Jack DeJohnette: A Drummer Who Stays 'In Movement' By Keeping Good Company

Apr 21, 2016
Originally published on April 21, 2016 5:36 pm

Recently, two new jazz recordings came my way. One, titled Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest, is an album of never-before-released studio recordings from Germany in 1968. Bill Evans plays piano and Eddie Gomez plays bass — but what made me to listen and re-listen to the album, mostly standards, was the drummer: Jack DeJohnette.

I listened to those nearly 50-year-old studio recordings after I heard about the second new album, In Movement, which features two famous sons of famous jazz fathers. Bassist Matthew Garrison's father was bassist Jimmy Garrison; saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is the son of the great saxophonist John Coltrane. On drums? A man who played with their fathers way back when, Jack DeJohnette.

"The secret is to just keep myself surrounded by innovative and creative musicians that stimulate me," DeJohnette says. "As Miles would say, 'Be prepared to play what you don't know.'"

Now 73, Jack DeJohnette has played with Coltrane, Evans, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and many, many more. He recently joined us on All Things Considered to talk about pivoting from the piano to the drum kit early in his career, and what's different now that he's the veteran presence in the studio. Hear more at the audio link.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Last week, two new jazz recordings came my way. One is called "Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Block Forest." It's billed as an album of never-before-released studio recordings from Germany in 1968. Bill Evans plays piano, and Eddie Gomez plays bass. What made me listen and re-listen to this album, mostly standards, was the drummer, Jack DeJohnette.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL EVANS SONG, "YOU GO TO MY HEAD")

SIEGEL: I listen to those nearly 50-year-old studio recordings after I heard about the second new album. It's called "In Movement." It features two famous sons of famous jazz fathers. Bassist Matthew Garrison's father was bassist Jimmy Garrison, and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is the son of the great saxophonist John Coltrane. On drums - the man who played with their fathers way back when, Jack DeJohnette.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE, RAVI COLTRANE AND MATT GARRISON SONG, "ALABAMA")

SIEGEL: DeJohnette, who is now 73 years old, has played with not only Coltrane and Evans but Miles Davis and Keith Jarett. And he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JACK DEJOHNETTE: It's good to be here.

SIEGEL: You have been playing drums with some pretty talented musicians for many years. Do you have some secret for staying fresh and creative for 50 years?

DEJOHNETTE: (Laughter) Well, the secret is to just keep myself surrounded by, you know, innovative and creative musicians that stimulate me. And we stimulate each other and that quest, you know, of searching for the unknown, you know, the surprises, the things that we don't know, you know? As Miles would say, be prepared to play what you don't know.

SIEGEL: Do you remember that session from Germany that's now - now we have the "Some Other Time" album released from?

DEJOHNETTE: Yeah. We went in, and Bill wanted to try some new material. So there are new pieces on there that we hadn't played before, so you're hearing fresh versions of some standards that are beautifully played by Bill and the trio - you know, "You Go To My Head," "Green Dolphin Street." So it was a exploration.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL EVANS SONG, "YOU GO TO MY HEAD")

SIEGEL: When you were just starting out, at first, you didn't play the drums. You played piano.

DEJOHNETTE: Exactly. So I started that when I was 4 and played up into my teens. And when I got in my teens, then I started to play jazz. And so when I started to play the drums, I was actually hired to play with the late, great Eddie Harris. And that's the first time I went out on tour. And as Eddie told me - he said, you know, you play good piano, but I think you play great drums more than you play piano.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

DEJOHNETTE: He said, and if you stick with drums, you're going to go far. So that's actually what happened, and I haven't looked back since.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about the new album "In Movement" that you've done with Ravi Coltrane and with Matthew Garrison. First of all, you brought them together. Is that right?

DEJOHNETTE: Yeah. I've known them since they were kids. And about 20 years ago, I decided that, you know, we should get together and play a concert, and it went very well. Ravi and Matt are like family to me and my family, and so besides having the musical bond, we have a very deep personal love and warmth.

SIEGEL: That old album from Germany that we were talking about has a lot of standards, as you say. The music you play with Coltrane and Garrison is anything but standard. How do you describe what you're getting at here in this album?

DEJOHNETTE: Well, you know, the elements involved here - we have Matthew who's playing the electric bass plus electronics.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE, RAVI COLTRANE AND MATT GARRISON SONG, "IN MOVEMENT")

DEJOHNETTE: You know, he's very, very masterful with that. He creates color, colorful landscapes - not landscape but soundscapes that give us a palette - Ravi and I - a palette to play off of.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE, RAVI COLTRANE AND MATT GARRISON SONG, "IN MOVEMENT")

SIEGEL: By the way, I mentioned a few of the great jazz artists you played with. Are - is there anyone whom you really wanted to play drums with and never got to?

DEJOHNETTE: Well, yeah. Jimi Hendrix was one that I wanted to play with because Jimi's playing was broader than just rock and pop. He was an improviser, so I would just have liked to, you know, experimented with him because he was one who experimented, you know, like Miles. He was in that tradition. He was always searching for new ways to express himself through the music. And so Jimi - I consider him really a great jazz guitarist.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE, RAVI COLTRANE AND MATT GARRISON SONG, "SERPENTINE FIRE")

SIEGEL: Jack DeJohnette, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

DEJOHNETTE: It was my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE, RAVI COLTRANE AND MATT GARRISON SONG, "SERPENTINE FIRE")

SIEGEL: Jack DeJohnette - at 73, he has three recent and upcoming releases. We talked about his performance with Bill Evans on "Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest" - that's out tomorrow - and "In Movement" with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison. That's released early next month. DeJohnette also gets back to his roots with his first solo piano recording, a vinyl-only release called "Return" which is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK DEJOHNETTE, RAVI COLTRANE AND MATT GARRISON SONG, "SERPENTINE FIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.