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Interviews

Conrad Herwig: There's Nothing Else

By Published: February 25, 2013
AAJ: Your collaborators on The Tip of the Sword are Jack DeJohnette and Richie Beirach.

CH: Jack is my favorite drummer on the planet. I idolize him. He's a total musician. He's influenced a lot of young drummers, like Jeff "Tain" Watts
Jeff
Jeff "Tain" Watts
b.1960
drums
, whom I've worked with recently—Tain is that kind of musician. Jack has set the bar so high, because he's an incredibly gifted musician in all ways. He's a composer and a pianist and he's such an empathetic player. I had the good fortune of recording with him—there was an album called Altered Things (Timeless, 1992) by a great Finnish saxophonist named Eero Koivistoinen
Eero Koivistoinen
Eero Koivistoinen
b.1946
reeds
. Dave Kikoski and I were on it with him, along with John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
and Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
. That was the first time I ever got to play with Jack. But Richie has played with Jack for a long time. He had a trio with Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
and Jack DeJohnette together.



And then when I started playing with Joe Henderson I also recorded with Jack. We did a Porgy and Bess album (Verve, 1997), we did some gigs with Jack and Dave Holland and John Scofield. It was a blessing, and I've always just felt comfortable playing with Jack. But it'll keep you up at night knowing that you have to prepare for playing with him, because Jack is just frighteningly creative, although supportive at the same time. People think of Jack as this amazing powerhouse of drums, but he can say more with one touch of a cymbal than some people can in a whole solo all over the drum kit. Jack has this incredible palette, and he always knows exactly what to hit at just the right moment. It's actually very humbling to work with somebody like Jack DeJohnette. I admire him greatly.

AAJ: And Richie Beirach is someone you've collaborated with for a long time.

CH: My first album as a leader, With Every Breath (1987), was on vinyl on the Seabreeze label, and that was with Richie Beirach and Jim Snidero, Ron McClure and Adam Nusbaum. And then we did a series of albums on the Japanese Ken label. I also did a quartet record with that same rhythm section and a quintet record with Randy Brecker called The Amulet (Ken, 1991). Richie and I also did a duo CD, which was amazing, called Intimate Conversations (Ken, 1990).

AAJ: One review of that record compared it to avant- garde 20th-century classical music, which is not something you're widely known for.

CH: I think one place you'll find that influence is on The Tip of the Sword. Intimate Conversations had a life way beyond Japan. It was also issued in Europe on the Bellaphon label, and people in Europe liked it quite a lot. You can use that 20th century European musical language as the basis for jazz improvisation, too—we're talking about the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern, as well as Satie, Ravel and Debussy. When you think about it, composition and improvisation are the same thing, because improvisation is just spontaneous composition.



It's interesting to think about the continuum of musical language in jazz improvisation. You see early New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, swing, bebop, hard bop, modal—modal-pentatonic, and a kind of a modal chromatic or tonal chromatic improvisation—and then really avant- garde improvisation. You can make the differentiation between pulse and non-pulse avant-garde—like the things from the late '60s, like Coltrane's Sun Ship (Impulse!, 1965), or Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
1928 - 1964
reeds
, Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
and Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
b.1937
saxophone
, compared to the things that Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
b.1945
reeds
was doing.

It's interesting that mainstream jazz kind of went away in the late '60s. Every Trane record was pushing the envelope. Miles was pushing the envelope into the '70s, and you had records like Lookout Farm (ECM, 1974) with Dave Liebman.

Then, in the '80s, the music took a little more of a conventional path harmonically. You had the neo-bop movement then, for example. But even while that was going on, I was blessed to be able to play with people like Richie Beirach, as well as with Henry Threadgill and Warren Smith and that downtown New York scene, which wasn't getting a lot of attention then in the United States. Richie Beirach and I always used to say that we were too "in" for the "out" cats and too "out" for the "in" cats. But I feel blessed that I've been able to play in so many different kind of musical languages.

I did a record with Dave Liebman called Timeline (Owl, 1989) and went on the road with him, too, which was fun. It was Dave and Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
b.1953
saxophone
and myself, with Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
b.1944
bass, acoustic
, Jim McNeely
Jim McNeely
Jim McNeely
b.1949
composer/conductor
and Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
b.1955
drums
. Then I was working with Eddie Palmieri and Afro-Caribbean bands, playing with Mario Bauza, Tito Puente and Paquito D'Rivera. And I had a lot of big band work. I remember doing gigs with Frank Sinatra and then going to Richie Beirach's house and playing duos—the stuff we were doing on Intimate Conversations. It was a nice time.


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