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Memories in Motian

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!

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