Joey Baron: Just Say Yes
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, 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 bandsyou know, whether it's Brad, Tony, and Steve or Ron, Arthur, and Bill, or [saxophonist] Ellery [Eskelin], [trombonists] Steve Swell and Josh Rosemanthey'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 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.
JB: 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.