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Interviews

Jack DeJohnette: Colors, Grooves, Golden Beams

By Published: August 14, 2006
AAJ: Ben's additions to those pieces are very appropriate. Whether they were part of the original 2001 concert or not—and they weren't—it feels like an improvising trio. Which, in a sense, it is. It's a rather cool idea.

JD: Yeah. And speaking of trios—this is another note, but in terms of people who don't fit in a box, I just recently did a jazz recording with [pop singer/keyboardist] Bruce Hornsby; I think it's his first jazz recording. It's with [bassist] Christian Bride and myself. It hasn't been titled yet, but a lot of people are going to be surprised by his approach. He's taken on things like "Giant Steps, "Un Poco Loco, "Straight No Chaser, "Solar, just to name a few, and some original compositions. So that should come out at the end of year, or the beginning of next year. It was really fun, and Bruce is quite a creative guy—his knowledge and his musical taste go all over the place [laughing]. He comes to a lot of the Keith Jarrett concerts; he's a big Keith fan. But we kept talking about doing something and we finally got in the studio and did it, and it's fantastic.

So I'm happy about that. I also recently did a Nigel Kennedy jazz project. There's all these people from other areas [laughing] doing jazz projects! I mean, Nigel's kind of a classical music renegade. So we did this recording with Kenny Werner on piano and Ron Carter on bass, with some originals from Ron and myself. [saxophonist] Joe Lovano's on a few cuts, and another tenor player named J.D. Allen. And Lucky Peterson, that soul organ player. We were talking about The Elephant, but I thought I'd throw that in there.

AAJ: Let's get technical for a second. You changed your drumstick technique recently, didn't you, from traditional to match grip?

JD: Yeah. I did that by default, in a way, because I was having some muscle problems playing the other way. I had some special physical therapy for that, and I changed to the match grip, which actually feels more natural for me. I love it.

AAJ: I can't detect any difference in your playing.

JD: Well, it's the natural way you pick up a stick anyhow. So match grip is not strange, and it just feels like second nature to me now.

AAJ: As you noted previously, we lost Don Alias this year. The two of you had such a longstanding relationship, and I'm glad there's a recording done that we'll eventually be able to hear. You can't sum up a man in a few words, but any thoughts about him in the wake of his passing?

JD: Well, Don was first and foremost about the music. He was there 200 percent, and he cared about the music. He cared about keeping it real, you know—he was always very authentic. And he was one of the few percussion players who knew how to fit in with jazz drummers, because he played jazz drums himself. He was a pretty good drummer himself; in fact, he'd played gigs only on drums. He did that with Joni Mitchell. In fact, before I had the group Compost, we had a group with him and Jumma Santos [the percussionist who was also in Compost], and Don was playing drums.

But anyway, he had this feel, and he was one of the few conga drummers or hand percussionists that drummers didn't mind playing with. A lot of conga players kind of go off on their own trip—I'm not saying they all do. But you have to listen a lot, and Don knew how to listen, he knew how to leave a space, and he also knew what colors and what kind of feel to play. Don and I used to lock; he'd play rhythm and I'd just put something to it, and we'd get these grooves going that were amazing—which you'll hear on this Welcome Blessing when it comes out. He was also in the group Oneness that I had, and I've got archival tapes of live performances, but we also did the Oneness CD on ECM, which spotlights him quite a bit.

You know, Don was the conga player who got to play with all the top drummers—Tony, me, Elvin—and record with them. That's how well he was loved and respected in the jazz community and the Latin jazz community. He played bata, too, so he was initiated in those rhythms as well.

So, yeah—he's a deep loss, man. His physical presence will be missed. But his spirit will be here forever. It lives through the rest of us who experienced him—playing music with him and hanging with him.

AAJ: I have to ask about Keith Jarrett's so-called Standards Trio with you and Gary Peacock. This band has now been around for 23 years; that's a lot of live performances and a lot of recordings. To many of us, this is not getting old; the music is still moving. It still sounds fresh to me. Any insights into this group and why it's lasted so long?

JD: Not really. I mean, nothing necessarily profound—just that we said we'd keep it together as long as it felt good. I think Keith really loves playing with the trio. He works on maintaining a level of consistency with his output that also helps keep it fresh, and it's the same thing with Gary and I. Of all the other things that I do, when we come together, we zone into that—it's another area of creativity that is very special. And it seems to keep getting better. We're doing some dates in the fall in Europe and I think we'll go to Japan next May. I imagine there will probably be more recordings coming. But yeah, it's amazing. It's been going on this long, and it keeps getting better.


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