For quite some time now, I've been privately (and sometimes semi-publicly) musing about the void left by master drummer Paul Motian, who died in November of 2011. The arrival of an incredibly well-stocked tribute concert, this evening at Symphony Space, provided an opportunity to peer into that void for a moment, in consultation with a handful of musicians, including the concert's chief organizers, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. My principal intention with the piece was to stoke interest among those readers who maybe hadn't been lucky enough to witness Paul's magic firsthand.
I was going to use this blog platform to speak more to the choir, publishing some straight transcripts of my conversations, but then I saw the impressive job that Hank Shteamer did over at Time Out New York. Hank, a fellow drummer whose admiration for Motian can't be understated, spoke with more folks than I did, and has posted excerpts of his interviews online (in slideshow format). His entries on Lovano and Frisell include most of the same sentiment and background that I got, so that's where I'll steer you. And don't miss the stuff from Greg Osby and Andrew Cyrille.
I was sorry to let space constraints get in the way of some additional acknowledgments within the piece. Hans Wendl was another primary organizer of tonight's concert, and very close to Paul. And there are a number of musicians who aren't on the concert, but do belong in this conversation. (My piece, alas, was already beginning to feel overcrowded with names.) Who do I mean? Well, Russ Lossing, who released a poignant solo piano album called Drum Music: Music of Paul Motian last year; guitarist Joel Harrison, who recently made an album of Motian compositions ingeniously arranged for string ensemble; and pianist Frank Kimbrough, whose knowledge of Motian runs deep. Just for starters.
I'll sign off with an annotation to the scene that leads off my piece. At the precise moment that the Bad Plus was playing "It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago" with Frisell, on the Newport Jazz Festival's Quad Stage, Lovano was on the smaller Harbor Stage — just over the fortress wall — playing with Sound Prints. Later that afternoon I happened to bump into Lovano, and I told him this. He shot me a pained look. "Man, I wanted to make it over there, but the schedule..." A missed opportunity? I can't say with any certainty whether It Should've Happened, but I do know that a visit from Joe is just about the only thing that would have made that moment even more bittersweet.