Friday, January 28, 2011

1996 Paul Motian interview, last part: There's No Rules, Man

This is the last part of my excerpts of Chuck Braman's 1996 interview with Paul Motian. I highly recommend you visit Braman's site and read the entire unedited piece (part 1 - part 2); there is also an excellent long piece with Motian discussing some of his recordings.
 Thanks again to Chuck for making this excellent piece of writing available- I wish all drummer interviews were this good.

Chuck: When you were with Keith Jarrett, you rarely played any swing music with walking bass and ride rhythms. Why was that?

Paul: We weren't into it! (laughs) We wanted to get away from that traditional stuff.

Chuck: But when I saw you reunited, playing with Keith again a few months ago, during the break I overheard him saying something to the effect of "Man, Paul's playing his ass off, he's swinging his ass off." And he said, "We never used to play that way when we played together, we never tried to just swing, we were always trying to do something different," as if he didn't know you could do it. And he seemed so happy about the new approach of that particular night.

Paul: So it's exactly what I was saying to you, man, at that time when we were playing, in the late sixties and early seventies, that's what people were into, just to do their damnedest to do whatever they could do to change the shit, to play something different, to try to create something new. And people would do things different just to be different, no matter whether it was good or bad. So that's what was happening too, we were playing with Keith and all this different shit was happening with jazz, plus what I was saying before about Dylan and the Beatles. All that was happening, so that's what we were playing, we weren't playing swing.

Chuck: I notice that you and Charlie Haden play a lot more straight-ahead in settings now than you used to during the Jarrett years.

Paul: Well you're talking about a different period in music and a development in music. It's not like we played differently then, and then we threw it all away and now we're playing straight-ahead. That's all connected.

Chuck: And what's the connection, what happened?

Paul: That free kind of playing at that period is part of growing up, it's part of the tradition, it's part of development, it's part of evolution. It's there, it's still there.

If I could give you an example, it's like if I'm walking down the street, and walking in a regular, normal way, and somebody walks in front of me and I change my step, and whatever was in front of me is gone and I go back to walking how I was walking before, I'm still walking the same way, but what happened in-between still effects me too. That doesn't go away, it's still in my brain, it's still a part of me.

Chuck: With all the emphasis on tradition, not very many people are trying to write original music, like you do. I don't think much new has happened in jazz apart from your own groups, and I think a lot of the reason why your groups have produced such interesting music was because of the framework your compositions provided. A lot of people, including me, think that you are one of the most interesting composers around today.

Paul: I don't consider myself a great composer. What comes out, comes out, you know, and a lot of it is kind of basic. I'll hear a little melody or find a melody on the piano that's appealing to me and I'll try to stretch that into a song, and I'll revise it until something comes out that's satisfactory to me, and then perform it.

A lot of the tunes that I'm playing now with the trio with Frisell and Lovano we've played for years, they've kind of grown in their own light too. I played on one of the tunes last night that we've been playing for years, and I always played a certain way on it, and last night I played something completely different than what I usually play. Joe and Bill were playing the melody to "Drum Music" [one of Paul's compositions] in the tempo that we usually play - it's not really a tempo, but it's in the area of a certain speed, right? - and I played at a little less than half time. And it worked! So, there's no rules, man, I guess is what I'm trying to say! (laughs)

Chuck: For you! But that's what makes you unique.

Paul: But I'm also still learning, man. I guess what I'm trying to say about last night, I learned something there. Here I am, I've been playing since I've been twelve years old, I'm going to be 62, and I learned something from my playing last night. You know?

I realized the other day, when I went to what they call "A Conversation With Foreign Writers" - this was a conversation between John Riving and Michael Ondaatje - and they were talking about the way they write, and I realized, listening to them, that there are no rules. I mean the same thing applies to writing literature as in music, man. You can make up your own form.

Read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of  this series.
Read the entire interview at Chuck Braman's site: part 1 | part 2

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