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Interviews

Joey Baron: Just Say Yes

By Published: December 16, 2009
Combining technical acuity with a deep sense of groove, Joey Baron
Joey Baron
Joey Baron
b.1955
drums
drums with playful exuberance. Throughout his more than 35-year career, he's propelled experimentalists like guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
and saxophonist John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
, as well as mainstreamers like vocalist Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
1920 - 1994
vocalist
and saxophonist David Sanborn
David Sanborn
David Sanborn
b.1945
saxophone
. He's even played with pop stars David Bowie and Marianne Faithfull. But Baron makes no distinctions between gigs, keeping an expansive, welcoming view of music. After leading the groups Barondown, Down Home, and Killer Joey, he's recently focused on percussion work in solo, duo, and trio settings. A rare December, 2009 solo concert at Roulette offers the chance to experience Baron's artistry at its most distilled.

Joey Baron

All About Jazz: Let's start with the easy one: you said you were in "extreme travel mode" the last couple of weeks; where have you been and what have you been doing?

Joey Baron: I just finished a tour of my band [Killer Joey] that includes [guitarist] Steve Cardenas, Brad Shepik

Brad Shepik
Brad Shepik

guitar
on guitars, and Tony Scherr playing the bass. We were in Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, and...oh, and Poland.

AAJ: And that was over how much time?

JB: One day each. There were a few other places—there were seven countries we went to. And then I flew here [NYC] and I'm just here for this week and then I go to Milan on Monday for a concert with a Masada project. It was supposed to be [saxophonist] Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, but...I'm not sure what happened, and Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter
b.1971
reeds
is filling in for him.

I go to Milan; and [then] actually for one concert with a wonderful saxophonist, Julian Siegel

Julian Siegel
Julian Siegel

saxophone
. We have a trio with [bassist] Greg Cohen and we're playing at the London Jazz Festival. And a couple of days later I'll be performing with Bill Frisell and the BBC Orchestra conducted by Michael Gibbs
Michael Gibbs
Michael Gibbs
b.1937
trombone
. And right after that I join [guitarist] John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
b.1944
guitar
and we do a tour of Europe with his quartet: on this episode, it is Drew Gress
Drew Gress
Drew Gress
b.1959
bass
playing the bass, and [violinist] Mark Feldman
Mark Feldman
Mark Feldman

violin
, and myself.

AAJ: You're keeping busy then?

JB: Yeah, it's pretty active, a lot of travel. I mean, I say "extreme travel mode..." For me, these days it's normal, but for most people it's rather extreme.

AAJ: Has it been going like this for a while now?

JB: It's on and off, you know. It's kind of like there will be periods of not much going on, then all of the sudden everything. It's like you've got blocks of time when you're wishing people would call, then all of the sudden there's one week and everyone calls for that week. I don't know why, it just seems to be the way it is, sometimes.

I keep pretty active and with a lot of different types of things. Over the spring and summer, I was involved with some workshop situations. One of them in particular was probably one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It was in Ingolstadt, Germany, working for Robyn Schulkowsky, she's a percussionist. She had organized a music thing for the story of "Antigone," working with kids who had no experience with music or performing or anything. And the whole story was told with percussion and movement. It was a theatre presentation with about 60 kids, and she basically taught them these rhythms and stuff to play on various found objects—barrels, oil cans, stuff like that. And Kenny Wollesen

and I were brought in to help support that. It was just an amazing experience to see these kids rise to the occasion.

AAJ: Well, you guys would be naturals for that, I would think. Kenny plays anything, right?

JB: Well, he's really special.

AAJ: Actually, I once saw you play a chair at one of those Tonic workshops about 10 years ago.

JB: Oh yeah, wow.

AAJ: Do you find it difficult trying to juggle all this stuff, or is it just second nature at this point?

JB: Well, it's what I do. Sometimes it's tiring to juggle, to keep it organized, and sometimes it falls into place, it's never any one particular set thing. Some days things cancel or things happen that throw a wrench in the works.

AAJ: Do you find it difficult going from some of the extremes in the projects you work in: say, the really out Zorn Moonchild stuff and then turning around and playing with [guitarist] Jim Hall

Jim Hall
Jim Hall
1930 - 2013
guitar
a day later or something?

Joey Baron / Steve KuhnJB: Actually not. That's always what I wanted to do. One of my many heroes was [drummer] Grady Tate

Grady Tate
Grady Tate
b.1932
drums
and I was always really inspired by the way he could play so many different situations. I never set out to do that; I just thought, well, that's what you do. At the time, that is what you did. If you learned to play an instrument and somebody asked you to play, the answer was yes. It didn't matter what it was for; you learned on the job. That was the atmosphere when I came along. I didn't have an attitude: "Well, I'll only play if it's a jazz gig," or something. I had not that attitude. That was my background, so to do these things, to me it's not really that special. I think, well, isn't it supposed to be that way? And basically, the job is really the same whether it's for John Zorn or whether it's for Jim Hall: the job is to try and help each person you're working for realize what they want to hear, that's the task. And it's the same, only they use different tools and different language, but that's not such a big deal.

Joey BaronAAJ: That's been fairly typical throughout your career to go back and forth between more mainstream and other [music].

JB: And it's really weird how people make a big deal out of it. But from my perspective, I don't downplay it; I mean I realize that it is extremely different. But from my point of view, I know how to approximate the language that John wants, I understand what he wants, I understand what Jim wants. And I like them as artists and I like them as people. I'm just mentioning those two, but anybody I work for, I hold that attitude. I respect what they do. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here.

AAJ: You've played with both of them for 20-plus years at this point.

JB: Yeah, it's a long-term thing. I really value that more than ever, having long-term relationships with people. Sometimes you go long periods of time and you don't end up working together, then your paths cross again and it's really interesting because people grow and you still have a mutual respect for the language that you use together. I don't know; it's interesting to have time, the passage of time, be a part of the equation when you're working. It adds a depth, I think. For me, the older I get, the more I appreciate that depth.

AAJ: I didn't realize that you were still doing the Killer Joey band. I haven't seen you play with them in New York, but you're still doing it in Europe?

JB: When Tonic closed, that was really our home. We used to play there every week and then later on, not quite as often. We played a week at the Vanguard a while back, it's been several years. Basically, the scene around town is different now. Everything is very hyped, or you're a legend. This band doesn't really fit into that. When you call someone and you ask them, "Are you interested?," and they never get back to you or whatever; at a certain point you're begging and I just don't find that something I really want to do. So I just let it go as where we work, where we can work, and usually that's Europe.

AAJ: Are you still writing for the band?

JB: Basically, I've been playing material that's been written and I add other tunes. I come up with things every once in a while. Recently I've just been interested in adding some standards that I've always wanted to play that I don't get to play with other people. I mean that's part of the strength of that band. When I put it together, I wanted people that could deal with playing chord changes and deal with navigating standard material. So it's real easy to just mention a song, and I'll bring in a sheet on it or something and work up little things on it, or not, and just play it like normal. I like doing that. I like modeling something that's not such a show.

It's not in fashion, like a lot of things I am a part of aren't particularly in fashion. Like the way Abercrombie's group plays, it's not in fashion. It's an aesthetic that I've always aspired to, which is you show up and you play: meaning you listen and respond and react and you give and you take. Funny, that seems to be a kind of a secondary concern these days. People seemed focused on getting their identity and letting everybody know it's them. It's very clever and very technically astonishing, but sometimes the depth is a little funny.

AAJ: I've always found that interesting in some of your quotes in the past: that someone should be able to walk in off of the street and be able to respond to what you're playing, not so hung up on the technique of it.

JB: For me—I don't say that everybody should run their thing like that—but for me that's important. That's kind of where I came from and that's what attracted me to music. And it made me feel something, and it made me feel inspired to learn how to do that and how to generate that for other people. That's been one of my main motivations for playing music since I started. It's very important for me to model that in any situation I'm in, to some degree. I'm not that interested in having everybody know that it's me. If I'm doing what I set out to do, they'll inquire, or they'll ask. But the main thing is that the listener can get something generated from the music that can possibly change something or make them think something. Hopefully something positive. Or question, they can question something. [It's] not just entertainment.

Joey Baron / John Zorn / MasadaI made a decision a long time ago—even though I'm a performer and when you play music you are performing, and I'm very comfortable doing that behind the drum set—but I'm not, I don't relate to show business, that aesthetic in music. It's not very interesting to me, it's more shallow. I mean, it has its place and its function in society. But to me, to get people to listen and pay attention and hopefully to get them to feel something from music and from your commitment to playing it, or writing it, or making it—that's the whole point to making it. It's a serious thing and it's not something that's fixed. I don't think it can be fixed to happen the same way every night. Even if you play the same songs every night, different things happen.

In all genres of music, when that happens, it's the artists who go with whatever is going on, not trying to push it in a box. Yeah, I think that aesthetic... when I look around, I don't see it. When I was coming up, I was listening to Abercrombie, [pianist] Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, and the Miles Davis band. It just seemed like that was the aesthetic: that's what you did when you were really committed. It's funny, today everything is marketed. If you don't have that machine behind you, forget it. That's part of what's really happening today.

AAJ: Which is unfortunate, because so much good music is falling through, so much good stuff is being produced and played and not getting to enough people for a lot of these reasons.

Joey BaronJB: But I think live playing is really [important]. I learned a lot by listening to records because I didn't grow up in a huge metropolis. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. I would learn by watching people play, local people, and to me that was important. It didn't matter if they were the jazz greats or not, they were playing the instrument. People that nobody will ever hear of, but to me they were totally influential, and I got to see and smell and feel the live thing. And I think that's also very important to me, to try as best I can [to] model that. I encourage people, instead of studying privately with people, just go to hear them play, that's really where you learn. You see people struggling with issues like everybody. The big names struggle with all kinds of things, and it's really important if you're learning this music, or learning how to play, to see the reality that it's not perfect all the time. And sometimes it is, and that's great [laughs].

AAJ: In the last couple of years now, you've been doing a lot more percussion music, strictly percussion. What pushed you that direction?

JB: I met Robyn Schulkowsky, who's an incredible musician and outstanding percussionist. I did a piece with her in Potsdam, Germany right outside Berlin, and I had never been a part of anything like that. The whole stage was full: someone playing laptop; three classical percussionists; and Fredy Studer

Fredy Studer
Fredy Studer
b.1948
, who's more of a rock type, jazz/rock, improviser; and Robyn, who plays the drums and all kinds of her invented instruments; and myself. It was this incredible piece, and there were 30 roller-skaters involved also, and it was outdoors—that kind of stuff just doesn't happen in this country and it kind of really opened my eyes.

Then I was invited to become part of this trio that Robyn and Fredy have. They were working on a piece that Robyn had written just for three drummers. It was something that she's been working on for the past 20 years, and she's had different third people, but basically her and Fredy have been the constants. I started working on it and I thought, "Just show me the music and I'll read it down." I had a real attitude about it. But then, all of the sudden, I realized after about a year—we went to Brazil and did a performance—and I realized, "Whoa," this is not about reading it down and blowing over it or anything like that. It was something completely unique that I had never experienced. And now, several years later, we finally had an incredible performance of it last year in Bonn, Germany at a drum festival, and we're going to record it in December. It was my contact with Robyn. She does mostly solo work and percussion-oriented things, as well as play with orchestras, not just local, but Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestra of Gothenburg and all over the world. Being around her really exposed me to thinking differently about things. Plus there wasn't that much going on with my group, except every year-and-a-half we do a small tour. So I started becoming interested in stuff like that.

AAJ: I saw the installation the two of you did at Grand Central.

JB: Oh, you were there?

AAJ: I went a couple of times; I saw it with Brad Shepik

Brad Shepik
Brad Shepik

guitar
and Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
also, with the big, giant drums.

Joey BaronJB: I can't ever explain to people what that was and I was really kind of upset that the community did not write about that because either it wasn't "jazz" or it wasn't sponsored by some record company. That was a major event: free concerts, two a day, for like 2 1/2 weeks and not one mention of it anywhere in the press. It was an incredible array of people; I worked my ass off getting that together, as did Robyn and everybody involved.

I curated the concerts and I had Bob "Saloon" Stewart

Bob
Bob "Saloon" Stewart
b.1945
vocalist
playing solo tuba in Grand Central, it was just beautiful. Robyn and I played with him for a couple of the pieces that he did, but for the most part it was just him. And afterward he just gave me a hug and said "man, thank you, no one has ever asked me to do that." And I think that's criminal. In this city that's supposed to be so hip that tuba is still considered a "miscellaneous" instrument in Down Beat magazine. Just the whole perception; we're still in the dark ages in a lot of ways.

There again, you had to be there, to experience that sound. All of that was Robyn's creation, those instruments. I got the people together. We had a percussion ensemble that was Andrew Cyrille

Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
b.1939
drums
, Kenny Wollesen, Sadiki (an African drummer here in town), Cyro Baptista
Cyro Baptista
Cyro Baptista
b.1950
percussion
, Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey
b.1980
drums
, some people from Kenny's marching band, some percussionists, and everybody was just wonderful. We had that room rocking with no electricity, just sheer rhythm and low-end acoustics. It was really powerful.

AAJ: You've always had a lot of melodic content when you played solos before, so this is sort of an extension of that on some level, this percussion music? In some of the Masada pieces or with Frisell, you kept the form, implied the form of the piece, and then soloed off that.

From left: John Abercrombie, Joey Baron, Thomas Morgan

JB: That's what I try to do most of the time on some level. Sometimes I keep the strict form, sometimes I'll just keep the musical form and take liberties with the phrasing, the bar lines. It just depends with what's going on. But basically if I'm playing it's not anything I think about, it's just kind of like, again, isn't that what one is supposed to do [laughs].

AAJ: Working in percussion ensembles or within groups with multiple percussion, with like Kenny and Cyro, how does that affect the way you're playing and certain choices you make?

JB: When I play with Kenny, unless it's specified that we do exactly unison, we try and go where each other is not. You can take that any way you want. If Kenny is holding down the time, then I'll maybe color more. Or if he's on brushes I'll try and do something that's going to support that, rather than drown it out. The context that we play together is always with Zorn, and Zorn really controls almost everything that's going on anyhow, so it's really his call. When he's not making those calls, then we think for ourselves. We do that anyhow, sometimes. But that's the approach, the same with Cryo and Ikue [Mori]. When we're playing in Electric Masada it's really four percussionists: Ikue, Cyro, me, and Kenny. I just always have my ear out, to try, even though it's really loud and noisy sometimes, to scope out the texture and try and leave enough space so we're a unit, rather than four people playing on top of each other. Sometimes you don't have time for a soundcheck, and in that band, you really have to rely on monitors because of extreme instrumentation and the volume sometimes. So sometimes you just can't get up a proper soundcheck, and you might not hear everything you're supposed to and you just have to go on faith. That's where experience comes in [laughs].

AAJ: For your show at Roulette, what will you be presenting there, a new project?

JB: Well, I'm going to do basically an evening of music with just me. Solo. I use the drum set to make that evening possible. I can't tell you exactly what I'm going to do, because most of the time I just deal with what's going on in that moment: what people are there, what that feels like, the room, the atmosphere, and how I'm feeling. I don't do it that often, I did one a while back at Roulette. They're different all the time, they're kind of intimate. Because when I do those concerts I have certain things [that] if I feel like [it], I can just say, "OK I'm going to do this now." But if I don't feel like it, I can just explore also in another way. What those concerts are, is a culmination of my life up to that point using whatever experience I have to look ahead and try and create something in that moment that's meaningful on some level. That's very simply what I do. I can say, "Well, I'm going to do this rhythm against that rhythm." But I really can't honestly say that, because I don't work it out.

AAJ: Some people who do solo percussion have set composed percussion pieces and work off of that.

JB: I have those, and if I'm really stuck I can refer to, to jump-start something else going. But I like to take chances. That's how I learned and that's basically what I do when I play, within the context you're in. I figure, that's what I do. It's not that easy doing that in front of people, because you're actually showing everything that you've got. You're showing your vulnerability. Again, it's not a show. I'm not going to "wow" people, necessarily. Or maybe I will, but that's not my objective. My objective is, if you walked in here tonight feeling rough, maybe I can change your perspective even for a minute, something along those lines. You know, the world the way it is today, I think we all need that. It's not that I consider myself above anything that I'm able to do it; I'm doing it for myself too. It's not that easy, especially going against this age-old stuck-in-the mud attitude about "drums." I think drumming has gone back 50 steps in the last several decades.

AAJ: Really?

JB: Oh yeah. It's got to the point, there's so much technique happening now, all the schools [etc.]. The technique is on such a high level, and it's not balanced with what people want to do with it. I think, if you have a ton of chops, that's what you're going to use if you don't have your attention on that issue. Ok, I've got these chops; what am I going to do with them? A lot of people, they just stay in that area: I've got a lot of chops. Period. No, not even I'm going to show them, it never gets there. They're not even aware that's what they're doing. They're not even aware that there's something else to think about than playing seven against eleven and doing subdivisions of that, or whatever it is people are doing. I don't know, I can't figure it out.

Joey Baron / John AbercrombieI think there has always been this thing that there are musicians who are in love with their instrument and they get wrapped up in that. I think the issue is to make music, I don't care what instrument you play. And that always, if you happen to be a drummer, then you run into the wall because everybody else lets you know, "What do you mean you're going to play an evening of music, with a drum set?" I understand that's the way the world is, that's the way the consciousness is today, that's the way people think. But on another level, why can't we get past that in the year 2009? We're still dealing with that. It's like racism: can't we move past this horrible thing that infects this country so rampantly? We still can't deal with that, which damages everything. We live in a crazy world, but personally I still try and hold out something. If anybody is coming and they happen to see me play somewhere, maybe they're interested or they're a student—no matter what age, young or old—maybe they can get a glimpse at another window of what to do with a drum set—in addition to rhythm and keeping the beat for people. I think that's a fantastic responsibility and I love doing that. But I also think it's really cool to be so inspired that you can add things, as any musician, who plays a saxophone or whatever thing, [is] invited to [do]. Why not?

AAJ: I've heard people say that there's a lot of fertile ground to be had in drums and percussion for that reason. To really expand it in those kinds of ways because so much has been done already in solo piano recitals, saxophone, and guitar; that drums have a lot of that potential still open because it still is kind of new, although a lot more people are starting to do it.

Joey BaronJB: Drums have that potential. But I think what's at the bottom of it is people. People have that potential. If a person is not interested, or if they're not thinking along those lines and they play piano, I don't care where they play or how much it's hyped, it's going to be a boring evening. Why? Not because they're playing piano, but because they're not making music. I think that's something that has gotten so buried. It's not the instrument that makes the music; it's the person and their outlook. And that seems to be overlooked somehow, when people are teaching students. When I come into contact with students, or when I do workshops, it's so obvious to me that no one's hipped them to that. It's you, you are the music. Not the instrument.

It's not something you teach, but it's something you make them aware of. I read this article where somebody asked Keith Jarrett what his advice would be to young students or young jazz players. He said—I can't quote him exactly, it was something that I thought was really true and is shared by a lot of people who are really connected musically to the process of making it—a teacher should be someone who can instruct them how to deal with the instrument in a way that they're not going to hurt themselves physically, how to play the instrument, but as far as how to play the music, you're on your own and you have to go out there and say "yes." (laughs) Jarrett didn't say that, but that's what I was taking from it. I think it's so great to hear somebody on that level admit that, and I think that's a real valuable piece of information for people. I just did a workshop with some drummers and I had them divide into groups, there were two drum sets, and trade playing. It was so obvious to me, how much that is not apparent, doesn't matter how old, young and old. I don't know, there's a lot of work to do there [laughs].

But anyhow, for what I'm doing at Roulette, it is an evening of music using the drum set and just drawing on whatever I've got.

AAJ: Do you still practice?

JB: Oh yeah. It's funny, [guitarist] Lenny Breau

Lenny Breau
Lenny Breau
1941 - 1984
guitar
, who's an incredible musician, loaned me this book one time [by] Sufi Inayat Khan. It was a book about perspective on music. And the perspective from that book was that instead of looking at it as you're practicing and then you go play a gig, it was the other way around. You're playing, and the gig was just the practicing of it. And I use that a lot. Personally, what I do if I'm doing a gig, I'm not thinking about technical things, I'm just trying to make music. If something happens and I get an idea and I can't get it, or I miss it, I try to remember that. And when I practice, that's something technical, that's what I work on. So the music tells me what to work on. So when I get it, I'm doing something technical, but there's a reason for it. And as soon as I get it, it's like I got it, I can forget about it. And I don't think about the next time I play with somebody, that's the first thing I'm going to play [laughs]. No, you just forget about it.

I just love to play the instrument, so whenever I can, I warm up and I practice. More importantly, I just play, even if it's alone. I try to keep active playing with other people, because really that's how I feel like I've developed the most, is interacting with other people in an ensemble. For what I do, that's how I've learned. Really that's how I've learned everything. The things that happened away from that situation, again, were dictated by that situation: if somebody called a fast tempo and I couldn't make it, or somebody called a real slow tempo and I couldn't make it. It's really simple. Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, I remember reading something he said: you go through all the books, and then you forget them. And I really think that's so important. You go through them and then you just forget about it, and you can always refer to them. It's more important to be present and have your attention on what it is you're supposed to be doing [laughs]. It's so simple to say, but man, it's not that simple to do.

AAJ: Do you have anything else coming up before the end of the year?

Joey BaronJB: Well, I'm doing a concert the night before [also at Roulette], which for me, I'm really looking forward to as well, with Christian Wolff ensemble. [It] will be with Robyn Schulkowsky; Larry Polansky, a guitarist; I think Robert Blackwater Surprise Bradley

is playing the bass; and Christian will be playing piano. I'm not sure who else is involved, but for me it is the first time playing his music and playing in his ensemble. So it's a big honor for me to be a part of that. I'm also doing a gig with [bassist] George Mraz
George Mraz
George Mraz
b.1944
bass
at the Bohemian Society, I'm not sure of the exact date... I'll also be teaching at the Jazz Institute in Berlin in January for a few weeks. I'll be playing with [pianist] Steve Kuhn
Steve Kuhn
Steve Kuhn
b.1938
piano
and [bassist] Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
later in the year. I don't keep it all in my head, but I'm so really happy to be playing with people that I've always dreamed about playing with, or was inspired by, and they're still around. I've kind of focused most of my attention on being a part of things rather than pushing my own band. I'm a little more focused on doing a variety of things, and not pushing so hard on one thing.

AAJ: Of everything you've played on, if you had to pick a half-dozen recordings, what would you point people towards as representative of your work, or something you're particularly proud of?

JB: I don't know, because I basically don't like the way records sound. I don't like recordings, the way they sound. I know that in a lot of cases that's the only way that people get to hear me play, but it's never like that. The drums never sound like that. The balance of the band never sounds like that.

I'm proud of the records that I've done as a leader; I've done seven records on my own. I'm really proud of this one that's a duo with Robyn using those instruments. You can only get it at Downtown Music Gallery; it's called Dinosaur Dances (L-M, 2003). That's particularly a really interesting one, I think. We recorded it with one of the greatest engineers in the world, Jan Erik Kongshaug in Oslo, Norway and he really did a great job. That's the best recording as far as the sound of the instruments: we were playing drums that had all-skin heads, calf-skin heads, and these instruments that were used at Grand Central, and lots of metal. And the compositions: it's composed. It's really an interesting recording and I'm very proud of that— and it's the one that nobody's heard.

And the rest of the Barondown things, I'm very proud of, and I'm really proud of the two records I did with the band [Down Home] with [saxophonist] Arthur Blythe

Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe
b.1940
sax, alto
, Ron Carter, and Bill Frisell. Particularly for the mood attained on those; I wanted to do something and I feel like I was able to get that. I'm not taking fancy solos or anything, so people that want to hear that might not feel satisfied listening to that. But I wanted to have a band, and I feel like those records are a band effort. I didn't make it like a jam session, like we're going to do a Ron Carter tune, now we're going to do a Bill tune. I had some tunes, and whatever people may think of them, I had a definite idea about what to convey with them. Basically, it has a lot to do with my background, what inspired me, which was soulful playing and soulful songs in a way. And I'm really proud of some the compositions on those records because I wasn't trained musically at all, and I just kind of learned by rote and making a lot of mistakes. With the help of all the guys, I was able to realize what I wanted to hear.

AAJ: I remember reading about you describing composing: you would play it on the drums then try to transpose to the piano to figure out the melody.

JB: I would hear pitches and then I would write them down and go to the piano to see how close I was to what I was hearing. And if I was hearing a harmony, I would keep playing around with the chords and I wasn't quite sure what to call them. And I just wrote down the notes and would ask people, "What would you call this?" I know a few things, but it's not my language. Like on the drum set, I don't play B-flat minor 7th. In a way, that's what I love about the drums: I can approximate it and still keep a function that is really important. It's just as important as the harmony and melody, and it can also take part in the harmony and melody. But that's where I learned a lot being a leader, about how important it is to be a sideman, to be a good sideman. In a way, that's being a leader, because it's not that easy. A lot of people don't think about supporting the guy who's trying to get his music played. All the guys that have been a part of my bands—you know, whether it's Brad, Tony, and Steve or Ron, Arthur, and Bill, or [saxophonist] Ellery [Eskelin], [trombonists] Steve Swell

Steve Swell
Steve Swell
b.1954
trombone
and Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman

trombone
—they've all been so supportive and that's worth everything as a leader. That's the thing that gives you the step that they'll take.

Lately, I've just been concentrated on not pushing the next project. I'm sure something will happen. I'm just making some space for things to settle and meanwhile keeping busy with being a part of other people's music. Also, the last record I did with Steve Kuhn and Joe Lovano and [bassist] David Finck

David Finck
David Finck
b.1958
bass
came out really wonderful. It's a nice record, called Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009). It just came out. My favorite track is "I Want to Talk About You," it's a ballad and Steve plays just so, oh man! Not to say that I played great, but wow, I was a part of something and he just plays so beautifully. And usually I hear that on a record and I think, man I wish I could have been part of that.

AAJ: Can you listen to yourself play on record? I know a lot of people can only hear the mistakes they made or something they wanted to do.

Joey BaronJB: It's difficult, because I do hear the flaws and I'm so dissatisfied with just the basic sound. I don't really enjoy it anymore. But if I'm working on something, it's not about enjoying it. It's about you're working, and hey, this can be better and let me listen to see how. I'm not satisfied with my own playing yet; I'm still working on it. Fortunately, I love doing what I do, so the work doesn't seem like work. But there are moments when you listen to yourself play and you just hear things that you wish were somebody else doing, instead of you. But then occasionally you hear something that was not so bad; it was ok. I think it's important to notice those little victories when they happen, because they do happen. The false humility shit is a drag; I don't believe in that either. If you feel like you really did something cool, then yeah. It's not something I walk around doing; I'm more interested in how to get something a little better.

AAJ: I would say that most of the times I've seen you perform there were some pretty good moments, more so than clunkers [laughs].



JB: Thank you, I appreciate that [laughs].

Selected Discography



Steve Kuhn, Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009)

John Abercrombie Quartet, Wait Till You See Her (ECM, 2009)

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron, Live in Japan (Cam Jazz, 2007)
John Zorn/Masada, Live at Tonic: 2001 (Tzadik, 2001)
Joey Baron, We'll Soon Find Out (Intuition, 2000)
Miniature, I Can't Put My Finger on It (JMT/W&W, 1991/2003)
Bill Frisell/Kermit Driscoll/Joey Baron, Live (Gramavision, 1995)
Joey Baron's Barondown, RAIsed Pleasuredot (New World Records, 1994)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 6: Courtesy of All About Jazz

Page 2: Marco D'Amico

Pages 4, 7: John Kelman



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