Joey Baron: Just Say Yes
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.
JB: 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, 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 outdoorsthat 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 yearwe went to Brazil and did a performanceand 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?
JB: 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 Stewart 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, Kenny Wollesen, Sadiki (an African drummer here in town), Cyro Baptista, Tyshawn Sorey, 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.