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Paul Motian: There's a Million Songs Out There

Paul Motian: There's a Million Songs Out There
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[This is an encore presentation of Paul Motian's April 2006 interview with All About Jazz.]

Paul Motian doesn't like being interviewed.

That said, the 75-year-old drummer has plenty to say, and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind. Motian first came to prominence in the late 1950s as one-third (with bassist Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro
1936 - 1961
bass
and pianist Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
) of the great Bill Evans Trio, which upended expectations of just what a jazz piano trio was supposed to do (at this point, however, he had already gigged with Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano and George Russell). He's played throughout the last four decades with an astonishing list of creative players such as Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, Paul Bley
Paul Bley
Paul Bley
b.1932
piano
, Carla Bley
Carla Bley
Carla Bley
b.1938
piano
, and Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
1937 - 2014
bass, acoustic
. His own work as a bandleader is of a remarkably high quality and variety—albums like Dance and Tribute continue to inspire musicians to this day.

Motian's done more than any other drummer to change the conception and role of drumming in the jazz framework; his playing is often described as "abstract or "painterly —that said, he's more than capable of swinging mercilessly when he cares to. Although he did not write music for many years, he's now as well known as a composer as a player. Motian's trio with guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
and saxman Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
is one of his longstanding groups and the band's CD I Have the Room Above Her was a ubiquitous presence on just about every jazz publication's best-of-2005 list. The Paul Motian Band—formerly known as the Paul Motian Electric Bebop Band—is another of the bandleader's continuous projects, and their new CD Garden of Eden stands up with the very best Motian albums. I spoke with Paul Motian recently about the new Motian Band recording, the Paul Motian Trio, why he isn't touring anymore, the horrors of being interviewed, and plenty more.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about the new Garden of Eden CD by the Paul Motian Band, which was formerly known as the Paul Motian Electric Bebop Band. This band's been around in one form or another for some time now.

Paul Motian: Yeah, maybe twenty years.

AAJ: This was put together as your attempt to "destroy bebop.

PM: Well, to sort of parody it. I don't think I wanted it destroyed. I just wanted to see if I could get some young people that really didn't know it to play it and see what would happen.

AAJ: Any philosophy behind the band's name change?

PM: Well, I'm playing more of my songs. It started out originally as us just playing bebop. I'm not doing that anymore; I'm playing mostly my own music. So that's the reason. But I might change it back again—I don't know. I might go out one night and play only bebop and call it the Electric Bebop Band.

AAJ: Some of the musicians have been in this group for a while: guitarists Steve Cardenas and Ben Monder and tenor players Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby. There are some new players—guitarist Jakob Bro and bassist Jerome Harris.

PM: And [tenor player] Mark Turner. The last gig we had, we played at the Vanguard for a week and Tony Malaby only played the first night. Mark Turner finished the week.

AAJ: Is that a permanent change?

PM: Well, for the moment. Yeah. Usually, what I do is the last people who play in the band are the people I call for the next gig—if they're available. It's not a band that's working every week, so whenever we work, whoever can do it, I appreciate it.

AAJ: The change on this particular CD is—besides that's it's more about your compositions—that there are, on about half of it, not two but three guitarists. Ben's on some of the tunes, not all. You've always had an affinity for guitar; you played yourself once upon a time.

PM: Well, I started out with it but I didn't get very far [laughing].

AAJ: Well, your record Tribute, from 1974, has two guitarists on it. So you've worked in that configuration. But three guitarists is a whole different thing, and with some groups, it would just be a huge mess. But here, it's fantastic. Tell me what motivated this three-guitar thing, and while you're at it, tell me how you discovered Jakob Bro.

PM: Well, Jakob Bro is from Copenhagen. I did a couple European tours and Ben Monder couldn't do it. So Jakob did it. Also at that time, there was a bassist, from Copenhagen also, named Anders Christensen, who did a couple of records with me. So when Jakob did those tours, I wanted to have him in the band—and when Ben came back, I just wanted Jakob too. So I kept the three guitars, and it's been working out great. Nobody gets in each other's way; everyone seems to know what to do and the blend is really nice. I like it a lot.

AAJ: I like it too. It sounds good.

PM: It's really good. And Jakob is really talented. He's young, but he did a nice record of his own and he sent it to me. It's really nice; it's really different. I guess he used computers a lot, but there are three different saxophones on different tracks. Chris Cheek is on some of it, Mark Turner's on some, Chris Speed's on some of it. It's nice—really different, man. And he put it out because he had someone that gave him some money to put it out. He's not getting any distribution—the only place you can get it is in Copenhagen. But he got a couple of awards. He's good. I like him a lot. When we played at the Vanguard the time before last, we usually played about seven or eight songs in a set—which is about an hour-and-ten, hour-and-fifteen minutes. This last time we played, there were more like fourteen songs in a set. Which means we're playing the songs shorter, and there's not as many individual solos. It's more like a collective thing, kind of an environmental sound, and I like it a lot. It gives me a chance to play with that sound, play what I feel and hear with that sound. It's been working out.

AAJ: The other new player is Jerome Harris.

PM: Well, he played with me a lot. He just didn't do the recordings and he didn't do the European tours. He's been playing with me for a long time.

AAJ: His bass sound really blends well on the record with all the guitars and with your own playing. I suppose he has to carry quite a bit of the rhythmic responsibilities so you can play the way you do here.

PM: Also, he's a guitarist. He played a lot with Sonny Rollins. He's very good. He's playing an electric bass, but it kind of looks like an overblown guitar. I don't know what that's called.

AAJ: I really like the structure of this album, which—with the exception of a couple tunes by Cheek and Cardenas that blend right in with your stuff, and the tune "Bill by Jerome Kern—is a set of your compositions book-ended by remarkable, fresh renditions of Mingus, Monk and Bird. Any philosophy behind the presentation or sequencing here?

PM: No, that's [laughing] just the way it came out. I may sound stupid, but I don't think too much about that stuff. I just go into a studio and play the pieces that I like and hope that it comes out okay! I messed around with that sequencing for a long time before it ended up the way it did. And even when it ended up that way, I wasn't really sure if it was the right thing to do. But a lot of people have commented on it being like my music in the middle, book-ended with the Mingus, Monk and Charlie Parker things. So I guess it turned out okay.

AAJ: Let's talk about individual tunes on the record. You do two Charles Mingus tunes to start things off, and while lots of people have recorded "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, "Pithecanthropus Erectus isn't that often covered. Your version's pretty faithful to Mingus' piece except it's maybe more tightly controlled—the water's simmering here but it doesn't quite boil over.

PM: Well, I changed it around a little bit. I think the original is more extended; there's a few more things going on.

AAJ: It's also a great demonstration of what this band does—all the voices, Chris and Tony plus the three guitars that manage to poke out and not get in each other's way. I like how all the voices come in, go out, overlap, interrupt each other—with everything kept together by the descending unison line.

PM: When we played those songs in the Vanguard, [Mingus' wife] Sue Mingus was there one night. She came back into the dressing room, which in the Vanguard is the kitchen, and came up to me and told me how much she loved the way we played the Mingus music. That made me feel really good—she really liked it.

AAJ: Yeah, and she's not afraid to say what she thinks. If she didn't like it, she would have told you.

PM: She loved it, man. She came up to me and gave me a Mingus CD—I guess a recent Mingus Big Band recording. She thought we did it a little bit different and that it was great. So it made me feel good. I thought, "I'm on the right track here.

AAJ: People talk about your abstract, painterly drumming—but you swing pretty hard on this one.

PM: Well, someone else said that recently, and it made me wonder about it. You know, I played 4/4 for about a million years, man [laughing]. I mean, I played with Oscar Pettiford, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk. I wasn't playing abstract bullshit! I was playing straight-ahead time! And I can do that great. So what happened to my playing—I guess it's an evolution. After I played with Bill Evans and then started playing with Paul Bley and Albert Ayler and different people, I just started opening up the way I played and it just sort of became what it's become.

AAJ: There's a great sort of three-way guitar solo towards the end of "Pithecanthropus which the horns join in on—sort of a controlled polyphony. This is as good a place as any to ask how the arrangements get done for a piece like this—how do you work these out?

PM: Well, I talk about it. First, after I decide on what tune to do—because sometimes I'll pick out some music that just won't work and then abandon it—I try to arrange it so, like you said, people aren't going to get in each other's way. I try to work out arrangements that are a little bit different, so sometimes there's duets between one guitar and one saxophonist, or duets between the other guitar and the other saxophonist. Sometimes they exchange fours, or eights—I want to try to make it interesting. I want to make it interesting for me, and hopefully that might come across to the general public. I don't rehearse the band; I don't think I've ever had any rehearsals. The only rehearsals we do are, when we play a gig, I ask people to come in a couple of hours early and we go over the music and some of the things we're going to do. If there's some new stuff, we'll talk about arrangements. Sometimes people in the band will come up with ideas. And that's how it goes.

AAJ: Let's get into some of your pieces. You've become such a composer that it's kind of amazing that you spent years as a non-writing drummer. Do you ever write songs with this band in mind?

PM: No.

AAJ: You just write pieces and then adapt them to various bands?

PM: Right. I don't consider myself a learned composer. I have a piano and I'll sit down at the piano and fool around until something happens—some idea or phrase, a bunch of notes or a scale. Some chord changes, whatever. Some small thing will happen that I'll build on and eventually, it'll turn into a song or a piece of music that I'm satisfied with. Then I'll play it with the band and work it out that way. It's like with the trio—with [Bill] Frisell and [Joe] Lovano. Lovano used to have a loft downtown and we used to rehearse there and I would come in with some ideas. When I thought what I had was more or less finished, I would take it down to those guys and we'd play it and if it needed corrections, we'd make them. If not, we'd just play it. That's the way I work. I was just at the piano now and I came up with some fragment of an idea and I'm working on that. Sometimes something comes really fast and quick and other times, I may mess around with something for a long time—months and months. I'll keep changing it. Then what usually happens is that the first, original thing turns out to be the best.

AAJ: Your song "Etude has a beautiful two-horn unison melody—sort of Middle Eastern and very Paul Motian. This has a very rubato feel but it still starts out feeling slow—there's a feeling of stretched-out eternity to it. The horns are pretty much static, so the action's in the cymbals, snare, guitars and bass—lots of scrambling wildlife down in the grass. Then as it shifts into some horn counterpoint it speeds up—again, without a stated pulse. Tell me about this one.

PM: Well, after the way you just talked about it, I think I better listen to it again! That's an old tune. I did that years ago—it's on an ECM record. It's a guitar solo that Frisell plays, and it's just him. But somehow, when we were doing this last Garden of Eden record, I just wanted to try it with the band, just to see what would happen. The result's what's on the record. I think the original is on a quintet record called Psalm [ECM, 1982]. I also did that one with [pianist] Geri Allen and [bassist] Charlie Haden [Charlie Haden/Paul Motian featuring Geri Allen, Etudes (Soul Note, 1987)].

AAJ: That song's got some legs.

PM: [Laughing] Yeah. Actually, a lot of songs I've been doing—well, not a lot, but some—I've done before for different record labels. Sometimes they come up again. I wouldn't do that, but I see that Monk did it a lot, so I figure—if he can do it, so can I.

AAJ: Well, no one did that more than him.

PM: Yeah. And you know, if it works out—if I'm satisfied with it, if it feels right—I'll do it.

AAJ: My current favorite on Garden of Eden is "Mumbo Jumbo, which feels like a sort of cousin to "Manhattan Melodrama. I love its repeated melody, which is stated by the two horns plus Jakob, I think. It's really beautiful and dramatic.

PM: That one's also been done a lot. I've done that with Lovano and Frisell as a trio [on Motian In Tokyo (JMT, 1991) and Sound of Love (Winter & Winter, 1998] and, I think, with some other groups.

AAJ: How's something like this start out in your mind? Just a melody or what?

PM: Yeah. Well, maybe. I can't remember exactly how that song started off, but probably the same way I write all the other stuff. It's been a while since I wrote that.

AAJ: "Mesmer is a sort of canon or round—you could call it "play along with Chris since he plays that melody on alto and the other musicians join in with him at various times, whether it's Malaby or Cardenas or Bro—meanwhile the bass and your drums are doing your stuff separately and that's where the changes and shifts take place before you and Jerome and everyone else sort of come together by the end. It also really cooks.

PM: That piece is new. I like the melody so much. You talk about arrangements—but I really didn't arrange it. I just told the band, "Just keep repeating the melody. Just play that melody, play it over and over, and if I get sick of it, I'll just stop. And then [laughing] everybody'll stop!

AAJ: Well, you're the leader.

PM: Yeah! So that's what we've been doing. We were playing it at the Vanguard, and it came out a little bit different than it came out on the record. I like the way it came out on the record. One time we were playing it at the Vanguard and we kind of got away from the melody, so after the set, I told the guys that someone should always play the melody. The melody should keep going on. So if someone else in the band might want to take it out somewhere, to go somewhere else, it's okay—but the melody should always be there. Someone said that one reminded them of Ornette Coleman's music. I don't think so, but maybe it's true.

AAJ: "Prelude 2 Narcissus is a great one. It's all built around that mostly descending melody, introduced by Monder before the horns take it. I really like the horn unison parts on this piece; they're very weightless.

PM: When I wrote that, it sort of reminded me of something else I had written, which was "Prelude, which I recorded on Dance [ECM, 1978]. This kind of reminded of that, and that's why I called this "Prelude 2. It's a little bit different from the original "Prelude I did. This is just another song that came out of the piano and my fingers and my head [laughing]. It almost sounds like an intro to the next piece ["Garden of Eden ].

AAJ: "Garden of Eden is just as mysterious as "Prelude 2 Narcissus. There's a huge contrast here between your drums which seem so adamant, and its warbling unison guitar line.

PM: Yeah, when we recorded that, I didn't have any idea what I was going to do, and I just came up with that rhythm. Another accident.

AAJ: How often does that happen—where you don't really have a notion about what you're going to play?

PM: Pretty often. A lot of times when we're playing, I don't really have any idea what I'm going to do. I'm going by what I'm feeling and what I'm hearing. Sounds turn me on. What I'm feeling and what I hear turn me on to just come up with what I hope are good things, good ideas. I don't consider myself really a soloist; I'm not crazy about playing drum solos. But the sound of the drums, my drums especially, turns me on to stuff. The sound will turn me on to something, which will turn me on to something else, and it'll grow into something worthwhile. I hope.

AAJ: The album ends with those older cover tunes—Monk's "Evidence and Charlie Parker's "Cheryl. I love "Evidence here—people talk about "head-solo-head, but here it's literally true. The tune starts with a sort of Motian-ized restatement of the song's head and then there's a solo—just one solo: you. How'd this come about?

PM: I wanted to do the tune. I play that one a lot with Frisell and Lovano. So I wanted to do something different with it—and since there weren't any drum solos on the record, I thought that might be a good place for one. That melody turns me on, so I thought, just have the band play the melody and maybe it'll give me a springboard to play from. I'll play a solo and then just play the head out. That's all it was. And the Charlie Parker blues at the end ["Cheryl ] is short, man—I don't think it's even three minutes long. Only the saxophones play and they just play a couple choruses apiece and take it out. It's more or less a statement—about music, about the music of Monk and Bird and people that I loved and grew up with. I wanted to play some of their music and make a statement, but not get into a long [laughing] diatribe or anything.

AAJ: Well, a lot of the original bop tunes were very short as well.

PM: Yeah. People always said that it was for radio play—two minutes, three minutes. Four minutes was really getting long.

AAJ: So when you play out with this band, do you find that the tunes change much night to night?

PM: Yeah, pretty much. I always feel that each night is a new night. I guess the arrangements stay the same. But the playing may change. Since there are six, seven people in the band, it's not going to change that much. But I'm never bored.

AAJ: Does this band have a big book of songs to play?

PM: Yeah, there's a lot of music, man. There's so much music. I remember a quote by Charlie Parker where he said something like, "If there's somebody in the band that doesn't like a particular song that we're playing, we don't have to do it. There's a million songs out there. There's all kind of material out there. With this band, it started out being bebop, but now we've got my music, bebop, pop music, standard songs—just a wealth of music. It really is a big book, a huge book. It's also a huge book with the trio of Frisell and Lovano. When we're playing, Frisell always brings all the music with him. It's huge!

AAJ: No wonder you're never bored.

PM: No, I'm always looking for new stuff. I'm going to be recording again with the trio of Frisell and Lovano and with the Motian Band. I'm going through stuff now, looking at stuff and trying to figure out what I want to do, what songs to do. I'm writing music. We'll see what happens.

AAJ: This is a good time to talk about the Paul Motian Trio—of you, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. The newest record from this group is I Have the Room Above Her (ECM, 2005). This band's got quite a history at this point—you've worked together for more than twenty years. Tell me about Bill and Joe and what you like about them, what it is that this band does.

PM: Well, they're great. That trio started out as a quintet [including altoist Billy Drewes and bassist Ed Schuller]. It turned into a trio after being a quintet because we were on tour with the quintet, and there was one particular song we were playing which called for the bass to lay out. So for a while it was just me and Joe and Bill playing, and that's when I got the idea to have a trio. It seemed like I could get the music across with a trio, and at that time economics played a role as well. So that's how that started and now we've been doing it for a long time. I never get tired of playing with these guys. It keeps changing. It keeps getting better. There's always new material to play. There are always suggestions from Bill and Joe about songs and new ideas. So now every year we play for two weeks at the Vanguard. It's been going on for a while and we're going to do it this year again in September. It's a lot of fun, man—the trio's a lot of fun.

AAJ: How has the group changed over the course of its existence?

PM: It has changed. I'll listen to earlier recordings of that trio, and the sound is different now. Especially with Frisell—in the beginning Frisell was playing with a lot of electronics, a lot of sounds. He's not doing so much of that now. The dynamics have gotten better. Sometimes we'll play some stuff where we play really, really soft—the dynamic range is really wider now than it was in the beginning. Even Lovano's sound has changed, if you listen to some of the records we did early on. Twenty years is a long time! Things change. Joe has gone through different saxophones, he's changed reeds, he's changed mouthpieces. When Bill started playing with me, he had one guitar. He must have fifty now! So things change. But if it starts going downhill, I'll throw it in the garbage. But it's not going that way.

AAJ: You wrote another bunch of tunes for I Have the Room Above Her. I've listened to this record quite a few times since it came out, and one of the best things about it to me is that I love it without really being able to claim I understand it—songs like "Sketches and "Shadows are great, but they're like paintings where if I push my nose right up to them, I just see details that don't make sense to me. But when I step back, it's a beautiful picture.

PM: Well, uhhhh. That sounds great. I don't know what to say about that, but someone said to me one time that some of my music reminded them of paintings. People say a lot of things, man. I don't know what's true. Some people say it's like poetry, some say it's like paintings. I don't know. I don't plan stuff out. I'm not a thinker. Sometimes I'll just say stuff off the top of my head, and regret it later on. I always think about Thelonious Monk—if you talked to him, you had to wait a long time before he answered you, because he thought about what he was saying! He didn't blurt shit out like I do. It's the same thing with the music. Like I said, I'm sitting at the piano, trying things out, and what comes out is what you're hearing. If I like it, it's okay.

AAJ: Well, writers like comparison. So people will say to you that your music is like a painting or a sunset. But it's really like music.

PM: Well, thank you [laughing].

AAJ: "Osmosis appears on the album twice, sort of like a front and side view of something—in each Bill plays that descending melody and Joe blows across it— your drums are faster on "part I than on "part III but the tempo of the song isn't.

PM: We did a "part II, but we didn't use it. It seemed like every time we played that one, it was a little bit different. That's why we used it twice. I guess the third version wasn't that different, so we didn't use it. So that's what happened for that one. You know, for that record, there were no rehearsals. We walked into the studio and I walked in with that music and Bill and Joe had never seen any of it before. And we did that whole record in one afternoon. So that's pretty amazing. Also, the new Motian Band record—I guess we had played some of that before, but there were no rehearsals there either. We went in, I showed the music to the guys and we talked about it and arranged it right there. I tell people that I don't like to rehearse; for recording, it seems like if you have to do take two, it's almost not real anymore—it's almost like a substitute or something. Well, that's not all true—I remember rehearsing with Keith Jarrett. We used to rehearse. He had a lot of music, he wrote a lot of music. So we rehearsed. The first time I met Keith, when he called me and Charlie [Haden] and we had the trio, we got together and rehearsed. He had an apartment down in the Lower East Side, and we'd rehearse there. When he'd come up with new music, he'd call rehearsals. We had rehearsals here in my apartment and also out at his place in New Jersey. But that was before; now, I really don't like to do it. People call me to record and that's the first thing I tell them: "I'm not rehearsing.

AAJ: At this point, you can lay down your conditions.

PM: Well, yeah. Also, I kind of like the idea of playing new music for the first time, even in a recording session. It seems like if I rehearse it and play it over and over, it doesn't get good anymore. The best thing is the surprise of the new music and to try to find things to play with that music to make it good. If I keep rehearsing it, it's not going to happen.

AAJ: It drains the life out of it.

PM: Unless it's a big band and it has drum charts and they want you to do certain things at certain times. That's a different story. But the music that I'm involved with is not like that.

AAJ: There's plenty of the kind of music people might associate with you on I Have the Room Above Her—atmospheric, nocturnal stuff like "Osmosis or "Shadows. But "Dance is just plain up-tempo—that one does sound a bit like Ornette to me, by the way.

PM: I wrote that one quite a while ago. I like that one; I play it a lot and have recorded it quite a bit. You know, there's another band that I'm involved with called Trio 2000 + One [with bassists Steve Swallow and/or Larry Grenadier, pianist Masabumi Kikushi and saxman Chris Potter] and we do that tune too. Actually, you know Dizzy Gillespie's big-band recording of "Things to Come? I've been thinking about doing that. So it's about different things; I don't want to keep doing records that sound like the last record. I'm about to do some recording and I want to do different things.

AAJ: Well, I insist you do "Things to Come.

PM: There's all kinds of stuff out there, man. You don't have to stick to the same kinds of tunes. There's a million songs, all kinds of beautiful songs. Great stuff.

AAJ: "Harmony is a new one that you brought to the trio recording session. In this one, I really hear your bebop roots in your kit drumming. What always confuses me on this one is that you're really swinging but Joe and Bill are somehow removed from it— they're in another place from you even though they're playing right in time with you. So what gives?

PM: That's from playing with each other for so many years. I can anticipate them—I feel like I know what's coming up next. So that's from playing for years and years and that's the result. Which is great.

AAJ: Another one I love from this record is "One in Three. I have no insights on this one, except it seems pretty through-composed. I tried to list the parts as I listened: "A! B! C! B! A! But I just got confused. I love the melodies and dynamics and rhythmic shifts, though.

PM: That was only recorded once before with that band I mentioned, Trio 2000 + One. It's on a Winter & Winter record [Trio 2000 + One (Winter & Winter, 1999)]. It's very different because, like you just said, it's in those sections. It's just these different melodies and these different sections and it keeps going around. It's not easy [laughing]. I have to think about that, even when I'm playing it. Actually, I haven't performed it that much. But it's hard, with those different sections. It's just an idea that came about during the writing of the song.

You know, one of the songs on that album that I like, that's kind of different, is "Odd Man Out. A few people have remarked on that one, and I guess one of the reasons it that it's in a major key, instead of a minor key, which most of them are in! Actually, half of it is in a major key. The other half is minor. But I like that one.

[After a long, thoughtful pause] You know, usually I stay away from interviews. I've refused to do them for a long time, but then ECM started lining up all this stuff because of the recordings I did—not only my own recordings, but I did a couple for ECM with different people. So they asked me to do stuff, but now I'm starting to get the feeling that—don't get me wrong, I don't mind talking to you, but I've done something like fourteen interviews in the last couple of months. So it's getting to the point that I think I'm going to have to stop pretty soon [laughing ruefully].

This one is a little different because we're talking about specific things, but some of the other interviews—they're asking "when did you start playing drums, "how was it playing with Bill Evans, and blah blah blah. Some of the same questions over and over. But this is okay. I'm sitting down, I'm comfortable, it's a nice day today, I did my jog in the park already. I'm feeling pretty good. The other thing is that I read somewhere that somebody said something like, "oh, Paul Motian doesn't travel anymore because of health reasons. That's bullshit, man! I'm in excellent health. I'm not traveling anymore because I got sick of it! I got burned out; I haven't toured for a couple of years now. I may tour again, but I'm taking a rest! I've been touring since I was seventeen years old. Eight, nine hours on a plane to go somewhere to play for an hour on a fucked-up drum set and then get on a plane and fly eight, nine hours to come back—I'm tired of that. So I had to stop for a while.

AAJ: Well, you don't exactly sound feeble to me.

PM: No [laughing], I'm doing great. But you know, some people are inspiring—Hank Jones, for instance. He's touring. He's eighty-seven years old and he's still doing it. I talked to him about it and he said, "Oh, you might change your mind. I stopped for a while and I'm doing it again. And I might. I might change my mind.

Oh, did you see the New York Times today? There's a thing Ben Ratliff did with [drummer] Roy Haynes. It was interesting because he talked a lot about "Papa Jo Jones, who is somebody that I very seldom talk about. But that doesn't mean that I didn't admire him and love him. "Papa Jo Jones was an incredible, great drummer. He was great! Roy Haynes talked about him a lot, said he was the man. Which was good—I'm glad to see his name out there. And of course, talking about "Papa Jo Jones led to talking about Count Basie. What was good for me about reading the article was that it reminded me of myself, about things that influenced me and things that I did which, at this point in my life, I've really forgotten about. And Count Basie was one of my favorites. I remember when I was really, really young—one of the first records I ever heard was Count Basie. A lot of people say Duke Ellington, but I was more into Count Basie, I guess because of "Papa Jo Jones. Not saying anything against Sonny Greer or any of the other drummers who played with Ellington, who were also great, but I was just into Count Basie. It was really simple and it was swinging and it was great.

AAJ: You've done some recorded stuff as a sideman lately—you're on the newest Enrico Rava and Bobo Stenson records.

PM: Yeah, and I did a record with a pianist named Frank Kimbrough [Play, Palmetto Records, 2006]—and I am going to play with him for two nights at the Jazz Standard in July. Since I did the record, I said "okay to doing the gigs. Another plus about it is I've never been to the Jazz Standard, so I get to check it out. And I'm going to play with Bobo Stenson at Birdland. I'm playing there because I did that record with Bobo for ECM. The following week, I'm going to play a couple of nights with a pianist, Enrico Pieranunzi—they're having a week at Birdland of jazz musicians from Italy, so I'm going to play with Enrico Pieranunzi and [bassist] Marc Johnson, since I've toured and recorded with them. So these people from Italy sent me an email telling me that Enrico Pieranunzi is being sponsored by a shoe company in Italy and they wanted to know what size show I wear [laughing]. They want to give me a pair of shoes! So, you know, there are pluses to this kind of work.

AAJ: Do you have any favorite bands you've played in over the years—either as a leader or sideman?

PM: Thelonious Monk. Bill Evans. Keith Jarrett. Oscar Pettiford. Herbie Nichols. And Erroll Garner had a brother named Lynton Garner, who I played with. Coleman Hawkins. Roy Eldridge. Those are pretty good high points for me. There are more, but I can't think of them right now. Those were special.

AAJ: How do you think jazz is doing now?

PM: Fine with me [laughing]. I don't know. It's very different from when I first came to New York and started playing. But it seems to be doing okay; there seem to be a lot of musicians and places to play—different places to play than there were in the 1950s when I was playing around, but it seems like there are enough places to play in and plenty of young, good players. It seems like there was a period that's gone by where there weren't very many good young jazz players coming up, but that seems to have changed. I mean, I haven't heard that many, but I see that there are a lot out there playing and I assume there are some good players around.

AAJ: Okay, I am going to ask you a Bill Evans question.

PM: Sure, man, go ahead. I loved him. He was like my brother. We were very close, really good friends.

AAJ: A lot of people first encountered you in the classic Bill Evans trio with Scott LaFaro—which was forty-five years ago or so. This stuff still really touches people—it's actually the music I put on when I can't decide what record to play. What was it about this band that made such an impact and continues to affect people's lives today?

PM: I think it was the people. It's just that three people seemed to fit together really well. Also, I think it was the first time that people were playing in a piano/bass/drums trio that wasn't just the pianist being backed by bass and drums. That was the norm. The music happened for us because of who were—the people and the music and the talent of the people playing and coming together. It was like three pieces of a puzzle that just fit together very nicely. And the music was great, man; people were playing great. I can listen to that stuff now and it sounds like it could have been recorded today. I remember us talking about that—we wanted to make a music that didn't have a date on it. And I guess that happened.

A lot of people talk about the Vanguard recordings [Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside, 1961) and Waltz for Debby (Riverside, 1961)], but I think my favorite one is the first record we did with Scott LaFaro, which was called Portrait in Jazz [which the group recorded for Riverside in December of 1959]. That was the first one that trio did. We were playing at a club in the Village, I think it was called the Showplace—it was down on West 3rd Street or 4th Street. I think we played in there for two weeks and right after that we went into the studio and did the record. And that's why it sounds so good; we'd been playing together and we just went into the studio right after that and played. It came out great. I love that record.

AAJ: So you're getting some music together to record again with the trio with Frisell and Lovano and also with the Motian Band.

PM: Yeah, the trio record's coming up in a couple of months and the other band probably by the end of the year, because we're going to play again at the Vanguard in June. I'm thinking about adding another bassist.

AAJ: What, an electric one?

PM: No, an acoustic player.

AAJ: Wow, I want to hear that.

PM: Yeah, me too!

Selected Discography
Paul Motian Band, Garden of Eden (ECM Records, 2006)
Frank Kimbrough, Play (Palmetto, 2006)
Enrico Rava, Tati (ECM Records, 2005)
Bobo Stenson Trio, Goodbye (ECM Records, 2005)
Paul Motian Trio, I Have the Room Above Her (ECM Records, 2005)
Tony Malaby, Adobe (Sunnyside, 2004)
Marilyn Crispell Trio, Storyteller (ECM Records, 2004)
Paul Motian, Rarum: Selected Recordings XVI (ECM Records, 2004)
Enrico Pieranunzi, FelliniJazz (CamJazz, 2003)
Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band, Holiday for Strings (Winter & Winter, 2002)
Marilyn Crispell/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, Amaryllis (ECM Records, 2001)
Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band, Europe (Winter & Winter, 2001)
Russell Lossing, Dreamer (Double-Time Records, 2000)
Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, Not Two, Not One (ECM Records, 1999)
Paul Motian, Trio 2000 + One (Winter & Winter, 1999)
Marilyn Crispell/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: Music of Annette Peacock (ECM Records, 1997)
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, At the Deer Head Inn (ECM Records, 1994)
Paul Motian, On Broadway, Vol. 3 (JMT, 1992)
Paul Motian, In Tokio (JMT, 1992)
Paul Motian, On Broadway, Vol. 1 (JMT, 1989)
Paul Motian, Monk in Motian (JMT, 1988)
Paul Bley Quartet, Paul Bley Quartet (ECM Records, 1988)
Paul Bley, Fragments (ECM Records, 1986)
Bill Frisell, Rambler (ECM Records, 1985)
Paul Motian Trio, It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago (ECM Records, 1985)
Charlie Haden, The Ballad of the Fallen (ECM Records, 1983)
Paul Motian Band, Psalm (ECM Records, 1982)
Paul Motian Trio, Le Voyage (ECM Records, 1979)
Paul Motian Trio, Dance (ECM Records, 1978)
Keith Jarrett, Eyes of the Heart (ECM Records, 1979)
Keith Jarrett, The Survivors' Suite (ECM Records, 1977)
Paul Motian, Tribute (ECM Records, 1975)
Keith Jarrett, Death and the Flower (ABC Impulse, 1975)
Paul Motian, Conception Vessel (ECM Records, 1973)
Keith Jarrett, Expectations (Columbia, 1972)
Carla Bley, Escalator Over the Hill (JCOA Records, 1971)
Charlie Haden, Liberation Music Orchestra (Impulse, 1969)
Keith Jarrett, Life Between the Exit Signs (Vortex, 1968)
Mose Allison, Wild Man on the Loose (Atlantic, 1966)
Bill Evans, Trio 64 (Verve, 1964)
Martial Solal, Martial Solal at Newport '63 (RCA Victor, 1963)
Bill Evans Trio, Moonbeams (Riverside, 1962)
Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby (Riverside, 1961)
Bill Evans Trio, Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside, 1961)
Bill Evans Trio, Explorations (Riverside, 1961)
Bill Evans Trio, Portrait in Jazz (Riverside, 1960)
Bill Evans, New Jazz Conceptions (Riverside, 1959)
Eddie Costa Quintet, Eddie Costa Quintet (Mode Records, 1957)
George Russell, Ezz-thetic (RCA, 1957)

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