Jack DeJohnette: Beating Heart | Music | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Jack DeJohnette: Beating Heart 

Last Updated: 01/17/2017 8:47 am

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In 1964 DeJohnette came to New York with “$27 in my pocket and a set of drums.” He crashed at the Sloane YMCA on 34th Street and began hitting the jam sessions at Harlem’s legendary bebop crucible, Minton’s Playhouse. After first scoring a regular gig with organist Big John Patton he landed a higher-profile slot with saxophonist Jackie McLean. But he got his big break during the years 1966 to 1968 as a member of saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet, a group that also featured another future Miles man, pianist Keith Jarrett. The group made several hot-selling LPs for Atlantic and proved a crossover hit on the burgeoning hippie-rock concert circuit. The drummer debuted as a leader with The Jack DeJohnette Complex (Milestone Records) in 1969.

And it was that year that the jazz king came calling. “It’s funny,” DeJohnette says. “Miles used to come and check me out back when I was with Jackie McLean, and one night Jackie said to me, ‘Miles is gonna hire you someday, man. He and I have the same taste.’ And it was true: [Drummer] Tony Williams had been with Jackie before he was with Miles. When he left, Miles asked me to replace him. By then I’d subbed for Tony a few times, so I’d played with Miles a bit. But it was still incredibly exciting. I’d grown up in Chicago listening to this legend, never thinking I’d get to be in his band. But there I was.”

There he was. In the middle of the Bitches Brew sessions, which saw the trumpeter building on the radical new “directions” he’d begun with 1968’s Filles de Kilimanjaro and ’69’s In a Silent Way (both Columbia Records) and taking the amorphous music even farther afield. Epics like the title track and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” incorporate the pulsing funk and fiery acid rock of contemporaries like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix; the set’s experimental sound is further defined by the work of producer Teo Macero, who, long before Pro Tools or digital sampling existed, used razor blades and adhesive to splice together snippets of tape from various jams and takes, running many of the tracks and sections through spacey reverb and other psychedelic effects. And the performances themselves, by a band that also includes guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Lenny White, keyboardists Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, clarinetist Bennie Maupin, and bassists Dave Holland and Harvey Brooks—often playing tunes utilizing two basses, keyboards, and drum sets simultaneously—are as bold and inspired as the leader’s vision.

“I was very happy when Jack joined Miles’s band,” says Holland, a long-time Saugerties resident. “Jack has great musical instincts and a tremendous ability to hear the music and interact with the other musicians. I met him in London in 1967. He was there to perform with the Charles Lloyd Quartet and I was in the audience. We met again later that night at a jam session. I was playing with some friends when Jack came up in the middle of a piece and took over on the drums. It felt great and we had an immediate connection and compatibility that continues to this day.”

DeJohnette left Davis in 1972, after contributing to that year’s On the Corner, another adventurous game changer, and the heavy touring that also produced a trio of monumental live LPs for Columbia. By then he and his UK-born wife, Lydia, were ensconced in Woodstock, after being introduced to the town by friends in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. “We just fell in love with [the area],” says DeJohnette. “And there were already a lot of music people we knew up here—Charles Mingus, [ex-Davis drummer] Jimmy Cobb, [pianist] Warren Bernhardt.”

Since the move DeJohnette has led his own bands (the fusion groups Compost, Directions, and New Directions and the straight-ahead Special Edition), co-led the underrated trio Gateway with Holland and guitarist John Abercrombie, and served as a sideman to guitarist Pat Metheny, pop musician Bruce Hornsby, and others. In addition to his long-standing gig in Keith Jarrett’s “standards” trio, the Down Beat poll-winning drummer has performed with guitarist John Scofield and organist Larry Goldings in Trio Beyond and continues to tour with the five-piece Jack DeJohnette Group.

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