Courtesy of Paul Motian

Winter & Winter


I remember first listening to Paul Motian's easily recommendable recordings on the now defunct JMT label and being floored by their quality. Having enlisted both Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, Motian, for a time, had one of the strongest bands around. I miss those days, the days of strong bands. I can't even think of more than a handful of bands that I would pay my hard-earned dollars to go hear and see. But Motian still marches on and his proficiency as a bandleader have not dwindled in the slightest. Here he is, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's lay the confusion to rest. How is your name pronounced? "Motion" or "Motian?"

PAUL MOTIAN: "Motion." I have been doing that for the last thirty years, but before that, I used to pronounce it "Motian" and people used to say "Motan" or "Moden." But when I was a kid, even as far back as kindergarten, people would say, "Paul Motion," so I said, "OK, from now on, if anybody asks me, I am going to say 'Paul Motion' and I am going to spell it the same way." So that is where it stands. Someone once said to me, "It doesn't make any difference, as long as they know who you're talking about." Even with people like Billie Holiday, names being misspelled all over the place. So anyway, that is that story.

FJ: Why the drums? Why didn't you become a doctor or tree surgeon?

PAUL MOTIAN: Well, that is what my mother would have wanted (laughing). She hated me playing the drums, Fred. She really did. I started playing the drums. I was twelve years old. Before that, when I was around ten, I signed up to take guitar lessons. I signed up with a class to take guitar lessons because I loved cowboy movies and people like the cowboys that were singing. I wanted to do that. So when I walked into the class, I noticed that the people, there were about fifteen kids in there and they had the guitars across their laps and there was Hawaiian guitar and so I said, "Oh, shit, I didn't want to do that." So I got the guitar because I had signed up and I guess my parents had paid some money and so I got to keep the guitar and I took it home. I didn't take any lessons. I took the metal bridge off of it and put a rope around my neck and started strumming it and thought I was a cowboy star singing songs. I have seen some different discographies and biographies of me that say that I played guitar, but that is as far as it got (laughing). And then, in my neighborhood, there was a drummer. We used to sit on the front steps and listen to this guy play and I gravitated to that. I really liked that and I wanted to do that and so I started taking some lessons from this guy and that is how it started. I guess I was about twelve. I went from him, he wasn't really a teacher. He told me a couple of things. And then I found another teacher and then another one, like that. I was still in high school, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, I was playing gigs around in Providence, Rhode Island, where I grew up. After that, about a year or two after high school, I went into the Navy. The Korean War was happening at the time and I was about to get drafted. Somehow, somebody told me that the Navy had a school of music. So I found out that if I volunteered, I could have my choice and I could do that. I could go to the music school. So I figured instead of getting drafted into the Army and losing an arm or a leg or coming back with frostbite like a lot of people would, I joined the Navy. Then I was stationed in New York, in Brooklyn in 1953, so I have been in New York since then.

FJ: Let's touch on your time with Bill Evans.

PAUL MOTIAN: I met Bill, I used to hang around the musicians' union. That was the thing you did in those days looking for gigs, maybe they still do that, I don't know. But, someone said that there was a clarinet player who had had a big band and he had been quite successful. He had a pretty good name. He was auditioning people to put a band together to go on tour. I went to that audition and Bill Evans was also at that audition and that is when we met and we went on the road. We both got the gig. We went on the road with him. I was with Bill about for about ten years I think.

FJ: A lifetime in jazz years.

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah, but then I went on to spend almost about ten years with Keith Jarrett, Fred. And then I have had a trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano for about twenty years.

FJ: Now you are starting to give away your age.

PAUL MOTIAN: (Laughing) Well, I was just realizing also that it has been ten years since I have had the Electric Bebop Band. I get into these habits and I keep my habit going.

FJ: Aside from the two you have mentioned, you have been a principal member of Paul Bley's trio as well.

PAUL MOTIAN: Well, Bill, Keith, and Paul. Right. Maybe now that I can reflect on it, Bill, I met him and he was playing his ass off from the get go. He always played great. I don't think I ever heard him in ten years, stumble or play something that wasn't quite right. It was always great. Keith was playing great and so was Paul Bley, but they were quite different. They were all great. I enjoyed playing with all of those people very much.

FJ: When did you begin you association with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano?

PAUL MOTIAN: In 1980, '81. They played good. I was trying to put a quintet together and originally, I played one gig in Boston with this quintet. It was going to be Pat Metheny and they was a guitar player and a saxophone player, Julius Hemphill, Charlie Haden. I was trying to put this quintet together and ECM was going to record it. They kept putting it off and putting it off and Pat Metheny recommended Bill Frisell to me. He recommended two people. He recommended Bill Frisell and another guitar player. So anyway, I called Bill and he came over to my house and that is how we met. That was in '80 and we went on our first European tour in 1981. And sure, I liked him right way. I think his sound is different. Around that time or a few years previous to that, I heard Michael Gregory Jackson and that was my first experience hearing a guitar player playing with a synthesizer and getting sound out of the guitar that sounded violin like. That knocked me out and I thought Frisell had that kind of sound. It was a different sound and a sustained sound. I really liked it. We started playing together. First it was with Marc Johnson, a bass player. It was a trio. We were rehearsing that and then we rehearsed with Marty Ehrlich, another saxophone player. And then playing with Marc Johnson, Marc recommended Joe Lovano. And then we started rehearsing with Joe and that is how it started. People recommended people. That is how that started. When I broke the quintet down to a trio, I picked Joe and Bill because I liked the way they played, the way we played together, and we had been playing with a quintet and there were some spots in the music where the bass player would lay out and it would only be me, Joe, and Bill playing and I really liked it. Sure, I recognized that they played well. They played great.

FJ: Do you prefer the intimacy of a trio over the collective banter of a quintet?

PAUL MOTIAN: Well, no (laughing). I don't care. To me, I might play more time when the bass player is there, but then again, I might not. I don't know. But I don't think I prefer one over another. It also was an economical thing too, having a trio.

FJ: Let's touch on the Electric Bebop Band.

PAUL MOTIAN: I started that in 1990, '91. I think I was just checking that. Ninety-one was the first European tour with that band. The first tour was with no saxophone. It was just two guitars, a bass, and drums. The original idea was two guitars, electric bass, and drums. That was the original idea. Because I had had a rehearsal with that instrumentation in my house with Bill Frisell, Mike Stern, and a bass player that used to play with Pat Metheny and we had had a rehearsal and that was the first thing. That was maybe ten years before the band started. I dropped it after that one rehearsal, but it was the Electric Bebop Band. That was the idea and then when I put it together in 1990, that is what it was. And then I guess it didn't have to be. There were no rules. I could add a saxophone if I want and so I added Joshua Redman. And then, we were playing in England and Joshua did half the gig and Chris Potter came over and did the second half. But one night, they both played together and so then I really liked the two saxophones. So I added that and that is what it is now.

FJ: And your latest on Winter & Winter?

PAUL MOTIAN: Well, Fred, we just did one. I don't know if you know about that. That ain't out. I don't know when that is coming out, but the last one we did was the Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell record. That is the last one we did. But the band has changed since then.

FJ: How so?

PAUL MOTIAN: Well, Steve Swallow is not playing with me anymore. I had a bass player from Copenhagen, a young guy that I like very much. He did the last couple of tours with me and he just did this last record with me. And then when I am playing in New York, a lot of times, Jerome Harris is playing bass. As a matter of fact, Fred, we are playing at Sweet Basils for a week, coming up right after Labor Day. During the last couple of European tours, Chris Potter didn't go.

FJ: Do you have a title for the new record?

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah, I guess it will be The Electric Bebop Band in Europe.

FJ: So it is a live date?

PAUL MOTIAN: No (laughing), it was just during a European tour. We did it in Germany. I didn't know what else to call it. It came up kind of quick because we had a bunch of empty days during the tour and I had to talk to Winter & Winter about recording this and fortunately they were able to set that up.

FJ: To lug a large ensemble of any kind across the country is certainly not logistically and monetary a walk in the park.

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah. Well, yeah, we did a Europe tour this year. We won't be doing that again this year. Our next European tour won't happen until next year some time. But I am not planning to tour the States with them. I'm not planning anything in the States.

FJ: Why not? From a selfish point of view, it is really not the most fiscally prudent thing for me to fly across the pond to see the Bebop Band in Copenhagen or Nice.

PAUL MOTIAN: Well, there just doesn't seem to be enough money. And also because it is six pieces. It is a six piece band and it requires a lot of, there is a lot of details to take care of. I don't have any agent or manager and I never did have. I have one agent in Europe that gets those Europe tours for me for my band and then I know other agents, but they are all in Europe and they set up tours and gigs for me with other groups. But I don't have anybody over here. I never did. It is very difficult. Sometimes, some people want me to do stuff, but then, when it gets down to buying plane tickets for six people, they have second thoughts.

FJ: Cowards.

PAUL MOTIAN: (Laughing). It is really difficult, Fred. I toured the States so much before and it is so different from Europe. In Europe, you can tour on these first class trains and go all over the place on those things. It is so great. Countries are close together. Hotels and food is usually on a better par. The tours, when I did them in the States, we just lived off of fucking hamburgers. That would be really hard for me now. It is really difficult. Ed Schuller took it upon himself to set up some gigs in San Francisco next year at a festival for my quintet, the original quintet, which was Ed Schuller, Frisell, Lovano, Billy, and myself. So Ed Schuller set that up in August next year in California for a couple of nights and maybe something else will happen from that, I don't know. I knew those people were interested, but I just didn't want to get involved with that business deal and Eddie said he would do it all and I told him to go ahead and do it.

FJ: Sounds like it is part of the Eddie Moore Festival.


FJ: Better get my Bay Area frequent flyer miles ready.

PAUL MOTIAN: (Laughing) Yeah. I am also about to do a tour with another group that I put together that you probably know about, which is Trio 2000 + One.

FJ: You have a record with that group as well on Winter & Winter.

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah, I did one record and one tour. The one tour with Trio 2000 was Chris Potter and Steve Swallow. And then I did one record with Chris Potter and Steve Swallow and the plus one was Masabumi Kikuchi playing piano on some tracks and on some other tracks, Larry Grenadier playing bass. So Larry is the plus one on some tunes and Masabumi is the plus one on some other tunes. So for this tour, Swallow hasn't been playing with me anymore, so Larry Grenadier was going to do the Trio 2000 tour with Chris Potter. Now Larry couldn't do it, so now Marc Johnson is going to do it. It is coming it up in October and that will be all over the fucking place, Fred. It is a long tour. Meanwhile, I am doing a duo gig with Bill Frisell in California. That is at the Monterey Festival. It is the first time, a duo concert. We've talked about that, but never done it. The Trio 2000 tour is in Italy, Germany, Portugal, all over the place.

FJ: All but the States.


FJ: Yet another reason for me to learn Italian.

PAUL MOTIAN: (Laughing) I think we are going to do a record, maybe the beginning of the year. I have been thinking about doing Marc and Larry together. I might do it all and throw Masabumi in there too. Masabumi, I love his piano playing, but people complain about his grunting and groaning. They say he is copying Keith Jarrett, but that is not true.

FJ: They should get their shit straight. After all, you have played alongside both pianists.

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah, he is his own man. He is influenced by Keith a lot, but he doesn't grunt and groan because Keith grunts and groans. You ever listen to Keith playing a classical concert or a classical recording. You don't hear one grunt or groan at all (laughing). But I have been talking to Winter & Winter about recording and I think we might do that. He (Stefan Winter) is great because he lets me do what I want.

FJ: You gentlemen go as far back as JMT.

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah. That is the only downer about that relationship with him because he sold that catalog and so a lot of the records I did for him on JMT, which is about ten, fifteen records, they are gone. You can't find those anymore.

FJ: The Live on Broadway volumes are classic.

PAUL MOTIAN: Yeah, that was done on three records and they are really good. Yeah. There is a Geri Allen and Charlie Haden trio that is gone. It is too bad. He is saying he is going to buy that catalog back and put it out on Winter & Winter, but I don't know if he is going to do it.

FJ: One can only hope and pray.

PAUL MOTIAN: (Laughing) I will tell you, Fred. One of the most interesting things that I have done lately, since you have gotten me talking here, I did a trio record with two French musicians. A bass player and a piano player and these guys called me a couple of years ago and they told me that they loved my music and they wanted to a concert, a trio concert and I go to France. I've done a couple of concerts with them now in France and they have been great. They have taken all my music and arranged all my music. It was beautiful. We did a record for French BMG, not distributed in this country.

FJ: As if Americans don't have enough distain for the French.

PAUL MOTIAN: (Laughing) Yeah, but that came out great. And we're going to be touring in Europe next March. I don't know, Fred. There is stuff going on here, but it just seems really hard over here. I don't know about even Europe. It is harder and harder in Europe. I have a lot of promoters talking about that it is more difficult to promote jazz now than it used to be. A lot of jazz festivals now, you see advertised jazz festivals, but then you see who is playing and I don't see one jazz player in the fucking festival. People say to me, "Well, I hate jazz." And then I find out what they listen to and to me what they listened to wasn't jazz.

Fred Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and number 5 on the McDonald's menu. Comments?  Email Fred.