In Conversation with Jan Garbarek

By Stuart Nicholson

                                     Jan Garbarek by Jos L. Knaepen

Once described by the late George Russell as the most original voice in European jazz, saxophonist Jan Garbarek made his debut on the ECM label in 1970 with Afric Pepperbird. Since then, his long association with the label has seen him create a body of work widely admired for its diversity and distinction. He has brought the "Nordic Tone" that lies at the heart of his music to a wide and appreciative audience, with his album Officium with the Hilliard Ensemble now approaching two million sales.

Garbarek's music projects the stark imagery of nature near the Northern Lights, an ordered calm in the often frantic world of jazz. Ever the quiet revolutionary, Garbarek has been described as a poet of sound, and his saxophone solos have the ability to transport the subconscious to areas of thought that are mystically and aesthetically beckoning. Creating an evocative tranquillity strongly rooted in Nordic and European folkloric forms, his saxophone tone emerges as the main expressive force in his music. It has a haunting spirituality that often takes on a second life, a life within the memory and certainly many of his albums are memorable. Unconcerned with those who claim his music may or may not be jazz, he says, "What I'm playing today—whatever it is—I'm playing because I once learned the language of jazz. What I'm playing now I could not play without that fundament."

His annual tours with the Jan Garbarek Group are customarily sold-out weeks in advance. Yet the release of Dresden, a two-album set, is his first with the Jan Garbarek Group in sixteen years, and the first live album under his leadership for ECM. It was recorded at a key moment in the group's history. For years the Group's personnel had remained remarkably consistent. Bassist Eberhard Weber has been ever-present since 1982, and keyboard player Rainer Br�ninghaus since 1988; percussionist Marilyn Mazur joined in the 1990s.

However, for the Group�s 2007 autumn tour of Europe, Weber and Mazur left for quite different reasons, replaced on short notice by bassist Yuri Daniel, originally from Brazil but now resident in Portugal, and Manu Katch�, the highly acclaimed French drummer who's recorded with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel. The release of Dresden seemed an appropriate moment to contemplate these changes in the Group's music, and explore the origins of his unique saxophone tone that has influenced countless musicians, not least the late Mike Brecker.

Why so long for Jan Garbarek to do a live recording?

Well, it wasn�t really meant to be a live recording this time, I have to say. We usually record our concerts from time to time so we have a documentation, and usually that�s done by a hand-held or aerial microphone, or through the music desk�very basic�and I suggested we record some concerts at some point in the fall of 2007. And our engineer says it�s very easy these days to set up a proper recording, with digital gadgets and so on. I said, �Okay, lets do that.� So he did three or four concerts in a row in multi-track and they were just laying around for a year or more. Then I listened to them and thought the sound source is not bad. I mentioned it to Manfred [Eicher, the head of ECM records] and he said he would like to hear them, and then he said �We�ll try and mix it and then we�ll make an album out of it. Pick the right material and so on.� In the end I said if we do it, we do one concert from A to Z, everything, we don�t mix from different concerts and so on. Get a decent sound, and take it or leave it as a whole concert. And we did, and there you have it. A live album.

Up to this point all your albums have been in the studio. Do you feel you lose control in the live setting, or do you gain something?

You gain something, at least in the moment you gain something, I don�t know if in the end you gain that much. It's not that big a difference, really. It�s more a matter of sound quality�being able to balance the instruments properly without them getting in the other instruments way, and so on. But it is possible these days to do it fairly easily. It was a discovery. Before, you had to have a huge desk, and very expensive equipment, technicians running around and cabling and so on �. With all these new, clever digital boxes it is so easy to set up, no problem.

Of course, while there may not have been a Jan Garbarek Group album for sixteen years, you tour regularly throughout Europe, and the personnel has remained remarkably consistent. So the changes for Dresden represent a key turning point in the Group�s history. Could you talk about the transition from Eberhard Weber to Yuri Daniel, and percussionist Marilyn Mazur to the drummer Manu Katch�?

I had been playing off and on with Manu in various circumstances for quite a long time, ever since 1990, or even earlier � we�ve done small things. Also, he�s been on a few of my albums, studio recordings [such as In Praise of Dreams from 2004]. This was a year when Marilyn couldn�t come. It was her 50th birthday year and she had several commissions to celebrate it, and Manu couldn�t do all the dates, so it was a shared thing with Trilok Gurtu. They did about half-and-half of the tour dates. Manu has always been one of my favorites, since the first time I heard him. There was something there for me, and for so many other people, too. He has been on hundreds, if not thousands of recordings. But he was willing to play with me on a few occasions, and also that fall we did quite an extensive tour together, and I was very happy to have him.

Eberhard was a different matter as he had a small stroke, and he is still unable play. Basically, he is slightly paralyzed. This happened at one of the concerts that Trilok did for us in Berlin. It was the first time we were due to play at the Philharmonie in Berlin with the group, and Eberhard was desperate to do it � but earlier in the day he had this stroke. He didn�t know what it was at the time. He said he would not go to the hospital�he would go to the sound check and see if he could play, and he found out he couldn�t. It was a very, very crucial moment. Very, very sad, of course. Then he went to the hospital�possibly a bit late because of the delay�and the next day when he woke up in hospital, his left side was beyond control.

He�s recovering in many ways. He's able to walk now, and he can speak very clearly, but playing is a bit off, still, I�m sure he�s working on it. So far he has his ups and downs�he�s coming back, then it looks like he�s not coming back. That was his life, and his life was our life as well�touring. It�s very sad.

We did the concert in Berlin as a trio without the bass and one more concert also. We had a week off and we had to come up with another bass player. We were kind of lost, it was the middle of the season, lots of people travelling, but our technician knew a bass player who worked in a band that he used to do sound for. That summer they were doing music without a bass, a special project using a harp instead, so he was off. We called him and he was ready and willing, so we sent him the music. He prepared and he joined us from there on in. Very different type of player.

So what adjustments did you have to make�two drummers, a new bass player?

Well, it was very exciting [laughs]. Learned a lot, and what I learned mostly was one has to go with what is there, what is presented, not try and hold onto something that was. These other musicians have other things to offer, and you just have to look for their qualities and bring it out, and join that holistically. That�s the main lesson; it was a different rhythmic approach.

With Yuri, he has to offer in that field, rhythms [and] rhythm-based function. Eberhard was more of a classical orchestral side of playing we incorporated in the music. Yuri plays a different instrument and he has different strengths. We have to go with that, and enjoy that. Same thing with drums. It's fortunate and unfortunate they shared the drum chair in the band. [They're] extremely different players, Trilok and Manu, in almost every way. I�m very comfortable with both of them.

It�s interesting you�ve not used Scandinavian musicians since Bobo Stenson, Palle Danielson, and Jon Christensen in the 1970s.

And Marilyn as well! I travel a lot outside Scandinavia. Oslo is not really my pond, as it were. When I travel, I hear people at festivals, I talk to people. I hear about musicians here and there. There are magnificent player s all over Europe. Naturally, in Norway we have all the very best players! [laughs] But that that doesn�t necessarily mean they are the right musicians for what I want to do.

                &#x Jan Garbarek by Jos L. Knaepen

Can we talk about a couple tracks on the new album? 'The Reluctant Saxophonist,' that�s an enigmatic title.

Yes, who might that be! Actually, I wanted that tune title in Spanish. I talked to someone and the words didn�t make sense. I thought it might be �El Reluctano,� but it wasn�t anything like that all. It didn�t make the right associations. It�s a piece inspired by some Latin rhythms, and �Reluctant Saxophonist?' It could be me. I certainly feel like it sometimes. Reluctant Saxophonist means reluctant to play sometimes, I don�t know why. Sometimes it�s like that. When you actually play it�s fun, but you have to get down to it and there other things to do, other thoughts to think �

I was struck by the piece �Nu Bein� which has several elements I don�t normally associate with the Jan Garbarek Group.

Well, it fails that title, because I realize nobody gets it, but it�s based on a rhythm from Nubia�a Nubian rhythm. I saw somebody had written somewhere, in America obviously, 'New Being' � Nubian. It looked the same, sounded the same. It was a new piece, based on a new Nubian rhythm, an African rhythm. I wrote it like that, but nobody gets it.

It starts with a flute, a Norwegian folk instrument�a seljefl�yte�which is made from a sapling that in the springtime has long straight branches and a lot of sap. But the one I play is made from PVC, because these flutes last for one day, if you want them to last longer you have to keep them in water because it is the skin of the tree, the bark, dries up after a day and cracks and you can�t play it.

And �Fugl�?

That means �bird� in Norwegian. I always like �bird� tunes. It invites a certain type of playing with your instrument, and I need to have something like that in every concert programme.

In the grand mix of how you arrived at your approach to saxophone, everyone talks about the �Norwegian� tone, but is there a Polish gene in there? [Garbarek is the son of a Polish father: Czeslaw Garbarek, who had been deported to Norway by the Nazis as forced labour to work on the infamous 'Blood Road' in the north of the country. After the war he married a Norwegian girl and they settled in Oslo, where Garbarek was brought up].

Certainly there must be, but whether or not it comes to the surface of the music, or in what way, I don�t know.

Do you listen to Penderecki, for example?

Yes, I started listening to him when I went to High School, not because of any Polish connection, but one of the teachers he would play records sometimes, he would play Penderecki, he would play Ornette Coleman, he would play Bob Dylan or whatever, in the spirit of the times�in the early sixties it would be. So he played this �Tren,� a memorial of the Second World War, and this was very strange music, all these orchestral clusters and wide spaces and so on. I listened to other pieces by him. I was even in Poland in 1966 and bought some scores. I am no specialist with scores, but you pick up something by looking and listening at the same time. There are also couple of other Polish composers who have really meant a lot to me, apart from Chopin. Szymanowski and Lutoslawski are very close to my heart. It's wonderful music I really like listen to. I might put on a record of pieces by these two. But, you know, in my heart, Grieg�that�s the ultimate.

I have a broadcast you made at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1965, you would have been seventeen, with a rhythm section of Kenny Drew, Niels Henning-�rsten Pedersen, and Axel Riel, plus a young trumpet player from Molde. I was intrigued. You were really into straight-ahead Dexter Gordon style hard bop. You had it completely covered at that young age, which will surprise most people reading this. I have another private CD of a broadcast in Stockholm with you, Jon Christensen, and a bassist. You were moving into abstraction: more late period Coltrane, Albert Ayler. Again, you had thoroughly absorbed their styles. I was wondering if you could talk us through this period in your life, as you were moving to finding your own voice, which is some distance from your early years. For example, just a few years later you recorded Afric Pepperbird.

The strange thing is, Afric Pepperbird and this more free thing, that�s what I started out with. That was what I always did. But, at the same time I wanted to learn, and Dexter Gordon was very frequently in Oslo and he was a big hero for us young sax players. This learning just to play with other musicians meant you had to play more hard bop kind of thing. That broadcast you heard from Molde, two young musicians were invited to play with this �dream trio� that used to back-up all the American soloists who came to the festival. This time two young Norwegian musicians would be allowed to play with them, so we had to play in their style to play that material, this hard bop style.

But we were also doing very free things. My first album, from 1966 (which was a live thing as well, incidentally) was called Til Vigdis. There is one piece there, the title piece, that shows more of what I was into in the early sixties. It�s very free, atmospheric and not this kind of finger-snapping thing you heard on the broadcast.

But I loved Dexter Gordon, he was a huge hero, and when you�re that young�15, 16, 17�you are easily influenced by these major players. He came to Oslo often, and he used to play with Jon Christensen, who played drums with me at the time. So I was always there listening to Dexter. I never played with him. Once I think I could have played with him, but I kind of chickened out, I guess. I was very young, 15 or 16, and he came to a jam session I was playing, and as he entered the room there was a roar from the crowd; the lights followed him through the room with his saxophone held above his head. It was too much for me, I left the stage! But he was a great man, very gentle, very friendly. I met him many years later when I was playing in New York with Keith Jarrett, and he was sitting on the pavement in New York, very friendly, slightly drunk and a little bit desperate I think. It was very sad, he was listening to some street musician playing cello, that was very bad, he had his ups and downs. But I have to say his saxophone playing in the early sixties in Scandinavia, there is not much like that, he was absolutely on top form. He made some recordings which are absolutely out of this world. Not for me at the time, because it was all Coltrane, that�s what started it all for me and that�s a different thing. But his intensity, the flow of ideas, the sound, his presence was very, very impressive.

How did you manage to put your obvious command of hard bop to one side and develop your own very individual approach to the saxophone?

Well, this other side, this non-bop side was always there, and in between just being able to play with other guys in Oslo and Scandinavia, you had to play in the hard bop manner. But when I started out at fourteen, it was really about free playing right from the beginning, that was what set it off. Then the need to learn all the styles and so on, but I thought that was also limited, because I like many styles. I like the really old players, like Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Don Byas. All these guys had a very interesting approach to playing the saxophone [that contrasts with] the hard bop players. They had a thing about the �sound� of the instrument, not just playing on the chords. They had to have different kinds of ideas, some of them, because they didn�t have the facility and knowledge to play intricate stuff. So they had to come up with other ideas, and that was fascinating.

There�s a trombone solo by Trummy Young on a recording by Coleman Hawkins that I use as an example sometimes for people. Coleman Hawkins plays up and down the scales, he does everything, and then comes Trummy Young, who is an excellent musician but didn�t have that kind of facility. What did he do when it was time for him to solo? He comes out with this absolutely wonderful idea just using the sound of the instrument, the slide, using the only thing he could. He was against the wall, but something fantastic came out of it, a very original solo, very powerful�unforgettable in a way. And that�s the thing. A bebop player would never come up with ideas like that. He would be playing more like a valve trombone, it would be so precise.

So I learned a lot from these old players right from the beginning, about the sound of the instrument, what could be done with the sound, and this came back later with Coltrane to some extent, but he had a thoroughly modern sound I think. Then came Archie Shepp, who was also digging back. Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler, they all had other elements which I recognized from the older players. So that was a kind of affirmation. I had heard something important�and right, in a way�in those old recordings. I also enjoyed the fact that Archie Shepp had a Dixieland trombone player in his band, Roswell Rudd, playing free jazz. It was about the sound and the energy, not so much [from intricate chords] or whatever. It wasn�t so much about that, it was more about expression. So this bebop thing was not really me, but I had heard a lot of Dexter, so I learned a few tricks of the trade!

                    George Russell

Just to finish this part of your career, could you talk about the influence of the late George Russell and Don Cherry at this time?

Yes, those two were very, very important for my confidence. First George, he just died a few weeks ago. I first encountered him at the Molde Festival. He was there with his sextet playing his original music, I think it was 1964. Actually, I was there every year. This was my education travelling to that festival; the first time I went there I was fourteen. Anyway, the year George was there, I enjoyed tremendously his performance with his sextet. It was very different music. It wasn�t just an �American bop star� who came and played standards with the local trio. It was really a presentation, a concept, and I liked the pieces. I liked the sound of it and the concept very much. These people were god-like to us youngsters.

I played at one of those jam sessions after the concerts. I usually have my eyes closed, we were playing very hard, and free, lots of energy. Suddenly it was like somebody pushed a button and everything went up about fifty notches. There was this tremendous energy, out of this world, and I went for it, and then I looked back and saw our usual piano player wasn�t sitting there but it was George who was playing piano. He was playing with his fists, his elbows, using the piano like a drum kit, so we were absolutely out there in a chromatic universe. And afterwards he came to me and he wanted me to join his sextet and go on tour around the world, and that was a very, very crucial moment for me. It was the first time the idea of possibly becoming a musician entered my head. That was one effect. It was a very strange realization, because it simply was not possible at the time to be a professional musician playing saxophone in Norway at the time. There were two professional jazz musicians�Norwegian�but they were both living in Stockholm. So that was one thing.

The other was this very advanced, very acknowledged composer/musician had seen me and invited me to join the �grown ups,� in a way, and this was a kind of initiation right, being invited by the �grown ups.� We don�t have so many institutionalized �rites [of passage]� like that any more. I later came to see it was such a rite in my life. I was accepted and I was seen and I was invited, and that was invaluable.

I didn�t go with him. I was too young�I was seventeen at the time�and I went to high school. My parents said, 'You don�t go on tour with this kind of thing, you�re too young.' I understood perfectly, but George said, 'I will invite you to some radio and TV recordings in Sweden later on.' And true enough, a while later a big parcel came through with all the saxophone parts for his big band arrangements and his sextet music, but at the time I was really not able to read music very well. He said, 'you have three months, get it together and then you can come to Stockholm and we�ll record this stuff.' So that was a very intense three months for me! I went there and I survived, shall I say. I certainly was not great; I still had a problem reading, and I was sitting next to older musicians who were my heroes, basically. The other tenor saxophone player was Berndt Rosengren, the Swedish sax player, who next to Coltrane and Dexter he was the one for me, and there I was next to him! But I learned a lot, and George was trying to teach me. I got his book [The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization] and got private lessons from him. I was allowed to transcribe his second book, I don�t think it ever came out and it was very interesting, and that was my music education. I didn�t have any before at all, that was my first encounter with musical thoughts and ideas on the theoretical level. It was all very intense.

Then Don Cherry came to Europe around the same time, and sometimes when he came to Norway he played with myself and my colleagues, and he also sat-in when I was playing with George�s big band at the Golden Circle [in Stockholm]. Don would come in and play some solos, and one time I was there I got to hear Keith [Jarrett] with the Charles Lloyd Quartet, also at the Golden Circle. We had a night off and we went to see Charles Lloyd, we had no idea what kind of stuff to expect and it turned out to be kind of a life-changing event. Hearing Keith at that time was like a life-changing event. We�re about the same age, him and me. I was really in awe, he seemed to know everything. He could do everything; there seemed to be no obstacle between his ideas and his execution�think of something musically and do it, just like that! I�m still rather a long way off that level, but he was there already�fantastic. I think it was Cecil McBee on bass, Charles Lloyd � I got to meet him on several occasions at concerts and doing festivals and so on, and I got to know Keith a long time before we played together.

But Don, he was such a friendly and fun person, very gentle, and very nice, and of course we loved his playing. Ornette�s group, we loved Don Cherry, but this was at a time when he started working with folk music and folk culture from all around the world, I would say. One time we were doing a radio recording in Oslo with Don, and he asked us if we knew any folk musicians, Norwegian folk musicians that we could bring to the studio. Yes, we knew a lot of folk musicians, but we hadn�t really done anything with them. We met them at the clubs and so on and there was a kind of dividing line between them and us, but okay, we said we�d think of something and we brought a female singer. So very loosely Don organized the music around her, around the folk songs and it was really a concept, it sounded great. So I think he launched the idea he could use folk music and free playing as a very natural combination. It felt just right in a way, free but with tonal foundation with a modal approach, which was very close to my heart, having heard Kind of Blue about ten million times. Don was there and he seemed to enjoy playing with us and having us around, and this was a big boost to our confidence.

Can you describe the jump then to Afric Pepperbird in 1970?

No jump. [Don] might have been there [at the recording session]. There is one element that rarely comes up about [that album], because we were listening to everything modern at the time, and this was the Art Ensemble of Chicago which was quite an influence also on our type of playing: free, timbres, atmosphere using different sound sources. There were a few albums we liked a lot, done by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and also by members individually with other musicians. We used to listen to those also in the late Sixties. Cecil Taylor too, because I remember when I heard Cecil Taylor, how can he sound so consistently Cecil Taylor? Everything by Cecil Taylor was a really consistent sound, quite amazing we thought.

What were you able to take from these diverse influences?

All these things brought different elements I would say in music; Don brought folk, Cecil Taylor brought dynamic flow, temperature; Ornette, melody, developing melody. All these various parameters that make up our music, we got them from anywhere.

So if you were to talk about a European approach to jazz, what would that be?

I think like with all arts it comes down to the individual, and then schools are being made, but you might say this whole idea of a European approach came about through choices made by Manfred Eicher. I don�t think we were talking about a European approach before ECM, there is a something he hears, something he wants to mirror from musicians. He can hear certain qualities in musicians and invites them to develop one aspect at least of their performance, something resonates in him, and with some musicians it could be a rather limited part of what they have to offer while in other cases it could be most of what they have to offer which resonates with him. But really the choices he makes with musicians, with material, with aesthetics that I think brought this idea about in the first place, this aesthetic in jazz, it has to do with ECM in a way. So I think it has to do with individuals that have similar resonances that create one direction or the other.

With ECM�s 40th anniversary coming up, I just wonder how you remember Manfred�s motivation, his aesthetic when you first met him and whether you have seen that change or evolve over the years.

I think the core is the same. He�s no different to the rest of us. We carry the same heart through life, and he�s still looking for that resonance in the same way, in all sorts of developments, musicians coming and going, technology coming and going and developing, and so on. I think at the core it�s exactly the same thing as when it started out. He�s looking equally hard now as he was at the beginning.

And I understand another album with the Hilliard Ensemble is in the works for next year?

It looks like it, yes. We have done the recording, it's up to ECM. I hope we'll be touring. I enjoy touring with the Hilliards very, very much. It's a wonderful setting for me to be in, and they are great guys, very fun to be around. I sincerely hope we'll have a chance to work together. Playing with them, the principle is just the same, but it's a different sound. You have to approach it in a different way. The idea is always to find the key that will melt your sound with whatever is there around you at the time, that you belong with that sound whatever it is, that is the general principle. I feel good with them, very invited. We do material we all feel very confident about, and it is a great pleasure to be with them, and its fun to do concerts just acoustically—no PA, no microphones, nothing—and if we have a good room, it's bliss.

Jan Garbarek, thank you for such an interesting interview

Thank you.

January 18, 2010 · 0 comments


In Conversation with John Patitucci

By Ted Panken

The first eight months of 2009 were extraordinarily busy for bassist John Patitucci. He did several tours with Wayne Shorter and a sojourn with drummer Roy Haynes. He gigged with a Jack DeJohnette-led trio that includes the pianist Danilo Perez. On top of all that, he taught a full schedule as Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at the City University of New York.

Yet during the dog days of August, Patitucci carved out time to present the project nearest to his heart: his trio with saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Brian Blade. The group celebrated the 2009 release of Remembrance [Concord]Patitucci's thirteenth leader date since 1987 with a weeks engagement at Dizzys Club Coca-Cola.

Before a series of full houses over the course of 12 sets, this assembly of virtuoso bandleadersspurred by Patituccis intense bass lines and commanding solos on both acoustic and six-string basssounded more like a long-standing collective than an all-star group. Several hours before hit time on the second night, Patitucci took time to join for a conversation.

Lets start with the Remembrance trio project. I read the bio. It started in 2000 when you were doing a rehearsal at Lovanos home for Communion. Brad Mehldau wasnt there for part of a rehearsal, and you liked the feel of the trio.

We were up at Joes pad, and it was glorious. He has a high-ceilinged studio in his house upstate. We walked in there, and we figured, 'Oh, lets do this without the piano and just rehearse.' We started playing and we looked at each other, like, 'what...?' It was amazing. You cant contrive that. I dont care who it is. It could be all-star people, a configuration that looks good on paper, but you get together and the chemistry isnt quite there, or sometimes different conceptions dont line up. This was instantaneous.

Ever since that time, whenever we saw each other, wed always say, 'Weve got to do a trio thing.' I always wanted to do that, anyway. If you asked any bass player in jazz, theyd probably be interested in doing something like that, because it sounds so good to have that air and space in the music. Obviously, Id been listening to Sonny Rollins trio records for a while. Id always loved the one with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware, Live at the Village Vanguard, but also the stuff with Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford on Freedom Suite is just amazing. I figured Im going to be 50 this yearmaybe this is it. I cant wait forever. I guess Id always been inclined to wait until I get a little older, and maybe Ill have some time to get stronger before I attempt to put something.

With trio, theres a legacy and a history, and you dont want to come out of the gate sounding like youre just doing a retro homage to these great recordseven though theyre worthy of all that. But I didnt want to do something that I felt would be copyingsomething that would be in tribute, but also trying to add some other colors and personal things, if I could, that would add to the mix.

You mentioned waiting until youre strong enough ...

Which you can never be.

You mentioned in a publicity bio a few years ago that some people like to deploy one sound within a recording, whereas you like variety. Here, though, its primarily one sound, three musicians, with whom you blend together a variety of feels and flavors.

In some reviews, people didnt pick up some of the other sounds on the record. They said its a straight-ahead blowing date. One reviewer said, 'This is a humble, modest record,' but you get to 'Scenes From an Opera,' where all of a sudden theres a string quartet and an alto clarinet, and thats not like a straight-ahead blowing date at all. It introduces another color. 'Mali' has the West African influence. 'Messaiens Gumbo' has a New Orleans ... I understand its because on some of the pieces we pay tribute to the things Sonny did in a very organic waythe way Joe is able to improvise and play with such authority, and also Brians feeling. But to me, thats not the only thing this is.

Lets talk about the arc of the record, how you put together the repertoire. Are most of the tunes recent, written with this date in mind?

I write all year round, every year. I write classical commissions. I write tunes. I write pieces for piano. I just write as much as I can, within my crazy schedule. I try to remain a work in progress as a composer, trying to compose and expand. However, for this, I knew who I was writing for. So over time, as I gathered things, I knew years ago that it was going to be Brian and Joe, when I decided this would be a project wed do together at some point. Then other things crept in, and as I accumulated ideas, the things that sounded like they would go well with this project got lumped into a certain area, which became the record.

Some things were late additions. Like, the piece for Michael Brecker began last baseball season. I sat down in my living room to change the strings on my six-string bass, because I had to do a gig. Its pretty tedious, so I had the game on while I was changing the strings, and as I was tuning up a couple of strings, this drone thing started happening. The Yankees were losing, and I turned it off. 'Wait a minute; whats this?' I found this little theme, with these voicings around this open G-string in the middle. Something started happening, and I said, 'Wait a minute, Id better write this down.' I thought maybe this would be a little interlude somewhere on the record. Then after I started writing it, I decided, 'no, I want to record this. Something is here; I dont even know what its going to become.'

But the interesting thing that happenswhich is part of the recording process that I loveis that I try to approach the recording process improvisationally, even though I also compose things .... My wife and I overdubbed all the parts on the string octet, which was four celli and four basses. When we went to do it, we figured, 'Ok, well get a baby-sitter, go to the studio, and knock it out.' Then I decided Id try that thing I was thinking of and see what happens. But we had a time constraintthe baby-sitter is only a few hours. We took our time with the string octet, made sure everything was right, and we were pleased with it. Then I said, 'well, Ill give myself a little time on this thing and see if it develops; if it doesnt develop, I wont use it.' I had brought my piccolo six-string bass as well (this is for Remembrance). I figured, 'well, Ill try it.' Then I doubled it with the regular six-string bass, and it sounded like a 12-string guitar. I thought, 'Wow, thats kind of interesting.' Then I put a couple of passes of a sort of recitative melodic statement over it, and thats when it hit me. It became a really emotional piece, and it felt like Mike. I dont want to get too heavy about it. But it definitely spoke to me about something emotional, and I thought, 'Thats for Mike.'

When did the 'Remembrance' theme become the overriding idea? Because the recording is set up a suite of homages to various people who have gone.

That happened organically. As the tunes came together, each one suggested, 'Well, this is really for ...' Some of them I had already titled before I knew I was going to do a whole record on this theme. As it progressed, I thought, 'Well, thats what this record is; its become this.' Things kept happening. We kept losing more people, and I thought, 'wow, Ive got to make a statement.'

But its not only that. Like I say in the liner notes, its to honor the people that we still have, who are still making strong music, and not wait until they die to appreciate them. We celebrate Sonny Rollins, who is still creating incredible things. Wayne Shorter too, obviously. So the purpose is to remember to honor them now, and also to be present in the moment. This is something in my spiritual walk, my spiritual growth as a person that Im trying to get better at, which I think is a challenge to all of usto not worry about the future, not get stuck being nostalgic about and locked into the past, but actually to be here right in this instant. Thats the way these guys play, too, and thats the way playing in Waynes band is. People are aware of the time that we have together, and we try to live it to the fullest and cherish it. This record isnt meant for people to mourn. You can hear in the music that its a celebration of that inspiration.

Do you see this in any way as a companion date to the previous record, Line by Line, which was primarily a trio with guitar and augmented by Chris Potter? Are there relationships between the two?

I didnt really think of them that way, no.

You had seen Line By Line as a companion to the previous recordings.

Right. Because it also had expanded orchestration and writing for strings. Line By Line and Songs, Stories and Spirituals were a couplet to me. This was something other .... Although it makes sense to me that it came out after Line by Line, because it was time to change up the orchestration. I had done two records where I had written extensively for slightly expanded formats. I thought Id pare down and see if, as a composer, I could still make orchestrational colors happen with a more limited number of people. That was a challenge for me. A composer should be able to get orchestrational variety with a couple of instruments or many. Of course, these guys have so many colors that you could put one of them on the stage by alone, and you have a world of color. So I wasnt really worried about getting enough colors with Joe and Brian.

Before we talk about your simpatico with Brian Blade, with whom youve had an ongoing relationship for a decade, talk a bit about your connection to Joe Lovano.

I fell in love with Joe Lovanos playing when I heard him on John Scofields recordings. Sco and I have a history together. I used to transcribe Johns stuff when I was in college; John influenced my playing. I was a fan. Actually, my brother is a guitarist, so a lot of guitar players influenced my playing on the six-string bass, because of the way they approached harmony and lines. Wes Montgomery was one that hit me. Pat Martino. George Benson. Sco was one of my heroes. I used to see John Abercrombie quite a bit, too, in the late 70s and 80s.

Anyway, Scos quartets records with Lovano with Bill Stewart, whether the bassist was Dennis Irwin, or before him Marc Johnson played a little bit, and Charlie Haden played on some of the records ... I love Sco. So Now was a big deal for me. By this time, he and I have played together quite a bit. Every once in a while, we get together and do something else.

Anyway, Id hear Joes playing on the records, or wed run into him on the road, and think, 'Man, this guy is special.' So I had wanted to do something with Joe for yearsin fact, I probably would have hired him for Now, but I didnt want it to look like I had just hijacked John Scofields bandit was Bill Stewart and John, and if Id used Joe, it would have been way too much.

Another convergence about this and Line by Line is your use of the electric six-string. On a lot of the recordings prior to Line by Line you were playing primarily acoustic, and then doing an electric feature at the end of the recital.

Yes, there would be two or three tracks maybe.

But on this record and the previous one, the six-string electric is more integrally orchestrated into the flow.

When I moved back to New York, I was trying to dispel ... Part of the reason why I came back, obviously, was to play with all the incredible players. As a composer, theres no better pool of artists for the music I want to write and want to play than in New York. But the other part is that I felt I was getting pigeonholed. Some people would call me 'that fusion guy.' I felt that was a strange label. Ive been playing bebop since I was a teenager, and playing already in my late teens with amazing older musicians. What happened in New York, though, was that the stereotype got shattered to the point that people literally would say to me, 'Oh, you play electric bass? I didnt know you did that.'

You told me a story about a woman contractor called you for a gig ...

Yeah, a contractor. She said, 'I have a recording session for you.' 'Great, what would you like me to bring?' 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Do you want acoustic bass, electric bass, fretless? What do you want?' She said, 'You play electric bass?' I said, 'Okay! I guess the stereotype is erased.' I didnt want to totally cancel-out on another part of what I do.

I wanted to put out a viewpoint that seems not often to be expressedthat in this music there is a place for the electric bass to be played in a musical, warm, organic way. It doesnt have to be that all of a sudden comes forth this loud, thrashing, bright, edgy sound. Obviously, Steve Swallow has been asserting this viewpoint for many years, but not too many other people have that viewpoint with that instrument.

Observing your musical production this year, it occurs to me how relationships and associations play out and cycle back over time. For example, with Jack DeJohnette and Danilo Perez you recorded Music We Are and performed with them behind it. You played with Wayne Shorter this summer. You played in a trio with Roy Haynes. You played and recorded in a trio with Ed Simon, with whom you have a consequential if less high-profile relationship.

I love Ed. He was in my band for quite a while.

Then also this trio with Joe Lovano and Brian Blade, which embodies so many flavors of 21st-century jazz. You first played with Wayne Shorter in 1986 when you were living in Los Angeles. Talk about how that experience evolved.

Early on, when I played with him, it was mostly an electric bass gig. We were doing the music from Atlantiswed play some with the acoustic bass, but mostly it was electric. Then we went on the road, where often it was only electric. We were playing very orchestrated music, where the bass lines were all massive, incredible. That was fun. Over the years, I did some records of my own and been playing a lot with Chick Corea . Then in 1991 I did a number of weeks with Wayne, including one here in New York at the Blue Note. We stood right next to each other on that small stage, and I had that six-string bass, and the solos he was playing .... A lot of the tunes in those days were heavily written, but the solo sections would be openone chord or something. The things he would create off that were staggering. Then hed turn to me and say, 'Want some?' It was good for me, because night after night, I had to try to do something after he would chisel one of these granite, monumental solos of doom. I didnt really know what to do. I started to feel like my stuff was trite. I realized I needed to get to a deeper place, because when Wayne plays, he can destroy you, just emotionally, with just one sound placed in a certain way. One note. He did it with density, too. He destroys you with one note or a million, his version of sheets of sound, like Trane. It wasnt licks. There were no licks. I was finding that I needed more of that in my playing. I wanted to get to the place where I could tell a larger story. Wayne was very encouraging. He used to give me a lot of room to blow. He liked the bass to stretch. He would turn to me and say, 'Yeah, Paganinigo ahead, go ahead.' He was into it. But it made me realize how much I had to learn, to get deeper. It was a wakeup call.

I started playing with him again in the late 90s, before Danilo and Brian were in the picture. We did some gigs. He was thinking about doing some expanded form things, and we ...

You did something with the Detroit Symphony, I believe.

We did that. Even before that, we did something for a giant Buddhist festival in Japan. That was a large group, with Teri Lyne Carrington, Jim Beard, Shunzo Ohno, David Gilmore. We played a mixture of things. But after I left Chick to do my own thing, Wayne started calling again and spoke a lotmy wife and I had experienced a still-birth the same year he lost his wife. Anyway, towards the end of the 90s, he said, 'Do you want to do something?' I said, 'Look, Im loose. Im doing some stuff with my own group. Any time you call, Im there. Absolutely.' So he knew he had that kind of love and commitment from me. Then the quartet has evolved over time.

You mentioned to me that you first met Brian Blade on Danilo Perez recording date, Motherland. You and he have evolved into one of the classic bass-drum pairings over the decade. What qualities contribute to your simpatico, make you such an interesting fit?

We share a love of a lot of the same music. Also experience, in terms of spiritual things. The way he was raised in the African-American church, and my love for that culture as expressed in the music from the churchalso my faith and his faith. We share a lot of things.

Sometimes you hit it off with somebody, theres an immediate click, an immediate connection. You cant contrive it. Its hard to put into words. Brians part of my family. Whats interesting is that before I moved back to New York, I was driving in L.A., and something came on the radio which I think was him with Josh Redman. I freaked out. I said, 'Who is that drummer? Thats it.' It just hit me. Like, 'Thats the guy I need to work with.' I didnt know who he was, but later I found out then I started hearing his name a lot.

He started recording with Joshua Redman in 95.

I moved back east in 96, and it was right before I moved back, so it must have been 95 that I heard him on a record. I almost pulled off the freeway. I remember going to a recording session, and Harvey Mason was on it, and he also was saying, 'Have you heard this guy Brian Blade?' I said, 'Man, I heard him.' He said, 'Thats it.' I said, 'That is it.'

What is 'that'?

That is somebody whose spirit on the drums is connected to all the masters. You could easily say hes connected to Elvin, Max, Roy, DeJohnette, all the guys who have changed the course of jazz drumming and have contributed a voice and a beauty and a power Brians musicianship is so unbelievably high, which is one thing that I think separates him from the crowd. Hes perfectly happy playing next to nothing or as much as you want. He can make small sounds. He can make big sounds. He can have a lot of density. He can have absolute simplicity. He can play any kind of groove you can think of. There are just not that many people who you can say even three of those thing about.

I guess one of them might be Jack DeJohnette, who was integral in your transition from the West Coast to East, and with whom you did the Music We Are project earlier this year.

Our relationship started with Gonzalo Rubalcaba on the record, Images. He was very cool, and from that time on, he was the one who schemed to put me together with Danilo Perez. It was his idea. He introduced us at a record date by Eugene Pao, with Mike Brecker. Danilo came to the studio with David Sanchez, and I met them. Jack said, 'Yeah, man, youd better play together.' He was on it. He heard it.

The trio with Jack, Danilo and I did a fun week at the Blue Note. When the three of us get together, its a whole different relationship. Jack is obviously a force of nature and a very interesting musician for a lot of things. He can play the piano and do all this stuff, but theres also his connection to Elvin, as well as Haynes but I hear a lot of connection to Elvin. The swirling nature and the big beat. I didnt get to play with Elvin. I missed out on that. But when I play with Jack, I often think, 'well, maybe this is in the direction of what it would feel like to play with Elvin.'

In that trio, the grooves were from everywhere, but distilled in a very personal way. Now, youve gone through periods of deep immersion in Afro-diasporic grooves, particularly a decade ago, when you were playing with Giovanni Hidalgo and Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez, and incorporating those beats and sounds within your own compositions. On the Remembrance project, the grooves are from Africa, from New Orleans, from various aspects of jazz. Can you discuss the evolution of your own rhythmic compass over this decade?

A lot of stuff on the record Another World, for GRP in the early 90s, on which I collaborated with Armand Sabal-Lecco, whos from Cameroon, was very African. I had gotten into Salif Keita when I was with Chick. When we went to Portugal for the first time, we met an African guy from Angola who hipped us to a lot of stuff. Then when Mike Brecker got with Paul Simon and was hanging with all the Cameroonian guys, he introduced me to Armand Sabal-Lecco. Mike suggested to me, 'Check some of this stuff out; youd love this'I got way into it. Before that, I had played with some musicians from South Americawith Alex Acuna and Justo Almario in L.A., and a ton of Brazilians.

When I got back east, I started delving more into the Caribbean stuff, the Cuban and Puerto Rican aspects. Danilo was a huge factor in helping me reach a greater understanding of this music. He would give me rhythmic exercises where you could go in-and-out of the triple meter, the 6/8, which is at the center of so much of this music. The pulse would stay the same, but youd access all these different worlds of rhythm. This is what these guys are so great at, and take to such a deep place. Giovanni and Negro do all sorts of metric modulation things, organic and so deeply swinging. They have a profound understanding of how the meter, the 6/8, can impact the 2 and the 4/4 and big-three. You get into all these multiples of the rhythm.

So Danilo and I have been talking about rhythm and doing musical exercises for years. Its profound, how phenomenal he is at teaching it, too. He says I taught him how to read chord symbols and some harmonic things like that, but he taught me a world of rhythmic information. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a drummer first. I had hand drums, bongos and maracas, and I was singing. I loved the drums. I had the bass, too. But even after I started playing the bass, I tried to get my dad to let me have a drum set, and he said no. [LAUGHS] So Ive always revered the drums. Danilo, too. Sometimes he jokes around, sits down at the drum set, and well play together on the sound check. He has a great feeling.

Also this summer, you also went on the road with Roy Haynes for the first time in a while.

In a while, yes. In the late 90s, Danilo and I did a record and quite a few tours with Roy. Roy was in phenomenal spirits. It was a little different, because Danilo burst his Achilles tendon, and hes been out of commission for a couple of months waiting for it to heal up. Dave Kikoski played, and played well, and Papa Haynes was charging! In high spirits. We did nine concerts in two weeks.

I get the sense that it was important to you to work with the Roy Haynes Trio a decade ago, on the heels of your move from L.A. to New York, when you were determined to establish yourself on the acoustic bass.

I was trying to make a statement, to say: 'Look, this is a big part of who I am. Its not a peripheral kind of thing. Its not a dalliance. Its deeply who I am.'

Id played with a lot of people, but when I played with Haynes it was kind of like swing finishing school. You felt, 'Ok, if Haynes likes it, I guess Im going to be ok.' Because obviously, hes played with everyone from Louis Armstrong and Bird, Bud Powell, Monk, Coltrane, all these people. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, We Three . You can go on and on and on. Obviously, if you play with somebody like that, whos been connected to all the things that mattered to you coming up, all your heroes, the whole encyclopedia of jazz in one human being, which is what I call Roy Haynes ... He is the living, walking, breathing encyclopedia of jazz. So if you can play with him and he likes it, then you can breathe a little easier and enjoy the fact that something youve been passionate about all your life makes sense to somebody you really look up to.

One interesting thing about the trio at the time is that it was such an equal voice unit.

Right, he gave us a lot of trust and a lot of space.

It sounds that this attitude filtered into your mutual interaction with Wayne Shorter.

My relationship with Danilo is very special. Were like brothers. We spend a lot of time together in a lot of different circumstances, and its a source of great joy and excitement to do so. Weve had a chance to develop rapport. That was a big deal for me. After playing with Chick all those years, and working some with Herbie Hancock, then to play with a younger pianist, even younger than myself, somebody who is a chance-taker and risk-taker like the guys I was used to its hard to find a more adventurous pianist than either Chick or Herbie. Those guys dont care. Theyll be reckless, which is great, and I learned a lot from that. Danilo is cut from the same cloth. Hes reckless.

In an interview for Jazz Improv magazine, you told a story about Herbie reharmonizing Roy Hargroves ballad ...

That was at a rehearsal for the Directions in Music project. We were going into Kuumba for warmup gigs for that tour. It was right after 9/11, too. It was heavy. We got on a plane like a week after. My wife was freaking! 'What are you doing?' So we flew out there and rehearsed, and we saw Herbie singlehandedly turn a nice tune into a masterpiece, right before our eyes. Mike and I were watching him ... He sat there and patiently reworked everything. 'No, this wont do,' and then hes changing ... Finally, he looks up at Roy and goes, 'Man, Im sorry. Im changing your tune; is that ok?' Roy goes, 'Man, change all of it! Go ahead!' It was turning into this incredible ballad. He reharmonized it from top to bottom.

Lets talk bass. Can you speak to how your relationship to the six-string bass has evolved since you came east? You came east determined to have people know you as an acoustic bassist, and now its a well-established fact that you have a consequential voice on both instruments. You stated a few years ago that your sound has become darker, whereas most of your contemporaries strive for a brighter tone.

What happened was this. When Jaco Pastorius hit the scene, he played a jazz bass, which has more of a mid-rangey sound, and people got way into that. Everybody went out and bought a jazz bass, everybody took frets off their instrument, everybody wanted to be like him. It was interesting, because I loved and respected that so much that at one point I went, 'You know what? Im not doing that. Because nobodys going to play like that guy.' That was a voice. To me, that was totally unique. So I didnt go that way. I stayed with fretted instruments.

Then in 85 I wound up finally getting a six-string bass, because Id seen what Anthony Jackson was doing. I decided to go far way from the fretless jazz bass thing, which is more of a mid-range bass soundI wanted a broader sound on both ends. The six-string bass gives you a low B-string, so you could get the six-string bottom, and then you could go all the way up with the high C-string and get a tenor saxophone thing going. I knew that I wouldnt sound like Anthony, who is another very individual voice, very beautiful, very special. So I deliberately took a left turn at that point. In the whole fusion scene that ensued in New York, it was like you had to play a four-string jazz bass, otherwise you werent accepted. People didnt even like five-string and six-string basses. Theyd look at you like 'Yucch.' Thats what I heard from younger guys who took up the six after I did. They said, 'Well, maybe you can get away with it, but they tell us, no, bring the four-string; you cant play that in here.' So if you wanted to be part of the whole 55 Bar scene in the 80s, you had to have a four-string jazz bass. But I would come into town with Chick or whatever, Id bring my six-string, go sit in with Stern and just play my stuff. I wasnt really bound by that. I was just going, 'Well, this is my voice now ...' For a while, like a fool, I actually got rid of my old vintage Fenders!

Youre a stubborn guy. A man of principles.

[LAUGHS] But it was originally out of profound respect. Because I would hear these guys trying to play like Jaco, and I was like, 'Boy, that sounds like a really bad imitation.' When you hear the real thing, its like 'whoa.' Why would you want to sound like a third-rate Jaco Pastorius, when hes Jaco, youre not, and its going to remain that way, and nobody is going to play like that again. That was him. It was also at a time, that precise moment when he did what he did .... Also speaking about Jaco, what people are sleeping on a lot of times is he was an incredible composer. 'Three Views Of A Secret.' Excuse me. Thats a classic. So I have the highest regard for him.

Now, Jaco was not necessarily the bebop guy on the electric bass. When he walked, lets just say he didnt sound like Ron Carter to me. He swung like crazy, but his feeling was much more in another zone. Even when he plays 'Donna Lee,' the articulation is all Caribbean. instead of just going to check out Ron or Ray Brown.

But over the last few years, after several years emphasizing the acoustic, and now bringing back six-string electric more prominently into the mix... Are the changes just subtle things?

Pretty subtle, because I never stopped playing it all these years. Over the last 15-20 years, Ive spent an enormous amount of time getting back into studying classical music on the acoustic bass, and I wanted to make sure that I didnt just let the six-string stopI decided that I wanted to also use it in an organic way and continue growing on that instrument as well.

You mentioned your affinity for the drums and your fathers refusal to buy you a drum kit back in the day. Maybe this provides an opening to talk about your formative years. Youre raised in Brooklyn, the East Flatbush area. Large, warm Italian family. Shared a house with your uncles familyyoure on one floor, theyre on the other. All the kids are musicians, but the parents werent musicians. You got your first electric bass when you were ten. You heard jazz the first time when your grandfather saw a guy moving out of a brownstone, saw a box of records on the sidewalk, asked if he could take them for his grandkids, brought them home, and one of the records was Art Blakeys Mosaic, with 'Children of the Night' (Wayne Shorter, again).

Yeah. I was eight or nine when I heard that record. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Freddie Hubbard and Wayne ShorterJymie Merritt on bass. I didn't know what it was, but it moved me.

So jazz enters your consciousness.

Right in there. It was a typical Italian Brooklyn experience. Both sets of grandparents were no farther than 15 minutes away in Brooklyn, so we'd hang out a lot. My grandfather, who used to work on roads in Manhattan, came home from a job site one day with a box or two of records one day. There was his guy who was leaving his brownstone, he was getting out of New York, he was moving, throwing out things [including those records]. My grandfather asked him, 'You're throwing away music?' 'Ah, I'm leavin' New York.' My grandfather said, 'Well, I have some grandsons; you mind if I take these records?'

He didn't know, but he changed our lives. In addition to Mosaic, there were some of those Wes Montgomery records with Ron and Herbie and Grady Tate. That went in deep. I mean, it just cut through my inability to understand. So when was 12, I decided that I was going to play the bass, and that was it.

Did that decision coincide with your familys move to California?

Well, my brother is a guitarist. He's three years older than I am, so of course, when I was young, I wanted to do everything that he did. At first I was singing and playing some percussion instruments, and then he got a guitar, and then I wanted to play the guitar. It didnt feel good, though. I was trying to learn how to read music and so on, and I just couldnt play with the pick. Im left-handed, although I play right-handed. My brother, who is pretty intuitive, saw this, and said, 'Why don't you try the electric bass. It's only four strings. You can use your fingers. There's nothing between you and the instrument.' So they got me this bass that was hanging on someones wall for $10 or something, put it in my hand, and it felt great. I started to play by ear and learn things off records. By then, it was the 60s, so you had the Motown stuff, then also Hendrix, Cream, the blues, B.B. King, the Beatlesa lot of things, and you could hear it all on the radio. Then in the house, Mario Lanza records, opera records were being playedvery Italian stuff. A wide mixture. We even had a Glenn Campbell record that had those tunes by Jimmy Webb, an incredible songwriter. All these things were happening. I was young and naive, and I wasnt really aware of anything except that I knew I really loved this.

The reason why I didnt get into anything really organized is because when I was a kid in Brooklyn I went to a Catholic school which had no music program. It was Miss Petraglia with a beat-up upright piano; shed bring us into a room, and wed sing songs out of a music book. That was it. We moved to Long Island for about a year-and-a-half before we went to California, which was the first time I was in a school with a music program. Thats where I got snare drum lessons for a year, trying to learn rudiments. Thats when I said to my Dad, 'I want to play the drums, too,' which was nixed. I went to seventh grade at a middle school in Farmingville, Long Island, that also had a music programan after-school thing. One of the English teachers had a rock band, and I played in that for a minute. Then when we went to California, there was big band in eighth grade, which I played in. I could hardly read music. Id listen to the tune down once, and then Id learn it and play along.

Thats when I encountered Chris Pohler, who became my mentor and remains .... For Remembrance, he sent me a treatise that Messaien wrote called 'The Seven Modes of Limited Transposition.' He said, 'Check this out; you might find something to mess with.' I found one of those modes, which is Mode 3, which the whole melody of 'Messaiens Gumbo' is based on. So its an ongoing relationship. Chris is also the one who challenged me before I did Line by Line and some of those other records .... He said, 'Youve been composing all this music, but now I want you to think about challenging yourself to be like the composers, like Bach, who could generate their harmony purely from counterpoint.' Unlike jazz musicians, who plunk down chords and then write a melody. He said, 'See if you can incorporate more of that counterpoint into your jazz writing.' Chris has had a lot of great ideas over the years, and hes a terrific guy. He encouraged me a lot. Got me into taking classical lessons when I was in college and all that.

You were a double bass major at San Francisco State and Long Beach State.

Yes, I was a classical bass major. I was playing in all the jazz groups, too, but my teachers expected me fully to do my recitals and then go do auditions for symphony orchestras.

Your high school years were an interesting time to be in Northern California, in the San Francisco area.

Great years.

The Keystone Korner was in full swing ...

I was there many times.

It was a very eclectic scene. You told me once that you were into the Art Ensemble and the Sam Rivers Trio, into Gary Peacocks Tales of Another, you had a sort of out jazz band ...

I saw McCoy Tyner and Art Blakey at the Keystone. At the Great American Music Hall I saw Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and also the Bill Evans Trio. When I got down to L.A. is when I got to see the Sam Rivers Trio and those other guys at the Lighthouse. I saw Old and New Dreams at Royce Hall, which was incredible.

Where Im going is that this notion of being attracted to all the different flavors that comprise the mosaic that is the scene at any given time was already in you.

A long time ago.

Even though that may not necessarily have visible to people who were following your career.

Yes. Obviously, I was playing with a lot of people in L.A., a lot of the older guys. But if I wasnt making records with them, nobody knew who I was.

Three people, among others, seem to have been particularly consequential to you. Freddie Hubbard, to whom you pay tribute with 'Blues For Freddie' on Remembrance, and with whom you played with a fair amount. Victor Feldman you played with

Even more.

And also Joe Farrell. Im not clear, but was Joe Farrell your bridge to Chick Corea?

In a way, yes. But actually, he was my bridge to Airto and Flora Purims band, which was very important for me. Airto taught me a lot about Brazilian music, how to play it, all that stuff. But I used to bug Joe all the time. 'Man, tell me when Chick is going to have auditions; I really want to play with Chick,' blah-blah-blah. So I dont know whether he ever said anything to Chick, because actually I wound up getting the gig with Chick through playing with Victor Feldman at Chicks house for a Valentines Day partyevery year, theyd invite a bunch of musicians, have food, and some cats would play. Thats how Chick heard me, playing acoustic bass with Victor Feldmans trio in his living room.

Chick was really nice. He invited me back on another occasion when he was working up a Mozart concerto, because he was going to go to Japan and do a double concerto with Jarrett. He said, 'Do you want to come and play some chamber music?' So I did that as well. Then he said 'Man, do you play electric bass at all? Im thinking of putting together this band, and it's going to have a lot of electric stuff involved as well.' I said, 'Well, yeah, I started on that and I do that.' So he said, 'Put together a tape.' So I sent him a tape, and he called me back. 'Do you want to play? I'm going to do this thing; do you want to be in the band?' 'Sure! When do we start.' That's how it began.

I have to say that I learned some important things from Joe Farrell. When I first started to play with Joe, the band was Tommy Brechtlein and Kei Akagi, and we were all into Tranes bandwe wanted to just burn all the time. Now, Joe could burn like crazy! But he wanted us to be able to do other things, too, so he would mess with us. Hed go up behind the piano, where Kei would be playing like McCoy, and say, 'Kei. Bebop, Kei. Bebop.' He always had that little thing; he was trying to talk like Jaki Byard. Chick told me that later. Anyway, Joe would tell us little things. We wanted to burn! Then he would go, 'Ok. Laura.' [SINGS] 'Two-beat, two beat.' Wed have to play like that. We were like, 'Aw, Joe, come on!' It was great, because he taught us a lot about how to deal with all the aspects of what we were supposed to be about, not just were excited and we want to burn all night.

You were a session player ...


... and a club player. I dont mean the term pejoratively, but you were a journeyman bass player around L.A. and

I was very young, man.

How young were you when you started playing professionally on that level? In the Bay Area, or did it happen in L.A.?

In the Bay Area I was starting to play with some good people. But I started playing with all the older jazz musicians when I got to L.A. I moved to L.A. in 1982, and before that Id already been playing a little in the clubs. I was only 24-25 years old by the time I got the gig with Chick, but Id been playing with a ton of people since 20.

Id assume that playing with Chick developed your technique on the electric bass.

Also. And the acoustic bass. You had to. I had played with a lot of other people when I got the gig with Chick, and being able to play over chords and be a soloist as well was one of the things that I felt was part of my voice. But Chicks comping was so intense the first time, he was blowing me off the stage. He was fierce. I felt like his comping was better than my soloway better than what I was playing. I thought, 'Oh my God, Ive got to get a lot stronger, man.' I had to get stronger physically, too, to keep up that intensity, because that cat could blow all night.

So Chick Corea gave you that feeling in the 80s and Wayne Shorter gave you that feeling in the 90s.

Well, yes. Even before that, Freddie, who was an endless fountain of ideas. I remember in my twenties playing gigs with Freddie, where he would play rhythm changes. Usually youd think, 'when are they going to stop?'because were playing really fast tempos. With him, it was, 'I hope he plays another one; what was that?' I would never get tired, because it was just mind-boggling what he could do.

I have a quote which Ill read back: 'When I was young, like a lot of naive young musicians, you go, 'Ok, I want to be the greatest bass player ever.' Knowing you a bit, Im sure you did.

Yeah, I did.

Then you get a little older, and you realize (a) theres no such thing, (b) there are so many different ways to play and so many guys who bring so much to the table on the music that its exciting to check it all out. 'So somewhere in my teens, I probably realized there wasnt any such thing, but I still wanted to aim high. I realized there were certain things I wanted to do on the instrument. I want to have freedom and be lyrical. I want to have a really strong foundation, be able to anchor any group that Im in, but also, when its my turn to stretch out I want to contribute.' You also mentioned a wish list of people you wanted to play with.

Yes. Thats very true.

Now, almost all those things have happened.

Almost. I didnt get to play with Elvin.

Here I want to discuss your identity as a leader. Youve made these recordings, but Id assume that the preponderance of your professional activity is still on these sideman situations and less as a leader.

Groups. Group formations. Also lots of sideman work still.

Do you switch back and forth between your leader and sideman identities?

                             Blade, Patitucci, Lovano

Same person. The nice thing about this particular trio with Joe and Brian is that I have no stress level being the bandleader. Im as free as when Im a sideman with this group. I started leading bands in 1987. Chick was the one who prodded me to do it. I was writing a lot, and he said, 'Youre writing all this music; youve got to make a record and youve got to have a band.' I said, 'Do you think so, really?' and he said, 'Yeah, absolutely.' He got me the record deal, I did the record, and he said, 'Youve got to put together a band and do more stuff.' Actually, he had me put together the band even before we made the record. So I was already doing some stuff, but it took me years to get comfortable as a bandleader, because then youre wearing different hatsyoure concerned about the whole of the music, the business of it, and all that. So for me, the goal is always to be as loose as when Im when Im just a sideman and dont have to worry about all the responsibilities of presenting the music. In recent years, Im much more comfortable leading bands, because Im so close with the guys Im playing with. Im just enjoying myself in this situation with the trio. Those guys are going to inspire me, theyre going to take the music new places. Theres nothing for me to be concerned about except try to be in the moment with themand I have to announce a few tunes or whatever, which is nothing.

I learned a lot about being a bandleader from Chick and Wayne, and their concept, which is you find guys that you enjoy their identity already and then you just turn them loose.

Chick Coreas approach seems to be project-oriented. He seems to operate with multiple files of activity. He does one project, it ends, maybe he picks it up in three years, but meanwhile he goes on to another project. In each case, hes putting himself into a different space. Wayne seems to be operating via a slightly different process.

Although with Chick, we had a band for ten years. For a while, I think Chick was tired of all those projects. When we had the Elektrik Band and the Akoustic Band, he really liked the fact that we had a band with the same people that could develop over a long track. Even though, yes, he loves doing all kinds of different stuff. He said, 'I can do projects all my life, all day.' Thats easy for Chick. If you give him five minutes, he can write a tune, so a project is nothing. He can write a whole library for a project in a couple of days. Just give him the time in front of the piano, and hes ...WHOOSH. So he liked the idea of having a long development phase.

You mentioned that he imprinted in your mind the notion of writing all the time.

Yes, because he was always writing. Also, not to be so self-critical that you get in the way of the process. I was really influenced by him in the idea of writing, composing . If you put me in front of the piano, I can enjoy just sitting there and Ill write something. I might not love it, but I can write something in a complete form. He taught me to turn off the critic inside and let the stuff flow out. Then you evaluate it. Dont stop yourself in the middle. Let it all out, write it down as fast as you can, get the ideas out, then you can play with them and see whats happening.

Did it take a while for you to internalize the notion of turning off the inner critic, or was it not a complex matter?

Im pretty loose about when I write. I can write quickly and everything. I used to joke with Mike Brecker, because we were the opposite. Hed say, 'Man, how do you write so fast? You write all these tunes.' I said, 'Yeah, but Mike, I write all these tunes, but one of your tunes is better than ten of mine.' He was very meticulous, and would be like one bar ... more the Stravinsky approach. Do you know the story of Stravinsky at the Hollywood party? True story. Stravinskys at a Hollywood party, some young TV composer comes up to him, 'Oh, Mr. Stravinsky ...' Stravinsky was being nice. 'So, what did you do today, young man?' 'Well, I wrote 20 minutes of music.' Stravinsky goes, 'Wow, thats a lot of music. 20 minutes. Hmm.' The young man said, 'What did you do today?' Stravinsky said, 'Well, I was writing. I wrote 2 bars.' The cat was incredulous. 'Youre Stravinsky. You wrote 2 bars?' Stravinsky looked at the guy and said, 'Yeah, you should hear those two bars.'

So I dont take the fact that being quick is necessarily always a positive. It can be, because if you let the stuff flow out, sometimes it can get out of the way. Sometimes good things can happen when you just let the flow go, and thats what I got from Chick. Stuff was just washing out.

When I interviewed Chick Corea for this website, he said that he didnt get involved in classical music until later.

But he had some classical piano training. Yes, he did. Miss Masullo, in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Well, thank you for that. But he told that he didnt study it in-depth until later.

Probably. Even though he was taking piano lessons and learning classical music, his dad was a jazz trumpet player, so he was ...

But both Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter incorporate those interests very seamlessly into their musical production, no matter how hidden or how overt it might be. I think you said that was a help to you.

It was an encouragement. Wayne was always also encouraging me to write and to expand, to be really adventurous in what I would write for. He always liked when I would tell him I was trying to write some expanded music, or that I had a commission. 'Yeah, thats it!' He was always encouraging me not to let anybody put me in a box about what I should write and shouldnt write.

You remarked to me once that youre straddling different genres, that its sort of what used to be called 'third stream,' but in a more organic way.

Trying. Those terms are limiting.

Well, you did use the term.

Its hard to combine those areas, because you have musicians who improvise and musicians who dont. So how do you incorporate the two approaches so that the people who dont improvise can still freely give and be part of a process, and utilize them well, so that they get to do what they do strongly, but do it without overwriting, so theres space for the guys to create some new stuff and improvise on it? Thats what weve been doing with Wayne on orchestra projects. He writes these beautiful, incredible, massive orchestrations, but there is room for us to interact and stretch out and open up sections. Thats great. Thats the goal. Theres no improvisation at all in some of the commissions that Ive written. Its just a piece of modern music that incorporates some of the harmonic language of jazz without laying on these people who have never improvised in their life, 'Ok, now youve got to blow.' You write it into the music, and they can deliver, because theyre used to dealing with the printed work. You can use a lot of different methods. Mark Anthony Turnage wrote me a beautiful bass concerto where theres improvisation and also written stuff, but the orchestra just plays whats written. Yet, he writes so brilliantly, I dont think they feel like theyre not doing anything.

Also, since moving East, youve formed friendships and close affiliations with world-class classical players.

Yes, in my church. Larry Dutton is the violist from the Emerson String Quartet. Richard Rood plays with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. My wife [Sachi] is a strong and highly-evolved cellist. Liz Dutton, who is Larrys wife, plays with St. Lukes Chamber Orchestra.

Playing classical music and improvising require different mindsets. At this point of your evolution, how intertwined are the two processes?

Historically, its interesting to note that it didnt used to be that way. There was no division when Bach and those guys were operating. They could improvise fugues, and they were total improvisers. As time went on, you had to write things down, because not everybody could improvise. But even in the context of Baroque sonatas, musicians would ornament and play on the repeat of the A section. Some still do that; there are harpsichord players who improvise really well. The figured bass, the chord changes of that day. Once you start getting to the Romantic Era, the composer became king, and it changed. So now many classical musicians dont know how to improvise at all. There are varying degrees.

I am pretty open to all points on the continuum. It depends on how you write. You have to know going in what you want to accomplish, and then go for it. If you know what you want to accomplish, then youll make the concessions that you need to make in the departments that you need to make them. I wrote a piece, called 'Lakes,' for Ann Schein, who is a phenomenal classical pianist. Shes been around a long time. She was a protg of Rubinstein. Shes incredible. When she plays a piece, it sounds like shes improvising. When she plays Chopin, it sounds like shes making it up. I just wrote the piece, knowing that even though shes playing something thats completely written-out, shes going to make it sound like shes blowing. She recorded it on a record called American Composers, which came out earlier this year. This was a big moment for me. On the same record, you have Elliott Carter, who is 100 this year, and Aaron Coplands music, and then theres my piece. Which is hilarious! I was joking with my wife. I said, 'Yeah, theres Carter, Copland, and whats that? Is that lunch?' Patitucci. Is that with mozzarella on the side or what?

Obviously, great chamber musicians have great time. Thats one thing I noticed that is the same. When I play with Larry, hes as concerned about the time and the groove as I am. When you play Bachs Brandenberg Concertos or Mozarts music, it actually has a very powerful groove. Thats groove music, really, whereas later periods you get into rubato, and then sometimes people abuse that, even in the French music. The great players are able to balance it to where you have enough straight time and enough bending. Just like a great jazz musician can play behind the beat when he plays in his solo, and get in front and move side-to-side and go all over the place around the time, and make it very vocal and beautiful, and not wooden.

So many different languages operating simultaneously. Not so many musicians out there are as musically multilingual as you are.

I guess you have to really want to be that way. A lot of people just dont care for that. They like a certain thing, and thats what they like. When Im with certain people who like to play a certain wayI like it, too! I like stuff thats loose. I also like hard-swinging music. I grew up listening to Oscar Peterson, too, so Im just as comfortable playing ... I did a record years ago with Monty Alexander, Echoes of Jillys, and it was just down-the-pike swinging. I absolutely love that. But I also like playing in a really open context, and I also like playing with Wayne and with Herbie. All the different in-betweens. It just depends on the kind of music you love to listen to. If you like a lot of different things, then you kind of have to go, 'Ok, now Ive got to learn how to do that,' if you want to play that music. For me, I never get tired of learning new ways to approach the music, because it keeps me excited about it.

Over the next couple of months, your website lists a number of gigs for this music, but most of them arent with Joe and Brian.

Scheduling is very difficult.

Youll be using John Ellis and Marcus Gilmore, which is an interesting trio.

Theyre great. George Garzone is making a lot of gigs, too. Theres one gig also in Boston in September with Teri Lyne Carrington and John Ellis. The first time we ran the music before the record, I actually had a couple of gigs with John and Marcus. They saw some of the pieces before Joe and Brian did. So they were very involved from the beginning, too.

Can we then infer that for you, as a composer, the ideas of the music have a firm identity outside the personnel that plays it? A lot of jazz music is so personnel-specific, but this is not necessarily the case with you.

Hopefully. Obviously, though, certain kinds of musicians are needed in this music, particularly if you look at the drums. Youve got to have somebody who can swing, but also somebody who can play other kinds of groovesthe African stuff, that New Orleans feel. Its not so easy to find guys who can cover a lot of ground, apart from the singular connection that Brian and I have. Thats in its own place for me; after that, its another thing. But Marcus Gilmore is a very gifted young man.

It puts you in a different position. Rather than playing with peers, so to speak ... John Ellis and Marcus Gilmore are superior musicians, but younger musicians.

Well, Im old enough to be Marcus father. John, not quite.

And you turn 50 this year. Music is a social art, moreso than the visual arts or writing, and youve made a transition from someone who is identified more by working with Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, and Roy Haynes, and having done some albums, to the preponderance of your activity being a leader. Is this something you think of consciously? How proactive do you want to be about establishing yourself?

As a bandleader and so on?

Ill put it this way. Establishing yourself where your own musical vision is the predominant thing. From soup to nuts, as it were.

Well, it has to be tempered with my time with my family. I made a choice a little while back that, yes, I could go and tour as a leader most of the year that I wasnt doing the other stuff, but then Id never see my family. So I have to balance it, and thats what I try to do. Thats also why I took the gig teaching at City Collegeso that I could choose a little bit more how much I wanted to be gone. There are still, obviously, some things musically that are super-important, that I feel I have to do. But I also want to have a presence with my own family. A lot of guys sacrifice that to be a bandleader and make a statement and all thatand thats great. But Im not willing to sacrifice being a good husband and father.

Thats sometimes tricky, though. Remembrance is my thirteenth record. Ive had bands since 1987. Yet, some people who write about the music say, 'Well, hes not really a bandleader' or stuff like, 'Hes not really a composer; his stuff is not that developed.' Ive had that attitude thrown at me from time to time, and I think, 'Wow, is that because Im not out there all the time with my band, going, this is what I am, shouting it from the rooftops, touring like crazy?' Also, when you get to be almost 50, you think that you dont want to go on the road all the time. I like going on the road. Its great. But Im not going to do it like I did when I was 25.

So those are choices, and those choices have consequences. Youre not as in the public eye, so youre not going to be poll-winning and all that kind of stuff. That doesnt happen unless youre out with your band all the time, saying, 'Look, this is my vision.' I still have a vision. Its a very strong viewpoint, and I dont feel like Im not taking it seriously. Its just that Im not willing to be on the road eight months a year to do it. So I have to temper it and do it over a longer period of timea slower arc, I guess.

Theres something about the road that seems to inhibit research & development. Perhaps it hones a point of view. But when youre off the road, theres space ... As Corea puts it, the eternal child aspect can perhaps be expressed more readily if youre not on the road all the time.

Yeah, when youre on the road all the time, and youre moving and moving and moving, and doing and doing and doing, theres not as much well, now its a little easier to compose, with the computer. But you need time to just be home. And also, its nice to be home in a place like New York, because theres a lot going on. You dont feel like you came home and theres nothing happening.

Tell me about your position at City College.

Im a full professor with tenure in jazz studies. I teach two days a week; Tuesdays and Thursdays, Im at school. If I have to go out on the road with Wayne, or something like that, I hire somebody out of my own pocket. I have a pretty high standard of what I think I need to do there, but it works out well, because if I go away, I send people like Adam Cruz or Ed Simon or Jon Cowherd, somebody whos out there playing who can give the students another viewpoint, not just from the bass side, but from the perspective of a pianist or a drummer.

I teach students privately as well. My private students never have a sub. If I go away, I make up their lessons. The undergrads get 8 lessons a semester; the graduate students get 10 lessons a semester.

How much of your time is teaching, how much is practicing and composing, how much is performing, and how much is parenting?

I dont even know how to break that down.

You dont sleep.

Yeah, sometimes you dont. The semester time can be really rough. I have to get up at 6:00, help the kids get their stuff for school, and then you go and teach on the days that you teach, and the days that you dont teach youre trying to practice or write or whatever. I go early to get my parking place by the school, then I go in and maybe Ill practice a little bit before school starts, and then deal with the students.

Sometimes when you come home, youre just burnt. Some days are longer than others. This semester, Ill be coaching two graduate ensembles and two undergraduate ensembles, and six or seven bass students. So one day might heavily loaded. I might have to get there by 7:20 to get my parking place. This semester, school will start at 10 oclock, so Ill practice and do some stuff before that, and from 10 to 1 is ensembles, and then private lessons until 5. The other day might be a little shorter. Those are intense days. You have to really be on. Then sometimes, when you come home at night, if youre working on a particular thing and writing with a deadline, or if youre working on a piece and you have to practice, you stay up 'til 2 in the morning. Man, when 6 a.m. rolls around, its not fun. Sometimes I just cant do it. Sometimes I have to do it. I power down a few espressos, and go down in the basement and work, and pay the price the next day.

When youre 55, lets say, five years from now, do you envision your life breaking down in the same way? Do you expect maybe less sideman work, or ...

I dont know. I know Ill keep expanding [my] writing and keep expanding as a player, and Ill continue to write my own music and keep having bands. Ill continue to play with Wayne as long as he wants to keep doing itand other people, too. Ill continue pursuing the writing things also on the side, and hopefully get a chance to play some concertos with orchestras again, like Ive had recently. And keep shedding. Writing, shedding ... thats just on the musical side. But theres also the personal aspects of being involved with my wife and my children and our church. Theres a bunch of stuff going on there, too.

So your roots are now firmly in the New York area. Youre from here, you lived West, but it sounds like the West Coast was never quite your vibe.

No. I liked the Bay Area quite a bit. But when I moved south, which is where I spent most of my time in California, that wasnt me. When I came home to the New York area, I felt like, Man, Im home again; this is great.' They say you cant go home, but you can.

Ted Panken spoke with John Patitucci on August 12, 2009

January 10, 2010 · 0 comments