Exclusive Interview: Jack DeJohnette

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

 

Jack DeJohnette

 

This summer, legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette will be celebrating his 75th birthday. Fortunately for us, DeJohnette has assembled jazz supergroup Hudson to ring in the festivities. Consisting of DeJohnette, pianist John Medeski, guitarist John Scofield, and bassist Larry Grenadier, Hudson is releasing their debut album on June 9th via Motema Music and are touring throughout 2017. The group is named after the Hudson Valley area of New York State, where all four members live. We caught up with Jack DeJohnette in April to discuss the inspiration behind the Hudson project and dive into some cuts from the record.

 
 

ArkivJazz: What history did you have with the other members of Hudson before the group was assembled?

Jack DeJohnette: I’ve been familiar with John Medeski’s work, not only in Medeski, Martin and Wood, but with others. He’s very adaptable in all kinds of situations and very creative, as well. The more I get to play with him the happier I’ll be.

And of course, [John] Scofield and I had the good fortune to play together a lot over the last thirty years in different situations. We have the distinction of having played with Miles - we’ve done that apprenticeship with him. Both of us have taken that into our own individual musical styles, derived what we have, and transformed it into our musical language.

AJ: You came together initially to perform at the Woodstock Jazz Festival in 2014… What was that experience like?

JD: It was such a natural thing. I sang a little bit there; we’re comfortable in all of those genres. Everybody has an affinity with those tunes, with Dylan and Hendrix. It’s not “let’s just do some cover songs”, we do these tunes because they resonate authentically with us.

There was also a real, real special chemistry that came together with us when we played at Bearsville [NY].

 

Hudson

 

AJ: Whose idea was it to get the group back together and record?

JD: I got the idea that it would be great if we could pull it off, to go out and put together, the four of us, our collective ideas and do some touring. So everybody was up for it! We had a couple of days of rehearsals for the recording,

And we had the luxury of five days to record, where we could take our time. And the music comes off like that. It’s not rushed. It’s got a nice pace. It’s got an energy to it, and it’s focused. And being up there in a rural area, in the mountains, it really fed our creative appetites.

AJ: Let’s talk about some tunes from the record… You brought back a piece called “Dirty Ground”...

JD: For “Dirty Ground”, Bruce Hornsby wrote the melody and lyric and I wrote the arrangement. It was originally recorded on the Sound Travels album with Bruce singing the lead. It seemed a really nice piece to fit in here because [it] was written just before Levon [Helm, of The Band] passed away… The first line is really a tribute to Levon and the lyrics are a tribute to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. When I sang the lead on this album, I had a cold, and my voice was really shot, but it actually really lent itself to the piece.

 

Album Cover

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AJ: “Tony Then Jack” is another tune with some history…

JD: “Tony Then Jack” is John [Scofield]’s tune that we played when we first had our Trio Beyond band, but we never recorded it. At that point it was just called “Tony”, but then he changed it to “Tony Then Jack” since I followed Tony Williams when he left Miles’ band. It’s a nice blues with a tricky melody, fun to play.

AJ: “The Great Spirit Peace Chant” is a lovely closer for the album.

JD: “The Great Spirit Peace Chant” almost sounds like it came from another world. The whole melody and the sounds came to me one day when I was walking on our property up here. It was a gift from the Great Spirit. I had a tom-tom with a towel over it so we could get that Native American effect of a heartbeat rhythm. We had these Native American flutes, which added some ambience to it.

I think the album came out really nice. It’s one of those organic albums that, if it was ten or twenty years earlier, would be a marketer’s joy, because we have these cover songs and some great original compositions too, especially the opening track [Hudson]...

So we really accomplished what we set out to do. It’s an accessible record, but it’s also artistically relevant. We hope people really appreciate it.

-AJ

Hudson is available on June 9th, via Motema Music