Jazz: Keeping time with DeJohnette

The US drummer is a headliner at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

The Jack Dejohnette Trio (photo credit: SWANDRINE LEE)
The Jack Dejohnette Trio
(photo credit: SWANDRINE LEE)
When it comes to jazz drummers on the contemporary scene, they don’t come much more illustrious than Jack DeJohnette. The 73-year- old musician is one of the big draws in lineup of this year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival, which will take place at the Port of Eilat August 23 to 26. DeJohnette and his trio will perform there on the last two days of the festival.
DeJohnette has been there and done that in practically every avenue of jazz endeavor, and more. Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival has long been one of my favorite albums. It was recorded live at the 1968 edition of the famed Swiss jazz event, with the fabled pianist joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and DeJohnette. The performance earned the trio the 1969 Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group. “Yes, that was quite something playing with Bill then,” says the drummer, although noting that thing got even better. “After that we went to Ronnie Scott’s [jazz club in London] for a month, and you can imagine how good we got playing together for a whole month.”
Although only in his mid-20s, by the time the Bill Evans trio got to London the drummer had already mixed it with some of the icons of the business. “I had already played with [legendary trumpeter] Miles [Davis] before that, before I actually joined him, when I filled in for Tony Williams. Miles already knew who I was, and I also played with John Coltrane,” he says. In Eilat, DeJohnette will be joined by the aforementioned feted saxophonist’s son Ravi Coltrane, who also plays saxophone, with Matt Garrison on bass. “I also played with Matt’s father,” notes the elder statesman drummer, referring to bass player Jimmy Garrison, who died in 1976 at the age of only 42. Both of DeJohnette’s sidemen for the Eilat gigs lost their fathers when they were very young, with Coltrane Sr. passing in 1967 at the age of 40, just a few days before Ravi’s second birthday.
DeJohnette was born in Chicago and fed off a diverse musical diet. “I listened to classical music and rock and roll, country music, folk and jazz on old 78s. I had an uncle who was into jazz, and he helped to inspire me to take that direction. I listened to everything. I don’t differentiate between types of music. I don’t categorize,” he says.
Many years earlier, iconic pianist and composer Duke Ellington noted: “There are two kinds of music – good music, and the other kind.” That’s a sentiment that clearly resonates with DeJohnette. The budding drummer quickly got into all kinds of musical mischief in Chicago. He opted for something of an eclectic approach from the outset, playing R&B, hard bop and avant-garde music in his hometown and gaining valuable street-level experience by leading his own groups. His cohorts in envelope-pushing at the time included multi- instrumentalist Richard Abrams and reedman Roscoe Mitchell, both of whom were members of the groundbreaking Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) collective.
But if you wanted to get into the thick of things, New York was the place to be, so DeJohnette relocated to the Big Apple in the early 1960s. It was a wise move, and it enabled the drummer to learn from the masters in the most immediate way possible. “I got to play with all the greats that were still living at the time,” notes DeJohnette. “I also worked with [pianist] Thelonious Monk and [vocalists] Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. I worked with lots of those greats. Coming to New York in 1964 was crucial to that. I was with the right people in the right place at the right time. Of course, I have been working with Keith for over 30 years, and I have my own bands.”
The “Keith” in question is stellar pianist Keith Jarrett, who is probably the most successful artist on the global jazz scene today. He, DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock have been recording and performing to sell-out houses all over the world since 1983. They are the longest-serving working band in the business.
In fact, DeJohnette did not set out on his musical trail on drums, starting on piano at the age of four. “I still play piano,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I just did a solo piano album for a small French vinyl label. It’s a small niche thing, and I think it’ll give people what they really want to hear, on vinyl.” DeJohnette has been giving lots of people what they really want to hear for more than 50 years across the board. His diverse musical upbringing made him a good fit for Davis at the time, and he joined the trumpeter in 1969, when Davis was looking to embrace some of the burgeoning rock sensibilities of the day. He put out a number of landmark jazz fusion records, the biggest-selling and best known of which was Bitches Brew , which came out in 1970. “There were some great musicians on that record, and it was great to be a part of that,” says DeJohnette.
The Eilat audiences on August 25 and 26 will surely be delighted to witness DeJohnette’s debut appearance down south and to get an idea of where the septuagenarian’s tireless muse is taking him.
Other big stars from the global jazz firmament lined up for Eilat include 78-year-old bass player Ron Carter and 62-year-old saxophonist Joe Lovano, while the younger contingent features 30-year-old French singer Cyrille Aimée and a host of top globetrotters from this part of the world, such as German-based Israeli pianist Omer Klein, who will team up with long time sparring partner bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo and drummer Amir Bresler. Former longtime New York resident bassist Barak Mori will front a trio of his own, with acclaimed saxophonist-clarinetist Anat Cohen guesting, while saxophonist Daniel Zamir always delivers the entertainment goods. Zamir’s lineup includes pianist Tomer Bar and bass player Gilad Abro, with pop star Evyatar Banai putting in a guest appearance.
There will be the usual generous helping of non-jazz shows at the festival, including the Touré- Raichel Collective quartet fronted by globally acclaimed Israeli world music pianist-vocalist Idan Raichel and Malian guitarist-vocalist Vieux Farke Touré and their Touré-Raichel Collective quartet. The four-day program opens with an intriguing confluence between internationally renowned Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen and jazz pianist Omri Mor, who works Andalusian music into his output.
The festival will close with a show by ethnically inclined rocker guitarist-vocalist Berry Sakharof. For tickets: *9080. For more information:
http://www. redseajazz.co.il.