Chuck Braman's 1996 Paul Motian interview:
Chuck: When you first heard people actually playing free, how did it strike you, coming from a background rooted so strongly in hardbop?
Paul: I know what you're getting at, but actually it didn't strike me as being real radical or real different. A lot of people at that time were into this thing about wanting to play different, wanting to explore more and get into different areas. Almost just for the fact to be different, you know?
Chuck: Do you miss that spirit today?
Paul: No. I feel pretty much settled now in what I'm doing. I don't feel like experimenting anymore, I really don't. I feel like I can play however I want to play now, and it's O.K.
Chuck: What do you latch on to, though? For example, if you're playing time, you know how the beat's being subdivided, you know what the vocabulary is, you know you can move this here, you can leave this out. But if you're playing completely free, it's a completely blank slate. What do you latch on to that's logical to determine what you play?
Paul: You're latching on to what you're hearing, what the other people are playing, what you're playing, what you started out playing, what melody is going on in your head, everything. You just latch on to whatever you can latch on to, man. And hopefully there's plenty of things to latch on to.
Chuck: When I listen to you play free, I can tell you obviously find clear ideas to play and I can follow your thinking. But some other drummer playing in the same situation might say, "This music sounds good, but what in the world could I ever play to it?"
Paul: Well, thank god I don't never think about that. I don't think like that. I just let it happen. I just go by what I hear and I just let it happen.
Chuck: So you're not self-conscious.
Paul: No. I'm acting on what I'm hearing and what I'm doing.
Chuck: You have a clear idea of what you should do and shouldn't do.
Paul: It's not like what I should do or shouldn't do, it's what I do. And I have enough faith and confidence in myself and what I do that it's right. If I start thinking about what I should do and I shouldn't do, it would suck. It's like the story Jimmy Garrison told me about the centipede. He's walking along on the branch groovin', and then some fuckin' monkey looks at him and says "Hey, man, look at how you got all them legs, man, how do you know which leg to put down first?" And as soon as he says that the motherfucker trips and falls off the tree. It's the same thing. You can't stop to think about that shit.
Once when I was playing with Charlie Haden, I told him that I couldn't really get with the music, I can't find what it is that I should do, whether I should play time or I play free. And Charlie said to me, "well, you're the one that can do it and whatever you do, you be in control, you do what you think is right, I'm going to take it from what you're doing." In other words, instead of me thinking about what I should do or what I shouldn't do, I should just do, and everything will be O.K. And that's what happened. When I was thinking about what I should do and what I shouldn't do, shit wasn't happening. Wasn't happening, man. After I talked to Charlie and he said to me whatever I do is O.K., and I should be in control, then I felt free to do what I wanted to do. And as soon as I did that, everything fell into place. Shit was swinging like a motherfucker.
KEITH JARRETT I:
Chuck: How did playing in the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden alter your concept of drumming? It's strange to me that that band never got more recognition. What's your own assessment of that band and that music?
Paul: It is strange in a way, what you say, because I go to Europe often now. And every time I go, no doubt someone will always mention Bill Evans to me, or the time when I played with Bill. Happens all the time. It just happened recently now in Italy. Hardly anyone ever says anything about Keith, or that band. And I don't really know what the reason is. I guess the people hooked on to Bill more than with Keith somehow. And it seems like everywhere I go people associate me more with Bill and that trio than with Keith, whereas the time I spent with Bill and the time I spent with Keith is almost equal. Actually there was more records made with Keith.
Chuck: But how about in importance to you to your development, how would you assess both periods. Equal also?
Paul: No. Well, I think with Keith there seemed to be more room for development. There was more time and more space left open to develop further than with Bill, because the music we were playing was more experimental. Bill wouldn't experiment at all. In fact, I remember one time when I was playing with Bill with Gary Peacock, Gary and I tried to get Bill to play more experimentally and more free, and to play some more open kinds of pieces. He wouldn't do it, he didn't want to do it. He has no thoughts along those lines (laughs). As a matter of fact, one time when we were playing at the Vanguard I said to him "why don't you start the set with that little Bach piece you played for me at your house." No way, he wouldn't do that. Bill didn't want to take chances too much. He kind of had his way of doing things, and that's what he wanted to do. Whereas Keith was more open and would take more chances, was willing to experiment more and try different things more.
It seemed to me with Keith it was more fun in a way. It was so open and so free that you could almost do whatever you wanted. It was almost like you didn't even care whether the audience was there or not, or whether they liked it or whether they didn't. It was quite different with Bill.
Chuck: The material you played with Keith was very eclectic. Some tunes were completely free, some of them were Bill Evans-ish, some of them were rock-flavored tunes, some of them were quasi-Latin tunes…
Paul: Yeah, well I think that was the influence of the times too, you know? I mean, playing with Bill there wasn't much rock and roll around, really. But playing with Keith, that was a whole different thing. Bob Dylan was strong on the scene, and the Beatles. That influenced Keith, it influenced all of us, especially Keith, and the music he was writing too. So we were getting into other areas. We'd never play semi-rock and roll kinds of things with Bill, never. But with Keith that was the times, you know? We're talking about the very late sixties and the early seventies.
Chuck: And how did you react to playing that music and those rhythms?
Paul: Fine. I mean I loved that shit too. It's great, I loved Bob Dylan. I saw Bob Dylan on TV the other night, man, I couldn't stand him, now, I would never go to a Dylan concert or buy a Dylan record. But in those days I think I owned about ten albums by Bob Dylan, and the Beatles and all that. I listened to all that shit, man, that shit was strong, so that influenced us, I know Keith loved that stuff. I think we recorded a Dylan tune. It was just fun to play, it was part of the scene, it was part of music.
Everything that's going on around me that I'm aware of, it's going to creep into the music, it's going to creep into my playing. Sometimes consciously or unconsciously, it's going to be there. Playing the music is me, it's part of my life, and what influences me and my life is going to come out in my playing too.
Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series.
Read the entire interview at www.chuckbraman.com: part 1 | part 2