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A Fireside Chat with Jack DeJohnette

By Published: October 14, 2003
JD: Originally, we did do some things with Gabor Szabo and Reggie Workman and Gabor left to form his own band and I had been working previously with Cecil McBee in a variety of circumstances. I had heard Keith Jarrett play with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and then Charles asked, "What about a pianist?" I told him Keith Jarrett and he said, "What about a bassist?" I suggested Cecil McBee and that's how that happened. It was a very interesting time that period, the mid-Sixties. The flower power generation and the civil rights movement and things like that were happening then. A music entrepreneur Bill Graham, who was really an amazing guy and had a lot of vision, was one of the first guys that decided to put together the new electric bands and bring some jazz crossover groups and put them on the same bill. When we first started with that group, Charles Lloyd, we went to Europe a lot and we had a couple of crossover hits. Charles had "Forest Flower" and "Sombrero Sam," so these became pretty popular songs and crossed over. And the band was really pretty experimental, but able to be experimental and communicate to an audience. We would do bills with Big Brother & Holding Company, which featured Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Al Kooper, and Paul Butterfield Blues Band. We would do some of those kinds of things and so it was a pretty exciting period.

FJ: Did you leave Lloyd's band to play with Miles?

JD: In between that period, I freelanced a lot and I think I played with Bill Evans. Miles heard me playing with Jackie McLean and so I would always see Miles and Miles always had an ear out for drummers. Jackie had similar tastes in drummers, so whenever the word got out that a new drummer was in town, a lot of people would come around and check us out. So Miles came around to hear me play and consequently, Tony wasn't available to do some gigs with the band and Miles called me. The first time I played with him was with Wayne and Herbie and Ron Carter. I had played with Miles previously to the Bitches Brew period. It was pretty cool and a lot of fun.

FJ: Provide some insights into the man that has become an icon of this music and its culture.

JD: I think the first misconception is that apart from the fact that Miles had style and the fact that he was very much aware of his influence, not only on music, but on the artistic scene in general. First and foremost, Miles was serious about the music. He was really about that and he was really about listening to the musicians. He enjoyed listening to the musicians that he had play with him. Everything else was after that, the cars, women. Everything else like that was secondary, but the music was the first thing. It was his love. He could read people very well. He was very intuitive and later on in his life, got very spiritual. He loved the drums and he loved musicians who were thinking musicians and would think for themselves and provide him and stimulate him in a way and he in turn would do the same thing to the players. He had a point to his sound that brought together all the elements that were going on behind him.

FJ: How did your relationship with Manfred Eicher and his ECM label come to pass?

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