Jack DeJohnette is a strong, innovative, and highly versatile musician; further, he has thoroughly participated, as drummer, in some of the most important works in modern jazz. It comes as something of a surprise to find that he is also an accomplished jazz and classical pianist. In fact, his first professional outings were as a pianist, and keyboard instruments are getting more and more of his attention these days.
DeJohnette began with the piano at age four. "I studied classical piano because it was the thing to do. For ten years." But there was another kind of music in the DeJohnette household in Chicago, and that music was jazz. "My uncle is Roy Wood—now he is the president of NATRA (the black disc jockey association). When I was a kid, he was the top black DJ in Chicago, and let me tell you, that man had the records! When I was six or seven years old, I started listening to Tommy Dorsey, Lester Young, and Lady Day. Roy had just about any record you could think of, and I guess I was naturally attracted to that kind of music. But I kept on studying classical piano. We had an old Victrola in the basement, and after practicing the piano, I'd go down there and listen to my uncle's records."
As a young teenager, DeJohnette began to spend more and more time down in the basement, listening. "I'd listen to Ahmad Jamal, and try to get the same kind of sound" His uncle left an old set of drums down there in the basement too, which Jack began playing. "I really had a great time, and it just happened that pretty soon I was a whole lot more interested in jazz and in drums than I was in the classics and piano." Jack has never had a formal drum lesson.
As a teenager, DeJohnette firmly established himself as one of Chicago's best up-and-coming pianists. He played bars and cocktail joints all over Chicago. In the early Sixties, he was part of a free jazz movement called the AACA (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). After a brief spell at Wilson Junior College, Jack decided to go to New York City for a weekend, "just to check it out."
DeJohnette rode the Greyhound to New York in the spring of 1966, stayed at the YMCA with $13 in his pocket. "So I immediately went up to Minton's, and sat in on drums and piano. This was about the tail-end of the period of the great jam sessions—you could really just go and sit in! John Patton hired me right away as his drummer, and I never used that return ticket to Chicago." And so a most fertile period of his career began.
DeJohnette has worked with many singers, including Abbey Lincoln. He's worked with John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, and Stan Getz. He has played on four Grammy-winning albums: Bill Evans, Live at Montreux; Miles Davis, Bitches Brew; Freddie Hubbard, Straight Life; Hubert Laws, Rite of Spring.
Stylistically, DeJohnette is experimental, fresh, and invigorating. As Down Beat said: "The thing which DeJohnette has over every other drummer in the business is his ability to play 4/4 for long periods of time with such variety of touch and shading that it never gets monotonous. And he has a finely developed ear for tonal coloration."
DeJohnette has been coming to the forefront as his own musician. In the last few years he has recorded three solo albums: The DeJohnette Complex (M-9022) and Have You Heard? (M-9029) on Milestone, and another for Columbia.
When DeJohnette signed with Prestige in 1974, it reunited him with his Milestone catalog. Sorcery (P-10081) was his first album on Prestige, and featured John Abercrombie, Bennie Maupin, and Dave Holland—all exciting and innovative players themselves.
Shortly after Sorcery was released, DeJohnette got a new band together, including Abercrombie on guitar, Peter Warren on bass, and Alex Foster on saxophone. In performance and on sessions, DeJohnette plays both drums and keyboards.
Cosmic Chicken (P-10094) is the first LP by Jack's new group, and the tunes are mostly collaborations by band members; there's also one DeJohnette composition and one by Steve Swallow. Immediately after recording Cosmic Chicken, the group continued their West Coast tour and returned to the East Coast via a series of Canadian gigs. After a short rest, the DeJohnette Quartet took off for a European tour, and played dates in , , , and Holland.
DeJohnette has been busy on a couple of other projects too, including his work on Raul de Souza's first Milestone LP, Colors (M-9061). Jack wrote one of the most outstanding tunes on the album, "Festival," which captures the spirit and flavor of at carnaval time.
Jack has also finished his work with Charlie Perry on the book they're writing together, The Art of Improvisation—Drums, to be published this year by Alfred's Music Co., Inc., Port Washington, New York. Charlie Perry is the noted drummer turned teacher and author. Perry has worked with such diverse people as the Grateful Dead, Tommy Dorsey, Andy Williams, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis. He is a noted expert on drums and how to teach them; his association with DeJohnette is a strong one.
The future certainly looks bright for Jack DeJohnette. He has a stunning new group, tremendous knowledge and experience, and amazing energy and straightforwardness in many important areas of musical endeavor—composition, performance, recording, touring. He is also a great drummer and highly respected by fellow musicians, who commonly accede to the notion that Jack's one of the best there are!