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Joey Baron: Just Say Yes

By Published: December 16, 2009

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?

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