Jack DeJohnette

Drummer, Keyboardist, Composer
Portrait of Jack DeJohnette

Photo by Michael G. Stewart


"I am truly grateful to be part of an art form that communicates with others on such a highly creative and inspired level and has such an enormous global impact that I believe contributes to bringing harmony everywhere.I am also really grateful to the many who have inspired me and to the NEA for the work that they do and for bestowing this prestigious award on me. To be able to do what one loves, lives, and breathes and get recognized for it is amazing to me. Thank you."

Widely regarded as one of the great drummers in modern jazz, Jack DeJohnette has a wide-ranging style that makes him a dynamic sideman and bandleader. He has played with virtually every major jazz figure from the 1960s on, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and Abbey Lincoln. His versatility on the drums is accented by DeJohnette's additional accomplishments as a keyboardist: he studied classical piano for ten years before taking up drums.

In his early years on the Chicago scene, DeJohnette was active with the premiere musician organization, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, whose members included Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, and Joseph Jarman. In 1966, he drummed alongside Rashied Ali in the John Coltrane Quintet. However, he became more widely known as a member of Charles Lloyd's band, where he first began playing with pianist Keith Jarrett. In 1968, he recorded his first album as a leader, The DeJohnette Complex, on which DeJohnette doubled on melodica.

The second major association of DeJohnette's early career spanned the years 1969-72, when he performed with Miles Davis' first fusion band. Davis gave a nod to DeJohnette in his autobiography, Miles: "Jack DeJohnette gave me a deep groove that I just loved to play over." Besides allowing him to play alongside such stellar musicians as Dave Holland, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin, the Davis years also increased DeJohnette's session work.

DeJohnette began leading several groups in the early 1970s, including Compost, Directions, New Directions, and Special Edition, featuring a diverse gathering of musicians including David Murray, Eddie Gomez, Chico Freeman, John Abercrombie, and Lester Bowie. Since the 1980s, while continuing to lead his own projects and bands, DeJohnette has also been a member of the highly acclaimed Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette trio. DeJohnette has continued to record and perform on keyboards, releasing albums such as Zebra, a mesmerizing synthesizer/trumpet duo with Lester Bowie featuring African music influences. He further explored his interest in African music in a 2005 duet with noted Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso.

In 2005, DeJohnette launched Golden Beams Productions, an independent record label "as an outlet for the broad range of creative projects." The label garnered DeJohnette a Grammy Award for Peace Time, on which he is both featured artist and co-producer. He has composed soundtracks for both television and video, and has received numerous awards including the French Grand Prix du Disque in 1979. In 1991, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from the Berklee College of Music. DeJohnette is the winner of numerous DownBeat magazine "Drummer of the Year" critics' and readers' polls, and JazzTimes magazine's reader polls for "Best Drummer."

Selected Discography:
The DeJohnette Complex, Milestone/OJC, 1968
Special Edition, ECM, 1979
The Jack DeJohnette Piano Album, Landmark, 1985
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, My Foolish Heart, ECM, 2001
Music We Are, Golden Beams, 2008


Transcript of conversation with Jack DeJohnette

Jo Reed: That was drummer and 2012 NEA Master, Jack DeJohnette in a live solo performance at the 1997 Modern Drummer Festival.

Welcome to Art Works, the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how art works. I'm your host, Josephine Reed.

Widely regarded as one of the great drummers in modern jazz, Jack DeJohnette's wide-ranging style makes him a dynamic sideman and bandleader. He has played with virtually every major jazz figure from the 1960s to the present day, including NEA Jazz Masters Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and Abbey Lincoln. He's also an accomplished keyboardist: having studied classical piano for ten years before taking up drums. The Chicago-born New York-based Dejohnette has a playlist that goes for pages, but here are some highlights: He was a charter member of the Charles Lloyd Quartet; he played with Miles Davis's pioneering band in the late 60s early 70s, performing on the seminal album Bitches Brew; he has had a decades-long partnership with pianist Keith Jarrett, performing with him in various bands including the acclaimed Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette trio. He's led several groups , including Directions and Special Edition. All this, while he's enjoyed a diverse and successful solo career.

In 2005, DeJohnette launched an independent record label, Golden Beams Productions. He wanted an outlet for the broad range of creative projects. The label produced Peace Time, on which he is both featured artist and co-producer, which won a Grammy.  Jack Dejohnette is the recipient of many accolades and awards he's been named drummer of the year by many jazz publications and this year he named an NEA Jazz Master. I spoke to Jack Dejohnette soon after he was told the NEA award. We spoke on the porch of his home in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. And you'll birds and the occasional plane in the background. In this, the first of a two-part interview Jack talked about his musical influences, his affinity for jazz, and his early career. According to Jack, his love affair with music began in childhood.

Jack DeJohnette: I was drawn to music very early. My mother-- my uncle were musically inclined or shall we say creative people. I mean my uncle, his hobby was jazz; he loved music and my mother wrote poetry and songs.

Jo Reed: I heard she wrote, "Stormy Monday?"

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, she sold it to T-Bone Walker for $50.

Jo Reed: Amazing.

Jack DeJohnette: How about that? I was really on her case that that song came up for public domain, I'd go get it, but after a certain point they're public domain, you know, the copyright. But yeah, she wrote a lot of poetry. I used to put harmony to, you know, chords to her words and songs.

Jo Reed: And what music did you grow up listening to?

Jack DeJohnette: I grew up listening to everything, I mean jazz was a big part of it, but when I was a young kid, my uncle had a lot of jazz 78s, the lacquered records and we had an old Victrola, I used to play-- crank it up and put these uh.. Decca Records and OK and Columbia, you know, 78s of Duke Ellington and Louie Jordan and Count Basie and later on Dusty Fletcher, Slim Gaylord. I was fascinated by the music, you know, even before I could read I could tell by the label colors which record I wanted to hear. And also I started you know as common custom with families around that time in the ‘40s, mid ‘40s and into the ‘50s, you know you took music lessons. So I took piano lessons. And eventually I listened to the radio; we had a short wave radio and I used to listen to the European music; opera and folk music and in Chicago there was a lot of gospel, R&B. Yeah it was a big hub of a lot of eclectic music there; folk music, and I used to just listen to all of it. I never classified it, you know, I just used to like all these genres of music. There was a lot of influences around.

Jo Reed: When did you start playing jazz on the piano?

Jack DeJohnette: My uncle, who is Roy Wood.

Jo Reed: Who was a journalist.

Jack DeJohnette: Right, who got inducted in the Smithsonian and he actually was my influence of getting me into jazz because of his love of it. First he was historic, because he became the first black news broadcaster on what was formerly an all white station so he's kind of broke the color barrier there and then from there on he moved on and became a jazz teacher, before he became the journalist because of that, he had access to all the jazz records, because they were being sent to him, so I had access to them. So it was great for me, it was mine, you know, the money I saved from that. And when I was in high school I had a combo and the drummer left his drums in my house so I got into the drums naturally and I used to play with the records, my uncle's jazz records and so I found out that I was quite proficient at the drums, so that's when I started playing both instruments. So I used to practice every day because we had a house where I could play and my mother would go to work then I could play in the living room and I'd spend 3-4 hours a day on each instrument until I got them to a point where I was hired on drums as well as the piano.

Jo Reed: What was your first major gig? Was it with piano or was it with drums?

Jack DeJohnette: With piano. I was well known in Chicago as a pianist

Up with piano solo….

Jack DeJohnette: Chicago is a great town for all like I said before, all music, but for jazz, there was jazz all over the city and I was fortunate to have some great mentors to help me. Actually the late father of Deval Patrick..

Jo Reed: Who's governor of Massachusetts.

Jack DeJohnette: Pat Patrick was a mentor to me. He helped me learn chord changes and standard tunes. And when I came to New York later, he let me stay at his house so I could save enough money to get an apartment for myself.

Jo Reed: Well while we're still in Chicago, let's talk about Muhal Richard Abrams who was also you said a great influence.

Jack DeJohnette: Oh yeah. Muhal, he had an open door policy, I mean he room-- he lived in a rooming house and he had this small room with a bed in it and a piano. And he lived there and it was amazing; a self taught musician who went to the library and taught himself harmony and theory; how to play the clarinet; how to compose for orchestra. <Laughs> He used to say, "You don't need a lot of money to learn all this," you know, "It's free at the library."  But he applied himself. You know personal things in life, if I had problems I could talk to him about it as a sort of male role model and he encouraged me to come to New York later on and he said yea, he said man, it's no different than Chicago, it's the same thing there's just more of it.

Jo Reed: When did you make the switch to drums exclusively, when did you decide drums would be your main instrument; your main voice?

Jack DeJohnette: Well okay, that happened when I came to New York but prior to that, I was playing around Chicago on both instruments, and then I was pretty competent as a drummer and I was doing gigs there and I used to play jam sessions at a club on Cottage Grove again in Chicago's south side on 63rd as a club called McKee Richard's Bar & Lounge where a lot of groups used to play, Art Blake and the Jazz Messengers, Sonny Rollins and Coltrane played there. You know I used to play the jam sessions at this place and one night Elvin was late for the last set, and the place was packed; people outdoors, people waiting for the next set and McKee Richards said to Coltrane, listen, you know we got to go up, you know, let Jack DeJohnette, he's a good drummer, he plays jam sessions, but we need to go to the bandstand. So John didn't bat an eye, he just nodded his head, went up to the bandstand and I sat in and I played three songs, so for me, I was like you know, I've been playing at home with the record so I knew the material and it was such a big high for me because you know here's a John doesn't know me from Adam and the trust, I mean McCoy and Jimmy Garrison never looked at me like who is this guy, can he play, you know? It was like you know, completely trusted and of course I was able to you know hold my own until Elvin came back. And that was a- an incredible feeling, you know just to have that, you know, to have that opportunity to play with Coltrane and of course I was high for months on end after that.

Jo Reed: I've heard his intensity was extraordinary as he performed.

Jack DeJohnette: Oh yeah, he was not too many like him. Ravi, his son has that in his genes. He tapped into something very very unique and very very strong; very passionate and very very spiritual. It's been said he put the om back in jazz music.

Jo Reed: Now how did you establish yourself in New York?

Jack DeJohnette:  You know I had played with some of the musicians who came through Chicago from New York like musicians who played with Art Blakey's band I jammed with Freddie Hubbard and Reggie Workman so I knew some of them, and John Hicks and Don Pullen, and these two guys actually stayed at my house on their way up to New York so I made some connections, but when I came to New York I took $27 dollars and a drum set, a Gretsch drum set that I bought, no cases, threw it underneath a Greyhound bus and went up for a weekend and I checked in at the time, that's when musicians came for $2.75 a day you could stay at the Sloan Warehouse YMCA.

Anyway I went there at the first night I got there I went up to Minton's before it closed up at Harlem and who was playing there with Freddie Hubbard with another Chicagoan on piano, Harold Mayburn who actually was from Memphis, but spent a lot of time in Chicago and he was playing in the band and Freddie let me sit in with the band and I'll never forget that because he had been playing Max Roach and Max Roach would play with Charlie Parker and they used to play the fastest tempos ever and so Freddie called just one of those things, like one of those horse race speeds. Fortunately I could play it. It's like okay you coming to New York so that was the initiation. That's the initiation. Anyway, after that, I played two or three more tunes. So it happened to be in the house the great organist, John Patton, Big John Patton and he said to me, "Hey man, you got a set of drums, you got a gig."  I said, "Yeah I have some."  So I got the gig with him and I stayed at the Sloan House. Pat Patrick was in New York. I said, "Pat I want to save up some money and get an apartment," so he said, "Oh come, you could stay with me." He had a small apartment but you know, slept on the couch and I was able to save enough money for security and get an apartment so through the village help came.

Jo Reed: I remember reading you talking about visiting the Five Spot when you first came to …

Jack DeJohnette: Oh yeah all the great places were still going on; actually Birdland was there. When I moved, finally got an apartment. I found a nice apartment and it was around the corner from a place which was famous, a jazz club that had just opened up and in the mid ‘60s called Slugs in the far east <laughs>. Anyway, after I moved in, I went around to the Five Spot. The Five Spot was located on 3rd Avenue and 8th Street and I was lucky enough to go and see people like Albert Dailey, Roy Haynes, Wayne Shorter and the Five Spot was fantastic because people like Monk and Wayne and Mingus could go play this place and you know, you play there two weeks, go in, if you did well, you'd stay for a month or two. So guys had a chance to develop bands because they were in one place, and kept playing night after night, so there was consistency so it was really really fantastic I mean I used to see Chick Corea and Joe Farrell and Roy Haynes there and it was a very fantastic place.

Jo Reed: The Charles Lloyd Quartet. How did that evolve?

Jack DeJohnette: Well you know I got into freelancing around in the city and actually playing at Slug's, you know, there were lots of groups who played there. I was sitting in one night, and Kenny Durham was playing. And I finished-- well after Kenny played his solo <laughs> he literally jumped off the stand, and turned around and said, "Where did this cat come from?"  You know and the Village is like word of mouth passed around, there's a new guy in town, or you know, there's a new drummer in town, there's a new horn player. So word got around and I'm leading up Charles Lloyd and Charles Tolliver had been playing in Jackie McLean's band and I bring this up because the Jackie McLean group preceded the Charles Lloyd Band and that band consisted of some really legendary players:  Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and myself, Charles Tolliver, and Larry Ridley on the bass and so we played, you know we played the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore and we played Pittsburgh and we played around New York City, we played Slugs and as a matter of fact, it was when I was playing with Jackie McLean at Slugs and Miles Davis came around to hear me play. It was at that time Jackie said to me, he said, "You're going to be Miles' drummer one day," because he said, "Miles and I have the same taste in drummers," and actually it was Jackie who discovered Tony Williams and Tony played with Jackie and it was Miles snatched him away. And he said, "Miles is going to be after you eventually," because the word had gotten around. It was so fantastic, you know, it's like a village, like- like in the indigenous world, you know, the village word goes around and so after that, I used to see Charles playing at Slugs and at the time he had a band with Gabor Szabo, the great Hungarian; legendary great guitarist from Budapest and the band, I think he had Reggie Workman and I think it was yeah, Pete LaRoca was on drums. And so that band split up and we decided, we talked about forming a new band. Then the subject came up of a piano player and I had heard Keith Jarrett with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Charles had heard Keith in Boston. So between us, we had both said, "Okay, we need to get this guy."  So we had a rehearsal at Charles' and that's when the quartet was formed and our first gig was at the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore.

Love Ship up and hot

Jo Reed: That quartet is just phenomenal for so many reasons but it also really is one of the first crossover jazz ensembles?

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah it's one of them. At that particular time there was also, I just want to mention some other groups from that period, because it was a very fertile time of experimentation and the society. put it, I'll just interject, in between that time with Jackie and the time I got with Charles Lloyd, I also served my time with some fantastic vocalists. One was Abbey Lincoln and with a trio with Reggie Workman and Cedar Walton. And I also played with Betty Carter, the late, great Betty Carter and it was actually while I was over here that I left and went with Charles Lloyd, which she wasn't too happy about <laughs> but these are great training grounds for me, and especially playing with singers. As a drummer, you really had to be sensitive and dynamics was very very important so I learned quite a bit from that. I also learned a lot about dynamics from playing with Jackie too.

Jo Reed: You're a big drummer, but you're not a loud loud loud drummer and you somehow manage to do both.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah I mean my early days I was pretty raw, <laughs> so I got accused of that but many years since then.

Jo Reed: Time tempers us all.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, yeah in a good way; I've been fortunate, so far it's been pretty good.

Jo Reed: Now am I right with Charles Lloyd, you played the Fillmore East down in the Village?

Jack DeJohnette: We actually pre-empted the Miles going there. I mean that period too, we had that-- I'll just give a picture of what New York and what United States was at that time, and around the East Village, you okay there was a place called The Electric Circus and before that it was called The Balloon Farm and it was funny because groups like The Free Spirits. Groups used to come in there and experiment and I remember I went there one night and there was this group nobody heard, they weren't announced, and all of a sudden, they were playing some jazz, soft jazz. And then all of a sudden you heard, "Sing a simple song!"  "Yeah, yeah, yeah!"  And it was Sly and the Family Stone. They were trying out material unannounced just to see how people would react and of course everybody was like, "Who is that!?" And it was during that period, I think the Charles Lloyd Quartet, I think we had released Dreamweaver which we had a mild hit called "Sombrero Sam," a crossover hit on that. Like I said before, it was a fertile period and lots of different types of music and genres were crossing over, you know, and the public was really open to it. American audiences were really great. And of course, Charles Lloyd Quartet spent a lot of time in Europe and you know we did our groundbreaking appearance in the Soviet Union, which we have a document of that. Like a six albums that we did.

Jo Reed: Now Miles Davis, you were with him for two years?

Jack DeJohnette: Three years.

Jo Reed: Three years and you were, well first, tell me about, what was that experience like for you?

Jack DeJohnette: Well, you know, coming up in Chicago and having played with all these master musicians, great musicians, doing records and coming to New York and then play with these people that I listened to was, you know, I was like a kid in a candy store, I mean it was really, really exciting to play with the best and learn from the best, so I first got the opportunity to play with Miles when Tony Williams was not available with the band and we played The Vanguard a number of times and we played in Washington, D.C., and that band consisted of Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Herbie and you know, Miles was playing straight ahead stuff and I was still with Charles Lloyd Quartet and then I was with Bill Evans for a while, and that period I had been playing with Stan Getz and then with the Bill Evans and then Miles hired me, you know, from Bill Evans. At that point, Herbie and Ron had left, and Chick Corea and Dave Holland became the rhythm section. Wayne remained and then at this period was Miles' crossover period and I think it started with oh I guess well it started when Miles did uh Filles de Kilimanjaro, and then In a Silent Way and Miles started moving, you know, started new directions in music of Miles Davis and during these marathon recording sessions with his favorite musicians on the instruments and all in the studio together and I appeared on Bitches Brew.

Bitches Brew up and hot….

Jo Reed: And that was groundbreaking.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, I mean nobody thought, everything that Miles did, you knew was making some history. The music wasn't difficult but what it was, it was groove orientated music and he wrote sketches, little melodies, some chords, bass riffs and had the drums find a groove. When the groove was right, you know, meanwhile Teo Macero who was a great producer who put this stuff together and made sense of all the tracks that we did. You know, put all these things together so we would just do all these things and then play these grooves when these grooves were- get- get the right place, and Miles would cue different players to come in and play, solo, then he'd cue them out, you know, and then the tape would stop. Then we'd start something else. So, it was a creative work in progress, you know. And, it was not unlike, you know, Miles was really excited, because he had access to this big, big Columbia studio down on 53rd Street, or 52nd. And, you know, he could just create, on the spot, you know, and document it. So, it was a very, very, very productive period for him.

Jo Reed: Did playing with him affect the way you approached drumming?

Jack DeJohnette: Well, Miles loved drums. And, so, you know, I had to follow Tony Williams. So, I had all these other influences, but I had to bring my own, establish my own voice in it. And I was allowed to do that. And Miles, again, one of the great attributes to the greats, like Monk, and Mingus, and Miles, and Coltrane was that they trusted musicians. They hired musicians that could think for themselves. But, they had a way of bringing, just through their whole charisma, of bringing out the best of the musician. So, everybody would play their best for Miles; he had that kind of thing, or Coltrane. But, they had this kind of thing:  trust. So, he led by doing; in other words, he led by how he played his instrument, and a few times that he made comments, made suggestions. They were always good suggestions; they made sense. What I learned from Miles was what not to do, what not to play; sometimes, it's what's left out that makes more of a big impact than more. Sometimes, less means more.

Jo Reed: What kind of impact do you think your drumming had on Miles' work?

Jack DeJohnette: Well, to quote Miles, Miles said in his book, his autobiography-- that "Jack had played a kind of groove you just love to play over." 

Jo Reed: What did you say? You said something really interesting:  that playing is about listening and holding back until you're hearing what other people are playing, and giving them the space. I'm paraphrasing you, but giving them the space to do their own thing.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, I think it's important. The drums are a musical instrument, and they're tuned. And a drummer has the job of inspiring, bringing out of the soloist and the rest of the band things that they probably wouldn't do otherwise. You have to be a good listener; that's an important thing. Sometimes, I won't respond, necessarily, to a rhythm or something that's played, because I want to give them space. But then I may play something against the player to complement what they're doing, if it makes sense and it feels right. And that's an intuitive thing. Music is very intuitive, and listening is part of it. And, playing grooves; I love grooves; I love to play grooves. But I love to sit and just milk it for all its got.

That was drummer and 2012 Jazz master, Jack Dehohnette. Next week, part 2 of my conversation with Jack. You'll hear some wonderful music as well as Jack's thoughts on his long collaboration with Keith Jarrett, his groundbreaking composition, Song in the Key of Om, and his soon-to-be-released CD Sound Travels.

If you love jazz, don't miss the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Concert and Awards Ceremony. It takes place at 7:30 p.m. on January 10, 2012, at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Along with Jack DeJohnette,  the NEA is honoring Von Freeman,  Charlie Haden, Jimmy Owens, and Sheila Jordan. The concert may be sold out, but you don't have to miss the action: we are webcasting it live! Go to arts.gov and click on Jazz Masters for more information about this free event and live webcast.

You've been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.

Excerpts from "Love Ship" composed by Charles Lloyd and performed live by the Charles Lloyd Quartet in June 1968, used courtesy of Forest Farm Music.

Excerpts from "Pharoah's Dance" and "Miles Runs the VooDoo Down" from the cd Bitches Brew, composed by Miles Davis, used courtesy of Sony Entertainment Music and Universal Music Publishing Group and East St. Louis Music, Inc.

Excerpts from "Home" from his soon-to-be-released cd Sound Travels, composed and performed by Jack Dejohnette used courtesy of Golden Beams Productions, eOne Music and DL Media.

The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at www.arts.gov. And now you subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U -- just click on the itunes link on our podcast page. To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening


Transcript of conversation with Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette: A drummer has the job of inspiring, bringing out of the soloist and the rest of the band things that they probably wouldn't do, otherwise. You have to be a good listener; that's an important thing. And sometimes, I won't respond, necessarily, to a rhythm or something that's played, because I want to give them space. But them, I may play something against the player to complement what they're doing, if it makes sense and it feels right. And that's an intuitive thing. Music is very intuitive, and listening is part of it. And, playing grooves. I love grooves; I love to play grooves, as well as abstract things. But I love to sit and groove, and just milk it for all its got.

That's drummer and 2012 NEA Master, Jack DeJohnette. Welcome to Art Works, the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how art works. I'm your host, Josephine Reed. This is the second of a two-part interview with legendary drummer, Jack DeJohnette.

A dynamic and versatile musician Jack DeJohnette creates a sound that is absolutely his own. He is one of the most influential jazz drummers of the 20th century both as a leader and as a sideman for artists like Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, and Sonny Rollins. An accomplished pianist as well as a percussionist, DeJohnette is known for his musicianship and his innovative sound. In part 1, we learned about Jack's coming of musical age in chicago and his early years in NYC, the influence of Muhal Richard Abrams, and his collaboration with Miles Davis, which culminated in the seminal album Bitches Brew. In Part 2, Jack DeJohnette discusses the various trios and bands he's led, the development of his independent record label, and his decades long relationship with pianist Keith Jarrett. I spoke to Jack DeJohnette soon after he was told about receiving  the NEA Jazz Master's award. We talked on the porch of his home in the Catskill Mountains. And, yes, those are birds you occasionally hear singing in the background. We pick the conversation with Jack talking about his instrument: the drums.

Jack DeJohnette: The drums are a percussive instrument and a musical instrument. You tune it. You have cymbals -- cymbals are the orchestra sounds, or the sustaining sounds that link rhythms that you play on the actual drum set. And a drummer has to comp like a piano player, as well. And, I try to do that. So I think orchestrally about my drum set. Well, I don't use a big kit like a rock-and-roll drummer.

Jo Reed: Eight drums, something like that? Is that about what you use?

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it's extended, because I have an 8- and 10-inch mounted tom-toms, which I like to tune in the bongo range, because I love playing with a hand percussionist. And it gives me-- I think of hand-percussion rhythms on the drum set, especially Afro-Cuban, and Latin rhythms. So, it gives me a broad palate, my drum kit. And I kinda tune it so it fits a pretty broad range of music. And I also use, and I've developed, I call bells; some people call them "resonating bells," which my cymbal company, Sabian, we co-created a line of cymbals for me, Jack DeJohnette Cymbals. So, sound is important. I like to create music with cymbals. So, I created these resonating bells, which I wanted to have something that allowed me to play melodically and harmonically in certain musical contexts, and these bells allowed me to do that. Actually, I wound up using the bells, actually, on my first recording on my label, Golden Beams, "Music in the Key of Om."

Jo Reed: You also did a number of records as a leader creatively. What happens with you when it's your ensemble?

Jack DeJohnette: Well, I have to ask myself, "What do you wanna do?" And, also, I write, like Duke Ellington and some of the other great composers, write for the personalities that are in my band. So, anyway, but getting into band-leading:  well, I first started leading a band-- I guess the first Directions band was done through my first producer, which is Orrin Keepnews. And a label called Milestones. And, of course, I did the first record with him, called "The Dejohnette Complex."

Up and hot...

Jack DeJohnette: And that was pretty historical, as it had my mentor on drums, Roy Haynes; and two bass players, Eddie Gomez and Miroslav Vitous, two great musicians and composers; Stanley Cowell, a composer and player, a great player; and Bennie Maupin. So, that was my first recording, and it also feature me on a wind-blowing instrument called the melodica. So, I've Orrin to thank for believing in me to experiment with things on his label.

Jo Reed: You're referring to producer, Orrin Keepnews. You did a lot of work with Manfred Escher, with Special Edition, Directions, New Directions...

Jack DeJohnette: Eventually, my first Directions recording was done with John Abercrombie and Alex Foster and Peter Warren. And that was called the "Cosmic Chicken." So, that was the first Directions band. And, of course, that went on after I left Prestige; Milestones was taken over by Prestige, and I did some more dates there. And then, I went to Manfred, and did the first record for him:  a duet record with Keith Jarrett and myself, called "Ruta and Daitya." Manfred was-- he viewed music like a production, like a film production. He was a classical producer, worked for Deutsche Grammophon and produced a lot of records. I think, sang in some choirs in Austria, when he was young, and he played bass. So, he played a lot of experimental music, but his musical palate was quite broad. And, so he was interested in recording some of the musicians who played with Miles, like myself, Keith, Gary Peacock. And it was great working with Manfred, which I still work with him, because he was always encouraging you to do the best creative output that you could. And he had an aesthetic that drew that out:  he loved spontaneity as well as fixed composition. And, what has it been, thirty years, I think, or longer than that. But, he's still considered one of the premier producers of new music, classical music, and jazz; I'd say world music. So, it's been really a very profound, very, very highly long-lasting creative relationship.

Jo Reed: Well, you have another long-lasting creative relationship with Keith Jarrett. You've been playing together for decades. Can you just talk about the alchemy that happens between you?

Jack DeJohnette: Keith is another one of those musicians that is considered, and is, one of the best improvisers on the planet today, in any genre:  classical, and jazz. You know, he and I met in the Charles Lloyd Quartet. And we got a rapport we instantly didn't have to talk about. It was just something that was-- maybe we'd been together in previous lives, I don't know. But there was just something, an understanding, that we had with each other. We could just go anywhere <laughs>, and we still do. And, it's just stayed intact through over 40 years now playing with Charles; and then, later, him with me, him playing the electric keyboards with Miles; and then, the trio.

Jo Reed: You, Gary Peacock and Keith Jarrett.

Jack DeJohnette: And, it's been great working with Keith, and Keith has been quite respectful of Gary and myself by advertising us as equal billing. And we just-- we never talked about how long we'd stay together; we just said, "As long as it feels good, we'll keep doin' it."

Up and hot, Prism.

Jack DeJohnette: And it keeps gettin' better and better, keeps growin'. So, it's been a magical voyage.

Jo Reed: You, Gary Peacock, and Keith Jarrett. You are doing the standards now.

Jack DeJohnette: The idea of coming up and playing standards was good, because instead of us all writing original tunes, it gave us common ground to go into these songbooks-- you know, the songbook-- and see what we could pull out of it. And we're still doing that. I mean, we do have periods where we do spontaneous improvisations, but was also do the standard book, and we've been finding new ways to play it. So, we continually do that. We've just finished a nice tour of Europe in July. We usually do the summer festivals in July.

Jo Reed: You've started your own production company, quite some time ago:  Golden Beams.

Jack DeJohnette: Yea. Golden Beams was an idea that sprang out from-- sort of an inspiration from my wife, Lydia, and my younger daughter, Minya. So that I had so many projects and ideas and things I wanted to do. This was set up to be an outlet for those things:  to play with different musicians that I had a rapport with.

Jo Reed: Do let's talk about "Music in the Key of Om," because that is also groundbreaking.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah. "Music in the Key of Om" was made for my wife, Lydia, who does vibrational healing work. So I made it for her; and then my younger daughter, Minya, who was, at the time, doing massage therapy. They both had these CD's, and people started commenting, like: "This is nice; you should put this out." And my older daughter, Farah, posed for the cover of that. And, it was made, and it got nominated for a Grammy. And it's still doing well. One of the things I wanted to get across with that:  there's a lot of so-called-- you know, it goes into the "new-age" category. And there's a lot of new-age music where people are playing music like-- you know, they're soloing, and they're playing a lot of notes. And sometimes, it's distracting. I wanted to make something that didn't do that, that the person could do yoga, or just meditate, or massage.

Up and hot, "Music in the Key of Om"

Jack DeJohnette: So that you just tune out, and it just takes you, grounds you, brings you to a place of peace where you can re-energize and rejuvenate yourself. And that's the space I went into when I recorded. So, it had that effect on me when I heard it back. And, as I was doing it, I was feeling that.

Jo Reed: Let's talk about the evolution with your trio with Danilo Perez and John Patitucci. How did the three of you come together?

Jack DeJohnette: Well, I did Danilo's first recording as a leader. And I played with John Patitucci on a Chinese guitarist, named Eugene Pao, came over here to record. And I said to John, "Man, there's a pianist named Danilo Perez. I think you two guys would sound great together." So, I hooked them up. And, as a result, they are half of Wayne Shorter's amazing Quartet. And, we played together and we decided, "Okay, let's do something with the trio." So, we decide, "Okay, we're gonna do this recording," because we had such a really, really great rapport together.

Jo Reed: And you produced this: Golden Beams.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, Golden Beams; yeah. So, we produced this project, and I'm the executive producer, Music We Are, and it was done up here, near Woodstock, in the Catskills. And I wanted just to capture that vibe that we had. And so, using studio techniques-- overdubbing and editing--we put together the tracks on this "Music We Are."

Up and hot...

Jack DeJohnette: And, unfortunately, we weren't able to tour a lot the following year with it, because Danilo broke his Achilles heel <laughs>, so he was out of commission for a while. But we did manage to play a week at the Blue Note, which was sold out for that week. And we played some of the music from that CD; and also, we played the Puerto Rican Jazz Festival.

Jo Reed: Danilo said that one thing that's true for all three of you is that you're all in love with the process of making the music.

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah, because we came with music, but somebody makes a suggestion:  "Why don't we change this?" Like Danilo made some changes to one of my pieces that enhanced it and made it better. Or John might do that. So, it was a collective musical process: we mixed it together. So, it's a democratic way of producing a quality musical statement, or statements, I should say.

Jo Reed: The other thing I thought was interesting-- and this is something that you said. You said, "We're not the average jazz trio: we use the colors." And you referred to seeing music in colors. Can you say more about that?

Jack DeJohnette: Yeah. I think it was Danilo who said that about the colors. But I think sometimes, when you say "colors," colors for me is-- sometimes the mood, or the harmonies, or the rhythms will evoke feelings, or maybe colors. And in music, sometimes, there are chords sometimes:  blue chords, or a red chord. Different people see different colors, when you talk about colors. Coloring the music. I'd say I use the term "coloring the music"-- like, if I play with somebody, I'm not just keeping time; I'm coloring the music like a painter using a palate. So, I'm using rhythm, sound, and tonalities from the pitches of my drums and the cymbals. So, that's why we refer to as "coloring music." I'm not always thinking in terms of colors. I'm thinking of the moods, I'm thinking the feeling. And, if it makes you move, that's the important thing. If it makes you move, that's what I want.  Because the rhythm, the mood -- when you can get the body to move, you bypass the intellect, which is all that starts processes, starts thinking. You go to the feeling. And then you break that down. And then the musician and the listener can open up to, sometimes, places of ecstasy. And that's what happens with groove music, you know, trance music, so-called "trance" music:  the repetition of something, and it takes you higher and higher. It just keeps growing. It feeds itself, or feeds the fire.

Jo Reed: Well, let's talk about how you're feeding the fire now. What's next for you? You have so many irons in the fire. What's next for you? What's next for Golden Beams?

Jack DeJohnette: Okay. When you mention Golden Beams, I'll address Golden Beams first, and then I'll talk about what's coming up next. The next projects that were done on the label was Bill Frisell--actually, a project that was in my archives. I record everything, every performance. And, while touring with Keith Jarrett, on a tour in Seattle, Washington, John Gilbraith, who hosts the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle--I had a day off in between, and Bill and I were able to do a duet concert, which was recorded and documented. And I pulled it out, and I listened to it, and I thought, "There's something on here." So, I sent it to Bill, and said, "Bill, what do you think? Can I put this out on my label? We'll work something out." And he said, "Yeah, go ahead." And then, I brought in my son-in-law, Pablo Ben Surman, who's a musician and sound engineer, and who's worked with me for many years, through his father, the great composer and multi-reedist, John Surman, another great affiliation. But, so Ben came in, and I brought him in, and I said, "Enhance this. Add some ambient sounds, add some colors to this." So, we co-produced that, and came out with "The Elephant Sleeps but Still Remembers." And then, I did a follow-up to the "Music in the Key of Om," "Peace Time." And that consequently got a Grammy. You know, that was really exciting.

Jo Reed: And your own projects?

Jack DeJohnette: Well, yeah. I was really surprised that it got it, and as a result of that, my wife, Lydia, who has a friend who's a nurse named Jeanette <ph?>, who works at two of the hospitals here, in Kingston. We were able to get both of these CD's played in the hospital:  in the patients' rooms and in the hallways. And we've had feedback on it that says it really helps the staff and the people who either might be dying or recuperating, you know, recover better. And also, there was a-- can we stop that for a second-- I just wanna get--

Jo Reed: And your own projects?

Jack DeJohnette: At the moment, it's pretty crazy right now. Just came back from Europe. My wife and I: we're co-managers right now and there's a lot going on with the NEA and I was  blessed with the opportunity to do a very special project to coincide with the NEA's ceremonies in New York. A good friend of mine, Chuck Mitchell, who's been involved in the music business and the record business for many years--he's done work with Herbie Hancock. We've known him almost-- over 40 years. And he said-- you know, we talked to him, and he said, "Well, you know, I'd love to see you do a great recording, and have it come out to coincide with the NEA ceremonies." So, he asked me who I'd like to get to produce it, and the one man I chose is a great, great, fantastic producer named Bob Sadin, Robert Sadin. And I worked with him on numerous occasions:  with Herbie, and on the Sting project, Sting's project before last, I guess. I forgot the title: something in winter. He did stuff with strings, and wind ensembles. So, I did, I played drums on one piece, only one, actually. And Bob was producing that. So, I suggested I wanted to get Bob. And, we had a meeting, and Bob was really excited to do it. So, I chose the musicians, and the musicians I chose were the younger I said, "Leaders or innovators of the future." And they are. Esperanza Spalding:  fantastic, all-around talent, actually. She sings, she writes, and she plays bass. And I actually played on three tracks of her next release, and then, Lionel Loueke, who comes from Benin, Africa, who's been playing with Herbie. I got a chance to play with Lionel extensively last January, with Michel Portal, who's a very talented, shall we say eclectic player. He's well known for his playing clarinet, Mozart; he plays Mozart. But, he also does jazz and new music experiments. And he plays all the reed instruments. So, we did a record of Michel's, with Lionel, and a trumpet player who I like very much, named Ambrose Akinmusire. These players have very individual voices. I also want to do a few tracks with Jason Moran;

Up and hot...

Jack DeJohnette: And, last but not least, Bobby McFerrin; and a great percussionist, who was recommended to me by Danilo Perez, named Luisito Quintero. So, that's the line-up. And I'm writing music. And, basically, a lot of it is, we talk about grooves. It's gonna be about grooves, because I do that so well. So, it's my turn to make a groove record.

Jo Reed: Final question, Jack: how did you find out you were named a NEA 2012 Jazz Master?

Jack DeJohnette: I was in London, at my mother-in-law's house. Wayne called and said, "Yeah, this is NEA. How are you doing?" I said, "I'm doing okay." He said, "Well, I've got some news for you that'll make your day a little bit better." And, he says, "You've just been awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Award." And, it took a little while. And, I said, "Oh, really." It was, like, "Wow." Then, of course, you know, you get a little bonus with that, financial bonus with that. And it took a little while for me, after I hung up. And my wife, Lydia, was, like, "Ahhh!" It took me a while for it to sink in. And then, I was, like, "Yeah!" I'm having a lot of time now to have it sink in:  a lot of people congratulating me, and it's really-- I really feel really blessed to have that honor.

Jo Reed: So well deserved, Jack; really. Many congratulations from us.

Jack DeJohnette: Thank you. And it's great to join the list of other great masters, to be worthy of that is really a great, great feeling.

Jo Reed: That was drummer and 2012 NEA Jazz Master, Jack DeJohnette. You've been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.

Excerpts from "Mirrror Image" from the cd The DeJohnette Complex composed by JD and used courtesy of Concord Music Group, Inc. and DeJohnette Music.

Excerpts "Prism" from the cd Setting Standards, composed by Keith Jarrett and performed by Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock, used courtesy of ECM Records and Cavelight Music.

Excerpts from "Earth Prayer" and "Michael," from the cd Music We Are, composed by Jack DeJohnette and performed by Jack DeJohnette, Danilo Perez, and John Patitucci, used courtesy of Golden Beams Productions and DeJohnette Music.

Excerpts from "Music in the Key of Om," composed by Jack DeJohnette, and used courtesy of Golden Beams Productions and DeJohnette Music.

Excerpts of "Indigo Dreamscape" from the soon-to-be-released cd Sound Travels, composed by JD used courtesy of Golden Beams Productions, eOne Music and DL Media.

The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at www.arts.gov. And now you subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U--just click on the itunes link on our podcast page. Next week, architect and public artist Meejin Yoon.

To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening


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