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Jack DeJohnette: Painting With Sticks

George Colligan By

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[ Editor's Note: The following interview is reprinted from George Colligan's blog, Jazztruth]

The name Jack DeJohnette is synonymous with modern jazz drumming. Many know him for his years spent with the Keith Jarrett Trio, but he first came to prominence with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis in the '60s. He's always in demand as a sideman— although you wouldn't call Jack DeJohnette to merely be a sideman—his musical contribution to any project is such that he is always a collaborator. He has many albums as a leader; his most recent release is Live at Yoshi's (Golden Beams, 2010) a project which yours truly is privileged to appear on along with Rudresh Mahanthappa, David Fiuczynski, and Jerome Harris. This interview was done while we were touring Europe in May of 2011. I think we were in the airport, waiting for one of the many flights we took during our three-week excursion.

GC: So you were talking about how you develop your foot technique...

Jack DeJohnette: Ok, for developing the bass drum technique, at least for my type of practicing, I play with ride cymbal beats, letting the right foot follow the right hand, practicing slowly, always practicing slowly and gradually build it up. You determine what speed and intensity you can do it, so you don't overdo it. You have to develop this technique utilizing the spastic muscle. You're doing this off of your toe, so your heel is up. You can also try and do it flat footed, heel toe heel toe heel toe, doing it that way, or doing both ways. But you get more power out of it when the foot is up, using the heel toe. And then the other thing to do is play triplets, utilize the triplets, and then playing with accents, you can either use your ride cymbal to follow, and just play independently. Then the next thing to try is to play things, ideas that you know, between the hand and foot, or play ideas with the foot that you normally play with two hands, or one hand. It takes some time to build it up. I'm still working on developing it. It depends on the solo I'm doing whether I'll utilize... sometimes I'll take a whole solo with the foot. And you know that's a whole other kind of concept, but doing it in the way so that it communicates something musically. Yeah, its a challenge, but fun.

GC: How would you describe, if there was a way to describe it, your general concept of drumming?

JD: I would describe it like I did in a video recently. It's called musical expression on the drum set. That's what I do. I see myself as a colorist, not as a drummer, per se. I always though, "I want to do on drums what somebody like Keith Jarrett does on the piano." The drum set is a musical instrument like guitar and everything else. You tune them, you tune the set, like you tune a guitar or bass, and I tune my drums in such a way so that no matter what I play, whatever I hit on it is a melody and that makes me think differently, it makes me think more melodically. And you know, you play drums, so you've played my set,so when you play it, no matter what you play...

GC: Sure...

JD: You'll always find melodies—I find melodies. It leads whatever or me to compose melodies, like if I'm soloing. I tune the drums differently every time. The eight and 10 inch drums really sound more like a high bongo and then I have 12, 13, 14, and 16 inch between mid and low you know so it makes for an interesting array of tones. Any drummer who sits down at my kit is automatically playing melody.

GC: It's true. I heard E.J. Strickland one night play on your kit, that time after the set at Birdland. You remember that?

JD: Yeah! And there was Jeff "Tain" Watts, Billy Drummond, and all of those cats sat down and each one of them because of the way my drums were tuned. They sounded different, and they played different because of the way they are tuned. Oh, it makes you think, it really makes you think, because you could be more aware of melody, melodic structure, you cannot get away from it because you will be playing melody anyway.

GC: What made you decide on your current cymbal set up? You have the hi-hat, two crashes on the left, and then on the right the one ride and then the china cymbal.

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