Soulive Lands in Brooklyn Once Again for Bowlive IV
Tall Ships and Highasakite at Mercury Lounge

An Interview with Jazz Great Joe Lovano

by Craig Brinker

While preparing a tribute concert to honor jazz legend Paul Motian at Symphony Space this past Friday, March 22, Feast of Music had a chance to talk to Motian's long-time friend and collaborator, Joe Lovano, about the concert.

FoM: How did the idea for this concert come about?

JL: Since Paul's passing a couple of years ago, Bill and I have been thinking about doing a concert. We talked to Hans Wendl, who used to work at ECM [Records]. He spoke to folks at Symphony Space and got us a spot on their spring calendar.

FoM: You asked a lot of different musicians to play this date.

JL: Well, we decided that Bill and I wanted to play some duets and reunite some groups that Paul had formed to present his music over the last 10 years or so. That was the initial idea, and it all just kind of snowballed into what the concert's actually going to be—a fantastic lineup of some of the most creative players in the music today. A big part of it was to play Paul's compositions, celebrate him and his genius, but it's also a way of communicating his music with these people that he loved to play with. 

FoM: Do you think that his compositions have been accepted and absorbed by the jazz community at large? 

JL: Well, Paul's influence has been really strong on the scene since the mid-50s, his way of playing and his personality. He established himself as a really individual and passionate player, someone who had something to say as a player before he was a composer.

 He played with George Russell, Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano, Al Cohens, Zoot Sims, Albert Ayler, and the Keith Jarrett band. I think during the Keith Jarrett period he really started to write and emerge more as a composer. He started to record as a leader for ECM in the early '70s. His first recording, Conception Vessel, had Keith Jarret on piano and they played that tune ["Conception Vessel"] as a duet. Bill Frisell and I started playing with Paul in about 1981 (about 10 years after that session) and he had already written quite a few beautiful pieces of music that we were exploring. His first trio with Charles Brackeen and "J.F" Jenny-Clark or David Izenzon on bass really established a lot of the compositions that Bill and I played when we first started to play with him.

FoM: How did you get involved with the trio?

JL: Well, the trio emerged from a quintet. Bill started to play and rehearse with Paul in 1981, I guess, and I was on the scene doing many things. Mark Johnson, the bassist [for Paul's trio] and I were on the Woody Herman band together in the late '70s. In 1980 I joined the Mel Louis Jazz Orchestra and Mark came on the band sometime late '80 or '81, which was around the time he had been rehearsing with Bill and Paul.

Paul had heard about me and Mark told him that we were playing on Monday nights at the Vanguard. He asked Mark to ask me if I wanted to come over and play one day. So that's how the first encounter where I played with Paul happened. I went to his pad and played quartet with Mark Johnson on bass and Bill on guitar. 

The first quintet happenend right around that time. Because Paul wanted to have two horns, I brought Billy Drewes [who's going to be featerured on this concert on the 22nd]. Billy came in on tenor and alto, and Ed Schuller came in for Mark because Mark got the gig with Stan Getz and Getz had a lot of work. That was the beggining of the first quintet; we recorded Psalm on that tour for ECM. Then through the years there were a few different quintets that happened. Jim Pepper came on the band on tenor and soprano after Billy. The trio really emerged from that quintet around 1984 on the tour we were on in Europe.

FoM: The quintet had a really unique sound. The players in the band and the combinations of instruments gave Paul's pieces a very identifiable flavor.

JL: The idea of having a real quintet sound and a real collaboration of ideas coming together within the music was something that was really important to us. We all played seperate solos, but there was a real collectiveness about the way we played as a quintet. That energy and focus really creates a lot of beautiful explorations when you're really listening to each other and trying to shape the music. Paul's tunes all had that focus, you know. They all had that aspect within them. You didn't just play the tune and go off and do what you wanted. We really tried to make the songs come alive within our interpretations. 

FoM: The tunes seem to lend themselves well to extended variation.

JL: Yeah, you can hear that in those recordings we did for the Soul Note label. Throughout the '80s we toured Europe a lot and recorded a lot of things as a quintet and trio until about 1986 or '87.  From '87 on I would say it was just the trio. That is, until Paul formed his Electric Bebop band later on. 

After that Bill and I started to do more things as leaders. Paul wanted to play and was writing all kinds of music, had all kinds of ideas, and started to form all these other groups within what we were doing. It was great because all the cats that played in all the groups from the Electric Bebop Band forward had been listening to us playing around New York City as quintet and trio for 15 years.

FoM: How do you think playing with Paul for so long influenced your playing?

JL: Well, when I joined Paul, he had just turned 50—I was around 28 or so I guess. That's a hard question to answer because it's all about the music, and experiences, and development, and exploring ways of playing together. Paul was like the bridge for me from the modern jazz and Bebop era and through the free-jazz era into today. The music that we experienced and explored together from '81 until now was pretty amazing, you know. When you play with musicians that are so mature and they trust you and embrace you and your music and development, things happen for you in your life and in your music. 

FoM: It seems like a lot of great players wanted to show their respect for Paul and come out and perform on this concert.

JL: We're really proud on this particular evening, given that Gary Peacock is going to be there, since he and Paul played with Bill Evans on Trio 64. They knew each other for years and I think might have played with Albert Ayler as a trio. Especially with Paul Bley, the things they've documented have been really historical, really beautiful. We're also really happy that Joey Baron, Matt Wilson, and Andrew Cyrille are going to be there on drums to share the space and be a part of the evening.

The piano was so important to Paul. Geri Allen is going to play some, and Masabumi Kikuchi, Marilyn Crispell, and Ethan Iverson are all going to be there. We're really happy about that too—to have some really incredible, creative pianists be a part of the evening. We'll also have some of the saxophone players that Paul loved to play with through the last bunch of years: Billy Drewes, Bill McHenry, and Mark Turner. Ravi Coltrane's going to be there, as are Chris Cheek, Greg Osby, and Tim Burns. We also have a bunch of the guitar players that Paul had been playing with too.

FoM: It seems like Paul was fond of playing with guitarists.

JL: Yeah, Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas. Jacob Bro is coming in from Denmark. Jerome Harris and Larry Grenadier on bass. Petra Haden is going to be there. So many folks from Paul's life aren't able to be there, but everybody wrote some nice quotes about Paul. There's going to be a slideshow that Monica Frisell put together of photographs of Paul's. That's going to be really interesting to see and feel. We're really proud of the lineup, and I think it's going to be a really special evening.