Paul Motian: There's a Million Songs Out There
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 and pianist Bill Evans) 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, Paul Bley, Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden. His own work as a bandleader is of a remarkably high quality and varietyalbums 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 and saxman Joe Lovano 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 Bandformerly known as the Paul Motian Electric Bebop Bandis 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 againI 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 playersguitarist 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 gigif 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 isbesides that's it's more about your compositionsthat 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 bandand 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 nicereally 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 distributionthe 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 setwhich 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.