PM: As I said earlier, I've known and played with Dennis since the 1980s, but my association with Leroy dates to the early 1990s. After Mel Lewis' passing I began to play quite a bit with Vernel Fournier, both in his trio and in mine, a period of a few years in which I learned much from this great drums master. We were slated to begin a steady engagement at New York's Smalls jazz club when Vernel had the stroke which effectively ended his playing career. I had heard and loved the playing of Leroy Williams, and was happy he was able to step into the job at Smalls. In the intervening years he's become a trusted friend and colleague. We've played several enjoyable duo dates together, in which I've come to know his playing even more intimately. This trio with Dennis and Leroy is a very comfortable and challenging place to be. Of course, as New York freelance musicians we each continue to pursue many of our own projects, but I always enjoy our many opportunities to play together.
AAJ: Your latest recording, 'Autumn in New York' (Reservoir Records) was recently released. What makes this different from your previous recordings?
PM: I guess there are several things which distinguish this recording. Of course, as with all recordings, one hopes that the music represents another step forward in one's musical development and contains new or perhaps more refined elements in terms of playing and composition. There are compositions on "Autumn in New York" which reflect my efforts with various compositional techniques such as counterpoint. I through-composed parts for the drums and bass which would lead to improvisations of a more horizontal, contrapuntal nature than is often the norm in jazz. Too often we look at the harmony as a vertical element and not as a gradual unfolding of tensions and resolutions as they occur coincidentally in the various voices. This is an exciting thing for me, which I look forward to exploring further on subsequent recordings.
One thing unique to "Autumn in New York" is its inspiration, and this is something I hope never to have duplicated. I lost two old buddies here in New York on September 11, 2001. One, Billy Burke, was a Captain in the FDNY, and the other, Kenny Cubas, was working in a financial institution in one of the towers. Both Billy and Kenny got out safely that morning, and both chose valiantly to go back in to help people. Those who spoke to them both that day begged them to stay out, but both spoke of the need to go back and help. Their stories were not unlike those of many others that day, except that in my case they were guys I first met back in 1976. I always knew them to be great guys, and no one who knew them would be surprised to hear of their selflessness, but the shock wasand remainslarge. Anyway, I was wondering at first at the validity of music in a world where such horror exists, but pretty quickly came to the realization that art is in fact more important now than ever, both as a means of comforting people and as a way to express for them emotions which might not otherwise find voice. Also, I felt that the deaths of these and other everyday individuals made more real the responsibility to live every day as the one that counts, and to allow no "throwaways." So that means more honesty, more love, more effort at all things, more enjoyment of the small moments which speak of life in the simplest ways. As a tribute to Kenny and Billy and the city I love so well, I dedicated "Autumn in New York" to their memory. In this way, their names will live, at least in my family, as long as people can listen to the music. One does what one can do, after all.
AAJ: 'Little David' is inspired by the Biblical account of David and Goliath. Of course, David eventually became a great king and also authored most of the Psalms, many of which you are using in your gospel suites. Do you find the character of David to be motivational for you? If so, could you please elaborate?
PM: I think the story of David and Goliath is meant to be inspirational to us all. The notion of the little guy armed only with his faith prevailing in the face of such long odds informs much of our culture. But I think it's the beginning of the story which is most importantthe fact that David was willing to try is the beautiful part for me. I almost think it would have been better for us not to know how that battle turned out, only knowing of his resolute courage without the certainty of reward. After all that's what really matters. I don't presume to put any of my life into the category of "me against the world," but one can surely take comfort knowing that, in the end, acting on one's ideals and convictions is ultimately the only choice. As for David's life as a musician, it is certainly inspirational. He showed the same courage in his musical expression of human emotion that he showed on the battlefield. The jazz musician can take David's unabashed humanity as manifested in music as a good model, I think.