Chuck Braman's 1996 Paul Motian interview.
TIPS AND COMMENTS:
Chuck: Did any of the musicians you worked with ever offer you any advice or make musical comments that struck you as interesting?
Paul: I remember Monk asked me to sing him my ride beat. He said, "Sing me what you're playing on the cymbal." So I sang, "ding DING-a ding, DING-a ding, DING-a ding, DING-a ding." He said, "The next time you play, play 'ding din GA-ding, din GA-ding, din GA-ding'." So that's what I did. And that helped my feel and the way I felt, the way my time is my beat. That helped me grow in how I play time. To try to think of all the notes, man, all the notes that you're playing on the cymbal, and the quality of the notes.
One time Lennie Tristano said something to me about what he heard in my sound. He wasn't suggesting anything to me. He just said, "Paul, when we play fours, your fours sound like a drunk falling down a flight of stairs!" (laughs) So, for me, I took that as a compliment, and the next time I took my fours I tried to think as if I was a drunk falling down the stairs, and tried to improve what I did the time before, you know?
Chuck: A lot of people wouldn't take that as a compliment. Why did that strike you as a compliment?
Paul: Because it was different, it meant that I played different. I played something else, you know? I played something that wasn't usual.
Another time I remember reading in a Downbeat blindfold test by Lennie White, played one of my records, and he kind of put me down in a way, he said, "Boy, that drummer sounds like he's playing on tin cans." I took that as a compliment! I thought that was great, I mean, what a sound that is! That's a great sound, man, tin cans? I love that sound, man. Even now, sometimes I'll play where I hit the drum more on the rim than the drum, and get that sound. That's a different kind of sound, almost just playing as if the stick is hardly hittin' the drum, it's more hittin' the rim, but it's not just the rim sound, it's the drum sound too. You know what I'm saying? It's kind of like an echo kind of a thing? I love that, man.
THINKING ABOUT IT:
Chuck: When you play a roll, you don't usually play it with both sticks on the same drum at the same time. You'll have one stick on one drum, and one stick on another, or you'll be moving around the whole drumset, distributing the strokes between the cymbals, the drums, the hi-hat. I don't know any other drummer who does that.
Paul: I don't know! (laughs) I know that I do that, but I don't know why. I guess that when I've done it, what happened I thought was good and I liked the sound.
Chuck: Most people focus on one component at a time. But you're always blending different parts of the drumset into one sound.
Paul: Well, that's nice, that's nice! (laughs) See, I didn't really know that, man, that's interesting. I know that I do that, but I never thought about it. I wouldn't consciously say to myself, "OK, now I want to play a roll on two different drums." That thought would never come to me. That's automatic. That just comes out. I mean, think of a piano player. A piano player's playing, he's not thinking "I'm going to play a…" I mean there's no time to think of that shit beforehand, right? If a piano player thought, "Well, now I'm going to play this chord, now I'm going to play that chord, now I'm going to play this run," fuck it, that shit past, it's gone already. There's not time to think about that shit.The same thing with the drums, man. If I started thinking about that before I played it, I'd be behind! (laughs) People'd be steppin' all over my ass, man! Shit! (laughs)
Chuck: I'd like to ask you something about your ballad playing. Most drummers during ballads are just doing timekeeping, but there's another element that you add to ballads that they don't even think about, and that's the way you alternate different tone colors and sounds. For example, you might be doing a roll on your rivet cymbal. Then you'll let it ring for a moment. Then there might be two beats of silence, then you might play on the snare drum for a couple measures. Then you might start playing a time-keeping pattern on the ride cymbal. Every time you change the sound and the tone color, it creates a dramatic musical effect, and that's something you did that no one else has done.
Paul: That relates to what I was saying before about my approach to the drums, trying to think musically, trying to make sense out of what I'm doing and trying to relate it to what else is happening.
If you had to sit down, you'd probably have to be a computer if you tried to put down on paper or in words what is actually going on during a piece of music. You'd probably fill twenty fuckin' volumes, it'd be an encyclopedia, just from one tune, if you start actually putting down exactly what thoughts are happening… you know what I mean? It's not so simple. Sometimes the simpler it sounds the more complicated the shit is.
BILL EVANS TO BLEY:
Chuck: When you left Bill Evans and you started playing with Paul Bley, how did that different music alter your concept of drumming?
Paul: Well, it seemed to me that that was an extension. Here I was playing with Bill, and at times with Gary Peacock, and then here I was playing with Paul Bley and Gary Peacock. And to me that was kind of an extension… well, I don't know, it was different, I don't know if extension is the right word. But it seemed to me at the time that happened that that was the direction to go into. It seemed to me that Bill Evans at that time was standing still, and we weren't going anywhere. We had reached (laughs) the mountain top and that was it! And I kind of felt like with Paul Bley that there was another mountain here, man. And at that time, which was the mid-sixties, there was a lot of changes going on in music in New York. And hooking up with Paul Bley, it seemed like the music got even freer, even more open, and it was possible to play different, to extend the shit from what I was doing before.We kind of talked about just getting away from the normal way of playing, sort of playing more with the music as it was happening. I don't think it changed me radically. Playing with Bill Evans I felt like I opened up some things just from what I was hearing from Scott. And playing with Paul and with Gary Peacock just seemed to open it up more, I just played what I heard and what these guys were playing, and I kind of went along with that and played… Some of the things we were doing with Paul, all of a sudden there was no restrictions, you know, there was not even any form, it was completely free, almost chaotic, you know? With Paul there was form on a lot of things, but for the first time shit was happening where it really just opened up. And then playing with Keith later just really took that again, even more.
Read part 1 and part 2 of this series.
Read the entire interview at www.chuckbraman.com: part 1 | part 2