Ralph Rosen, Media Center Manager and a drummer himself, is our guest blogger for this post.
Paul Motian, one of the most prolific and unique drummers in the jazz field, died Tuesday, November 22, 2011 due to a bone-marrow disorder. He was 80 years old. He was raised in Rhode Island and became a professional drummer after leaving the Navy in 1954. He went on to play and record with countless major jazz artists. Here is a partial list: Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Lennie Tristano, Tony Scott, George Russell, Steve Lacy, Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Charles Lloyd, Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Bill Frisell, etc.
In 1972, while a member of Keith Jarrett’s quartet, he began recording and performing as a leader, eventually releasing almost 50 of his own albums. This does not include his many collaborative projects or his countless recordings as a sideman.
Being a drummer myself I was very influenced by Paul Motian’s concepts. He seemed to fly in the face of the standards that most of us follow regarding technique and the jazz “language” yet he understood and had absorbed all of it. While we were all trying to master the great ideas of Baby Dodds/Chick Webb/Jo Jones/Kenny Clark/Max Roach/Roy Haynes/Elvin Jones/Tony Williams etc. Paul Motian played more and more like a little kid who simply didn’t know any of this- just played with no precedent. As a result there were no “licks” in his work. Sure, his playing was joyous and child-like but with a great groove. He could sound like a punk rock drummer at times or play with the most moving and complimentary impressionistic colors- always in service of the music. As Keith Jarrett said of him- he always loved the “song.” Through it all he always swung but in a wholly original way. He was truly one-of-a-kind.