Why did you choose to be a jazz player instead of a pop musician?
I’ve always felt that jazz musicians can more fully utilize their emotions and their talents in the most thorough way possible. Jazz is already an amalgam of all different styles and concepts…African rhythms with European harmonies is what people usually think of…It allows you to express yourself in the fullest way possible.
Do you have any tips or hints for people who don’t know jazz but are curious about it — that would help them decode it?
There are two things that I always like to say. Go see live jazz first. Search out what the hottest jazz clubs are in your area and go see a really great local group. That way you can see it happening as well as hearing it. The second thing is that this is not some type of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It’s just music. Just like with any other style of music, there are levels from easy listening to more abstract versions. I would say start off with something easy. Listen to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” Then you can wander out there and it won’t seem so foreign to you, after you’ve taken in the basic stuff.
Why do you think that there is that perception that jazz is in an ivory tower?
There are two factions in jazz. There is the camp that really wants to preserve it and have a form of appreciation [for it] that is similar to classical music. You put on a suit or a tuxedo and you sit there quietly. You make it a high culture type of thing, which it is, in theory. But in practice, jazz is a very down home style of music. I think a lot of the spirit in the music has been lost with the way that it has been preserved and put on a pedestal. The best jazz music has always been from the mind and from the street as well. You can’t lose that street element in jazz.
When you are playing with someone like Billy Joel versus someone like Joshua Redman, how does it differ?
I have discovered that there is a common thread in all of this music and it’s the blues. When I hear Billy Joel talking about Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin and Charles Brown, who are more akin to jazz…even Pete Townshend…that’s close to blues. That’s all rock and roll is anyway. Once you really study music, you can make those adjustments to play with Billy Joel or Joshua Redman or whomever.