Jack DeJohnette Interview
Jack DeJohnette’s latest CD, Music We Are, is an intimate affair. Intimate in the sense that the music gives you the impression of listening in on a private conversation among good friends. Although drummer DeJohnette, bassist John Patitucci and pianist Danilo Perez have played together in various settings, Music We Are is their first studio recording together as a trio.
Music We Are is a wonderful mix of melodic songs and group improvisations featuring not only the almost telepathic interplay between the musicians, but also exudes the joy that they have making music together. The CD also includes a 25-minute DVD with comments by the musicians and scenes of some of the recording sessions. AbstractLogix talked with Mr. DeJohnette to get some of his insight on Music We Are.
AL: Since Music We Are is your first trio record with John and Danilo, did you compose pieces specially to play with them?
JDJ: Well some of them were written when I put a group together with John, Danilo, and Jerome Harris on guitar. We played some of the pieces when we performed in New York and toured Europe together.
AL: When I first saw the line-up on the CD, I had some expectations of it being just live trio playing. I was surprised that some of the pieces had overdubbed parts. Were the pieces conceived with leaving space for overdubbing in mind, or was that just part of the creative process?
JDJ: The overdubs, like Danilo’s piano and electric Fender Rhodes, were spontaneous. Most of those things came up spontaneously when we were in the studio: “Oh, let’s try this.” [For example on “Tango African”] I’d show John the melody with the melodica, he was just trying it out on the electric bass, and it sounded good. And we said, “Let’s do that.”
The concept for the overdubbing was that the three of us, as improvisers and composers, think of the music as orchestral. The way I play the drums is that way. When Danilo plays piano and John plays his bass, it’s that way.
We’re always thinking of connecting * the connection with harmony, melody and rhythm. But the idea was to present something different…that presents the joy and the spirituality and the fun that we have playing together with an organic, yet orchestrated, written and improvised way of approaching it.
AL: On the DVD, the recording engineer says that some people can play together even though they don’t like each other. The fact that you all like each other as people, as well as musicians, was very evident on the DVD and comes through in the music.
JDJ: Yeah. That adds to the chemistry; and adds to the music’s ability to connect with the listener.
AL: Are there any songs on Music We Are that are personal favorites of yours?
JDJ: No, I like the whole thing. The whole thing holds together. That’s what I like about it, the continuity of it. It’s like a suite, really. It carries on a thread that runs through the whole thing * which I like.
AL: One of my favorite pieces is the opening track “Tango African”. What was the inspiration for the melody that you play on the melodica.
JDJ: Well, it’s sort of a tango, Moroccan, North African feel. I’ve written a few pieces in that area. And I love Andalusian music; I have an interest in that music and those melodies captivate me.
We just finished a week in New York at The Blue Note. When we did that live, I didn’t play the drums on the beginning. Danilo was playing acoustic piano and we had a Korg M3 synthesizer. John played electric bass, as opposed to acoustic bass, so that he could play the chords for that beginning part. So I sat at the drums and played the melody through * we played that beginning section all the way through. Then I start playing drums and we play it all the way to the end. It works great because Danilo is playing percussion on the keyboards, and John is also playing it.
AL: Isn’t Danilo also playing percussion on the keyboard on the song “Cobilla”?
JDJ: Yeah. That’s Danilo.
AL: Do you feel restricted rhythmically when playing with electronic percussion?
JDJ: No. It’s just another color. I have a Roland HPD-15 HandSonic which I incorporate in my drum set. So Danilo and I are both using the electronic equipment.
AL: Where did the title “Seventh D” come from?
JDJ: Well, it’s because it’s music.
AL: just from the point-of-view that it’s based on the dominant-7th. And the “D” is just based on the initials of my last name. But it’s sort of an alternate approach to a blues. I recorded it before on a album for ECM called Extra Special Edition with Michael Cain and Jerome Harris. It’s a playful piece, almost in a Thelonious Monk sense. But the idea is to take the melody and see where that goes; and Danilo and John did that really well.
AL: Another track that I love is “Soulful Ballad”, the duet piece with you and Danilo. I understand that was a first take?
JDJ: Well, we did a few takes of it. That was the take we chose; that proved to be the most consistent one. It also had a feeling on it that was really, really special. It worked out great. Playing it live, it definitely moved on to another space. After playing it for a week in New York it definitely grew.
AL: I imagine the energy from the audience added to the *
JDJ: Oh, the audiences were fantastic! We had a sold-out week and we really had a great time.
AL: Another highlight on the CD is John’s upper register bowing on “Panama Viejo”.
JDJ: Yeah. He has really excellent intonation. We really wanted to have John featured playing arco because he’s really great at it.
AL: He’s amazing, and his playing is very moving.
JDJ: Yes, very. Yes. He was stunning in live performance.
AL: I imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when he was done with that one.
JDJ: Well that’s the one thing we all have in common. We have the intellect, but everybody’s a “heart musician” * we play from our hearts. That’s the great thing about it.
AL: Could you tell John and Danilo played from the heart without having heard them play? Could you tell from their personalities that they were musicians you could have a musical connection with?
JDJ: Yeah, definitely. Without a doubt.
AL: The sound and production of the CD is wonderful.
JDJ: A lot of energy went into making sure every detail was there. We recorded at a studio about 35 minutes from my home.
AL: You earlier mentioned spirituality when talking about connecting with the musicians. What role does spirituality have in your relationship with music?
JDJ: The spiritual aspect of the music was introduced to me through [pianist-composer] Muhal Richard Abrams from the AACM. He was into metaphysics and spirituality; and by my late-teens I got interested in that. Then Coltrane came along; there’s a quote that goes “Coltrane put the ‘OM’ back into jazz.” But there are other musicians who did that as well: Yusef Lateef has a spiritual/mystical approach to the music.
I guess it’s the commitment, and an intensity and a passion that comes through the soul. And it has a very strong uplifting power, or effect, on people. So I was always moved by that.
I saw Coltrane and the Quartet many times. I also read a lot of books dealing with spirituality. That’s always been a connection for me with the music. I tend to gravitate toward players who have that same kind of connection going; they have it consciously or it just comes through them like that.
AL: Speaking of “Coltrane”, you played on Alice Coltrane’s Translinear Light CD.
JDJ: I have a close connection to the Coltrane family; musically and personally. Alice was an amazing woman. She had a spiritual presence in her life: she had an ashram, she went to India. She retired from performing publicly and Ravi got her to come out again. And fortunately we were able to do some concerts with that music before she passed away. And Ravi has that spirituality as well. He’s coming into his own as a player
AL: What inspires you? What gives you inspiration when you play?
JDJ: Oh, the joy of doing it. I enjoy playing with people who are just as excited and passionate about it as I am. Also, the other aspect of it is my belief that music has the power to uplift people and heal the environment as well when you have that intention in your playing.
AL: Are your Music In The Key Of OM and Peace Time CD’s examples of music’s power to uplift people?
JDJ: Well these are stressful times, and I thought there was a need for some music for people to relax. Actually, it came about through my wife Lydia’s healing work; she’s a vibrational healer. I got into that music to give her something to work with, and consequentially people started asking where they could get the music. As a result, Music In The Key Of OM became the first CD on my label Golden Beams.
People who did yoga and meditated * and also just wanted to chill-out * really liked the music. So I think that’s a musical contribution that I can give, that gives me joy doing it, and helps people in their lives.
Peace Time just recently won a Grammy Award * that was a really nice surprise. Music really gives it back.
AL: Any new music that you’re working on?
JDJ: We have some other projects planned. I’m working on a project which will entail some of my music that I’ve done in the past; like Music For The Fifth World, stuff on Special Edition, and some new material. The nucleus will be a basic rhythm section with Dave Fiuczynski, Jerome Harris and some other players involved which I’ll reveal later. So look for that, coming in the future.
We’re involved in some other things, too. We’ll be doing a European tour performing a live version of The Ripple Effect which we put out with John Surman, Marlui Maranda and Jerome Harris. I might be doing some soundtrack music for independent films, but I won’t talk about that at the moment. Of course, I’ll be doing things with Keith Jarrett. So there’s some good things happening.
AL: Is there anything else about Music We Are that you would like to comment on or want listeners to be aware of?
JDJ: Just tell them to go get it and enjoy it! It’s a fantastic document. That was one of our goals: to make a great document. Something that people would really get excited about; and they have. The “thank you’s” and the smiling faces we saw from the weeks work in New York were definitely really, deeply appreciated. I hope the recording brings joy to people’s lives.