Charnett Moffett: Improvisational Artistry
After touring with his family, Moffett attended Fiorello H. La Guardia High School for the Music and Arts, in New York City, before eventually ending up at Juilliard. In 1983, he played on Branford Marsalis' debut as a leader, Scenes in the City (Columbia, 1984), and the following year he joined the Wynton Marsalis quintet, appearing on 1985's acclaimed Black Codes From the Underground (Columbia). He played with legendary drummer Tony Williams, and in 1987 signed with Blue Note Records and debuted as a leader that year with Beauty Within. He's been recording ever since and had a highly successful recording career.
He took something positive away from each musical giant with whom he was associated. From Coleman, "I've learned not to discriminate against sound. That's what the Sound Grammar is about, which is the evolution of harmolodic music. Someone like Ornette Coleman has spent 50 years doing this and is still evolving, so how can I possibly not keep an open mind for change and progress?"
About Williams, Moffett says the drum wizard "was phenomenal. What I learned from Tony was about energy and how to move spacethe power of it. ... I spent about two-and-a-half years with Mr. Williams, who was a complete innovator on his instrument. It was an incredible joy. He was on fire every night: completely creative, very rarely would be repetitiveonly in the sense of the theme. An extraordinary musician as well as a person. It's unfortunate that a lot of the drummers I play with today didn't get a chance to see him perform live. They have the records, but it was nothing like seeing him live. It was completely amazing.
"I remember we did a tour where we did 29 concerts in 31 days. I never forgot that tour. Every night he played something great that was unique and different. I was, like, 'Wow.' [chuckles] He was a huge inspiration. Also, he was a great composer. Rhythm section players who have an opportunity to express their voice from a compositional standpoint, that's really an extra perk. It's so rare that those things can happen. Of course, Charles Mingus set the standard for that ... to not just deal with the instrument, but the whole story, the song as a whole.
Thinking of Tyner, he notes, "I just saw him in Tokyo. He never sounded better. ... McCoy is in a class by himself in that he's very patient. He lets things build and happen naturally. He would talk about being able to have the flexibility to go with something, even if it's in a structured form, so that the music is always being represented on the highest level. Sometimes you have to play a little less to get the most out of something. That is a great way to continue to apply balance to something that could be complicated at times. It was a heck of an institution to be a part of, as well as playing with people like Art Blakey. I don't think a lot of people of my generationI'm 42have had an opportunity to have experienced some of those different schools of jazz music and incorporate the complexities with simplicity. Balance is a good thing, like day and night."
"I think jazz is a great way for people to expand their possibilities of what can be done musically, because it incorporates so many different styles of music. ... It never stops. Every day we have life and we get up living. There's always something to keep reaching for. Just when you think you've gotten this done or figured this out, here comes along another idea and more information and it keeps on going. It's like a fountain with a flow of energy that is constant," says Moffett. "That's why people like Hank Jones and Ravi Shankar and Ornette Coleman can still be on the road making music for people at their age, because not only are they sharing a sound and a concept of music that brings joy and healing to others, but they're also refreshing their own bodies and souls as well, regardless of the style of music that they're playing. Music is a life force that keeps the energy moving in the universe."