Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Paul Motian: The Drummer As Musician

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When all else fails, play the snare drum. That’s where you learned it all in the first place.”

- Paul Motian

Most of the drummers that I knew, didn’t like the way Paul Motian played drums with the classic Bill Evans Trio during his association with the group from 1959-1962.

The constant stop and starting in his playing drove them nuts: “Why doesn’t he just lay it down?” "What did he do, drop a stick?” “Did his drum kit run out of batteries?” “Why doesn’t he just swing?”

In retrospect, everyone has nothing but praise for the way Paul made the drums “fit in to what Evans and LaFaro were doing,” but, during its short-lived, year-and-a-half existence, such criticisms of Paul’s halting approach to drums in pianist Bill Evans’ now-classic trio were more commonplace than most Jazz fans will admit.

Paul was aware of the criticisms of his work with Bill’s trio and remained very sensitive about the entire topic whenever he was asked about it.

He was quoted as saying: “Listen to my playing on the New Conceptions album” [Bill’s first recording with Riverside Records with Teddy Kotick as the bassist]. We played the music in a straight-ahead manner and I swung my a** off on that record, but no one ever talks about that trio.”

Paul initially played in the style of the pioneering, Bebop drum masters such as Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Art Blakey.

He played drums professionally for over 60 years. During that span of time, he moved away from the aggressive and accented-oriented playing so characteristic of modern Jazz drumming of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

In a conversation that I had with Paul in 1996 when he was appearing at the Village Vanguard in a collaborative trio with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell he said: “I essentially flattened things out and took a lot of the busyness out of my playing.”

Hoping to have it autographed, I had brought along a copy of a “Tribute to the Music of Bill Evans” CD that Paul had done a few years earlier with Joe and Bill along with bassist Marc Johnson, who was in Bill Evans last trio before his death in 1981.

The recording was produced in Germany by Stefan Winter in 1990 and when Paul saw it on my table as he was leaving the bandstand at the Vanguard, he smiled and said: “You must have one of the three copies that thing ever sold.”

After he attended to a few personal matters, he made his way back to my table and we spent some of his break together talking about music.

I mentioned that I was a drummer, too, and the conversation went in that direction, that is to say, we talked about tuning drums, muffling [or not] bass drums, getting hi hat cymbals to be at exactly the right angle so they “bite” and about ride cymbals that produce a “clicking” sound when struck by a drum stick.

We talked about stuff that no one else in the world would be interested in except another drummer.

It was a conversation. I wasn’t interviewing him, just two guys with something in common – drums – hanging out for a few minutes between sets.

Paul said: “I want to be musical when I solo and not play a bunch of drumming exercises.”

I mentioned that I heard a number of pauses in his solos.

“Exactly,” he said. And then he looked at me and said: “It’s scary to.”

When I looked confused about these remarks he continued: “Because I’m trying to be a complete musician. I’m not just keeping the tune in my head while playing drum licks over it, I’m really trying to make up melodies to express on the drums. Sometimes it’s not always easy to hear what I want to say because all that drumming stuff comes into my mind, first”

After a few minutes, Paul excused himself to greet some friends that had arrived for the next set. I gave him my business card and told him to give me a call the next time he was in San Francisco.

When I got back to my hotel room that evening, I realized that I didn’t have the CD that I’d brought along for Paul to autograph.

A few days after I returned to the Left Coast, a small package arrived at my San Francisco office.

In it was the Paul Motian/Bill Evans tribute CD and a hand-written note from Paul which said: “Enjoyed our talk. Don’t forget the pauses. Best, Paul.”

Paul died on November 22, 2011 and we wanted to remember him on these pages with some writings about his career and audio-only Very Early track from the PaulMotian/Bill Evans Tribute CD[JMT 834 445-2] with Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Bill Frisell on bass and Marc Johnson on drums.

© -  T. Bruce Wittet/JazzTimes, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Paul Motion:Has Found Thee Sweet Spot

"Give Paul Motian a break for deciding to cease touring in favor of occasional appearances in New York City. After all, the man has spent his adult life on the road, lending his cascading and earthy tones to the likes of Bill Evans, Paul Bley, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, The Electric Bebop Band, and so many others.

Motian doesn’t keep everyday time. Although he might lunge into the standard jazz ride rhythm, he’s more apt to suggest the pulse in other ways, breaking it up between his ancient Zildjian sizzle and his drumkit. Where others might fill, he’ll let one note linger. Although he’s clearly in no hurry to fill up space, his latest ECM release, Garden Of Eden, reveals that he can solo splendidly. He’s been refining his wizardry since he took up with Bill Evans forty-five years ago. As it turns out, Motian left the famous trio for fear it was becoming a cocktail act. “I felt as if I was playing on pillows,” he quips. “It was becoming that quiet.”

In March of this year, a week before his seventy-fifth birthday, Motian appeared live with pianist Bobo Stensen, with whom he recorded Goodbye (ECM). The lights at Birdland dimmed and Paul began poking at his old Paiste 602 Dark ride, sometimes extending his arm so that he could strike north of the bell. He’d find a sweet spot and caress it. Occasionally he’d let out a wide grin. Maybe he was delighted at discovering an elusive sound. Maybe he was happy at a direction Stensen had taken. He’s not telling.

“A lot of people,” Motian complains, “ask why I do something, as if there was a lot of forethought behind it. No, man, this shit is an accident. Kenny Clarke didn’t plan on being ‘the father of bebop drums.’ It just happened because the tempo was so fast that all he could do was play accents on the bass drum!”

Motian, who rarely works with charts, relishes happy accidents. They keep him young, nimble–and edgy.”

This is the description of Paul on Bernhard Castiglioni’s www.drummerworld.com

© -  Bernhard Castiglioni/Drummerworld, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“A masterfully subtle drummer and a superb colorist, Paul Motian is also an advanced improviser and a bandleader with a taste for challenging post-bop. Born Stephen Paul Motian in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, he grew up in Providence and began playing the drums at age 12, eventually touring New England in a swing band.

He moved to New York in 1955 and played with numerous musicians - including Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Coleman Hawkins, Tony Scott, and George Russell - before settling into a regular role as part of Bill Evans' most famous trio (with bassist Scott LaFaro), appearing on his classics Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.

In 1963, Motian left Evans' group to join up with Paul Bley for a year or so, and began a long association with Keith Jarrett in 1966, appearing with the pianist's American-based quartet through 1977.

In addition, Motian freelanced for artists like Mose Allison, Charles Lloyd, Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble, and turned down the chance to be John Coltrane's second drummer.

In 1972, Motian recorded his first session as a leader, Conception Vessel, for ECM; he followed in 1974 with Tribute.

He formed a regular working group in 1977 (which featured tenor Joe Lovano) and recorded several more dates for ECM, then revamped the ensemble to include guitarist Bill Frisell in 1980. Additional dates for ECM and Soul Note followed, and in 1988 Motian moved to JMT, where he recorded a long string of fine albums beginning with Monk in Motian.

During the '90s, he also led an ensemble called the Electric Bebop Band, which featured Joshua Redman. In 1998, Motian signed on with the Winter & Winter label, where he began recording another steady stream of albums, including 2000 + One in 1999, Europe in 2001, and Holiday for Strings in 2002. In 2005 Motian moved to the ECM label, releasing I Have the Room Above Her that same year, followed by Garden of Eden in 2006 and Time and Time Again in 2007.

Paul Motian died on November 22, 2011 in Manhattan.

The cause was complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disorder.”