Jack DeJohnette: Painting Soundscapes with Music

The list of jazz phenoms Grammy winner Jack DeJohnette has played with over the course of his career reads like a who’s who of the genre’s greatest names. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk to name a few, and while DeJohnette has crafted a legendary career of his own, the 76-year-old is just getting started. The drums will always be his great love, but as all great jazz musicians do, DeJohnette improvises with technology, creating music that’s steeped in jazz roots.

As one of the greatest drummers in the history of jazz, his collaboration with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (son of John) and bassist Matthew Garrison (son of Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison) furthers his vision and talent, proving that everything old is new again.

Or maybe, it was never really old in the first place.

You started playing piano as a child. What prompted you to switch to the drums? What is it about the drums that have been so engaging throughout your career?

There was a drum set in our home and I gravitated to it at an early age, while in high school I would practice both instruments equally and then during junior college and when I first moved from Chicago to New York I performed equally on both instruments. I am a colorist and when I perform on the drums I paint soundscapes with the music.

How has your playing changed as more technology/electronics have become part of the music playing process?

I have used some electronics with my performances over the years, but the recording process has changed immensely with technology. I have always worked to stay at the forefront in gadgets, keyboards and sounds.

(In an interview with the Austin Chronicle, Jack DeJohnette talked about Matthew Garrison’s use of electronics in the trio’s live performances.

“Matthew uses it with an organic soundscape, like a palette. So it fits right in. The juxtaposition of the electronic and acoustic, and the way we hear it, inspires Ravi and I to play different things. So it’s really a great tool. People think there’s no chord structure for some of the stuff we do, but actually there is, and Matthew takes care of that. Also, Ravi’s playing scales and chords, and I’m working off the same thing. I also play piano in the trio as well. It’s all that stuff. We trust Matthew to come up with creative ideas when he does it. He’s composing with the electronics in the moment. It’s not pre-setup. There are some things, but a lot of it he’s doing in real time. He’s improvising on the spot with the electronics as well as the electric bass.”)

Talk about the synergy among you, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison. How have the three of you forged your own sound and connection?

We certainly have adapted a sound that is unique and our own. I worked a great deal with their fathers many years ago and have had a close personal connection to Ravi and Matthew. It is a natural progression in our musical journey.

Any pre-show rituals? 

We always just let the music take us on each and every performance. No performance is the same.

What are your future performance goals?

Under the right circumstances we will come together. Each of us are busy with additional projects, but we enjoy the kinship and are looking forward to performing in Houston.

(In the Austin Chronicle interview, the 75-year-old DeJohnette muses about his plans for the future.

“Continue doing that, working with new people, composing music. I think people need music more than ever now, and need to hear vibrant music to feed their souls, and try and balance these frenetic energies that are roaming the planet. That’s what I really want to do, see music become a force for good. Not only playing music, but working music in the healing arts as well – music therapy and things like that. That’s what I’d like to continue doing.”)

Da Camera presents Jack DeJohnette, Saturday Nov. 3 at 8 pm at the Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater. Tickets start at $42.50 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-524-5050.