Paul Motian: There's a Million Songs Out There

Paul Olson By

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AAJ: Well, I insist you do "Things to Come.

PM: There's all kinds of stuff out there, man. You don't have to stick to the same kinds of tunes. There's a million songs, all kinds of beautiful songs. Great stuff.

AAJ: "Harmony is a new one that you brought to the trio recording session. In this one, I really hear your bebop roots in your kit drumming. What always confuses me on this one is that you're really swinging but Joe and Bill are somehow removed from it— they're in another place from you even though they're playing right in time with you. So what gives?

PM: That's from playing with each other for so many years. I can anticipate them—I feel like I know what's coming up next. So that's from playing for years and years and that's the result. Which is great.

AAJ: Another one I love from this record is "One in Three. I have no insights on this one, except it seems pretty through-composed. I tried to list the parts as I listened: "A! B! C! B! A! But I just got confused. I love the melodies and dynamics and rhythmic shifts, though.

PM: That was only recorded once before with that band I mentioned, Trio 2000 + One. It's on a Winter & Winter record [Trio 2000 + One (Winter & Winter, 1999)]. It's very different because, like you just said, it's in those sections. It's just these different melodies and these different sections and it keeps going around. It's not easy [laughing]. I have to think about that, even when I'm playing it. Actually, I haven't performed it that much. But it's hard, with those different sections. It's just an idea that came about during the writing of the song.

You know, one of the songs on that album that I like, that's kind of different, is "Odd Man Out. A few people have remarked on that one, and I guess one of the reasons it that it's in a major key, instead of a minor key, which most of them are in! Actually, half of it is in a major key. The other half is minor. But I like that one.

[After a long, thoughtful pause] You know, usually I stay away from interviews. I've refused to do them for a long time, but then ECM started lining up all this stuff because of the recordings I did—not only my own recordings, but I did a couple for ECM with different people. So they asked me to do stuff, but now I'm starting to get the feeling that—don't get me wrong, I don't mind talking to you, but I've done something like fourteen interviews in the last couple of months. So it's getting to the point that I think I'm going to have to stop pretty soon [laughing ruefully].

This one is a little different because we're talking about specific things, but some of the other interviews—they're asking "when did you start playing drums, "how was it playing with Bill Evans, and blah blah blah. Some of the same questions over and over. But this is okay. I'm sitting down, I'm comfortable, it's a nice day today, I did my jog in the park already. I'm feeling pretty good. The other thing is that I read somewhere that somebody said something like, "oh, Paul Motian doesn't travel anymore because of health reasons. That's bullshit, man! I'm in excellent health. I'm not traveling anymore because I got sick of it! I got burned out; I haven't toured for a couple of years now. I may tour again, but I'm taking a rest! I've been touring since I was seventeen years old. Eight, nine hours on a plane to go somewhere to play for an hour on a fucked-up drum set and then get on a plane and fly eight, nine hours to come back—I'm tired of that. So I had to stop for a while.

AAJ: Well, you don't exactly sound feeble to me.

PM: No [laughing], I'm doing great. But you know, some people are inspiring—Hank Jones, for instance. He's touring. He's eighty-seven years old and he's still doing it. I talked to him about it and he said, "Oh, you might change your mind. I stopped for a while and I'm doing it again. And I might. I might change my mind.

Oh, did you see the New York Times today? There's a thing Ben Ratliff did with [drummer] Roy Haynes. It was interesting because he talked a lot about "Papa Jo Jones, who is somebody that I very seldom talk about. But that doesn't mean that I didn't admire him and love him. "Papa Jo Jones was an incredible, great drummer. He was great! Roy Haynes talked about him a lot, said he was the man. Which was good—I'm glad to see his name out there. And of course, talking about "Papa Jo Jones led to talking about Count Basie. What was good for me about reading the article was that it reminded me of myself, about things that influenced me and things that I did which, at this point in my life, I've really forgotten about. And Count Basie was one of my favorites. I remember when I was really, really young—one of the first records I ever heard was Count Basie. A lot of people say Duke Ellington, but I was more into Count Basie, I guess because of "Papa Jo Jones. Not saying anything against Sonny Greer or any of the other drummers who played with Ellington, who were also great, but I was just into Count Basie. It was really simple and it was swinging and it was great.

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