DeJohnette is one of jazz’s most complete drummers. What’s so special about him? Let’s start with the number of people he has played with in his 40 year career – Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, John McLaughlin, David Murray, Lester Bowie, John Scofield and many more. Now add in his ability to combine free jazz styles with the deep groove of a complete funk drummer. Deepen the mix with his desire to experiment and yet maintain the tradition. Yes, deJohnette is a complete drummer – and he plays the piano and melodica too.
DeJohnette was born in Chicago in 1942. He first became known as a member of Charles Lloyd’s band. This A group featured Keith Jarrett on piano – a combination that was to surface again many years later in the Standards Trio. The drummer couldn’t have picked a moment to step into the limelight. In late 1966 the Charles Lloyd Quartet had played the Monterey Jazz Festival before going on to the Fillmore Auditorium in January of the following year. Fillmore was no ordinary date – the Quartet was opening for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and this was the start of Californian counter-culture. The Lloyd group had the distinction of recording the first ever live album at the Fillmore and this level of exposure was to change the way young audiences thought about jazz. Find out more about this period on the recently released double CD anthology Dream Weaver on Warner Jazz.
The live albums that emerged (predicatably called Love-In and Journey Within) were huge sellers and it wasn’t surprising that both deJohnette and Jarrett were to catch the eye of a jazz man famous for his talent spotting abilities. Miles Davis was on the cusp of a change in his sound. He made no secret of wanting to expand his musical palette and capture a new young market, and young guns like deJohnette and Jarrett were just what he needed. DeJohnette first appeared on Bitches Brew in 1970 – one of the most influential jazz albums ever released and he must certainly have been influenced by Davis’s recording practices. Calls to musicians would be made at very short notice and they would have very little or no idea what they were to record. Once in the studio, musicians were given just a few instructions – usually suggestions as to mood or tone. Davis liked to work this way; he thought it forced musicians to pay close attention to one another, to their own performances, or to Davis’s cues, which could change at any moment. DeJohnette must have been influenced by this freewheeling approach: he has continually sought new challenges in the music he has played, constantly creating new group combinations – from the jazz rock of Compost, the free blowing sounds of Special Edition and the timeless trio sounds of his work with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock in the Standards Trio. In his autobiography, Miles Davis said of deJohnette “he just gave me a deep groove that I love to play over.” For his own part, de Johnette has said:
“As a child, I listened to all kinds of music and I never put them into categories. I studied classical piano and listened to opera, country and western music, rhythm and blues, jazz, swing, whatever. To me it was all music and great. I’ve kept that integrated feeling about music, all types of music, and just carried it with me, and I’ve maintained that feeling in spite of this habitual attempt to try and keep people pinned down to a certain style.”
The diversity of deJohnette’s output since his time with Miles has been immense. He’s in demand as a special projects drummer, is the kitman of choice for many big names and he leads his own groups, many of which include the biggest names in jazz. Recently, deJohnette has even taken to making music as an aid to meditation. A couple of years ago, I saw him playing with a live group that accompanied the full length silent feature film about the world’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson.
So where to start with listening to this peerless drummer? Any choices will be personal but here’s a few places to begin – the track name is followed by the CD that you’ll find it on:
Charles Lloyd – Dream Weaver (The Charles Lloyd Anthology – Warner Jazz)
Miles Davis – Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (Bitches Brew – Columbia)
Jack deJohnette – India (Special Edition – ECM)
The Standards Trio – Autumn Leaves/Up for It (Up for It – ECM)
If you can’t get access to these tracks, don’t worry. We’ll be playing them on the show in coming weeks in the new year.
Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8 and 10pm on www.icrfm.co.uk.