounds like to me. A couple of the things that I thought somebody might have heard Tony Williams, now I think it’s the influence Jimmy Cobb had on Tony. I could have guessed Christian. [DRUMS PLAY FOURS] See, that’s obviously a Philly Joe influence which Jimmy Cobb has. But for what I know Jimmy Cobb to do, what I would recognize, I didn’t hear anything that’s… Nor Hank Jones. I would not have recognized him. I thought I would know Hank Jones’ sound. I made 6 records with him. I’m influenced by Jimmy Cobb! As much as I thought I knew Jimmy, I’ve got some more to listen to. Hank is phenomenal. That he can sound that modern. What made me think he was a modern guy is his left hand, and I know from playing with him that he’s got at least four generations of jazz vocabulary in him. He can do that in a tune.

2.  Andrew Cyrille-Anthony Braxton, “Water, Water, Water” (from Andrew Cyrille-Anthony Braxton, DUO PALINDROME 2002, Vol. 2, Intakt, 2002) (Cyrille, drums, composer; Braxton, alto saxophone)

Is that just one drummer? Yes? Ha! I don’t know who it is, but it’s interesting to talk about it. Somebody who can do what this guy is doing (by the way, of course I like this very much) would be Blackwell. But I’m thinking Blackwell, who is somebody who can do that, but then, a guy who liked Blackwell was a guy named Eddie Moore. After that, it’s a whole host of people, like Don Moye, who would do that. Maybe Andrew Cyrille. The saxophone sounds so familiar, like Roscoe Mitchell. 4 stars.Cyrille is an unsung hero for understanding and being enthusiastic for what I think is really a world music viewpoint, realizing the function of African- and Indian-related musics, before it got to be so academic. He’s one of the heros of that, as were, strangely enough, a lot of avant-garde players. I think of Milford Graves and Don Moye in that vibe also — world music intellects. That’s what I like about Blackwell, of course. I feel that same way about people like Bill Stewart and Jeff Ballard, too. They have a strong interest in and are very enthusiastic about world music, especially in terms of Indian and African traditional musics.

3.   Ari Hoenig, “Anthropology” (from INVERSATIONS, Dreyfus, 2006) (Hoenig, drums, Jean-Michel Pilc, piano; Johannes Weidenmuller, bass)

[FOUR BARS] [LAUGHS] Is that Ari Hoenig? I think of Ari with Kenny Werner and Jean-Michel Pilc. But of course, I know him to be already a huge influence on emerging drummers. He’s not really doing it on this piece, but he’s a guy who I think is approaching this world music, just more academically. He’s figuring it out. Because of that, there are a lot of people who can be influenced by him. What made me laugh is that I know that he, as well as Lewis Nash, likes to play the melodies of bebop tunes on the drums, which is very enjoyable for me. I love hearing drummers do that. Especially them, because they’ve spent time working it out. As a teacher, one of the first things I ask my students to do is to play “Anthropology” on the drums. Any student of mine who heard this would think it was one of my students that I had assigned that project to. Is Pilc playing piano? Man, I should know more about Pilc. It’s one of the contemporary guys that I think is approaching this music in a more academic way. In other words, they weren’t there, but they’ve received what I consider traditional information…what’s a better phrase… Classical music.It’s people like them who make classical music. [How do you mean that?] They’re part of the evolution of the music. That’s all. It’s obvious that they’ve studied the music and have tried to bring it forward, or naturally bring it forward just from their natural understanding of it. Pilc is French, he’s European, so he brings that to it. It’s not going to be James P. Johnson or Horace Silver, but he brings a contemporary… I think of it as a contemporary sound that’s influential in today’s music. 4½ stars. I think the music is important. Is the bassist Moutin? Weidenmuller? That’s interesting. Pilc with KennyWerner’s bass and drummer. That means that Ari and Weidenmuller have become a team.

4.  Herlin Riley, “Need Ja Help” (from CREAM OF THE CRESCENT, Criss-Cross, 2004) (Riley, drums, composer; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Eric Lewis, piano; Reginald Veal, bass)

The first thing I notice is what I would consider an obvious Duke Ellington influence. Now, who besides Duke Ellington would have a Duke Ellington influence, besides everybody… Who that would be, I don’t know yet. Except I can’t think of Duke having a bass player like that. But then that brings up Mingus, too, but I don’t think that’s Mingus either. It’s not Duke, which makes me think it’s someone from the guys who play with Wynton like Herlin Riley and Wycliffe Gordon. Duke is a huge influence on these people. I love Duke Ellington, too. The drums make me think of Sonny Greer, especially that period of time when Sonny Greer was the drummer. It is Herlin and Wycliffe?  Who’s the bass player? Reginald Veal? He’s not playing with them any more, right. It means Ali Jackson could have been the drummer, too, but… Herlin is very recognizable for certain things. First of all, he’s a New Orleans drummer, and for me, all the New Orleans drummers have a special badge. They’re born with another understanding of the original jazz drum language. So Herlin not only is a great example of that, but he’s a great creative drummer, and how he uses his knowledge of the tradition is very inspiring to me. 4½ stars. The pianist was Eric Lewis: If you’d said Eric Reed or Marcus Roberts, I’d have expected, but Eric Lewis could go in there!

5.   Francisco Mela, “Parasuayo” (from MELAO, Nonesuch, 2006) (Mela, drums, voice; George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Nir Felder, electric guitar & effects; Leo Genovese, fender rhodes, keyboard; Peter Slavov, bass)

Hmm, there it is again; the New Orleans tradition of drumming, the funeral march and funeral dirge. Whoops! There’s some contemporary sounds around it. Whoops! So this is like Cuban tradition with contemporary… Oh! I mean, this is the age of academic… I wish I could think of a better word. Now my guess would be somebody like David Sanchez, someone who is interested in or has knowledge of the Cuban tradition or Afro-Caribbean tradition, but is a contemporary player at the same time. It’s the drummer’s record?! That opens it up. I’ve been hearing about this drummer who I haven’t heard play live yet, Francisco Mela. I’ve heard, first of all, he’s from Cuba, but also he’s been playing with Kenny Barron, and to me, to be able to play with Kenny Barron, you have to have a pretty good knowledge of the North American tradition, and if he’s from Cuba, it means he automatically has a knowledge of the Afro-Caribbean tradition. That makes me think he’s extraordinary. Not only that he’s extraordinary, but also if there’s an academic tradition coming out of North America, people like Ari Hoenig, then it’s also coming out of Cuba, because I’m also interested in Dafnis Prieto — who I would have guessed next — for the same reasons. The world is smaller now. You can almost not separate North America from South America any more, because the North Americans study the South American tradition, and obviously, the South Americans study the North American traditions. That’s the way I want to play! It is Mela? I was lucky again. I’d better to listen to him. Because he listens to me. He comes to my gigs. I never heard a Cuban drummer get that far away from the Cuban tradition. I can’t tell who the saxophone player is. George Garzone! Really. I thought I knew Garzone, too. It’s strange, because I picked Sanchez because I like that he plays so lyrically. That’s the reason why I wouldn’t have said Garzone, who I love. 5 stars. I went to one of my favorite Afro-Cuban drummers… When I teach, one of my first assignments, besides that “Anthropology” thing, is to study and learn the second line. Unless you’re from New Orleans, that’s one thing that most of us don’t get naturally. So their assignment is to study the second line. And the way I describe the second line, my rationalization for it is that the second line is the direct translation of African rhythm through the Afro-Caribbean to the invention of the drumset. So by you saying Idris, who is a New Orleans musician, it really sounds like… But that’s what I feel.

6.   Brian Blade, “The Midst of Chaos” (from Edward Simon, UNICITY, CamJazz, 2006) (Simon, piano, composer; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums)

So many of these things remind me of the way I would like to play. This could be…it could be… It could be me! But it isn’t, obviously. But obviously, it’s somebody who was influenced a lot by Tony Williams. So it could be any of a number of people between Bill Stewart and Billy Drummond. Whoever the drummer is, I like his touch very much. Whoever this is likes Roy Haynes, too. But so do I. It sounds so familiar; I’m thinking something will give it away. Wow, I really like the drummer. The pianist sounds Chick-influenced to me. Sounds like a great modern piano trio. 5 stars. Brian Blade! Whoa! I thought about Patitucci. I thought about Blade. But Blade is tricky, man. He’s a Louisiana drummer, and for me that’s close enough—he’s like a New Orleans drummer to me. But I think of him as more influenced…more of a… If you could be influenced by Elvin and Tony, I think of him as more influenced by Elvin, but here I heard more of a Tony influence. Again, it reminds me of me, of the way I want to play. Off the record, I have some students who loved him, early on. In fact, they had heard him with his band. I thought, man, this here’s one of the first cats besides Jeff Watts that obviously has put a band together that’s similar to a band that I would put together—if you think of my band with Kikoski and Mark Feldman and Dave Fiuczynski.  I asked him, “Man, what is it about Brian that you like so much?” He said, “It’s the way he influences the music. He influences the music the way you do, Billy.” Here I’m hearing it. I didn’t hear it so much before because I thought of him more as an Elvin influence. But here he sounds like the way I would play—if I could. It’s incredible that he can go that far in different spectrums.  I think of Lewis Nash as being able to go that far. But if you think of the way he plays on Norah Jones’ record or the way he plays Wayne’s music… I mean, I sort of thought I knew him. But this shows a side that I wasn’t that familiar with. I’m obviously extremely impressed with his musicality, as most people are.

7.  Joe Farnsworth, “The Lineup” (from One For All, THE LINEUP, Sharp-9, 2006) (Joe Farnsworth, drums; David Hazeltine, piano, composer; Steve Davis, trombone; Jim Rotondi, trumpet; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; John Webber, bass)

My first thought is somebody’s listened to the Art Blakey band when Freddie and Wayne were on it, and of course, my next thought is One For All—Farnsworth and those guys. Farnsworth is another guy that I think of as academic, but he’s chosen more the Billy Higgins, Philly Joe, Kenny Washington, and — something that I know personally about him — Jimmy Lovelace school of drumming, which of course, for me, is classical music in every sense. I mean, the highest level. It’s pristine. It has a sort of perfection. I mean, how can you talk about Higgins and not talk about perfection? Same thing for me about Jimmy Lovelace, whom most people don’t talk about. It’s Higgins, it’s Philly Joe, which is sort of…well, pristine is the… Poetry in motion. A beautiful touch. I have to love the piece because it reminds me of the music that I’m most familiar with. I grew up on this music. I grew up on Art Blakey. I grew up on Max Roach. I grew up on Philly Joe. I think it’s well-done. But of course, it’s not Art Blakey, as great as it is. And I don’t think it can get any better than they’re doing it unless it was Art Blakey.  4½ stars.    [Do you think it’s imitative?] You didn’t ask that question. [Well, I could.] When I say “academic,” that’s what I mean? Let’s not say imitative. Let’s call it interpretive. If you’ve still got a Count Basie Orchestra, if you’ve still got a Duke Ellington Orchestra, then you’ve got an Art Blakey Orchestra with Philly Joe and Billy Higgins sitting in. But it’s so well done, it’s so enjoyable to listen to, and it brings back fond memories. I know how they feel playing that. I know how I enjoy listening to it.

8.  Jack DeJohnette, “Seven Eleven” (from Chris Potter, UNSPOKEN, Concord, 1997) (Potter, tenor saxophone; John Scofield, guitar; Dave Holland, bass; DeJohnette, drums)

Now, for me, as much as I may not understand this, this is exciting to me. It sounds like a certain area of new music to me. Offhand, I don’t know who it is, but the saxophone player sounds like Chris Potter. So it would be whatever drummers play with him, whether it’s Clarence Penn or Nate Smith or Billy Kilson. It’s hard to say who it sounds like, though. I want to say Bill Stewart, but then, on the other hand, one of the things about Bill Stewart is that he sounds something like Jack DeJohnette to me, so then I hear Jack. Some of it sounds a lot like Jack to me, too. I can’t really hear the bass. But the drummer reminds me of Jack. I think of Jack like I think of Roy Haynes. Even though because he’s my age group, I can hypothesize his influences, but Jack to me sounds like Jack. So if this isn’t Jack, it’s somebody who sounds like Jack. The bass player is Dave Holland? Whoa! I should have known that. But I couldn’t hear that. But the first thing it sounds like to me is when Elvin was playing with John for Atlantic. It has that Atlantic drum sound. Whose record date is it? Chris? Is that Scofield? See, I know those guys! It’s interesting how much Bill Stewart has copped from Jack. Jack used to tell me, “Stewart, he’s a good little drummer.” [Not so easy to cop from Jack.] It sure isn’t. But Jack is Jack. I think I know some of his influences because they’re my influences, too. It’s again Tony and Elvin and Roy Haynes (that’s off the record). But for me, he’s one of the few cats who he is him. I’m sure Baby Dodds had influences. 5 stars. Man, I got a lot of records, a lot of CDs, and I don’t think you’ve played one record that I have. I read a lot of Blindfold Tests, and a lot of guys will say, ‘Yeah, that’s a record I have; oh, yeah, that’s so-and-so, I remember when I heard it.” You haven’t played anything I’ve heard before. Am I listening to the wrong things? You haven’t played one that I’ve heard.

9.  Brad Mehldau, “Granada” (from DAY IS DONE, Nonesuch, 2006) (Mehldau, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jeff Ballard, drums)

I like this. I’m just trying to think of who it is. Again, so much of this stuff sounds like me! Isn’t that out? I’m at the age where I think everything sounds like me. Except, of course, that I know it’s not me. It’s the way I would like to play it, the way I would like to do it. In a lot of today’s so-called contemporary jazz, where you see a world music approach, or the influence of more cultures than just the American, then obviously, a lot of this kind of music is prevalent now. As a drummer, or musician, I call it straight-eighth or eighth-note music, or Latin-influenced or whatever. Now, who plays like that? The first thing that came to my mind, strangely enough, was Jeff Ballard. As I said, I can tell that he and Bill Stewart are students of African and Afro-Caribbean music. I can tell that they’re enthusiasts of it. It’s Ballard? That was a lucky guess. I don’t know what made me say it. There must be something that I recognize. I know that a lot of the people he plays with… It’s not even that. It’s him. The way he’s playing really sounds Spanish to me; it sounds like a guy playing a castanet or something. It sounds like he hears it that deeply. I know that he, like Ari Hoenig, seems to be a huge influence on younger drummers today—in a certain area. I know lately he’s been playing with Brad, but it doesn’t sound like Mehldau to me. It’s Mehldau? [LAUGHS] I’m still hearing Jorge Rossy, who was from Spain, play with Mehldau, so I have to hear this group some more. But I didn’t think of Brad when I was listening to the drums. It is Jeff, and he is an influence—4½ stars.

10.  Susie Ibarra, “Trane #1” (from SONGBIRD SUITE, Tzadik, 2002) (Ibarra, drums)

Tell me again that this is not… This can’t be ordinary listening. [No. But it’s somebody you might know.] Again, it’s something that I think I might have played or attempted to play like that. Especially that. It’s a way of choking the cymbal without really grabbing the cymbal; you put your hand on it but take it off real quick. You just place your hand on it for a fraction of a second. And I do that all the time. In fact, I have never heard anybody else do that but me. Unless, of course, that’s not what he’s doing. Now he actually is choking the cymbal, but before he wasn’t. But even all of that… I’d be interested to guess who I’m imitating! Let me listen to this again. You wouldn’t give me a drummer twice, right? [No.] Okay, so it’s not Cyrille. It’s bad, though. Now, this is the closest thing I’ve heard to something that I would try to do. I don’t use that cymbal. Blackwell used to use that cymbal—that you put it on the snare drum. I’ve heard Stewart do that do; he’ll put that gong-like cymbal on the snare drum and hit it, or on the tom-tom and hit it. I have no idea who it is, but I love it. I really like it. Joe Chambers? Who would think like that? Wow! The same guy playing the brushes, too? [Same drummer, yes.] That’s what sort of made me think of Joe Chambers. Whoever that is, is heavy. Not because I would do it, but I just like their mind, whoever it is, and just his ability as a drummer—the brushes, too. It’s funny, I can’t say if he’s young or old. He could be an older guy or he could be a younger guy. 5 stars. Susie Ibarra? Whoa!!! I’m in love with Susie Ibarra. I’ve just never heard her play the brushes like that. I know that she has a certain kind of technical facility that I did hear her do with the brushes, but I’d only her do it before with the sticks. When you talk about modern drummers, a lot of the groundbreaking, just for plain drumming, comes from the so-called avant-garde drummers… When people talk about “contemporary” this or “modern” that, that word for me means the stuff that comes from Milford, Rashied, Andrew Cyrille, Barry Altschul, Stu Martin, and then a new breed of that came along about 15-20 years ago with Jim Black and Tom Rainey and Gerald Cleaver, Hemingway. But of those drummers, Susie Ibarra is by far one of my favorite drummers to listen to, not only on the drums, but as a musician, too, some of her compositions. I was very impressed with that.

11.   Victor Lewis, “Suspicion” (from Charles Tolliver, WITH LOVE, Blue Note, 2006) (Charles Tolliver, trumpet, composer; Victor Lewis, drums)

This is the trumpet player’s record? [Yes.] I have two impressions. The first impression, of course, is that it was some kind of Latin band, and I’m trying to think of that drummer who teaches at the New School… [It’s not Bobby Sanabria.] How’d you know that’s who I meant?  The next thing is the opposite of that, like say, Charles Tolliver. I know Victor Lewis played with him when I heard him at the IAJE. But I didn’t hear any music like this, and great as that music was, I didn’t hear THIS. It took me a minute to recognize him. It’s interesting to hear Victor. People ask me about Victor Lewis, and for years I would say, “If I ever had to recommend a sub for me…” In other words, if they said, “I want you to hire a sub, but I’m not going to tell you what the music is going to be like,” I would say Victor Lewis. Because his musical scope is similar to mine. Anything I would be interested in or try to do, I know Victor could do. Anything somebody would call me for, I think they could call Victor for. Victor is one of my all-time favorite drummers. I remember asking a recording engineer, just for recording clarity, who his favorite drummer was, and he had recorded everybody, and he said Victor Lewis. 5 stars, of course. Off the record, I went to college with Tolliver at Howard, and I never think of Tolliver as having those kind of chops. I know he can play, he’s one of my favorite trumpet players, but for a minute he almost sounded like Freddie! I said, “Who is this who’s picking it up on that level?” Now, I know he loves Freddie, but I didn’t know he could get that close to it. That’s off the record.

12.  Lewis Nash, “Tickle Toe” (from STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, M&I, 2005) (Nash, drums; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Peter Washington, bass)

All the things you’ve played have been very enjoyable. You know how some people say, “I really didn’t like that at all.” You didn’t play one thing that I didn’t enjoy. I have ideas on this, but they’re so far-fetched… If the drum had no bottom head, I’d say Chico Hamilton or something. But it does have a bottom head. This is off the record, too. Even this sounds like me! Well, I mean, it’s something I would have played in this situation. So it just shows you, whoever I’m influenced by, a lot of other people are, too. He’s playing the form of the tune really well, or so it seems to me. It’s an older style of drumming by a modern guy. You sort of think of Zutty Singleton, Baby Dodds or Gene Krupa, even Sid Catlett, but there’s obviously a more contemporary drummer. He’s playing a calypso beat, which is interesting. It sounds like so many people… His sense of humor reminds me of Frankie Dunlap. There’s something about him that reminds me of Chico Hamilton. It’s somebody with some chops, though. 4 stars. Lewis is a student of the music. I should have been able to catch him. What threw me off is Nelson. Because he sounded so much like a Bags-influenced guy. I kept thinking it was back there, like somebody like Terry Gibbs or someone, and that made me think it might have been Mel Lewis, or even Ben Riley. Brilliant, man. He’s got a wide scope, too.

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Filed under Billy Hart, Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Drummer, Jazz Times