Sunday, December 16, 2018

Joe Lovano Leaps In With Little Willie [From The Archives]

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


“ … His solos display the spontaneity of an ear player, but behind them is the urbane sophistication of a conservatory-trained musician with twenty years experience interpreting difficult charts in big bands ranging from Woody Herman to Carla Bley. Fully conversant with the harmonic vocabu­lary of Coltrane, Shorter and beyond, he is able to navigate complex structures with an uncannily relaxed rhythmic facility and big furry sound at the most intense outer partials. …” – Ted Panken, WKCR, NYC

There is nothing quite like Jazz that’s made in-performance.

You can get an idea of what’s involved in the process of Jazz creation and how monumentally complex it is to pull off well with a reading of the following observations by Ted Gioia [the paragraphing has been modified for added emphasis]:

"If improvisation is the essential element in Jazz, it may also be the most problematic. Perhaps the only way of appreciating its peculiarity is by imagining what 20th century art would be like if other art forms placed an equal emphasis on improvisation.

Imagine T.S. Eliot giving nightly poetry readings at which, rather than reciting set pieces, he was expected to create impromptu poems - different ones each night, sometimes recited at a fast clip; imagine giving Hitchcock or Fellini a handheld camera and asking them to film something - anything - at that very moment, without the benefits of script, crew, editing, or scoring; imagine Matisse or Dali giving nightly exhibitions of their skills - exhibitions at which paying audiences would watch them fill up canvas after canvas with paint, often with only two or three minutes devoted to each 'masterpiece.'

These examples strike us as odd, perhaps even ridiculous, yet conditions such as these are precisely those under which the Jazz musician operates night after night, year after year."

Is it any wonder, then, that Ted has entitled the book from which this excerpt is taken - The Imperfect Art: Reflections of Jazz and Modern Culture.


It’s even more remarkable to consider these factors while listening to tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano’s double CD Quartets: Live at The Village Vanguard.

Recorded over about a one-year interval from 1994-1995 and involving two, different groups, the consistently high level of improvisation that Joe and his cohorts establish on these in-performance recordings is astounding.

See what you think with a viewing of the following video tribute to Joe.

The audio track is Little Willie Leaps by Miles Davis and features Joe on tenor with Mulgrew Miller on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. It was recorded at the Village Vanguard in NYC on Sunday, January 22, 1995.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

An Interview with Johnny Griffin by Dom DeMichael

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


"When Bird [alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker] was alive, I wouldn't go near him too much," he said. "The same thing goes for [tenor saxophonists] Don Byas and Dexter Gordon. They were very strong. I felt it wouldn't do my playing any good. I might start playing like them.
- Johnny Griffin, tenor saxophonist


“If saxophone playing had a Formula One division, Johnny Griffin would have pole position every start- or he would have had before he discovered a gentler and more lyrical side to his musical personality. Born in Chicago, the Little Giant was part of the first bebop generation, but he only really found his true voice in the '505, often in partnership with Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, with whom he duelled to often spectacular effect. Griffin spent some time in Europe in the '6os but has enjoyed a resurgence back home in more recent years.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.


“Johnny Griffin, a jazz tenor-saxophonist from Chicago whose speed, control, and harmonic acuity made him one of the most talented musicians of his generation, and who abandoned his hopes for an American career when he moved to Europe in 1963, died Friday at his home in Availles-Limouzine, a village in France. He was 80 and had lived in Availles-Limouzine for 24 years.


His death was announced to Agence France-Presse by his wife, who did not give a cause. He played his last concert Monday in Hyères.


His height — around five feet five — earned him the nickname “The Little Giant”; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as “The Fastest Gun in the West”; a group he led with Eddie Lockjaw Davis was informally called the “tough tenor” band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard bop tenor players.”
- Obituary By Ben Ratliff, published in the July 26, 2008 New York Times


The editorial staff at JazzProfiles welcomes back to these pages the writing of Don DeMichael with a piece on Johnny Griffin, a powerhouse tenor saxophonist whose fierce sound and finger-bustin’ technique were characteristic of his playing throughout a career that spanned six decades and two continents.


“So much controversy has been stirred up by "Third Stream" music, the back-to-the-land movement, the need for new forms in jazz composition, the importance of Mainstream jazz, the value of Traditional jazz, and
God-knows-what-else, that it's easy to lose sight of jazzmen who aren't trying to mold the shape of things to come — men who don't particularly care where jazz is heading or where it's been, musicians whose greatest desire is simply to play their instruments.


It's ironic that, throughout the history of jazz, such men have had the greatest impact on the direction of jazz and have been the ones to add to the legends and traditions of the music. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Lester Young were probably more concerned with what they were going to play when they were on stand than with how they might alter the course of jazz. It has been the blowers — and Louis, Bird, and Pres were at heart blowers—who have shown the way. Jazz evolves every night; there's no such thing as evolution by planned crusade.


All of which brings us to little Johnny Griffin, a blower of the first stripe. He is a man concerned with living and playing in the present.


The diminutive tenor man, currently co-leading a group with Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis, said recently, "Jazz is self-expression. It's not what I recorded last year or what I played last night, but how I feel tonight that's important. I feel differently tonight than I did yesterday. If I feel bad, I'll play bad. But if I feel good, there'll be some feeling of hilarity in my playing."


Griffin believes in the inspiration of the moment, in giving in to circumstances. "Jazz to me is not arrangements," he said. "That's why I like to blow. I don't even want to know what I'm going to play. The individual solo, that's jazz. To say something...


"I'm what you might call a nervous person when I'm playing. I like to play fast. I get excited, and I have to sort of control myself, restrain myself. But when the rhythm section gets cooking, I want to explode. I like to play with


fire, and I like strong bassists and drummers. I've played with such fiery rhythm sections with drummers like Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, and Max Roach that there's little you can miss as far as fire is concerned.


"Some guys say, Why don't you cool it the first set — take it easy?' And I try for the first tune or so. But when I get into the music, I don't have anything to do with it. I can't help myself. Before you know it, things are wailing."


Griffin's career includes a two-year stay with Lionel Hampton. He joined Hamp a few days after graduating from high school in 1945. He tells amusing tales of the Hampton band's adventures. One concerns a theater engagement in New York City.


The theater management insisted on a tight time schedule — 53 minutes were
allotted the show, no more, no less. Griffin says Hampton would get carried away playing Flying Home, and many times during the engagement, as the elevated stage descended with the band blasting away, Hampton would be seen still marching through the audience with a blowing tenor man.


After leaving the Hampton band in 1947, Griffin spent 10 years with a variety of groups, including those of Joe Morris and Arnett Cobb, and an early edition of the Jazz Messengers. In 1958, he worked four months with Thelonious Monk, a period he says was "a wonderful experience."


"I don't think Monk changed me, though — not my way of playing," he said. "I've known Monk a long time. I worked with him in Chicago at the Beehive in '54 or '55. As strange as he may seem to the public, Monk is a well-read person. And if you can get close to him, he can carry on a very intelligent conversation.


"He's such a strong person when he's playing his own music. You have to modify your playing with him, especially when he's comping. You have to go Monk's way. Sometimes I'd ask him what change he had played on some tune. He'd tell me, but then he'd say, "But that's only relative. You've got to hear it.'"


The 32-year-old tenor man's respect for "strong" players is mirrored in his own muscular playing. But he feels that he is what he is today because he avoided listening too much to "strong" jazzmen.


"When Bird was alive, I wouldn't go near him too much," he said. "The same thing goes for Don Byas and Dexter Gordon. They were very strong. I felt it wouldn't do my playing any good. I might start playing like them.


"Yet everything I play comes from others. Everything I've ever heard comes out in what I play. You shouldn't get stuck on any one man, but listen to them all, then draw on them according to how you feel at any one time. I don't want anyone to influence me overly. It would suppress what I have to express. I wouldn't be giving myself to myself."


Even though he avoided overexposure to "strong" players, there were others whom Griffin listened to — Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie ("always"), Elmo Hope, Wardell Gray, Sonny Stitt, Ben Webster ("the ferociousness of Ben"), Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young ("He didn't play with fire, but he was so relaxed . . . the way he'd bend notes ... he just swung").


But even with his studied avoidance of strong players and the consequent emergence of his own style, Griffin is not content with his playing. "Somebody can tape something I play one night, and I can listen to it the next night and think it's okay. But later, I'll pick it to pieces. I've never been satisfied with anything I've done.


"I'm searching for something, and I don't have a clear idea what I'm looking for. The more I learn, the more there is that I know I don't know.”


Maturity comes when you realize your limitations as well as your strengths. Johnny Griffin today is a mature person. His search for a nebulous "something" could conceivably end with a large group of his own. His latest Riverside record, The Big Soul Band, and his plans for more big band recordings would indicate this. Whatever his "something" turns out to be, it will be vital, fiery music, firmly rooted in the present.                  


January 5, 1961

Down Beat



Friday, December 14, 2018

Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and His Legacy by Peter Ind

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


“Jazz Visions is a remarkable book which presents a fascinating double portrait of the subject and the author."
- John Chilton, professional Jazz trumpeter and writer on jazz

“This book is just what is needed to inform musicians, students, teachers, and historians around the world with an 'up close and personal' view of the genius of jazz pianist / composer / teacher, Lennie Tristano. Bassist Peter Ind describes vividly how exciting it was to be living in New York City as a creative musician. Peter's writing skills throughout will also enlighten and entertain the novice and non-musician as well. The best part for me is that it was written by a great player who was there right in the thick of it all. What can be a better source for the real truth? Bravo, Peter!"
- Rufus Reid, Jazz bassist

“The Lennie Tristano story has needed telling for a long time. Who better than Peter Ind, who knew Lennie and his music probably better than anyone?"
- Ira Gitler - doyen of New York jazz critics

With Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and His Legacy [London: Equinox, 2005], Peter Ind joins fellow bassists Chuck Israels, and his writings on his time working with pianist Bill Evans’ Trio, and Bill Crow’s reflections on working in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Sextet and Concert Jazz Band in providing insights into the music of a major Jazz stylist from the 1945-1965 Modern Jazz era.

And, as is the case with the works of Chuck and Bill, Peter’s narrative is a primary source; an autobiographical documentation of the time and/or person that is being observed. Concerning the halcyon days of post WWII modern Jazz, such primary sources are becoming rarer with each passing year.

The bass provides an interesting vantage point for style analysis as no other instrument in a Jazz group interacts with the music from the vantage point of all the elements that comprise it: melody, harmony, rhythm and sonority [texture or the overall sound of the music].

Of course, it’s one thing to musically interact in this manner and quite another to be able to explain it cogently and coherently. All three of these bassist-authors draw high marks for their ability to put music into words.

While more subjective in its emphasis, along with Nat Hentoff’s comprehensive insert booklet notes to The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh [Mosaic Records MD6-174] and Eunmi Shim’s Lennie Tristano: His Life and Music [ Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007], Peter’s book is an invaluable guide to understanding Lennie and his music.

Peter explains how and why he approached his book on Lennie - whom he describes as “... one of the seminal influences in Jazz” - in the following excerpts from the Preface to his book:

“I would like to make it clear from the beginning that this book is not intended as an objective account of a man's life but, rather, an attempt to portray Lennie Tristano as I knew him and as I heard his music. Now, half a century later, the world is a very different place. It must be extremely difficult for today's student of jazz music to identify the various stages of his musical creativity, so I have tried to illuminate notjust his music in isolation, but in the context of life as it was in the fifties and sixties, paying particular attention to crucial political events that were taking place in the fifties, some of which have been ignored or apparently forgotten.

I find it ironic that in our present culture, recognition is seldom accorded for genuine effort and achievement; those most recognized are not always the most creative. I knew Lennie Tristano as a supreme example of a great creative musician, who never received the recognition he deserved. How can it be that, in such a sophisticated society as ours, with its ubiquitous media and instantaneous communications, such a person and his achievements remain known only to a few? Gradually I began to come to the conclusion that such sidelining of people of great merit is not restricted to the creative arts, but also obtains in other areas of achievement, especially in the realm of the sciences.

I hope that many people will enjoy this book, not only people who remember the New York jazz scene as it was in those days, but also those who are curious about Lennie Tristano and his place in the evolution of jazz since the late forties. Because different people may be interested in particular aspects, I have organized the book so that readers can dip into specific chapters for what they might seek. Those more interested in what was happening and what New York was like in the late forties through to the fifties will be more interested in Part I, Chapters 1-7. I have included in this section, in Chapter 6, a short summary of some of the lives of musicians associated with Lennie at the time. I have grouped together the more technical aspects of improvisation, in which musicians will be interested, in Part II. Chapters 8-10 focus on a discussion of jazz improvisation and Lennie's contribution in terms of playing, teaching and his understanding of the music. Part III focuses on a reconsideration first of all of Lennie's legacy (Chapters 11 and 12), the jazz scene as I see it (Chapter 13) and a final chapter (Chapter 14), which summarizes all the discussion. So, if you want a quick guide to the book, it is there.

This final chapter deals with the legacy of Lennie and lays to rest some of the misunderstandings that have arisen, particularly regarding Lennie's influence and work. It has been great to pull together all of these memories, to go back and talk to various people and look through old articles etc. …”

Although I am basically familiar with the highlights of Lennie’s career, chapters 1-7 in Peter’s treatment filled in many blanks and provided additional details about Lennie’s journey through the Jazz world, especially in terms of the nature of his influence on other musicians he worked with and who studied with him.

In this regard, Peter offers his own testimonial in Chapter 7 which is entitled - “A Reflection on Lennie as I Knew Him - The Man and The Musician.”

I was particularly taken with the second half of the book which Peter divides into seven chapters under the headings of Part II - Lennie: A More Technical Consideration of Jazz Improvisation and His Legacy and Part III - A Reconsideration of Lennie’s Legacy as they contain observations and insights which are unique to Peter’s perspective.

The chapter headings in Part II are [8] What Do We Mean By Jazz?, [9] Appreciating Jazz Improvisation and [10] The Technical Base of Jazz and Lennie’s Approach.

Part III contains chapters dealing with Mythmaking About Lennie, Lennie Tristano and The Enigma of Non-Recognition, Mythmaking and Prejudices in Jazz, and Reappraisal.

The great thing about many of the questions that Peter poses in these chapters is that they are universal and, as such, can be applied to a broad spectrum on inquiry about Jazz and its makers.

But equally important are the answers that he provides as they go a long way toward resolving many of the open-ended questions in the Jazz literature about Lennie and his music.

For example, when Richard Cook and Brian Morton make the following assertion in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. - “Tristano created a doctrinal school of thought which placed rigorous thought and construction ahead of mere emoting in jazz; once controversial, now a part of the language.” - Peter’s Lennie bio explains how this came to be.

Or when, J. Bradford Robinson states in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Barry Kernfeld, ed. - “Tristano's music stands apart from the main tradition of modern jazz, representing an alternative to bop which poses severe demands of ensemble precision, intellectual rigor, and instrumental virtuosity. Rather than the irregular cross-accents of bop, Tristano preferred an even rhythmic background against which to concentrate on line and focus his complex changes of time signature. Typically, his solos consisted of extraordinarily long, angular strings of almost even eighth-notes provided with subtle rhythmic deviations and abrasive polytonal effects. He was particularly adept in his use of different levels of double time and was a master of the block-chord style of George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, and others, carefully gauging the accumulation of dissonance.” - Peter’s work offers an analysis of how these components took root in Lennie’s style of playing.

Tristano’s experiments in multi track recording and overdubbing, free collective improvisation, most notably in Intuition and Digression (1949) which pointed the way to similar experiments by Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s and Tristano’s excellence as a teacher, demanding and receiving firm loyalty from his pupils, are also further illuminated by Peter in his masterful Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and His Legacy.

Peter’s book on Lennie may have been a long time in coming, but it was well worth waiting for and the Jazz World owes a significant debt of gratitude to him for writing it and to Equinox for underwriting its publication.

In closing, I should like to point out that Valerie Hall, the Editorial and Marketing Manager at Equinox is kindly offering JazzProfiles readers a 25% discount using the code Jazz when ordering from the Equinox website.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"Count Your Change" - The Paul Horn Quintet [From the Archives]

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



I really enjoyed playing on the Paul Horn composition, Count Your Change. Because it transitioned so easily from 4/4 to 5/4 time, it helped me develop my 5/4 chops [“back in the day”]. The tune became so familiar to me that I was able to “dance around” the usual way of counting 5/4 - one bar of 3 plus one bar of 2 - and establish some interesting counter rhythms between my hands and feet on the drum kit.


Count Your Change was originally released in 1962 as part of the eight tunes that made up the Columbia LP - Profile of A Jazz Musician [Columbia 8722]. The album featured Paul on alto sax, clarinet and flute [including the rarely heard bass flute], Emil Richard on vibes, Paul Moer on piano, Jimmy Bonds on bass and Milt Turner on drums. [You can listen to the original recording on the video that serves as a lead-in to this piece.]


Count Your Change is basically blues for the first eight bars of the theme; then come six measures in 5/4 time, followed by two measures in 4/4. The same pattern is followed in each of the blowing choruses. If you think of it as though the 5/4 bars were an extension of the ninth and tenth measures of the regular 12-bar blues, the form will become clearer.


The composition was featured television film called The Story of a Jazz Musician, a half-hour program built around Paul and the group, for which he wrote the background score (featuring four cellos and flugelhorn) as well as supplying music by the quintet. "The story line," says Paul, "traces the evolution of a typical composition. It shows Emil and me kicking around some ideas at my home, then trying the piece out at Shelly's Manne Hole in Hollywood. There are scenes with the fellows talking, as well as some narration by me; scenes with my father, and Yvonne and our kids; a visit to the Down Beat office to see John Tynan. It's an unusual TV approach to jazz."


The Story of a Jazz Musician has been available on YouTube for some time in the three segments shown below. You won’t want to miss Part 3 as it features interior views of Shelly Manne’s famous Hollywood, CA Jazz club - The Manne Hole - and Paul’s group performing Count Your Change.








Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Paul Motian: The Drummer As Musician

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




“One writer said, “Paul Motian can turn a set of drums into an orchestra without overshadowing his fellow players.” Another critic wrote, “To him, percussion is music at every level and he could never be accused of playing anything for superficial effect.””
- Quoted in Scott Kevin Fish, Modern Drummer, May 1980


“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 especially disappointed about the fact that many musicians didn’t appreciate the interactive aspect of what Bill was trying to accomplish.


“It wasn’t about bass and drums accompanying the piano,” Paul said, “it was about all three instruments accompanying one another.”


He continued: “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 and tried to achieve a style that fit in with the flow of the music rather than one that determined it.




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 drum heads, 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 drumstick.


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.”


[As an aside, I mentioned to Paul that it took me a long time to “... just keep the tune in my head” while soloing. He grinned and said: “You know what I mean.”]


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 handwritten 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.


 


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


Paul Motian: 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 drum kit. 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.”


And here’s a wonderful mid-career interview that Paul gave to Scott Kevin Fish which appeared in the May, 1980 edition of Modern Drummer.



© -  Scott Kevin Fish, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Paul Motian: Drawing From Tradition by Scott Kevin Fish



“In preparation for my interview with Paul Motian, I listened to recordings he has made, and read as much material as I could find about him. Throughout these record reviews, concert reviews, critiques and analyses, the accolades were many. One writer said, “Paul Motian can turn a set of drums into an orchestra without overshadowing his fellow players.” Another critic wrote, “To him, percussion is music at every level and he could never be accused of playing anything for superficial effect.”


Paul Motian’s professional career began around 1956 in New York. Since then, Mr. Motian has played and/or recorded with some of the greatest musicians in jazz including Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Pettiford, Art Farmer, Mose Allison, Thelonious Monk, Tony Scott, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Lennie Tristano. The Jazz Composers Orchestra, Charles Lloyd and Don Cherry.In 1972, Paul, as a leader, released his first album, Conception Vessel on ECM records. Two other albums have been released since. Tribute in 1975, and most recently Dance released in 1978.


I met Paul Motian at his apartment in Manhattan one afternoon. He answered the door dressed in army pants, Oriental shirt, and knitted cap. He is not a tall man, but Paul has a striking presence, especially in his dark brown eyes that have an observant quality.


The apartment was decorated with gongs, bells, maracas, plants, a piano, and a black five-piece drum set. “Almost everyone in the building is a musician,” Paul explained. The sound of a tenor sax seeped into the hallway. “Once I was in the elevator and a woman asked, ‘Is that you playing the drums?’ I said yes and told her if it was bothering her I’d try to keep it down. ‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘I like it! It sounds very good.’


“I started playing when I was about 13, in Providence, Rhode Island,” he began, puffing on a cigarette. “I was born in Philadelphia, but I grew up in Rhode Island. There was a guy who played drums a few blocks away from my house. When he would play you could hear it in the street. I was fascinated with it. He played in a Gene Krupa bag. I use to go over there and listen to him every once in awhile. I started fooling around at home with some wooden sticks, and finally he gave me a couple of lessons.


“After that I studied reading and syncopation with Emilio Ragosta and George Gear in Providence. George Gear use to be friendly with George L. Stone from Boston. I played with the high school band. I might have played a couple of dances and clubs with musicians from that band.” Motian thought in response to a question I’d asked about how many gigs he played in his hometown. There weren’t any gigs to speak of, and Motian could only explain it by saying, “It just didn’t happen.”


“Most of my career just sort of happened,” he told me. “People ask, ‘You mean you always played the drums?’ That’s true. I’ve always played the drums. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s always been there, as sort of a natural thing. I just never thought about it that much. It was just something that I did.


“I heard a lot of music when I was a kid. My parents were born in Turkey. They were Armenian and they used to play a lot of Turkish music and some Armenian music. I remember my mother telling me that when I was around two years old, I was always dancing to this music. My parents would say, ‘Gee. Maybe he’s going to get into music some way.’


When the Korean War broke out, Paul enlisted in the Navy. “All my friends were being drafted in the Army and coming back frostbitten. That’s why I went into the Navy. Somebody told me about the Navy School of Music so I thought I would do it that way. I was stationed in Brooklyn, living off the base. When I got out of the Navy, I moved into Manhattan. I studied with Billy Gladstone, and then I went to the Manhattan School of Music for awhile and studied timpani with Alfred Friese and Fred Albright.


“That’s when I started playing around,” Motian continued. “The professional part of my career didn’t start until I was 24 or 25 years old, around 1955 or ’56. I use to carry my drums all over the city, man. I use to take them everywhere.” By the time Paul Motian got on the New York scene, the musical mecca of the 52nd St. days had all but ended. Charlie Parker died in 1955 and it was symbolically the end of an era.


“I’m sorry I missed that,” Paul said. “One of my favorite drummers was Sid Catlett. I never saw him play. The person that I did see play a lot and who was a major influence on me was Kenny Clarke. He was in New York at that time. Max Roach was also an influence. I first heard his stuff when I was a teenager. I liked it a lot.


“I remember one time going to a place where Thelonious Monk was playing. The drummer hadn’t shown up and the promoter knew I played the drums. He said, ‘Hey man. Go get your drums and you can play with Thelonious!’ I ran as fast as I could all the way home, got the drums and played that night with Thelonious. That was a thrill for me. Later on, I worked with him for a week in Boston.


“One time I was playing with Monk and I think the tempo picked up a little bit. At the end of the set I went over to him and said I was sorry; that I might have rushed a little bit on that number. Monk said, ‘Well, if I hit you in the side of the head you won’t rush!’ Paul broke up laughing. “That’s great advice,” he said. “I’ve never rushed after that.”

Motian expressed sincere gratitude to the forces that be for the opportunities that he’s had in his musical career. Aside from Monk, there was a period when Paul Motian played drums with the Oscar Pettiford quintet and big band; and he has also been fortunate to have worked with several other premier jazz bassists including Scott LaFaro, Charlie Haden and Gary Peacock.


Paul sat back in an easy chair. He’d run out of filter cigarettes and sat smoking one of my non-filters through a cigarette holder. I asked him if he could recall any pertinent discussions he may have had with some of those bass players that would interest other drummers.


“I’m trying to think back about Scott LaFaro and Bill Evans,” he said. “I know that we always made suggestions to each other about different things. I know there were really musical questions and discussions. I remember talking with Bill one time, thinking of different things. What if you had to play a tune that could take five, ten or fifteen minutes, and you had to play every quarter note in that tune differently? It’s just a suggestion or an idea to make you aware of the music. If you’re thinking about things like that, think what could happen!


“Bill and I use to play gigs together and we lived in the same building. After Bill had been with Miles Davis, he had his own trio and was playing Midtown, I think at Basin St. His drummer couldn’t make it one night so Bill called me. Scott LaFaro was playing around the corner and he came by and sat in. It seemed like that was it! Bill liked it a lot and we just kept it together for about two years.”


I questioned Paul about one writer’s opinion that he and Scott LaFaro were responsible for the “freeing up” of Bill Evans.


“I think that might have been more mutual,” he answered. “Nobody was playing bass like Scott. Bass players played roots of chords all the time and this was the first time the bass was playing with the pianist. I guess that freed Bill. I played what I heard and tried to fit in with them. I never thought of playing that way,” Motian emphasized. “I’ve never pre-thought something. It seems like it’s always been something that’s happened through my involvement in the music and the musicians. I think it was something that just happened.


“I believe that ‘time’ is always there. I don’t mean a particular pulse, but the time itself. It’s all there somehow like a huge sign that’s up there and it says time. It’s there and you can play all around it. I guess playing with Bill Evans was a freeing up for me too.


“We had reached a really nice point just before Scott died. I remember the gig at the Village Vanguard after we made those recordings (Milestone 47002) and we were all real happy. It seemed that we had musically progressed to a really nice point and now we could really get going. A few weeks later, Scott was killed.”


Motian stayed with Bill Evans from 1964-65. “It got to a point where it didn’t seem like it was me anymore,” he said. “I didn’t seem part of it. I wanted to go in other directions because there was a lot of music happening in New York at that time.


“I played with Carla and Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, and John Gilmore. It’s better now in New York, but I think that 1965 was one of the good periods in New York. That was around the time the Jazz Composers Guild was organized. I was playing a lot but I wasn’t making any money. I used to work for two dollars a night. That was it. That went on for a couple of years, but I managed.


“I took a couple of commercial gigs. I was working an Israeli club playing floor shows. Then I worked for awhile on the East side with a trio. I guess that’s how I survived. There are so many clubs now and so much happening. The loft scene and all that. At those times there were things happening in lofts but there was just no money in it. It wasn’t publicized as much, I think.


“Shortly after that, I got hooked up with Keith Jarrett. I met him at a gig he was playing with Tony Scott and he sounded great to me. He was about 19 or 20 then. Later on he called me and Charlie Haden and we did Keith’s first trio album. That was in 1967 and later on I played with Keith in Charles Lloyd’s band.


“We did a fantastic tour of Asia. That was a great experience. Then I went with Arlo Guthrie for awhile. Arlo’s bass player knew of me through my work with Bill Evans so he suggested me. Arlo had a hit record with Alice’s Restaurant and was about to start touring. I enjoyed that,” Paul said. “It wasn’t a big musical experience but it was fun. I can play country/western music: keep time with brushes and have fun. I did a couple of tours with Arlo and part of that would be the Woodstock Festival.


“Afterwards it was mostly Keith. A trio first and then Dewey Redman joined around 1972.” We spoke about some of the miscellaneous records that Paul had played on and two that he was most proud of were Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, (both Motian and Andrew Cyrille are credited with playing percussion instruments). When asked what he specifically played on that LP, Motian said he played on all of the tracks except “Circus ’68 “69” on which Andrew Cyrille is percussionist, and the monumental project Escalator Over the Hill by Carla Bley.


When Paul Motian started leading his own group, he ran into a few problems. He found that he had to have a knowledge of music “business” but more than that he became heavily involved with musical composition. “I’ve been studying piano and composition,” he told me. “I think that’s really important for drummers. All drummers should play a little bit of piano. If they’ve got something against the piano, then study vibraphone or xylophone or buy a wooden flute, man!


“My composition stuff is all recent. I never even dreamed that I could do that kind of thing,” Motian said with an air of pride. “When I got offered to do my first record for ECM, I put together some music and found out that I could do it. Plus, I had some good musicians to help. That’s what I’m working on now. I would like to get that together. That’s very important. I mean, it took me a year just to get a book together for my band!”


I was interested in knowing how Motian went from the initial composing of a piece to working it out with his band, to performing it. Paul explained, “I’ll work it out myself first. When it seems satisfactory, then I ‘ l l write out parts and rehearse it. Maybe I’ll get the saxophone to play the melody. If it doesn’t sound right, I may make a few changes. I’ll do the same thing with the bass, and then rehearse the trio. The song grows from there.


“I would really like to get away from the normal format of chart, solo, choruses and chart again. I don’t really like that,” Motian said. “But, once I’ve written a tune and worked it with the band I don’t play it on the piano after that. Right now, I have maybe seven or eight things that I’m working on that I’m not satisfied with. I may scrap it all, I don’t know.”


Motian was kind enough to oblige my request that he play the piano. The tune was reminiscent of his writing on the Byeablue Keith Jarrett album. “That’s it,” Paul said when he had finished. “I’ll give that to Keith and he’ll play the shit out of it.” I told him that one of the qualities I admired most in his compositions was his use of space. Other than the melody line it is often difficult to separate what is spontaneous and what is arranged.


“Last year a woman in Canada wrote me and said she liked my albums because she didn’t hear any aggression in them. I don’t know if that’s good, though,” Paul laughed. “I can remember being angry and playing. Usually, the melody and some harmonies are written. I like to keep it spontaneous so that I can make changes. So that I can play a piece of music one time and play it differently another time. The melody will be the same, but the playing part can change.”


Because of the time spent on composing and leading his band, Motian has no desire or time to teach. He has done clinics and formed definite ideas about how he would teach drums. “I always had a thing about that,” he said. “If I ever teach, I’m not going to teach on a practice pad. To me, that doesn’t really have too much to do with the drumset. The drumset is your instrument, not the practice pad!”


Motian recently toured Europe with his trio and told me about a couple of weeks he spent teaching at a school in Denmark. “I was there for two weeks with two, one hour classes a day. I took a private student everyday for a half hour lesson. I had to come up with something new each day and that was a challenge.


“The first day I had them tune the drums,” Paul remembered. “There was a set of drums there that sounded terrible. I got the idea to have each drummer tune them to whatever he heard. By the end of the two weeks that was the best sounding drum set in that school,” Paul beamed.


“Mostly, I talked about music and the musicality of the drumset. What is the sound? People will listen to drummers and sometimes they don’t listen to the right thing.” Motian leaned forward in his chair. What is the sound of that drummer? What kind of sound is he getting? Each drummer has his own sound.


“All musicians should check out the tradition of their instruments. There were so many really great drummers. I’d like to bring that heart of drum playing back. People now don’t know about Shadow Wilson, Denzil Best, Kenny Clarke, Dave Tough, Chick Webb, Jimmy Crawford! And Baby Dodds! Some great drummers. Drummers today don’t know about how or what they played,” Paul said, shaking his head.


Motian explained that the styles of the really great drummers would never be obsolete. “Their type of playing is connected with the way people are playing today. It really is. Whether it’s used or not is another story. But, I think there’s a certain art to playing the drums that is missing today.”


When asked what he felt his function in a group was, Motian stated simply. “Adding to the music I love to play time,” he elaborated. “It depends on what kind of music it is! I think that’s great. It’s a happy thing just to play time and having that feeling in your body, bringing it to other people.”


“I don’t know if that’s contradictory to what I said earlier about playing time. How can you listen to the Charlie Parker Quartet with Max Roach and say that’s not good or that’s not fun? That’s beautiful music!”

Would Motian agree that the best ‘free’ drummers were also exceptional timekeepers? “Well, that comes back to the tradition of drums. I don’t think a drummer or anyone else can just start playing what’s known as ‘free’. Somebody said that the only ‘free’ music is when you don’t get paid. You can’t just start playing that way. It comes from a tradition and there’s a lot involved there.


When asked whether he still practices, Motian replied, “I try to play a little bit each day. Sometimes I make a mental note and sometimes I’ll even write down: ‘Play at least ten minutes a day on the drum set.’ I have to really feel like I want to do it. I don’t force myself. When I sit down and try to think about working something out, I’m never really happy. If I sit down and play the drums, like I’m playing in front of people, I’ll get into it more. Then I can play for awhile.”


On the floor tom I noticed a piece of paper with triplet exercises written on it. Paul sat down at the kit, picked up the paper and started to play what was written. Then he stopped. “That sounded good this morning, but now it doesn’t sound so good.” He tossed the paper aside and went into a second solo to demonstrate the sound of his drums.


“This is an old Slingerland set,” Paul explained. “I’ve had it for years.”
The snare was an old chrome Slingerland, the tom-toms were 9X13 and 16X16. For a second mounted tom-tom, Motian had an old wood 5X14 Ludwig snare with the strainer and snares off.


“I have another snare drum that I like a lot,” Paul said. “It’s a deep wooden snare with ten lugs. I used that for a few years and then I switched to this metal one. I may go back to the wooden one.”


“People ask me about my cymbals,” Paul said as he tapped a sizzle cymbal. “That’s another thing that just sort of happened. Through the years you go through different cymbals until you get the sound that you like. I must have had my rivet cymbal for 20 years. It’s an old A. Zildjian.”


The second ride on the left was an old K. Zildjian. “I’ve got a Paiste ripple cymbal on the bottom of the hi-hat, and a K. Zildjian on top. I have a Paiste Chinese type cymbal that I use a lot. That’s what I use pretty regularly now.” Paul told me that this was the same set he’d used on his recordings and his pet drum seemed to be the 18″ bass.


“I think it’s deeper than most. This one gets a bigger sound than a normal 18”. I tune them until it’s satisfactory to my ear. I’ll tune them until it sounds good to me; until there’s some kind of interval between the drums and it sounds pleasant to my ears. But, I don’t say I have to tune a fourth here and a third there. I don’t get into that.


Sometimes I might as an ear training exercise, I’ll play the drums and then go over to the piano to see what it actually is. But it’s hard for me to find out because I like the overtones in the drums. They hate me in recording studios for that. There’s no mufflers on the drums.


Everything is wide open. It’s loud and there’s a lot of overtones. It’s hard to tune to specific notes because of that. Most of the time the studio engineer has me take off the head or put some damper on it, because it really raises havoc with their needles.


“I’m still not completely satisfied with recording,” Motian admitted. “ECM does a really fantastic job but I wonder if it’s possible to hear drums on a record the way I hear them when I’m sitting behind them? In a hall with bad acoustics I can’t play too loud or I’ll l wipe everybody else out.”


Does he consider himself a loud drummer? “No,” Motian said. “But I’ve had people tell me that I was too loud. Sometimes it’s interesting to hear other players in a bad hall. I learn a lot. Once I went to a concert where the drummer was playing well but you couldn’t hear the piano. I kept thinking, ‘I wish the drummer would just stop for two measures.’ He never did. He just played constantly and wiped out the piano. I don’t want people thinking that way about me.”


Remo Ambassador heads are on all of Motian’s drums except on the snare which was calfskin. It isn’t that he is so particular about a specific head as he is, again, about the sound. “On this last tour of Europe, Sonor Drums provided a set for me. I just took my trap case and cymbals. The drums seemed good but what I didn’t like about them was that they had clear plastic heads on them. That starts to mess with my sound. I changed a couple of heads and got a better sound.


“I don’t like heads when they’re real thick. I think plastic heads are made in three or four different thicknesses and each company is a little different. I like the heads that are on my drums now. It’s surprising that the calfskin head seems to stay in tune. It’s nice for brushes but the plastic heads are nice for brushes, too. Those clear ones aren’t very good though.”


Besides his regular drum kit, Motian plays some of the most inspiring percussion on various instruments. He is a master at using mallets in addition to brushes and sticks on the drum kit. “I’ve got a couple of boxes of percussion things I’ve collected over the years that I take around with me,” he said. “It’s just like colors to add to the music.

“I like the concept of Indian music,” Paul said. “Where you have an Indian playing an instrument like a violin or a sarot with the tamboura and drum. I think there’s a way of connecting that with what I’m doing. You have a melody instrument, the tamboura and a bass or a drum! You can do a lot in music with that.


“A lot of different music is coming together, which was inevitable. I had an idea to play all kinds of music. I don’t see why you have to be restricted. I’d like to play a piece by Charles Ives and then a standard. Then one of my compositions. Jazz fusion, music of the world like African, Indian, Asian, the Middle Eastern, rock & roll, country and western, rhythm & blues, bring it all together!”


Despite critical acclaim for performing and recording, the role of bandleader has been an uphill climb for Motian. In spite of the fact that he’s still on the ascent, there is much more than a spark of optimism in his soul.


“Managers can’t do anything with me because I don’t command $5,000 a performance and their commission isn’t going to be great. That’s the reality of it,” he said.


“My concerts have done very well. I’ve gotten very good reviews. It bothers me that I’m not playing as much as I would like to. I get calls for gigs with other people that I turn down. So far, it hasn’t been too bad. We’ve done two European tours, a few concerts in New York, and a couple of workshops and college concerts. Once I actually get to play,” he smiled, “it’s fantastic.””
This is the description of Paul on Bernhard Castiglioni’s website 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.”


The following video features the Turn Out The Stars track from Tribute to the Music of Bill Evans, an album by Paul Motian on the German JMT label. It was released in 1990 and features nine compositions by Motian's former employer Bill Evans performed by Motian with Bill Frisell, guitar, Joe Lovano, tenor sax and Marc Johnson on bass.