|Photo by T. Bruce Wittet|
From Trap'd, some thoughts for a mourning reader:
Chops (in the conventional sense) doesn't necessarily mean great art.
Currently, drummers win wrestling type belts for their speed. I wonder how many of them will still be playing when they're 80. Being known in music for your speed is sort like being famous for your looks, it's not sustainable. Many of these individuals as well as some well known artists took Motian's playing to task, saying "he can't play". Certainly he was never flashy. In fact, one of the great things about his playing is you never got an empty display of technique to try and dazzle the audience. He always played the music honestly. As well he forged a completely original sound and time feel. Isn't individual expression the point of Jazz? If that's what it means when you "can't play", sign me up! I'd love to "can't play" half as well as he did!
I think this is what's hanging me up the most- he was the highest-profile example of a living, unquestioned master who never gave anything up in the way of a dazzling, "amazing" performance. To appreciate his playing- or even to accept and understand the consensus opinion on it- you have to give up the cheaper values and deal with him in terms of pure art.
From Culture Catch, including some CD selections and this quote from Paul Bley:
"[H]e's one of the few free players who very often will create a part that's not related to the person he's playing with, and in the beginning, this might be off-putting, but on the other hand, if you're playing with someone like that, who's not accompanying you, but playing a parallele part, if you decide to change direction or do something other than what you're doing, you don't have to worry about having the drummer relate to you and catch it because, since he wasn't relating to you in the beginning, if you make a left turn, you don't have to worry about whether or not he's going to follow you or not.... It's very liberating to have a player like that."