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Interviews

Jack DeJohnette: Time and Space

By Published: January 9, 2012

Musical Mentoring and Doing Good

Coming back to Sound Travels, another aspect of the recording is DeJohnette's use of musicians who, in many cases, are half his age or less. "I think it's important to have an exchange between younger and older players. But it's a two-way street, and I think it's part of the legacy to do that; it's important.



"With Esperanza [Spalding], she's unique," DeJohnette continues. "People will argue that she's a bassist, a singer, a songwriter; she's all those things. I don't think you can pigeonhole her. She's a multitalented artist who sings, plays bass and composes. She's definitely got charisma, and she's got a good heart. She's very politically, socially and environmentally aware, and she wants to do good. She knows that aside from being a musical artist, there's also some power—like a shaman or a healer—to do that through the vehicle of music.

"Lionel [Loueke] is a very underrated musical artist who sings, plays guitar, brings his African heritage into what he does, and is very unique," DeJohnette continues. "Rhythmically, harmonically and spatially, he really has something special that he brings to the music. And Ambrose, of course. I've had an opportunity to play a little more with him and Lionel in a recording group that I toured with in France, with [bass clarinetist] Michel Portal
Michel Portal
Michel Portal
b.1935
composer/conductor
. We did an album, Bailador (EmArcy, 2011), with [bassist] Scott Colley
Scott Colley
Scott Colley
b.1963
bass
and Bojan Z, who produced the album and played keyboards and piano. We did about four or five concerts, so we got a chance to play together and hang out, me and Lionel and Ambrose—really great people, both of them. I wanted the opportunity to play more with them—to explore some areas of music and friendship in the future. There are quite a few young trumpeters right now, and they're all really good, but Ambrose has something that's different. His sound is amazing and his ideas are very, very challenging, in a good way. They make you take notice.

"Luisito, he's my right hand guy on percussion," DeJohnette concludes. "Danilo Pérez told me about him, and you can hear him on every track. In jazz, conga players don't usually play with drummers, but he's a team player; he knows how to color the music like I do. He doesn't get in the way; he adds to the music, especially the delicate things he does with Bobby [McFerrin]—just the way, all through the record, his presence is felt."

Any discussion of music with DeJohnette ultimately leads to his belief that there's a social responsibility, incumbent upon musicians, to go beyond the music and do good. "Harry Belafonte has a PBS documentary [Sing Your Song] and a new book out [My Song: A Memoir (Knopf, 2011)], and he's exactly what an artist as an activist is," says DeJohnette. "This man has done so much to keep this country on the right footing, and even now he's trying to work in the prisons. He's in his 80s, and he's just tireless; he doesn't stop. The documentary covers his life; he's an amazing artist and an amazing singer, and what he did and what he continues to do, it's just awesome—the power of what an activist artist can do.

"The artist's role in making a contribution to society is really important," DeJohnette continues. "You have people like Herbie [Hancock], Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, Esperanza and Sonny Rollins, to name a few. When you go into a place, it's important to bring some light into the situation. It turns out my wife and I are invited to the White House next weekend [December 3, 2011], but when we go there we're going to play; Herbie's going to be there, and we'll just come in and bring some light—which Washington definitely needs—and some positive energy, just to leave it there, to try and help things move to a better level of consciousness—to solve the problems that we've created.

"There's one thing that I strive for," continues DeJohnette, "to be creative, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But I think we have to decide to step up and ask the question: what kind of world do we want to live in, for our future, for our kids? Do we want to leave a world full of nuclear waste and plunder our home to create material and financial gain, or do we want to raise our consciousness and be galactic citizens? Do we want to live out lives in joy and cooperation instead of greed and separation?

"It's a great honor, a great feeling to be recognized as a Jazz Master by the NEA, for doing something that's my passion, and that I get so much joy from doing," DeJohnette concludes, with a chuckle. "It's great just to have that acknowledgement, for people to recognize my contribution, and I hope to continue. At this point, I just want to have fun and enjoy it; I've nothing to prove, I just want to do what excites me and what interests me, and have fun doing it. Hopefully I can bring some sunshine and joy to other peoples' lives, and they can pass it on like a ripple. Every day is a beautiful day."


Selected Discography

Jack DeJohnette, Sound Travels (eOne, 2012)
Jack DeJohnette Group, Live at Yoshi's 2010 (Golden Beams, 2011)
Jack DeJohnette, Music We Are (Golden Beams, 2009)
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, Setting Standards: New York Sessions (ECM, 2008)
Jack DeJohnette/Bill Frisell, The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers (Golden Beams, 2009)
Jack DeJohnette/Foday Musa Suso, Music From the Hearts of the Masters (Golden Beams, 2005)
Trio Beyond, Saudades (ECM, 2005)
Jack DeJohnette, Music in the Key of Om (Golden Beams, 2005)
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, Always Let Me Go (ECM, 2002)
John Surman/Jack DeJohnette, Invisible Nature (ECM, 2002)
Jack DeJohnette, Oneness (ECM, 1997)
Herbie Hancock, The New Standard (Verve, 1997)
Jack DeJohnette, Music For the Fifth World (Manhattan, 1992)
Jack DeJohnette, Parallel Realities (MCA, 1990)
Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, Audio Visualscapes (Impulse!, 1988)
Jack DeJohnette, Special Edition (ECM, 1980)
Pat Metheny, 80/81 (ECM, 1980)
Mick Goodrick, In Pas(s)ing (ECM, 1979)
Jack DeJohnette, New Directions (ECM, 1978)
Ralph Towner, Batik (ECM, 1978)
Jack DeJohnette's Directions, New Rags (ECM, 1977)
Kenny Wheeler, Gnu High (ECM, 1976)
John Abercrombie, Timeless (ECM, 1974)
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970)
Bill Evans, At the Montreux Jazz Festival (Verve, 1968)
Charles Lloyd, Dream Weaver (Atlantic, 1966)

Photo Credits
Pages 1, 4: Courtesy of Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums

Page 2: David Redfer

Page 3: Courtesy of Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Page 5: Madli-Liis Parts


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