Memories in Motian

Zeno De Rossi BY

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We have lost one of the greatest musicians on the planet, one who discovered the secret of playing 'simply' pure music.
Soon after hearing about Paul Motian's passing (November 22, 2011) I felt the urge to delve (again) into his music.

Later on, inspired by a moving writing by Ellery Eskelin (published on his website and reproduced below, by his kind permission), I thought it would have been interesting to collect brief memories from musicians which worked with him during his long career, as well as from those who were deeply influenced by him.

So I started my research, contacting as many musicians as possible: many replied with enthusiasm, you will read their recollections here. Others declined due to lack of time, others, unfortunately, never replied.

The idea which guided the project was very simple: I asked each musician to choose a tune from Motian's discography and write a few lines about him or his music. The first request aims to sketch a sort of in absentia compilation, which could work as a guide to listening for the curious reader; the second tries to shape a multifaceted vision of the artist using the musicians' words.

In other words, All About Paul.

What is clearly coming to light from these writings is the relevance of Motian's music in the creative path of more than a generation of musicians: a sort of underground river that contributed to trace new directions in the history of contemporary jazz.

I heard Paul Motian playing live for the first time 23 years ago. In the summer of 1990, after my high school final exam, I took off for Orbetello, a beautiful town in Tuscany, with a friend of mine for my first (and last) camping holiday.

After coming and setting our tent up we went to town for a walk, to find out what was on that evening. Soon after we met some local friends, which told us about a jazz concert in the park. My friend was reluctant, so I decided to go alone, and, sure to stumble upon a band of local musicians, I was amazed to find out that I was going to listen to Geri Allen's trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. I still remember the magic of that music, and the darkness which was surrounding the stage, to prevent the insects from swarming on the musicians.

That same year I listened to Paul Motian Trio, with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, for the first time. It was an unforgettable night in an unforgettable club in Verona, "Il Posto." I remember the musicians coming breathless on stage, severely delayed; the house was already full and eager to listen. They were just able to set up their instruments and do a quick line-check before starting one of those concerts that changed my life forever.

I was lucky enough to listen to Motian many other times, and in various contexts. Each time I was struck by his ability of keeping the music in a perfect balance with a few fundamental gestures. His way of playing was unique, deeply rooted in the tradition, but totally modern and personal; his compositions simple, but profound. He has been a guiding light which led me into fabulous, beautiful places.

Regarding his art, there is nothing I can add to what is stated by the memories you will read. It is clear to me that we have lost one of the greatest musicians on the planet, one who discovered the secret of playing simply Pure Music.

I would like to thank Francesco Bigoni for the precious translations, my wife Nicoletta for the constant editing and, most of all, the great musicians which replied and made this project happen with their touching and invaluable contributions.

Que Viva Paul!

Impressions Of Motian

Ellery Eskelin—Paul Motian passed away this morning. One of the great drummers in jazz, he was to me one of the world's deepest improvisors and one of the most individual musicians I have ever heard on any instrument. I think back to an evening in the mid 80's when I had the good fortune to play a bit with him. I had just come from an afternoon jam session with some friends. We were playing standards. And it was feeling a bit routine. At a certain point during the session I felt the need to break out of the musical web we were spinning and, almost as a joke, I decided to take an entire solo that was completely free rhythmically, while still making the changes in time. As it happened, my little joke actually seemed to invigorate the music. I might have simply treated the experience as a curiosity, had I not decided to head over to the 55 Bar on Christopher Street in the Village. Guitarist Leni Stern was playing her regular Sunday gig and she would always let me sit in. That evening she had hired Paul Motian to play drums with her. I was surprised and excited at the prospect of playing with him for the first time. With the effect of the afternoon session fresh in my mind, I approached the music in just the same way. The effect of this looser playing had been interesting and unexpected during the afternoon session, but now, with Paul, it was much deeper and richer. When I think back on it over the years, I realize that at that moment in time Paul was probably the most perfect musician on the planet that I could have played with to validate and solidify this approach. His phrasing was so fluid, and yet his internal pulse and feel so strong that I was able to play anything I heard and have it fit the music just the way I wanted it to. I can say with no exaggeration that this was a true musical epiphany. It was as if a door had opened. I walked through and never looked back. Everything I've done since then has come out of that one seemingly casual but quite intense (and amazingly fortuitous) experience.
Paul and I spoke about playing again, but that never quite came about. I would go to hear him play and come away completely inspired each time. Some of the early music I wrote for my band came directly after hearing a set he did at the Village Vanguard in the mid 90's. We would cross paths on the road from time to time. In more recent years I began writing him letters, sending him music. Last time I saw him was at the Vanguard almost a year ago. He sounded amazing as usual. And he looked as if he had another twenty or thirty years in him. During the break I had a few moments to speak with him privately and I reminded him of that night, some twenty odd years ago, and told him how much he and his music meant to me. I'm so glad I had the chance to do that in person. The world feels different without Paul Motian in it... [This contribution was originally published on Ellery Eskelin's website on 22 November 2011—It is reproduced by kind permission of Ellery Eskelin]

Bill Frisell—Thinking about Paul Motian, it is very difficult (impossible) for me to name just one song, one album, one moment that stands out. I'm so lucky (blessed) to have spent so much time with him. His impact on me was (is) huge. Extraordinary. Gigantic. So many memories. Kaleidoscopic. We played together for 30 years. Traveled all over the world. Three decades! But ... I was listening to him long before that. One of the first concerts I went to hear in high school was the Charles Lloyd Quartet. 1968. Paul was in that band. A new world opened up. I never dreamed that a few years later I'd be playing with him. Wow. A lifetime of inspiration. I think about him every day and continue to learn from him. He set the standard. Showed me the possibilities. Still does.

Ben Perowsky—The first time I got to hear and see Paul Motian play was at Saalfelden Jazz Festival in 1985 when I was 19 years old. He was playing with Paul Bley, Bill Frisell and John Surman. The setting alone was mind blowing for me as I hadn't experienced live jazz outside of the NYC or Boston audience. This was like being at a huge rock concert except that the audience full of young people who were camping in the field outside the big tent was extremely quiet during the music, then screaming and cheering afterwards.

For a young drummer who had been exposed to a lot of music and drummers growing up in NYC, Paul still completely turned my head around when I saw and heard him play that night and every time I saw him afterwards for the following 25 years. I don't like to use the word magic but Paul had this inexplicable way of playing the drums with the knowledge and attitude of a most well seasoned master, simultaneously with that of an infant experiencing the nuances of life for the first time. Musical clichés are not an option. Time, meter, form are so internalized that they are implied with subtle suggestion or punctuation. The way a surrealist painter can imply structure or anatomy without stating it is how I try to understand what Paul does behind the drums. And it is in fact magical. His impact on music will be resonating for decades.

Michael Sarin—Great performers and creative expressers—musicians, painters, writers, actors, dancers—the masters, convey to their audience the depth of their experience with an intent distilled by simple and clear gestures. This became clear to me during the mid-1980's via the drumming of Paul Motian while listening to recordings of Paul Bley's Fragments, Keith Jarrett's Shades of Jazz, Bill Frisell's Rambler, and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra. Upon moving to New York in 1989, one of the first concert experiences I had was listening to the Paul Motian Trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell at the old Knitting Factory. Although certainly not the first such line-up in jazz, this combination of unique voices greatly helped to validate and legitimize for us young players the idea of a band playing traditional (and original) repertoire without the bass—and by extension, helping to proliferate a host of groups comprised of "non-traditional" instrumentations.
I always felt as if I was hearing paintings while listening to Motian: refined eastern calligraphy; Abstract Expressionism of de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko and Rauschenberg; Man Ray ready-mades and Duchamp, droll and provocative. He showed me how a drummer can move the music forward with silence; and when notes are played, they're with commitment and intention. And with Paul, always spontaneous and in the moment—a true improvisor.

Influential to me was Motian's creations of rhythmic collages during group improvisations—rhythms and beats of different shapes, tempos and timbres played for varying lengths of time. This evoked for me a kaleidoscope effect, spurring reaction—oppositional or parallel—from the other players. Also, his use of brushes as agents of color, not just as quiet time keepers reinforced my own natural inclination toward texture from the drum set.

And always... his sound and touch on the drums and cymbals, influential on a generation or more of drummers: his snare drum and booming bass drum betrayed his traditional training; his striking of the toms; and his very personal cymbal combination, intact for 30 or more years. Upon hearing a single note on either of his ride cymbals, snare, toms or bass drum, one instantly responds with certainty and joy, "Paul!"

Most unfortunately, I never actually met Paul Motian even though many of my closest colleagues worked with him at some time, whether in one of his own bands or on their own projects. I don't really know what he thought of the many great drummers who have come after him, or if he was acutely or even vaguely aware of his influence on them. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say: we're here and testifying to his contributions each time we make music from the drum set. Paul will be dearly missed by all of us.

Brad Shepik—I have many great memories of my five and a half years playing in Paul's first Electric Bebop Band; going to Europe for the first time, getting to see what life outside the US was like, what a tour was like, traveling all day every day and playing every night. Above all, playing music and traveling with such a unique, creative force and master musician as Paul. I'm deeply grateful for that experience. I smile remembering how young we all were and yet he seemed to be filled with more energy than all of us put together. We would drag ourselves from the hotel where we'd slept 3 or 4 hours onto the early morning trains and immediately flop down to go to sleep. But it was never long before Paul would poke his head into the compartment, parting the curtains and say to everyone, "Hey man! How about that breakfast! great right? I went back three times... been up since 5AM, went for a walk all around this place, nothing going on....etc." Of course we had all missed breakfast. As a bandleader he was super generous with us, trusting, letting us figure it out on our own. It was an education to play with him, he didn't fill things up like other drummers. His time and feel and spacing of ideas was indescribable, really only the thing itself. Eventually it had a profound effect on the way I hear music. I return often to Paul's recordings—they remain a huge inspiration to me. Whether playing an original or a song by another composer, his conception of sound is instantly identifiable and reminds me what a fearless original he was; a completely unique composer and drummer and bandleader. Thank you Paul!

My Favorite Recordings

Counter Current Michael Attias—"Mistery on the Hudson": Terumasa Hino—Masabumi Kikuchi Quintet—Counter Current (Sony Japan—2008)

I first played with Paul at a three-day recording session in the summer of 2007 with Masabumi Kikuchi, Terumasa Hino and Thomas Morgan. Making music with him was a dream come true and the confirmation of musical intuitions that were dawning in me at the time and which have been at the heart of what I'm trying to do ever since. The present moment, the only one we actually experience and yet from which we spend the better part of our days in sleepy or frantic exile—was where Paul Motian lived, fully awake, fully present, when he spoke, when he played, in every note he wrote. Like Ornette Coleman, like John Coltrane, he disappeared in the exact vibration of his materials: a major third, a brush stroke on a cymbal, a Big Sid Catlett phrase floating free of the bar line, all connected by invisible strings of pulse to form a giant mobile full of air, grace, power. He was modern to the end, which is to say ever awake to the ever shifting implications of the now... riding its tip, finding new ideas, new sounds, new ways of playing tempo and melody, of interacting as musicians, of commanding respect as humans, every time he sat at the drums. The present of music is a leap, a risk, a dare that defies any biological determination. Between Paul and Thomas Morgan, the bassist both on the 2007 session and on the album we made under Motian's leadership a year later, there was a half-century age difference, and yet when we played the time was a heartbeat for all time.

Jazz Alive! Joey Baron—"Lover Come Back to Me": Zoot Sims—Al Cohn—Phil Woods—Jazz Alive! A Night at the Half Note (United Artist—1959)

I remember when I started playing (1964) borrowing a record from my older brother called Jazz Alive! A Night at the Half Note by Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Phil Woods. I listened to that record over and over and over through the years. It was a perfect record to play along with. That was my introduction to Paul Motian. His time was so smooth, swinging and inviting all at the same instant. Rather than explode he just kept letting the music simmer. The sound he got from the drums, still to this day, makes me want to play. The fact that he was about the music first and foremost is a great great lesson. Folk, rock, out, in, be bop, swing, small group, large ensemble... everything he played, Paul did so with integrity and complete respect of those who came before him. To my knowledge he never made a musical move at the expense of anyone else. When musicians are lucky enough to get bored with their own "slikness," "hipness," Paul's model can inspire to no end. A true open minded musical artist. I never did return that record to my brother!!!

Psalm Tim Berne—"Psalm": Paul Motian Band—Psalm (ECM—1982)

The tune I would select is "Psalm." This piece really captures Paul's ability to express himself as a composer and band leader. Whenever I catch myself over-composing or over-complicating things I think of the simplicity and directness of Paul's music, like in "Folk Song for Rosie"). Simplicity is highly underrated!

In Tokyo Jim Black—"The Hoax" and "Mumbo Jumbo": Paul Motian Trio—In Tokyo (JMT—1991)

"The Hoax" is a little song that appears on Paul Motian Trio's CD Live in Tokyo. It's played solo on the recording by Bill Frisell. Just the melody. How something so simple can say and evoke so much—that's the essence of Paul's music to me. Of course, in total contrast and surprise, the track "Mumbo Jumbo" follows immediately after. Paul was a master of creating music where energy, seemingly apparent chaos, and literally joyous melody blend perfectly together to create something uniquely beautiful, entirely him. His music changed my life and the lives of so many friends. I will always miss him.

It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago Jakob Bro—"Introduction": Paul Motian Trio—It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago (ECM—1985)

Paul wrote so many beautiful pieces, so it is really hard to choose only one, but my pick is "Introduction." Paul told me once that he didn't want to play that song with the trio at the recording session, but Bill [Frisell] liked it so much and Paul then told him to play it by himself. So it ended up being a solo piece for guitar. It's such a beautiful song. It was later recorded on Bill's own record with Ron Carter and Paul on drums.

Trioism Steve Cardenas—"It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago": Paul Motian Trio—Trioism (JMT—1994)

It's difficult to choose just one tune of Paul Motian's, as there are so many great ones. One that comes to mind is "It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago." There are two versions I'm most familiar with: one from the record with the same title and one from Trioism. However, my memory of it is mostly from hearing the trio play it at the [Village] Vanguard over the years. It was always felt like one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard, every time I heard it. I feel fortunate to have listened to the trio with Paul, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell on so many occasions.

Bill Evans Gerald Cleaver—"Very Early": Paul Motian—Bill Evans (JMT—1990)

Not much needs to be said, in keeping with Paul Motian's essential drumming. This drum intro was one of those life-changing moments for me. Further, Motian's playing on this track opened up new vistas for me playing waltz time. His playing is so open, flexible, adaptable to what is happening at the moment, and very grounded at the same time. He always communicates the essence, the most vital, in his soloing and accompaniment, and still does the "drum" thing: generating forward motion and excitement. Long live Paul!

Sound of Love Jeff Cosgrove—"Mumbo Jumbo": Paul Motian Trio—Sound of Love (JMT—1998)

While there are dozens of Paul Motian's compositions that I love, "Mumbo Jumbo" is the tune that most resonates with me. It started with the first time I heard the piece on Sound of Love—the live trio record with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. Upon first listen, I knew I wanted to and would make a record of Paul's music. The piece just flows so effortlessly. I listened to that record, and "Mumbo Jumbo" specifically, over a hundred times. Every listen and every version that I have heard since inspires a new look at the melody. The approach changes in the hands of the musicians who interpret it but it is always recognizable and comforting. Once I got the sheet music from Paul, the real mystery of the tune came alive. There are no bar lines and there is an extra half beat. It made me want to approach drumming in a whole new way. It has changed my view toward composition and improvisation. "Mumbo Jumbo" is deceptive, angular and intriguing.

Storyteller Marilyn Crispell—"Cosmology": Marilyn Crispell Trio—Storyteller (ECM—2004)

Here are a few words about Paul's composition "Cosmology" which we played many times together and recorded on the ECM record Storyteller. "Cosmology" is a good example of how Paul's harmonies and melodies are influenced by his Armenian/Turkish background, and by jazz artists like [Thelonious] Monk and Ornette Coleman. It's a simple but brilliant melody, as are many of his melodies, and there is great generosity in its allowance for free interpretation.

Unknown Voyage Franco DAndrea—"Way Out": Furio Di Castri—Unknown Voyage (A Tempo—1989)

Before 1988 Paul Motian was, to me, the great drummer who played in the legendary Bill Evans Trio and then in Keith Jarrett Quartet. Then I had the chance to experience what it meant to play with this incredible guy: in December 1988, Furio Di Castri hired him to play on a record of his, along with me and Joe Lovano. The first thing that impressed me was his relax, which he was able to transmit to me and, without any doubt, to the rest of the band. The rest is well known: his peculiar time feel, his sense of dynamics and colours, the special balance he found on the drumkit. Playing with him made you feel comfortable and positive about the result. He helped music live, in a very personal way. I even had the privilege to play a couple of duo songs with him. I remember "Way Out" most of all.

Time and Time Again Zeno De Rossi—"Liza": Paul Motian—On Broadway Vol. 1 (JMT—1989)

If I had to think about this article as a radio feature dedicated to Paul Motian, I would pick "Liza" from On Broadway Vol. 1 as the opening theme. This rendition of the well-known song by the Gershwin brothers always succeeds in putting me in a good mood. The style statement is clear from the start. Paul's comping groove is infectious. His solo and the ironic closure are remarkable. All these things make me think of him as an absolute genius, besides always leaving a big smile on my face.

Time and Time Again Deric Dickens—"K.T.": Paul Motian—Time and Time Again (ECM—1996)

When I was asked to write about my favorite Paul Motian tune I thought it would be a very easy thing to write. As I sat on the train thinking about Motian tunes I realized just how hard this was going to be. I decided to pull out all of my Motian CDs and have a glass of wine or two. When I put on the album Time and Time Again the memories flooded back. This is the Motian super group with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano and one of the first groups I saw when I visited New York. This album puts me right back in Knoxville, TN, packing up my house to make the big move to New York. The tune that I couldn't stop listening to was "K.T.." To me this tune was my New York soundtrack, full of hope, happiness and excitement about a new chapter of my life. I remember listening to this tune as I drove out of Knoxville with my life packed up in the back of the truck and looking ahead to a very hopeful future.

Treasure Island Anat Fort—"Introduction & Yaqui Indian Folk Song": Keith Jarrett—Treasure Island (Impulse!—1974)

This is perhaps a surprising choice for discussing drum work, since the whole track is 2:15 minutes long and Paul plays mostly triangle and some bells on it. But to me this captures him at his purest: a true poet, who paints the music with just what it needs at any given moment. The simplicity of this ancient Indian folk song and the minimalistic yet deeply moving approach everybody, and especially Paul, choose here creates one of the most compelling pieces of music I know.

Conception Vessel Larry Grenadier—"Conception Vessel": Paul Motian—Conception Vessel (ECM—1973)

It is so difficult to name just one song, so I will choose a track that I have been listening to a lot lately, "Conception Vessel" a duet with Keith Jarrett encapsulates the profound depth of Paul's playing. He is completely in tune with Keith's movements: interacting and counter-balancing Keith's ideas, and at the same time giving the piano the space it needs. Stylistically Paul's playing contains the entire history of drums. Like all great artists, Paul Motian was above and beyond time. Completely modern and rooted to the ancient Earth at every moment.

Monk in Motian Dave King—"Evidence": Paul Motian—Monk in Motian (JMT—1989)

I remember thinking when I first heard this track that there was finally a recording of this tricky Monk tune that showcased some drumming as startlingly original and idiosyncratic as Monk himself. No disrespect to the drummers on Monk records who are some of my favorite of that era (Ben Riley and Frankie Dunlop) but I always longed for a slightly more interactive rhythmic approach to provide counterpoint to Monk's signature complex left hand spikes and over the bar musings. Paul played this music so personally and powerfully (huge drum sound on this record!) and paid real homage to the original statements while proving that Monk's music was this malleable only in the right hands. Great work by Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano on this record as well. Thank you Paul for the great music you left and for the inspiration to contribute to the conversations of creative music!!

As It Grows Russ Lossing—"Suite of Time (in 5 Parts)": Russ Lossing—As It Grows (Hat Hut Records—2004)

In the twelve years that I knew and played music with Paul Motian, he had a strong influence on me as a musician. He was also a good friend and we shared a lot of laughs and many long conversations about music over the years. There are so many recordings of his as leader and as sideman that I love, and it became overwhelming to choose just one. So I decided to choose a track from my second trio recording with him (and Ed Schuller on bass) released by HatHut Records in 2004. This is a work that I composed specifically for the recording date with Paul in mind. The five movements grow outward from a handful of motifs and move through a series of moods consisting of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements designed to set up improvisations of varying nature.
Paul did not rehearse and would not read music (although the truth is, he was an excellent sight reader). We recorded each of the 5 parts separately, and I gave him a brief idea of each movement right before recording it. We recorded the suite twice through, but used the entire first take, as it was the most immediate and direct statement of the two takes.

Paul's playing is inspired: loose, subtle, funny and bodacious at various times. And, as always, with impeccable taste and feel and "in the moment" at all times. Ed was the perfect foil and his playing is beautiful and soulful throughout. Playing music with Paul was one of the great joys of my musical life. I feel very lucky to have known him.

I'm All for You Joe Lovano—"Countdown": Joe Lovano—I'm All for You (Blue Note—2004)

I had the great fortune as leader to record two quartet albums on Blue Note Records with Paul Motian, George Mraz and Hank Jones: I'm All for You and Joyous Encounter. This was a truly a magical quartet. I'm All for You was ballads-focused: I decided to do John Coltrane's "Countdown" as a ballad, and Paul played the hippest beat with sticks that you can imagine... He was a master of time, space and taste. As a quartet we traveled to some unchartered places fueled by Paul's amazing approach. That's just one tune that comes to mind, but the Trio with Paul, Bill Frisell and myself played together for 30 years of some of the most memorable music of my lifetime.

The Story of Maryam Tony Malaby—"The Owl of Cranston": Paul Motian—The Story of Maryam (Soul Note—1984)

I am in a motel lobby in northern California on the road with Chris Lightcap's band. I just listened to "The Owl of Cranston" from The Story of Maryam on Soul Note. This was what changed my musical direction. Paul's folk songs were, and are, my favorites. The sense of longing and mystery in this composition conjures so many feelings. His understanding of things natural—bird calls, flowing water, whistling in the woods, village bells—and this type of composition are greatly needed in this time of complexity and show-off, circus performance grandstanding. You can't bullshit when you play something so simple.

It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago Ben Monder—"It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago": Paul Motian Trio—"It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago" (ECM—1985)

I was on the road with Jack McDuff in 1986 and would listen to a cassette of this record on my walkman almost constantly. The beautiful, ethereal, and plaintive sound the three of them got on this tune seemed to often compliment the landscapes we would be passing, and it was also affirmation that there was another valid form of music than the one I was failing miserably at at the time... I'm a fan of all of Paul's tunes, but the simplicity of this one and the way Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, and Paul interpret it make it an unprecedented musical statement.

You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart Tom Rainey—"Abacus": Paul Motian Trio—You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart (JMT—1995)

When I was approached to say a few words about a favorite Paul Motian tune, my mind went immediately to a couple of occasions when I had the great fortune of seeing Paul. The first was at the Village Vanguard several years ago hearing his trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. This was easily one of the most enthralling gigs that I've attended—the directness and level of group communication left me with the impression that I had just heard the best band in the universe. This experience was matched only several years later at Birdland in NYC when Paul was playing with Paul Bley and Gary Peacock. It was the first performance after Paul had suffered a heart attack and spent time in the hospital. I felt as if I was watching three kids in a playground inventing a new game. The joy and mystery of this set had us laughing out loud and I'll never forget this night or any other time when I was in the presence of this missed master.

Tati Enrico Rava—"Mirrors": Enrico Rava—Tati (ECM—2005)

Paul Motian was one of the few landmarks in New York. As the Empire State Building or the Village Vanguard. In a city where everything changes constantly, where your cornershop may disappear in the twinkling of an eye, where your neighbour moved to California, your lawyer friend is now a taxi driver, etc., Paul was one of the few certainties. Central Park West. It is there, in a comfy apartment, that I met him in 1967, when I moved to New York. It is there, that he spent the last days of his life. Extraordinary musician, extremely personal drummer, unique. Incredible composer, leader and sideman. It was useless to rehearse with him (he didn't feel like it, anyway), as it was useless to give him instructions about his playing on a certain tune, since he would have done it his own way anyway. And it would have turned out much better that way, for sure. I had the great pleasure of playing with him a lot, in different contexts. Sometimes we were both sidemen in Steve Lacy's band or in the Jazz Composer's Orchestra. Some other time he played in my own bands. Each time was a wonderful experience. He was also a master of the "Travelling Light." On tour, while everybody was carrying huge suitcases to face several weeks on the road, Paul showed up with a tiny bag in which he had everything he needed. Like Eega Beeva. We never found out how he would do that. He left, and left the music scene a little poorer. And New York as well.

Explorations Ches Smith—"Israel": Bill Evans Trio—"Explorations" (Riverside—1961) Although I was playing a lot of obnoxious metal and free improv in my late teens, I was seriously pursuing bebop and straight ahead jazz, practicing and playing the music with others as much as I could, and devouring any record I could find with Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes or Elvin Jones. When I bought Explorations by the Bill Evans Trio I was excited to find yet another immediately identifiable, original voice in jazz drums. Paul Motian sold me on the idea that there are infinite possibilities in jazz, and that you too can find your own way. Motian's playing on that record is very melodic and sing-able, and demonstrates a unique approach to orchestration on the drum set. He uses the hi hat in unusual ways, especially on the track "Israel." His playing on the opening melody demonstrates the extent to which a drum set improvisation can play a major part in the arrangement of a jazz tune. Motian fills bars 3—8 with asymmetrical phrases of triplets on the hi hat with off-beat accents, breaking abruptly on bar 9 to match the quarter note triplet melodic figure with the piano with his foot on the hi hat, then back to the triplets for the remainder of the chorus.

When he trades with Evans later in the tune, he often plays the hi hat on beat 1 to start a phrase, or interjects it into a melodic phrase otherwise made up of tom-tom and bass drum pitches. There is a moment where he plays couplings of notes surrounded by space, using the hi hat foot on the second of each of the two notes alternating with floor tom, snare drum and high tom. It is a very unusual combination of sounds which feature the hi hat foot as a strong melodic voice. On his last chorus of trading, he ends with an open-closed hi hat figure, repeating the second half of the figure at the top of the chorus, providing a very subtle illusion that you are ahead of where you should be when you hear the melody from Evans. Motian then blends this seamlessly back into the asymmetrical-triplet concept heard on the head in. Now, post-1964 Miles Davis Quintet, this doesn't sound shocking, but this is indeed an early example of a drummer playing freely across the harmonic structure of the tune.

Motian developed these ideas to an incredible extent throughout his numerous recordings, often in contexts free of meter (if not always free of harmony). I like the way Monk in Motian and Trioism (releases from the late 80s and early 90s, respectively) demonstrate this. When I started coming to NYC in the mid 2000s I heard his trio with Frisell and Lovano at the Vanguard as often as possible. Lately I've often been listening to a Paul Motian set issued by ECM this year. It was nice, however, to go back and check out the Paul Motian I first got into.

It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago Chris Speed—"It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago": Paul Motian Trio—"It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago" (ECM—1985)

My earliest memory of listening to "It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago" is when I was briefly living in Nürnberg, Germany (though I had probably heard them play live it at Nightstage in Boston before) in 1989. I was in Europe for the first time. The Wall had just come down. I was working on music and life, trying to find my way and the Paul Motian Trio was my guide. The way that Paul, Bill [Frisell] and Joe [Lovano] made music opened a whole universe of musical emotional possibilities to me that I am forever grateful for. Paul was such an important and deep musical inspiration to me and my generation. His beautiful compositions, amazing feel, incredibly intuitive bands, his way of being old and new and still just being a bandleader drummer playing tunes will always be cherished. R.I.P.

Europes Pietro Tonolo—"Oska T": Paul Motian & The E.B.B.B—Europe (Winter & Winter—2001)

This tune is a little more than two minutes of "pure groove." No solos. The theme is exposed several times. The instruments add gradually to the orchestration. Paul managed the sextet with great intelligence, using all the possible timbral combinations. A brief drum solo closes the take. As all the great artists, Motian had several weapons of choice. He is often remembered for his genious approach to free forms and to playing "out of time" (he is an unequalled master of that) but the great quality of his timing, connected (and not inferior) to that of the great masters, is often forgotten!

Misterioso Matt Wilson—"Misterioso": Paul Motian Quintet—Misterioso (Soul Note—1987)

I love the melody of the time on this recording. Paul Motian had a special relationship with Thelonious Monk's shapes and sounds. The "two feel" he and Ed Schuller offer the music is so deep. Mr. Motian's buoyant ride cymbal sound aligns, collides, weaves and dances with the music. You feel every aspect of every beat and sound. How did he do it? He was the Picasso of the ride cymbal. Thank You Paul Motian!

On Broadway Vol. 2 Stefan F. Winter—"Look to the Rainbow": Paul Motian—On Broadway Vol. 2 (JMT—1990)

Bill Frisell has said "Paul Motian Is Music," to which nothing can be added.

Kenny Wollesen—"Folk Song for Rosie": Paul Motian Quintet—Misterioso (Soul Note—1987)

Zeno, just before I got your email I came home to my apartment to find a bag of cassette tapes wrapped in an old plastic bag at my doorstep. I knew it was from Sam, my neighbor on the first floor... he often does this as he knows I'm a big jazz fan. He gets the tapes from Dave Binney's garbage, who also lives on the first floor. Anyway, this bag of cassettes had one of my all time favorite records of Paul's (and of all time!): Misterioso. Ahhh!!!! It was so so good to hear it! It has been some years since I last heard that record, but I knew it so well it was like seeing an old love ... Very emotional! So many memories... I love this record (and it's made in Italy!).

Killer band: [Bill] Frisell, [Joe] Lovano, [Jim] Pepper, [Ed] Schuller. It has some classic Paul drum solos and many incredibly beautiful Paul tunes, one of which has always been in my brain: "Folk Song for Rosie." It's the one with those superspecial bells... something about those bells! Only Paul can pull it off... he always does the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. But it's never what you would expect. I don't know how to describe it... it's misterioso... it's sublime!

There is nothing else like Paul! One of a kind. We did lose a great spirit. Viva Paul!!!

Photo Credit
Luca D'Agostino, Phocus Agency

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