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A Fireside Chat with Jack DeJohnette

By Published: October 14, 2003
JD: Actually, it came through Keith Jarrett. Keith was telling me about Manfred. First of all, Manfred was a musician. He played bass. He was into choral music earlier in his life and so he is involved with music. He really loved classical music, but he also loved the avant-garde music. He wasn't so crazy about bebop so much, but he liked the offshoots of that and the things that came from that like Ornette and some of the other players, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, and Miles. So he had this vision. He had a vision. He also was fascinated with film, art films and things like that. He looked at recording music like a film producer would look at it, sounds and get the feel in the mixing. Capture the essence of good quality sound. Keith mentioned that here was this guy who brings his own microphones to the dates and so forth. Our first recording was Ruta and Daitya (with Keith Jarrett), which we produced ourselves when we were with Miles. We were out in California and a friend of mine had a studio and let us go in for three or four hours and we improvised this music and came out with Ruta and Daitya. Then after that, I started doing some more recordings with other people and then the Directions band was my first recording as a leader. Actually, Fred, Directions started before ECM because I was recording for Fantasy and Prestige. The Directions band actually started there and that had John Abercrombie, Peter Warren, and Alex Foster. That was the Cosmic Chicken album. That was the first Directions band. Then Directions again appeared with Directions on ECM, which had Warren Bernhardt on piano, Mike Richmond on bass, and John on guitar, and Alex Foster. That was the start of a series of Directions records. I started doing a lot of guest appearances with other musicians like Pat Metheny and Ralph Towner and John Surman and Jan Garbarek and the Gateway Trio. That was the suggestion of Manfred's that we do something with the Gateway Trio. Out of that came different combinations of different musicians. Later on, I had the New Directions band, which was really a great band with Lester Bowie, Eddie Gomez, and John.

FJ: Why didn't you record more with the New Directions band?

JD: It was just hard to keep everybody together. I loved that band. I miss Lester because he was such a character. He had great imagination.

FJ: You featured Arthur Blythe and David Murray in your Special Edition group.

JD: That was with Peter Warren. There were quite a few incarnations of that group because then Chico Freeman came in and then John Purcell. We had David Murray and then we had Howard Johnson and then Rufus Reid came in and played bass. That was Album, Album. Then came Greg Osby and Greg Thomas and Mick Goodrich. Then Michael Cain joined and stayed in the group for seven or eight years. Greg left and then I had a guitarist, Marvin Sewell, who came in and we did one album. It was called Extra Special Edition for the Blue Note label and Bobby McFerrin joined us for that. That was an experimental record and it was nice. Then I did some things with Michael Cain and Steve Gorn, Dancing with Nature Spirits and then Oneness with Michael Cain and Jerome Harris, who is with us here in Chicago and Don Alias on percussion.

FJ: When did the trio with Gary Peacock and Keith Jarrett become known as the Standards Trio?

JD: I don't know, I guess after we just started playing standards. I mean, the first record we did was a Gary Peacock album, Tales of Another. That kind of brought us together and then we decided to call it the Keith Jarrett Trio. No, actually, it was the three names really and then people started calling it the Standards, and Standards stuck with us because it had a double meaning. We all played standards and we had a standard level of improvisation and quality of music that was a high standard. So it had a double meaning. The other thing about it was that we were all tremendously influenced by the Ahmad Jamal Trio. We had that in common. The idea was that we could play standards and the idea was for it not to be a band, so rather than have arrangements, we did standards or free improvisation. You need a vehicle that we could use to create improvised music on. We said that we would do it until we don't feel like doing it. Twenty years later, we are still doing it.

FJ: The majority of the trio's recordings have been in a live setting. Why?

JD: Well, you get the spontaneity of the audience. Keith likes to document the developments of the trio. There is some magic you can capture. You take a risk. You never know what is going to come out. What makes it worthwhile is the challenge of keeping it fresh and trying to generate something that feeds ourselves spiritually, musically, and emotionally and also can feed our audience especially in the turbulent times we are in right now.

FJ: How is Keith's health?

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