Track By Track Jack DeJohnette Homepage


excerpts from "Modern Drummer" 06/95

by Rick Mattingly


"I've been blessed that so many musical events I've participated in have been documented," says Jack DeJohnette after listening to a dozen recordings that he has played on over the course of his career. Indeed, DeJohnette has been involved with so many notable projects during that time that, for all of the variety and depth evident on the recordings that we listened to and discussed for this article, one could easily find another dozen tracks that demonstrate twelve more aspects of his musical persona. Yet for all of the different settings DeJohnette has worked within, there are also threads and cycles that appear and reappear. Jack could never be accused of being static, but he's not one to simply go from one thing to the next, burning bridges behind him. It's not so much that he moves on as that he adds on-always expanding into new areas but never abandoning what came before. It gives his playing a youthful outlook combined with mature execution. Several of the musical relationships represented by the older recordings continue to this day, as DeJohnette looks forward to doing live work in '95 with both the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio and the Gateway trio. But there are new projects mixed in as well. His latest solo album with his band Special Edition features new group members as well as guest vocalist Bobby McFerrin, and he has formed a new trio with Michael Cain on acoustic piano and electronic keyboards and Steve Gorn on saxophone and bamboo flute. "This band is more atmospheric than some of my other bands, with the flutes and exotic rhythms," DeJohnette says. "The music is very exciting and joyful, and very healing. It's also very rhythmic, so you can move to it. I'd like to see jazz concerts set up where if people feel they want to get up and move, they have room to do that. To me, that brings back the tribal aspect of total interaction between musician and listener."

DeJohnette will be mixing drumset with various types of hand percussion into the group's music. "I'm having Sonor make a bass drum for me with a 16" head and an 18" depth," DeJohnette says. "I had a Hollywood bass drum like that when I was with Miles Davis. I used it on Bitches Brew and it had a great sound. I'll be miking the drums with Shure SM-98s and the overheads for the cymbals will be Shure SM-81s and VP-88 stereo mic's. I'll also be using some hand percussion. I've been getting into frame drums, djembes, Jamey Haddad's Hadgini drum, thumb pianos, bells, and shakers. And I'll have a couple of Korg Wavedrums, which you can adapt to hands, sticks, or brushes. It has an expression pedal, so I can have water drums, berimbau sounds, or tabla sounds with a drone. It's real practical for using on the road because you have all these different sounds in one parcel the size of a piccolo snare drum, and it does a great job of reproducing acoustic sounds through speakers. It's just like an acoustic instrument in the way it responds to pressure and nuances." DeJohnette often sounds like a kid at Christmas as he describes a new piece of equipment he's discovered or talks about a new combination of musicians he's working with. One wonders where he finds the time. "I'm creating more challenges for myself," he admits. "Playing hand- percussion instruments requires the use of muscles I don't use when playing with sticks, and I'm also playing piano a lot. Keeping up the technique on all these instruments takes time, and I also need time to compose and spend time with my family and just enjoy life." But Jack isn't complaining. The more projects he becomes involved with, the more energized he seems to be. "The older I get," he says, smiling, "the younger I feel."

"Forest Flower-Sunrise" Charles Lloyd: "Forest Flower" (Atlantic, reissued on Rhino) Recorded 1966
Recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Forest Flower featured one of the hottest new groups in jazz at that time, who not only attracted traditional jazz fans but also found favor with the rock audience. Besides Lloyd on tenor sax and flute, and DeJohnette on drums, the quartet included pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Cecil McBee. The title track alternates between a quasi-Latin feel and straight- ahead jazz time, with DeJohnette's ride cymbal keeping a firm but delicate pulse during the straight-8th Latin sections and confident, slightly broken-up jazz time during the swing sections. During his drum solo, DeJohnette combines the bashing power of a rock drummer with rolling-and-tumbling tom-toms reminiscent of Elvin Jones. "That was an exciting time in my life," DeJohnette says. "We were one of the pioneering groups of the jazz freedom movement, but we weren't just playing randomly. We were trying to create a balance between abandonment and creative discernment. We were playing free, but always acknowledging the form, even when we were going outside. "In terms of my drumming, I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. I guess my style at that time was a mixture of Elvin and Tony [Williams] and some other things. But I played piano, too, so I was very aware of the harmonic and melodic aspects of the music. That determined what I played on the drums." In this recording, DeJohnette's ride cymbal dominates his sound, and one doesn't hear the types of counter-rhythms on snare drum and bass drum that one associates with his style. "I was doing that stuff, but this recording didn't capture that because of the way it was miked," DeJohnette explains. "You can hear it better on our first recording, Dream Weaver, which was done in the studio. Back then I was using a four-piece drumset and K Zildjian cymbals-just a ride, one crash, and hi-hats."

"What I Say" Miles Davis: "Live-Evil" (Columbia)Recorded 1971
It starts with just the drums playing a simple, hypnotic rock beat. By rock 'n' roll standards it would be considered slightly on the corny side if not for the intensity with which it is delivered-a perfect example of the how being more important than the what. It's funky, but a loose type of funk with open, ringing bass drum and sloshy hi-hats. When the trumpet comes in the hi-hats are replaced by a bashing, crashing cymbal. But that bass drum and snare pulse is unrelenting, occasionally punctuated by 16th-note fills that always propel the time, never interrupt it. The entire band seems charged by manic energy, with trumpet, sax, and electric piano solos that both feed and feed off of the pulsing drumbeat. And when at last everyone else's energy is spent, it's just the drums again, building the intensity even higher with furious 16ths around the entire kit. When the solo evolves into complex, polyrhythmic flurries, the slight spaces between the phrases serve as a welcome release from the hypnotic tension created by the constant groove. Then, suddenly, that groove is back, and the whole band comes back in for one last melodic explosion. Just as suddenly, the groove is over, and all that is left are feeble gasps from trumpet and keyboards, like the last falling embers from the finale of a fireworks show. Although the track lasts over twenty minutes, its energy carries the listener along and makes it seem much shorter. "Miles came into a rehearsal one day and said, 'Jack, play this rhythm: [sings] puh-puh-PAH, puh-puh-PAH, a-puh-puh-PAH. Just play that,'" DeJohnette recalls. "We ran through it once and then we played it at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., which is where this was recorded. This is one of my favorite tracks in terms of how to sit on a groove." Was there any sense of being restricted as a result of being told to "just play that"? "Remember," DeJohnette replies, "not all the tunes were like that. But more and more of the pieces were getting groove- oriented, and I enjoyed that for a while. Miles, at that point, was looking for kind of a Buddy Miles feel but with my technique. He wanted grooves laid down, but I was still free to take liberties within those grooves and make embellishments and permutations, which I did. And when I took a solo, I based it on the drum pattern and then extended it, came back to it, and took it out again. "It's great to be able to hold a groove, because some things call for simplicity and that simplicity says it all. There is a time and place for everything. You have to use your intuition to know when to do something and when not to. Those are the things I especially learned from Miles. "I was very fortunate to be with Miles through the transition from the swing and In A Silent Way period to the funk/acid jazz period," DeJohnette says. "All these influences were coming in, from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Cream. We played some gigs opposite Sly & the Family Stone, which was a great double bill for Miles because he really wanted to reach that audience. The jazz audience just wanted to hear 'My Funny Valentine' and all the old standards. "For me it was deja vu in a way because I had done the Fillmore circuit with the Charles Lloyd Quartet three years before, and now I was doing the same thing with Miles. So I was with two bands that were at the crest of a new horizon. It seemed like America was ready to open up to something freer and more creative. Record companies were nurturing artists then. They didn't demand that you have a hit within six weeks; they would take time and understand that artists might need to make three, four, or five albums before they would break. "There were also a lot of social programs and job-training things to help people get off welfare, and people were raising their voices and coming together to make changes. The white middle-class society was 'turning on, tuning in, and dropping out,' and black classes were revolting and marching and protesting. The music reflected that, and being part of those bands with Miles, Keith [Jarrett], Gary Bartz, Airto, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea was very important to me. I was a better player and a better human being as a result of it."

"Reminiscence" "Gateway 2" (ECM) Recorded 1977
The track begins with a short cymbal roll played with soft mallets, which crescendos to a gentle splash. As guitar and bass enter with unison melodic lines, recurrent cymbal-roll crescendos mark the passage of time like ocean waves rolling into shore. Then a cymbal is tapped gently with a stick-recorded with a clarity that captures every delicate overtone as the sound decays. Then another tap, and another one, followed by rapid but delicate single-stroke-roll bursts of sound. There is no time, as such-no pulse that one could notate with a metronome marking, no rhythms that one could transcribe. But there is forward motion nonetheless as the cymbals punctuate the statements of the guitar and bass. Near the end the soft-mallet rolls return like waves that recede as the tide goes out. "A free-floating ballad such as this is treated with a lighter sensitivity," DeJohnette comments. "It's more of a textural kind of playing with space and colors on the cymbals, rather than straight-ahead time playing. We were just following one another, which is one of the unique aspects about playing with Dave Holland and John Abercrombie. I can really stretch time and space the way I like to because we are able to meld in and out with one another. The time is basically 'timeless' for us; we have a lot of freedom there." From the start, ECM productions were notable for their quality of sound, and DeJohnette's cymbals in particular were recorded with a clarity that revealed every shimmering nuance. "That had something to do with my approach to playing the cymbals and [ECM founder] Manfred Eicher's vision about sound-his unique way of using specific mic's to get the detail from all the instruments," DeJohnette explains. "Manfred had an artistic dream, and because ECM was a German/European company, it was not relegated to making Top-40 records. So he was coming to it from a different point of view, with an eye for detail and creativity, and the intent of having a collective, artistic exchange between the producer and players." DeJohnette had played extensively with both Abercrombie and Holland before the three of them came together in Gateway. "Dave and I used to play together every day in London before he joined Miles, and the two of us always had this rhythmic way of playing free with the time," DeJohnette says. "John had been in my Directions band and we had done some different things together. But the three of us had never worked together. Manfred suggested we be a trio, and the chemistry between us has been unique. We came up with the name Gateway in Linz, Austria. It was a misty night and we were looking at the water, and we joked that it looked like the 'gateway to the beyond'. "We hadn't worked together for several years, but this past December we recorded a new album at the Power Station in New York. It's coming out on ECM, and we'll probably do some work around the States this year."

"I Know" Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: "Tin Can Alley"(ECM) Recorded 1980
Forget about subtlety. On this track, recorded in one take with DeJohnette's band that included Chico Freeman on tenor sax, John Purcell on baritone and alto sax, and Peter Warren on bass, DeJohnette bashes his way through the tune's shuffle groove with a joyful vulgarity that makes the track sound as if it had been recorded live at a strip joint. "Yeah, well, I used to play for strippers in Chicago and when I first came to New York," DeJohnette laughs. "This was just something we went into from something else, and Manfred loved the spontaneity-capturing the creativity of what was happening right now. The important thing about creative music is to have fun-serious fun-and this track really captured that. "That's what I try to do with all the bands I lead. Sometimes I've been accused of being self-indulgent-letting people just stretch and having solos that go on too long. But that's the whole idea of the 'workshop band' concept, which is what Miles' bands were like-live performances were where you worked out material and changed it and refined it. That's what I endeavor to do in musical situations that I'm the leader of, and I also try to lead in a way that brings out the spirit of the other people in the band. So it's a collective thing under my direction that allows for the creative input of each player."

"Endangered Species" Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman: "Song X" (Geffen) Recorded 1986
This could be the soundtrack for Armageddon, consisting as it does of thirteen minutes of seeming musical anarchy. The only thing uniting the players-guitarist Pat Metheny, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummers Denardo Coleman and DeJohnette-is their intensity, as there is no pulse, no discernable melody, no harmony, no sense of form or structure, just frantic pyrotechnics resulting in pure cacophony. Now and then the saxophone or guitar seems to get stuck on a riff, repeating it to the point of torture before finally breaking free and disappearing back into the general mayhem. Throughout it all, the drums crash and bash with wild, violent abandon as if battling the other instruments rather than accompanying them. The resulting sound would challenge even the most liberal definition of "music." "That project was very exciting and experimental," DeJohnette says. "We actually took this on the road and did a few dates around the country, and it was very interesting to see people's response to it. Some people walked out, but most people were really excited. Pat was able to use his popularity to turn people on to someone as great as Ornette, which I thought was fantastic. I had always wanted to play with Ornette; I'd loved and respected his music for a long time. "A lot of people would call this tune 'free jazz,' but a lot of what Pat and Ornette were playing was actually written, and they would keep repeating it in such a way that it created a minimalist, high-energy, repetitive, trance-like thing. The drumming was very intense; in fact, that was physically one of the hardest record dates I've ever done. We did about eight or nine takes of that, and each take was about ten or fifteen minutes long. After about the sixth take, I was sweating and breathing hard, and Ornette says, 'Wellxit's getting there.'" DeJohnette cracks up at the memory. "But it was really exciting playing with Ornette, who is a phenomenal pioneer of music, and I thank Pat for bringing it all together."

"Nothing Personal" Michael Brecker (MCA/Impulse) Recorded 1987
Brecker's self-titled solo album was hailed as a return to the saxophonist's mainstream jazz roots after years of playing funk with the Brecker Brothers, contemporary electric jazz with Steps Ahead, and countless commercial studio sessions. It also represented some of the most straight-ahead playing heard in years from Metheny and DeJohnette. In particular is the tune "Nothing Personal," on which DeJohnette lays down solid jazz time with a hard-bop approach that picks up where Max, Philly Joe, Elvin, and Tony left off. Jack blends "broken up" cymbal time with counter-rhythms on the bass and snare drums so that the entire drumkit is integrated into the time flow, as opposed to the drums being used only to reinforce the cymbal. DeJohnette doesn't take a solo himself, but when accompanying the other musicians' improvisations, he is very busy and aggressive, playing more with the other players than behind them. "I like the way that was recorded," DeJohnette says, listening to the track. "You can hear all the detail-the left-hand independence, the tom- toms, and especially the cymbals. That was done around the time I was designing the Jack DeJohnette Signature Series cymbals with Sabian, and those are some of the prototypes. I was looking for a real dry sound, and it took two or three years before we got them right. The first time Bob Zildjian [president of Sabian Cymbals] heard me use them live was at the Modern Drummer festival when I played with Abercrombie and Gary Peacock, and afterwards he came back and said, 'I never would have believed they would sound that good in a playing situation if I hadn't heard it.' "That record with Michael was another combination of exciting players, just like the Song X album. I've been blessed to be able to get together with musicians who are all leaders themselves. My playing has had a chance to grow and be honed in situations like that with musicians who are highly creative and versatile, and where I can use my intuition to inspire and be inspired." There is a sense of joy in DeJohnette's straight-ahead playing that makes one wonder if it's the type of drumming that's closest to his heart. "No man, I don't have any favorites," he responds. "I'm branching out in so many areas. When people want me to play within a particular framework, I understand that and I never feel like I'm hemmed in within my own mind. I don't care if it's straight-ahead or Latin or reggae or classical or whatever-as long as there's heart in it, sincerity, and room for creative improvisation and expression. "And fun", DeJohnette adds. "It can be work, but it's fun."

"Autumn Leaves" Keith Jarrett Trio: "Still Live" (ECM) Recorded 1988
This uptempo version of a standard that is often done as a ballad demonstrates DeJohnette's finesse with brushes during the "head" of the tune. While DeJohnette's playing is light and delicate, it is also energetic as he eschews traditional background swishes in favor of playing rhythmic figures punctuated with hi-hat splashes, which segue smoothly into the piano-solo section where DeJohnette switches to sticks. The track shatters two popular misconceptions: You can't do much with standards, and you can't do much with brushes. "It's all in the interpretation," DeJohnette says. "That's what we enjoy-how we interpret it. We don't rehearse arrangements. We'll run down the melody at soundcheck, but we don't know how we're going to approach it that night, so it always stays fresh. That was the whole idea behind doing standards rather than playing tunes that we composed and having arrangements. We wanted to concentrate on improvising. "We had all been influenced by the Ahmad Jamal Trio with Vernel Fournier on drums. In fact, that's what got me into drumming. And then we had all played in different trios. I played with Bill Evans, and I had also played standards as a pianist in trio settings and behind singers. So after Keith and I played on Gary Peacock's album Tales Of Another, Keith decided he wanted to form another trio. We recorded some studio things, and we recorded a lot of things live because some great things happen with us live. "We said we would do it until it didn't feel good, and twelve years later it still feels good," DeJohnette says, smiling. "We recorded at the Blue Note near the end of '94, and that should come out sometime this year. I think they will be releasing a live concert from Oslo as well. So the trio is alive and well, and I think we are going to do some live dates this summer. It's still one of the highlights of my life. "The trio shows a lighter, more delicate side of my drumming. I brought a djembe to the Blue Note to add some different colors, and I enjoy doing the brushwork. Some of the guys I like who play brushes are Vernel Fournier and a good buddy of mine, Ed Thigpen, who does incredible brushwork-better than I do. It's a finesse thing. Philly Joe Jones did some great brush stuff, and so did Papa Jo Jones. There are a whole lot of things you can get out of brushes, and now we have things like Blasticks and Bundlesticks, which I also like to use. With the Blasticks you can get a little more body out of the drums without being heavy-handed. The Bundlesticks are nice because you can play them on any surface and get a shaker-like color." DeJohnette says that brush response was a prime requirement for the Jack DeJohnette signature model drumheads manufactured by Aquarian. "Another thing I like about the heads is that, when you are recording, you get a controlled overtone without having to mask them with tape," DeJohnette says. "You still get the tone, but it's not running away. There is plenty of sustain, but enough natural dampening that you can let the shells do their job."

"Fat Lip" John Scofield: "Time On My Hands" (Blue Note) Recorded 1989
This track features a contemporary funk groove, reflecting modern influences. But it's looser than what one would hear from a Gadd, Garibaldi, or Weckl, and DeJohnette doesn't confine himself to a specific pattern as much as he simply plays in the funk style with characteristic cymbal-bell offbeats, tight bass drum syncopations, and fat snare drum cracks. His short solo comes right out of the drum groove, and while it is continually inventive, it is held together with recurring patterns that are orchestrated in different ways around his kit. "I love working with Sco," DeJohnette says. "He's one of the true original guitarists, and his music is broad, from fusion to straight- ahead. He has a unique sound, phrasing, and rhythmic and harmonic concept. And I like the solo I played because it was concise. It was loose and it flowed, and I was turning some figures around." In fact, DeJohnette frequently works from motifs and themes when he solos. "Yeah, I'm usually working from something," he replies, "especially because of the way I tune the drums. I generally use 8", 10", 12", 13", 14", and 16" toms; I tune the 8" and 10" up in a high register like bongos, the 12" and 13" are sort of in the mid-range, the 14" and 16" toms are lower, and the snare is somewhere between the 12" and 13". I tune them differently all the time. It can be seconds or thirds or fourths, or sometimes I'll have two tuned in octaves. That gives me a pretty wide spread of tonalities to work with so I can make up motifs and melodies. If I'm playing by myself, I'll make up a form like an AABA or ABC. It depends on my mood and what I hear as I'm going along. The structure kind of forms as I'm creating." DeJohnette referred to the type of groove he played on the Miles Davis track as being based on a Buddy Miles-type feel. Were there any particular reference points for the groove he played on this track? "I'm not thinking about anybody," he says. "I'm just thinking about what the melody and mood of the piece are evoking at that time, and I get into the character of that piece, at that time. If I played it again at another time, it would be different. When you write a song, it becomes a living entity, and you have to get into its personality. That piece conjures up a raunchy, bluesy, funky character, so I responded to those images and vibrations." That would help explain an aspect of DeJohnette's playing that Peter Erskine commented on once, when he said that unlike most drummers, Jack doesn't tend to have signature licks that frequently turn up. DeJohnette seems to always be creating something new. "It's not organic to play licks," DeJohnette responds. "You have to be prepared to play what you don't know. That's one of the things I learned from Miles: It's easy to play licks and things you know, but to play something fresh every time you sit down at the instrument is very challenging and difficult. That's where the work is involved, but that's also where the fun is-discovering new aspects of yourself."

"Miles" Jack DeJohnette: "Music For The Fifth World" (Manhattan) Recorded 1992
Had the Davis Live-Evil track been recorded in the '90s, the groove might have sounded like the one heard here-a little more open with a stadium-rock intensity of sound. DeJohnette and Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun keep the same basic beat in unison, but each adds his own embellishments so that the end result combines the overwhelming power of two strong personalities united towards a single goal as they both complement and reinforce each other's drumming. DeJohnette's slightly on-top jazz feel combined with Calhoun's more laid-back R&B approach results in backbeats that are flammed between them, and yet one never senses that they are out of sync. Rather, the combination results in the fattest-sounding backbeats one could ever imagine. "There are a lot of obvious references in this piece to In A Silent Way," DeJohnette says. "I could hear Miles playing on top of this, because I was inspired to write it after he passed away. It was sort of like an anthem to him. Miles really liked guitar a lot. And if Miles were still around, he probably would have wanted to play with Will, because he was going in that kind of direction. "This combination of people was a big dream for me, because I wanted to make a statement about the African/R&B/rock improvisation and integrate that with Native American philosophy. Music For The Fifth World was based on some teachings by Grandmother Twylah Nitsch from the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation reservation near Buffalo, New York. "So this is the result of that, which I am really happy about. I didn't see it as a jazz project; I saw it more as a cross-cultural project, utilizing people from different areas. I had two members of my band, two members of Living Colour, and then John Scofield and myself. We had two drummers and two guitar players-two contrasting players who really complemented each other. The music was pretty eclectic-this combination of electric rock-based music with odd times in it-but it had a thread running through it. "I wasn't thinking about a Top-40 hit, and I knew this recording wouldn't be received graciously by either the rock or jazz communities. But somewhere down the line, people will see that it was about the connection between the past, present, and future, bringing it full circle. I wasn't just making a statement about jazz, but about the connections within our human community-its African-American roots, Native-American roots, aboriginal roots." Although the great drumming traditions of Africa, Cuba, and Brazil involve several drummers and percussionists playing together, many American drummers never play with another percussionist, much less another drumset player. How was it working with Will Calhoun? "The tracks with two drummers are great," DeJohnette says with heartfelt enthusiasm. "Will and I took different roles so that what we were playing wouldn't clash. We were in separate rooms but we could see each other. On 'Aboriginal Dream Time' Will is playing in eleven and I'm playing tom-toms in seven. The thing about odd meters is to make them swing and make them loose; you're not really thinking about the time because it grooves. It was a lot of work doing that but also a lot of fun, because Will and I had spent a lot of time at his place playing two drumsets together. We got some great tapes of us jamming together; we have a nice chemistry. Will is a highly sensitive and gifted musician. He has a lot of chops and stamina, and I have to be in really good shape when I play with him. But we work well together and we're planning to make a video together sometime this year. "I've always had fun playing with other drummers. At a recent NAMM show, Steve Smith, Adam Nussbaum, and I were playing snare drums together at the Sonor exhibit. It was like a New Orleans thing and it was great. When I was on tour with Gateway, we did a three-day workshop in France and I had seventeen drumset players. I split them into drumset choirs, and I would have one side playing in five and the other side playing in nine, or they'd be playing in eleven and seven like Will and I did. It was great. And I've done workshops where I've played piano and had three drummers playing time, along with a bass player. When you have three drummers playing something different and not getting in each other's way-man that's a great thing to feed off of. "So I have no problem playing with another drummer. You learn from each other and feed off each other. You ask each other, 'How did you do that?' You exchange information and take something from each other, and that way the circle keeps going."

"The Girl From Ipanema" Eliane Elias: "Fantasia" (Blue Note) Recorded 1992
Just as DeJohnette can propel a straight-ahead jazz tune by mixing broken-up cymbal time with contrapuntal snare, bass, and hi-hat rhythms to create an integrated time feel, so here he abandons the typical bossa nova drumset pattern in favor of a broken straight-8th feel on the cymbal, supported by rhythms and colors from the rest of his kit. The resulting pulse is implied more than stated, but the track pulsates nonetheless, capturing the essence of Brazilian groove without being bound by its usual predictability. "Eliane is an extremely talented composer and player," DeJohnette says. "I've done quite a few of her recordings, usually in trio settings. Her music calls for a little more delicate approach, but also a very rhythmic approach. She also brings the feminine aspect to the music, which is a really beautiful aspect, as well as her Brazilian heart and passion. She's extremely sensitive, and playing with her is a lot of fun." In terms of the "broken" bossa nova feel, DeJohnette says that Elias was quite willing to depart from the tradition of her homeland. "Eliane wanted to approach it fresh," he says. "She wanted it more open, not just the strict Brazilian style. So you just apply that exploratory feeling to those pieces and come up with a fresh take on it. When you stay open to the higher creative spirit, it never fails. You can trust in that and never worry about having ideas."

"What Is This Tune?" Betty Carter: "Feed The Fire" (Verve) Recorded 1993
One of the most unusual tracks in DeJohnette's considerable body of recorded work, this track runs the gamut from fast, straight-ahead bop drumming to deft brushwork and sensitive, coloristic mallet playing on toms and cymbals, as DeJohnette duets with Carter's improvised, scat- sung vocal. At times he echoes one of her melodic phrases with his toms; other times she imitates the sounds coming from his drumkit. Always they feed off of each other as they combine and contrast the purity of the two most basic instruments-the voice and the drum. "Betty and I have the same agent, and he suggested we do a tour together," DeJohnette says. "We did four or five weeks, and we were lucky enough to record in London. "She is really into helping young musicians, and she's concerned with having places where the creative aspect of jazz can develop. She also likes to work with older musicians who are still into creating fresh things, and she's not afraid to take some chances. The idea was to do duets with each instrument and Betty. Doing a duet with just voice and drums was a risk, but she jumped right in there. "Playing with Betty was really fun because her voice is like an instrument. Not only can she sing a lyric, but she can improvise and she has this amazing sense of rhythm, space, and time. Like Miles, she knows how to get the most out of a rhythm section, and she knows how to use dynamics, shadings, and things like that. "Every time we did this piece it came out different, which is why we gave it that name," DeJohnette laughs. "It would start out fast and I would switch from sticks to mallets to brushes, and we would just play off of each other. Sometimes when I was playing time she would just float, which created a nice sense of tension. I do things like that all the time with Bobby McFerrin and with horn players, so for me it was normal, but for her it was different and challenging."

"You Can Get There" Jack DeJohnette: "Extra Special Edition" (Blue Note) Recorded 1994
DeJohnette's most recent solo project features three musicians who have been with his Special Edition band for several years-keyboardist Michael Cain, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and saxophonist/flutist Gary Thomas-along with new members Marvin Sewell on guitar and Paul Grassi on percussion, and special guest Bobby McFerrin on vocals. On this particular track McFerrin contributes a whistled melody while DeJohnette maintains a samba-influenced groove with brushes. "The idea behind this project was to go in without a lot of fixed compositions," DeJohnette explains. "Bobby and I have been doing spontaneous improvisation together since we met about twenty years ago. He sat in with my group once in California and fit right in, and we've also done some gigs together with [Pat Metheny Group pianist] Lyle Mays, and just as a duo. "Bobby evokes that childlike spirit, that playfulness, that abandonment. He brings out my childlike curiosity-the joy of spontaneous improvisation and of taking risks. With Bobby, I feel that we can try anything and go anywhere. We can get out of that societal aspect of having to be a certain way. It's very challenging but also very comfortable." It's difficult enough for two musicians to improvise freely together and come up with cohesive statements like those found on Extra Special Edition, which often sound more composed than improvised. For an entire band to pull off such a feat is downright incredible. "Yeah, well, I could trust everybody," DeJohnette says, sounding like a proud father. "I wouldn't take that kind of risk if I couldn't trust the people I was playing with, but in this case I was surrounded with musicians who are good at improvising together and who think for themselves as well as for each other. "The sessions were really fun and very creative," DeJohnette says. "We went in with a very loose approach, and most of the tracks with Bobby were totally improvised. He has a very playful spirit, but he's also very serious as a musician and an artist. This is not a straight-ahead jazz album; it's really a different Jack DeJohnette album. I played log drums and percussion, which gives the music more of a world approach with a jazz flavor. That's the direction I'm going."
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