Jack DeJohnette switches to piano while Terri Lyne Carrington plays drums in Woodstock
“I want people to come out to hear Terri play,” is one of the first things that Jack DeJohnette says when we speak about the concert coming up this weekend. “I’ll play a few tunes, including some from my new solo piano recording, but I want Terri to shine. Terri writes great music and I’m looking forward to hearing her play.”
DeJohnette will perform a half-hour set of solo piano before Terri Lyne Carrington takes the stage at the Woodstock Community Center on Saturday night, March 19. The three-time Grammy-winning drummer will feature tunes from her latest release, Money Jungle, when she performs with her trio: Aaron Parks on piano, Mark Shim on saxophone and Zach Brown on bass.
A longtime Woodstock resident, DeJohnette is a world-renowned musician and a humble, openhearted man. He met Carrington when her parents, Sonny and Judy, brought her to meet him when she was 16 years old. “We hung out and talked about drums. She was already playing semi-professionally then, and we talked and listened to different musicians. She was already very broad in her concepts. We’ve stayed friends on a musical and personal level for a number of years now, and I’ve followed her career in drumming, composing, producing and educating. Herbie [Hancock] played with her, and she’s performed with television bands [house drummer for The Arsenio Hall Show and Quincy Jones’s late-night TV show VIBE, hosted by Sinbad], has won Grammy Awards…she’s had quite a career.”
So has DeJohnette – and his latest recording, Return (Newvelle Records 2016), is somewhat of a departure as well as a return: Four years after he was born in Chicago in 1942, he started classical music lessons on his first instrument, the piano. When he joined his high school concert band at age 14, he added drums to his musical palette.
Though he has performed on piano throughout a career that now spans half a century, he’s best-known as a drummer and percussionist, and has contributed his sensitive-yet-powerful musicality to recordings and performances with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Betty Carter and countless other artists. He garnered a 2009 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album (Peace Time); French Grand Prix Disc and Charles Cos awards; prominence in Downbeat and Jazz Times readers’ and critics’ polls over multiple decades; and many other honors, including a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship in recognition of his lifetime of extraordinary achievements and contributions to the artform.
Speaking about his upcoming solo piano recording for Newvelle – a new company with a subscription model offering six vinyl releases per year – DeJohnette says that he was a little reluctant at first when the producers approached him. “I had never done a solo piano recording before, and I thought it might be fun, a challenge, and also stimulating,” he says. The album features his own compositions, except for one folk melody written by Milton Nascimento, and it was recorded on “a really beautiful nine-foot Fazioli grand piano, a very special instrument. They let me spend time with the piano so I could get used to it, because the action is very sensitive. I spent three to four hours with it each week for about five weeks before going into the studio to record.”
DeJohnette’s body of work displays his depth of artistic curiosity and an open embrace of music. This year, his openness crosses over into pure percussion and fluid movement in his teaming up with tap dancer and choreographer Savion Glover. “He’s beyond tap, a total artist,” says DeJohnette of the hoofer who gained stardom in 1996 with Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk on Broadway and tapped his way into the hearts of young movie buffs when technology allowed him to become the dancing feet of the animated penguin in Happy Feet. “He taps to string ensembles, to Mozart, too. You have to see it to appreciate it; he’s really outside the box. I call him the ‘Coltrane of Tap Dancers,’ and we hooked up during one of his artist residencies at the Blue Note.” The DeJohnette and Glover concerts will be “spontaneous, in the moment. There will be no rehearsals. It’s creativity at a high level.” DeJohnette will play drums and electronic percussion in these concerts, adding, “It’s challenging, exhilarating and a lot of fun.”
DeJohnette cares deeply about our environment and the ways in which we humans live, and create together, here on Earth. His first exposure to spiritual awareness was nurtured by his grandmother, a Christian Scientist, whom he describes as “a very spiritual woman who put emphasis on the spiritual aspects of religious beliefs. I went to church, and she talked with me about the writings of Mary Baker Eddy as a companion to the Bible. Muhal Richard Abrams and the other Chicago musicians I played with in the early years, Coltrane and others, they were into that too. I was always around people who had that. Coltrane was very profound in that way, and his music is, still, to this day.”
DeJohnette says that his trio with Coltrane’s son Ravi and Matthew Garrison, son of Jimmy Garrison, continues in this vein with compositions that the three of them co-wrote, as well as a few covers, like Coltrane’s “Alabama.” “I’m really excited about the sound. It encompasses intensity, spaciousness, sensitivity, spirituality, melody, harmony and rhythm,” he says, adding that he also plays piano on two tracks of their upcoming ECM label release.
Having served on both sides of the mentorship role, DeJohnette sees the relationship as one of facilitation. “You help the younger person bring out who they are, to develop their own individual voice and to learn to integrate it with other voices,” he says. “It’s an exchange, and it should always be like that: an exchange of ideas. People like Esperanza Spalding and others have a lot of fresh ideas. The elders give them wisdom, and they offer youthful ideas, energy and things I wouldn’t have thought of. It’s a tradeoff, back and forth.”
DeJohnette is among the most prolific and consistently creative musicians living among us, and when asked to share his ideas on discipline and the creative process, he responds, “It’s just a space, and when you go into it, you have to open up to the creative spirit. It’s with me all the time. I don’t have to do it every day, and I don’t have to be at an instrument to create. I can go there in my head. I meditate, yes; I do it in the evening, but not just by sitting quietly in a darkened room. The whole of life can be a meditation. It’s about turning off the chatter in the head. I do it by going outside to look at nature, watch the birds, listen to music, take a walk…”
“The answers are within us,” he continues, digging into my query about how he balances being part of the world and being engaged, concerned, against how off-balance life often feels given the current state of politics, the environment, racism and social injustice. “We can’t wait on a candidate or politician to do that for us. People are coming together, in cooperatives, and that’s what’s nice about the Hudson Valley. A lot of stuff is going on here – like [the Local Economies Project’s purchase of] Gill Farms in Hurley – and there are a lot of conscious people who are concerned about the environment and how to survive when the shit hits the fan. Look at Kingston: A lot of millennials are bringing their money up here. There are a lot of new restaurants, and it’s like a beacon, drawing people here for artistic, aesthetic and environmental reasons. The Hudson Valley is the best place possible to be, and there are a lot of other places where’s it’s going on, too.”
On Saturday evening, the Woodstock Community Center promises to be the best place in the Hudson Valley if you’re a fan of music. And if you haven’t stepped inside the beautifully renovated performance space lately, you’re in for a nice surprise. It’s a lovely and intimate setting for listeners to hear a concert by world-class musicians. Don’t miss this one.
Jazzstock presents Terri Lyne Carrington’s Money Jungle + Jack DeJohnette, solo piano, Saturday, March 19, 7:30 p.m., $35 general/$45 first three rows, Woodstock Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock; (845) 802-0029, www.jazzstock.com.