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Jack DeJohnette: Colors, Grooves, Golden Beams

Paul Olson By

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I love to play grooves. Aside from swinging, and being abstract, I also love to be in the pocket and make a groove something substantial.
Jack DeJohnetteWhen you hear Jack DeJohnette's playing, you know it's him. No living jazz drummer is more accomplished, better-known or more technically equipped than the 64-year-old, Chicago-born DeJohnette, and no other drummer plays with his particular blend of unerring time, power and groove. After some years as a Chicago musician (as much in demand as a pianist there as a drummer), and associations with AACM players like Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams, the second half of the 1960s saw DeJohnette come to national—and international—prominence as a member of the wildly-popular Charles Lloyd Quartet (which also included perennial collaborator Keith Jarrett).

That prominence has never waned. DeJohnette's played with Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and of course with Miles Davis, who hired him in 1968, just in time for the musical upheaval of Miles' electric period and the epochal Bitches Brew. DeJohnette still occupies the drum stool in Keith Jarrett's so-called Standards Trio (which also features bassist Gary Peacock), a monumentally important and esteemed band that, in its 23rd year, somehow seems to be getting even better.

Then, of course, there's DeJohnette's sizable body of work as a leader of such groups as Directions and New Directions (the latter band including guitarist John Abercrombie and trumpeter Lester Bowie, two important collaborators), and classic, essential recordings like Album Album (ECM, 1984), Sorcery (OJC, 1974), Oneness (ECM, 1996), often on the ECM label. Really, one struggles to include all of his major projects—the collaborative trio Gateway (with Abercrombie and bassist Dave Holland) and the DeJohnette-led, rotating-cast Special Edition come immediately to mind.

DeJohnette formed his own record imprint, Golden Beams Productions, in 2004. The imprint has released four CDs to date including the new The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers (Golden Beams, 2006), a superlative collaboration with guitarist Bill Frisell. This year also saw the release of Saudades, (ECM, 2006), a two-CD live recording by Trio Beyond, a group composed of DeJohnette, guitarist John Scofield and organist Larry Goldings. While the band was ostensibly formed as a sort of homage to the late drummer Tony Williams and his band Lifetime, Trio Beyond is a good deal more than a tribute act, and the album contains some ferocious playing—the group's format and attack give DeJohnette considerable freedom to play and he uses that freedom eagerly and thrillingly.

It's an exciting group. I called DeJohnette at home in Woodstock, New York to discuss Trio Beyond, the Golden Beams label, and more.

All About Jazz: You've been very busy with a bunch of different musical projects, some of them on your own label. I think we should start with the Trio Beyond project, and move back from there. This is a band composed of yourself, John Scofield and Larry Goldings. It pays tribute to Tony Williams and his group Lifetime, and has the same guitar/drums/organ configuration as that band. But on your new live set Saudades, which was recorded in 2004, you actually touch on all sorts of things: you do some great Lifetime numbers, but you also do other songs written by Tony, or stuff associated Tony or Lifetime organist Larry Young. It's about Tony and a lot of other great people. "If, for example, is a song from Larry Young's Unity (Blue Note, 1965) album and makes me think about Elvin Jones, who drummed on it, or Joe Henderson, who wrote it and played on it.

Jack DeJohnette: It's kind of a tribute to a lot of different directions. And we have more material, our own original material; it just didn't get on there. But the basis of the idea started when I heard that group Lifetime. John heard it also, and it had a profound effect on us both in terms of that setup of organ, drums and guitar. But we realized, when we started touring and playing, that the music began developing organically in many directions of its own. But also, we didn't want to be locked into being a cover band or a tribute band. Instead, we wanted to use people like Tony as a composer and drummer, and Miles, Joe Henderson, Larry Young, John McLaughlin, Coltrane, as sorts of satellites, as a basis for improvising. It also immediately gave us a great selection of repertoire to choose from, so we didn't have to really write a lot of music right away.

AAJ: An immediate book.

JD: Yeah. I mean, I've got some songs, John has some tunes—we're all composers, but we figured gradually, as the band develops and we find time to come together and play, with our busy schedules, we'd add more original things. But it's fun; the big aspect of it is the chemistry between everybody and the high level of creativity that happens, which inspires everybody to go full-out and challenge themselves and challenge each other. It's a lot of fun.

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Miles Davis Miles Davis
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Pat Metheny Pat Metheny
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Chick Corea Chick Corea
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Charlie Haden Charlie Haden
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Elvin Jones Elvin Jones
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Kenny Wheeler Kenny Wheeler
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Paul Motian Paul Motian
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