Those of us who like to read the liner notes to musical releases often see the same names popping up over and over. Such is the case with legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, whose credits include seminal albums with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis, and who also has worked with the likes of Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in addition to leading his own bands over the years.
DeJohnette will be visiting the Lobero Theatre on Tuesday as part of The Spring Quartet, which also features the talents of Joe Lovano (saxophone), Esperanza Spalding (bass and vocals) and Leo Genovese (piano). Tickets are available by clicking here.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?
Jack DeJohnette: You’re going to hear a combination of the talents of everybody. There will be compositions by all of us, and an exploration, playing written compositions but being open to spontaneous bursts of creativity, expanding on the improvisational aspect of the playing.
JM: Can you tell us about the strengths of this particular band?
JDJ: I think the strength lies in everybody’s fearlessness in the exploration of different types of music. In our improvisations, we’re willing to take risks and see what we get into. As is usually the case in situations that I’m involved in, there are lots of nice surprises, lots of great surprises.
JM: Do you have any plans to record with this band?
JDJ: Not at the moment. You know, it’s a new collaboration so we’ll be exploring it. It’s going to be like a work in progress. Each performance will be totally different from any other one.
The joy of playing together … everybody loves and respects everybody’s creative talents and their abilities in their own rights and in their own situations as leaders. It’s bringing everyone’s leadership qualities into this combination to see what we come up with. The reason we’re getting together is that we’re mutual admirers of each other’s musical talents.
JM: Way back when you played with one of Santa Barbara’s local jazz heroes, Charles Lloyd. What were some of the highlights of working with him?
JDJ: Charles and also Keith Jarrett and Cecil McBee, that was the first group I toured with internationally. And that quartet was basically a similar kind of framework to what I’m working with now — fixed compositions but also open to taking explorations off the beaten path.
It was also one of the first groups to actually cross over, to have a crossover appeal to the younger generation, by virtue of the fact that we were playing concerts at the Fillmore West, Bill Graham’s legendary ballroom, and playing with people like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, just to name a few. Butterfield Blues Band. We had a first hit album called Dream Weaver, and we had a hit on there called “Sombrero Sam” that was played a lot on the radio. That was the first crossover group, and it was a significant period, with jazz moving out of just mainstream music and crossing over into the genres of pop and rock.
JM: A year ago, they showed the documentary Arrows Into Infinity about Lloyd at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It was interesting to hear about the trip to the Soviet Union. At the time, did you guys feel like you were really opening things up to that part of the world?
JDJ: It was exciting. It was during the Cold War period, so there was a lot of, shall we say, surveillance by KGB, all that kind of stuff. It was a tactical move by George Avakian, who was the manager, to actually get us to play music for the Russian people. They loved jazz, by way of listening to Willis Conover on Voice of America. We made headlines with that, and so it was a very strategic move on his part. So, yeah, it was a historic move for a group like ours. As you can tell from the documentary, it became a very important experience.
JM: You got involved with Miles Davis in time for his album Bitches Brew. What kind of direction was Miles giving at that time?
JDJ: Miles was utilizing the best musicians on their instruments possible, and going in the studio and giving a few minimal words about what to do. Just working with the grooves, at that point, not unlike what rock musicians would do. We’d go in the studio daily and have some grooves, and maybe some melodies and things like that. We’d get the grooves going and Miles would just direct soloists to play over it, and it would be edited by Teo Macero and put together in a comprehensive way. And it just turned out that it became another movement in music that crossed over, that exposed the broader aspects of jazz to a wider audience.
And so, the Charles Lloyd Quartet and Miles Davis both did similar things. The Charles Lloyd Quartet preceded Miles at the Fillmore by a few years, you know. So you can see that there’s this thread that runs through a lot of my musical experiences, as a sideman and as a leader.
JM: What are your plans for the near future? Are there other things in the works as well?
JDJ: There are a few other things in the works. I have two trios. One is with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison, the Jack DeJohnette Trio. Then I also have the Jack DeJohnette Group, which features special soloists. That group is Jerome Harris on the electric and acoustic bass and guitar, and George Colligan on the piano. George just recorded a trio record with Larry Grenadier and myself that will be coming out this year. Also, I’ve been using a special guest, Don Byron, on the clarinet and tenor saxophone. We’ve been touring the last few years, mostly in Europe and some in the States.
Also, there’s another project that I’m involved in with the amazing, innovative tap artist Savion Glover. If you’ve ever heard of the musical Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, that was Savion. He’s also the tap dancer in Happy Feet. He’s like the John Coltrane of tap. He works off of improvising, so we’ve done some things with my group with Don Byron, and another tap artist Marshall Davis Jr., up in Albany. It was amazing. It unites the improvisational and arranged concept of jazz music with rhythm and movement. It’s very, very different.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.