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Joey Baron: Just Say Yes

By Published: December 16, 2009

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
, 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.

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