It was a jazz drumming summit of epic proportions. Roy Haynes, the last of the great drummers of the bebop era; Jack DeJohnette, the most recognizably artful and exploratory drummer of modern times; and Terri Lyne Carrington, the prodigious and powerful drummer/ leader who has been writing her own rules about the path of acoustic and electric jazz for over twenty years.
DeJohnette is the fulcrum of this regal trio: His and Roy’s personal and professional relationship goes back to the late ’60s, while Jack’s mentoring helped Terri transition from ’80s child prodigy to serious turn-of-the-millennium musical force. Gathered in the comfortable basement of Haynes’ Long Island home, where the walls are covered with awards and cherished photos of our host with Tony Williams and other luminaries and the room is outfitted with a grand piano and a drumset, the three are soon trading stories, offering playing tips, and generally enjoying the fraternity of likeminded souls as only drummers can.
Despite their shared history, the profundity of gathering together these individuals for a Modern Drummer cover story immediately became apparent to everyone involved. The eighty-six-year-old Haynes has influenced musicians of nearly every era and style, his crisp snare punctuations, innovative hi-hat and ride cymbal interplay, and radically original time conception impacting drummers from Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali to Jack DeJohnette, Bill Stewart, and Damion Reid. Haynes has appeared on some of the truly legendary recordings of jazz, including Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, and McCoy Tyner’s Reaching Fourth, as well as his own classics Out of the Afternoon, Just Us, We Three, Cracklin’, and Hip Ensemble. And his latest record, Roy-alty, shows Haynes in classic form, his agile cymbal pulse a marvel of swing, feel, and consistency.
DeJohnette is inarguably one of the greatest drummers of his generation, not to mention being a noted composer and pianist. Linking Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes with the modern era, in solo and sideman work with Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Charles Lloyd, and John Surman (to name but a few), DeJohnette is unparalleled, possessing fire, grace, and a sense of abandon in the moment that’s endlessly inspiring. The drummer’s Special Edition and Gateway groups of the 1970s remain landmark musical references, and his recent Sound Travels album shows Jack’s love of world music in all its forms.
Carrington, who’s a member of MD’s 2012 Pro Panel, was the original impetus for this meeting. In the early ’80s, at age eighteen, she departed Massachusetts for New York City, where she was soon working with Stan Getz, James Moody, Lester Bowie, Pharoah Sanders, Cassandra Wilson, David Sanborn, and other major jazz leaders. Drawing on the fire of Tony Williams and the articulation of DeJohnette, coupled with her own insights, Carrington is a marvel of intuitive drumming that constantly pushes forward, both in terms of ideas and energy. Terri has steadily, almost quietly, amassed an impressive catalog as a leader, including the albums Real Life Story, Jazz Is a Spirit, Structure, and More to Say. Her latest, The Mosaic Project, earned her a 2012 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Stoked by camaraderie, fired by Carrington’s insightful questions, and lightened by Haynes’ witty barbs and one-liners, the conversation uncovered mysteries of the past, suggested areas of study that could improve our playing today, and defined the philosophies and techniques that can keep jazz drumming a vital art form well into the future.
Terri: Roy, when you began mixing the ride cymbal more with the hi-hat and incorporating the rest of the kit, the ride became interactive with the entire drumkit. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Jack: I’d also like to ask Roy when he began hearing that displacement of the hi-hat accents working off the ride cymbal. Was it when you began playing with Bird [Charlie Parker], or was it before then?
Roy: Part of it came naturally. But the first person I heard breaking up the hi-hat was Papa Jo Jones. We used to say that he invented the hi-hat; he was the first person I heard turn it around with the cymbal pattern and with different accents. The hi-hat didn’t even seem important until that, man. Maybe Sid Catlett to some extent. But Papa Jo would dance with the hi-hat.
Terri: Papa paved the way, but you were the first person to break up the time and the ride cymbal pattern even more. You played more accents around the drums, with a much looser feel. If you were accompanying someone on a record and we isolated the drums, it would sound like you were soloing, but you’d still hear the cymbal ostinato.
Roy: I like the way you explain that. Some of the things I was trying to do early on…even I couldn’t explain it. But the way you explain it makes me want to check that guy out!
Terri: Many young drummers listen to the drummers of the moment, but they should check out you and Jack, and Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones and Billy Higgins. When I listen to a drummer like Max, there’s that language between the left hand and the bass drum—call and response and bebop phrasing. He keeps the time happening while playing phrases. Philly Joe plays really hip left-hand placement while comping and dropping bass drum bombs. I tell my students that if you learn phrasing while comping, you can use that same phrasing around the drums while soloing— it’s just different.
Jack: And it will still be happening if you take the band away. You’ll still hear the complete phrasing and melody and rhythm. It’s that dialogue.
Terri: When students hear Roy, they hear bebop, the cool lefthand placement, the breaking up of the ride cymbal time and the hi-hat. The key to feeling more free and musical is groupings of three. I hear that in both of you guys constantly. Roy, you told me once that you used the triplet vocabulary before Elvin Jones.
Roy: That’s the first time I’ve heard that expression, triplet vocabulary.
Jack: Elvin used to pick you up from the airport when you came to Detroit to play. He heard you playing that, and I wonder who came first. He took that triplet style and built on it. You probably came first.
Roy: Elvin and I were very close way back. In Detroit, he would have me sit in on his gigs, often for the rest of the night.
Jack: You talk about Coltrane—that’s endurance, playing a half hour or forty minutes on one tune. I relay a story that McCoy Tyner told me about Elvin Jones. Elvin was playing with Coltrane for the first time, and Coltrane started playing a thirty-minute solo. McCoy told me they were playing, and all of a sudden the drums dropped out. They looked around, and Elvin had his coat on and was going out the door! “Elvin, where you going?” He said, “You ain’t going to kill me!”
Roy: I heard it a different way—“I ain’t going to let that MF kill me!”
Jack: Now relate that to those times you filled in for Elvin with Coltrane when he came to Chicago. You seemed to be cruising, playing with so much intensity. That was ’63. I was there every night. We talked.
Roy: Every night?
Jack: Yes, you were telling me how much Trane was trying to get you to do the gig. [laughs] Roy was having a good time.
Terri, you asked about Roy’s hi-hat. Sometimes Roy would play the hi-hat, but other times he left his foot off it. He was playing so much shit you didn’t miss the hi-hat. All the groove was there, and the hi-hat wasn’t necessary. When Jimmy Garrison and McCoy would drop out, it was just Trane and Roy. Elvin had a different kind of intensity. They have different touches. But it still went to this high level.
Roy: That’s something, man, now that you mention that. My God. Trane was playing long solos. Elvin had all that energy anyhow. He had to build that up, but he built it up nice!
Terri: How did you fill in with Coltrane, Roy?
Roy: It’s like, did you ever go to a sanctified church service? When you get into that thing, the spirit is resounding, and that’s what playing with someone like Trane can be related to. I never asked Coltrane if he had been to a sanctified church, but he must have.
Jack: One night I saw Coltrane playing with Elvin, and this woman jumped up from the bar. It was like church. The spirit hit her, and they had to carry her out. She was shaking. It was beautiful. It’s that energy, and you’re all riding that energy. I had a chance to sit in with Coltrane once. I played three tunes. It was me and Rashied Ali. But it was still like the church—it was an altered state, and you’re not thinking about whether you can do it or not. The music carries you energetically. So whatever you’re playing, you don’t even think about it. You’re responding on a collective level to that music, and you let it carry you. We’re opening up to our higher selves.
Roy: The spirit hits you. When the spirit hits you, you’re supposed to shout.
Terri: I was playing with Herbie Hancock once, and it was the first time I actually felt that I wasn’t there. But I also realized that it’s only when I’m playing that I am completely in the moment.
Jack: That’s like being at home when you’re in that space. I get like that sometimes to where I feel like I can levitate. I wish I could take the drums up with me sometimes! I feel weightless while playing the drums.
MD: What engenders that sort of feeling? Is there a way to get there?
Jack: It’s really in the drums. The drums go back to Africa. Tribal rhythms. Sometimes repetition, and in that repetition, cycles—it opens you up to this higher self and the spirits. You tap a deeper world than people usually experience. You go beyond this physical, material self to other aspects of ourselves that we don’t use a lot. We’re constantly oversaturated by so much information, a lot of it useless. So when we play music, all of that gets left behind in the moment. Which is where we all should be.
MD: Is there something about the three-beat pulse?
Terri: It’s the heartbeat, first of all. It beats in three.
Jack: That goes to Africa and the 6/8 feel. That’s where jazz comes from; swing comes from 6/4. [Plays pulse on legs.]
Terri: In Africa the 6/8 rhythm is the most popular, the most traditional.
Jack: They use it at healings. I was present at a healing ceremony in Dakar, West Africa. The master drummer, and all these drummers from everywhere, four years old and older, had to come to this. There were about 300 people. This guy they were working on had lost his memory. And other people who had the same affliction were in the circle. They were playing the sabar drums with a stick and the hands. Four or five drummers—it was loud.
That’s how they would send messages. They were playing a 6/8 rhythm that would slow down and speed up, slow down and speed up. People would put money in the drummers’ mouths. It had been going on for four days, walking the man around in a circle and drums playing for this healing ceremony. Some people would get the spirit, like the church. They’d be on the ground shaking. They’d bring the drums down in intensity, then they’d start up again. The time they started up again, this guy was walking in a fog, and then he snapped out of it. It was so great, because in that society drums are recognized first and foremost, as opposed to how they are in this country. There, the drums serve in many situations: festivals, planting season, marriage….
MD: We’ve lost so much of that ancient knowledge.
Jack: It still goes on in [the Brazilian religion] Candomblé. Those dances and rhythms are sacred. But they will only tell you so much.
Terri: It starts with the language. You can only get that from listening to those who came before you.
Roy: What do you mean, those who came before you?
Terri: People say, “I want to play jazz— can you teach me?” I say, “No. I can point you in a direction, but you have to go and listen to as much jazz from all areas as you can to understand the language.” But the feel has to be there. No drummer can make it successfully without a decent feel. In that way we are connected to the tribal nature of the instrument.
Roy: You put me in mind of Denzil Best. I don’t think I ever heard him play a solo. He was good, and people loved to play with him. He would come to Boston with Coleman Hawkins.
Jack: Speaking of drum solos, did you ever hear this rare recording of Chick Webb? Did you ever hear him solo? There’s one recording where he’s playing all these African polyrhythms. Louie Bellson said that during battles of the bands the drummers got all shook up because Chick would tear it up.
Roy: They used to have a battle of the bands right in Harlem.
Jack: But Chick was playing stuff like Elvin, all polyrhythms.
Terri: The drums weren’t recorded well back then; they were more of an accompaniment instrument. But it didn’t mean that drummers couldn’t step out. They were putting a lid on the drums.
Roy: Have you heard the statement “Drums are supposed to be felt, not heard”? [laughs] Yeah! Then they’d start laughing—it was a joke.
Terri: When I listen to younger drummers, I hear a wave of ease in drumming, as opposed to bombast. It’s more tasty, but it’s become even. I like to hear dynamics within a phrase.
Roy: I don’t want to hear that wave! [laughs]
Terri: But it’s helped me tame my playing. Roy has that natural restraint, which is so beautiful. Sometimes you have to know what not to say. Like “Matrix” [from Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs]. That’s one of the recordings that changed me.
Jack: Me too.
Terri: And Jack’s live recording with Charles Lloyd, Forest Flower. They both have elements of restraint.
Jack: One record I especially like is Reaching Fourth, with Roy and McCoy Tyner and Henry Grimes. That’s killing. The sound of the drums is so good. And Blues and the Abstract Truth, and We Three—that’s with Phineas Newborn.
Roy: Phineas played percussion. He was so great to play with, because he played like he was playing drums. [Carrington, who has brought along a boom box to play musical examples, cues up Haynes’ “Down Home” solo from the Roy Haynes Trio’s Just Us.]
Roy: That piano player saved my little ass! I need a drink! [laughs]
Terri: Roy, what are you hearing when you solo?
Jack: Roy doesn’t solo necessarily by technical terms, I think, but by feel more than the form. Because you know a lot of songs. I’ve heard you sing them.
Roy: But a lot of the stuff we play doesn’t have lyrics. Some of the tunes I did with Prez [Lester Young] and Bird were standards. I brag about the lyrics that I know.
Jack: They never ask drummers about lyrics, though they ask horn players and piano players that question. When you play a tune, you should know the lyrics; then you’ll get more out of the song. It affects how you interpret the tune. Somehow I can get more into it when I know all the lyrics.
Roy: Imagine me playing for years with vocalists. Five years! When I look back at those years with Sarah Vaughan…
Terri: What did playing with Sarah do for your drumming?
Roy: That helped me pay my mortgage! It felt good, and then I could hang out in the bars! [laughs] Paid for my Cadillacs and my Eldorados too!
Jack: You had a nice rapport with Sarah.
Roy: It was like just hanging out. But I knew what I had in me. I was still young, and I would still make other gigs because Sarah would take off three weeks at a time. She was a genius, not just a singer or a vocalist. When you play with a singer or a pianist, you don’t play the same volume all night. It was the same thing. We could still groove. I expressed myself on the drums still. And I got that nice check every week! My first record date as a leader was in Paris, while I was there with Sarah. I loved every moment playing with her.
Jack: Roy Brooks and I would see you at Slugs in the ’70s. We’d say, “Let’s go get some inspiration!”
Terri: Wayne Shorter once said to me, “I’m not what I do, I do what I am.” Roy, you were this hip cat probably before you even started playing the drums. So you play hip.
Roy: You can run, but you can’t hide.
Terri: That’s who you are, and that’s what comes out on the drums. Some people have to be who they are; others use the artistry to be who they are. They can’t do it in their regular lives.
Roy: I don’t think of it like that. I am not that type of person.
Jack: You’ve been able to be who you are and reap abundance from it. You’ve influenced musicians on many instruments. You were the drummer on my first record date [as a leader, The DeJohnette Complex].
Roy: Thanks for hiring me!
Jack: I was scared. You played on three tracks, including “Papa, Daddy and Me.”
Once I went to see Joe Henderson and Roy at the Five Spot. Joe was late, so I sat in and played my melodica. I was trying to find the 1. And Roy would not let me find it! [laughs] You opened it up!
Roy: Did I blow your gig, man?
Jack: It was your gig! [laughs] You said, “C’mon, sit in.” Chick Corea was on the gig too. Chick was playing the downbeats, because Roy kept hitting “&-a- 2.” It’s a different thing when you’re out front! I was hanging in there. It’s one thing when as the drummer you play that bang-up stuff, but it’s different when you are the soloist. I had to get used to it. The trick was I had to listen to what I was playing.
Terri: If you met a drummer who had potential but was still on an intermediate level, what would you tell them to improve?
Jack: When I was playing the piano and developing on the drums, I knew my time had to be good. I practiced with a lot of records. And I sat in as much as possible. And I listened to the records of different drummers and played with different drummers, different time feels. Sometimes I would transcribe drummers, then I would say, “Okay, what if I changed this?” I didn’t want to copy anybody. I knew it was a phase I was going through where I sounded like Tony or Philly Joe or Elvin. But I knew I wasn’t going to stay there. So I would tell the intermediate drummer to go through your influences, but know that it’s a phase. Find your own voice, find things you really like and maybe change them. Then you’re building on something you like, and out of that comes your vocabulary. You have to make sure that you don’t become a carbon copy and get stuck there. You want to find your own voice. And play with people who stretch you.
Terri: Both of you, your vocabulary is so different. It’s not lick playing. You can’t learn twenty licks and sound like Roy Haynes.
Jack: Everybody has their signature. When you get that, the challenge to play something you’ve never played before and that you won’t play again, it comes out of your language. In order to keep doing that, be open. One phrase will lead to the next. You can constantly discover new things.
Terri: Then you sound like you’re not playing with periods. Let one idea lead you to the next so they sound connected.
Jack: We have that in common. We play songs. It’s phrases and sound.
Terri: You said everybody has their own signature, things they’re comfortable with. I like the paradiddle-diddle. I will also remove the last stroke from the paradiddle-diddle. Then it becomes a grouping of five, and that opens up a whole new world. If I play them in a row, it becomes this weird lope.
MD: Jack and Roy, how do you approach alternate stickings?
Roy: I know nothing of it.
Terri: Roy, you play a ruff like nobody else.
Roy: I like that for a title!
Jack: I play paradiddles, and fives and sevens and elevens, and I mix them all up around the kit. I practiced the twenty-six rudiments, but I didn’t want to sound rudimental—I wanted to have that rolling kind of sound. I did sticking displacements around the kit and singles and doubles in triplet patterns, going from singles to doubles but trying to make them sound of equal touch. When you play a double it’s kind of hard to get the same intensity from singles to doubles.
Terri: That’s a great exercise. If you’re trying to make doubles sound like singles, it forces you to pull that second stroke out of the double, and with so many people the second stroke is swallowed. I tell students to play doubles and singles back to back and try to make them sound the same.
Jack: That’s a sticking foundation. I don’t want to sound jerky. You want that smooth, rolling sound. Philly Joe Jones did some of that. With Joe playing those slick rudiments, he’d stack them and add accents. He was really good with that. He had big hands, so he could do that stuff.
Roy: Yeah, he loved that.
Jack: He sat me down once and played this Kenny Clarke study, one of these odd triplet things. He made it swing.
Roy: I tried to play that rudimental way for a minute, but it didn’t work for me. Seeing Papa Jo and Sid Catlett, that was enough.
Jack: You got a lot of mileage out of it!
Terri: Well, Roy, you have such articulation. When I was a kid, Buddy Rich introduced me on the To Tell the Truth show, and Joe Garagiola asked Buddy, “What should we look for in young Terri?” He said, “Articulation.” “What’s that?” Buddy snapped and said, “So she sounds like she knows what she’s doing!” [laughs] It bothers me when drummers aren’t articulate. Roy, you are the most articulate drummer I know. That ride cymbal. Your articulation around the drums.
Jack: It’s very sophisticated too. And it’s got the feel.
Terri: And it’s clean. It makes it so I can’t stand to hear the drums not played cleanly.
Roy: I can’t do all that other stuff, so I better try to do something.
Jack: But you did that too!
Terri: So if you didn’t practice rudiments, how did you get so clean? I didn’t know that was possible!
Jack: I mean, look at his clothes! [laughs] You know he’s clean! It’s also about the way Roy tunes his drums—his snare is always crisp.
Roy: That’s it. That’s all I know.
Jack: But when you heard yourself back on the recordings and you got the sound you wanted, did that guide you? Me, I listen back to the records and see where I can improve. Hearing myself back helps me make certain adjustments. The way Roy tunes, it fits into whatever musical situation.
Terri: I sat in once with the Hip Ensemble, and Roy’s drums were bigger and tuned low.
Roy: Maybe it felt that way on that particular night.
Jack: Remember when Roy had mics in his drums?
Roy: The mics were never in the drums—they were behind them.
Terri: Jack, you always had the ability to sound like yourself no matter what the drums were.
Jack: When I was coming up and going to sessions and having to play different drums, I felt like I started stumbling over them, depending on how the heads were tuned. So I used to practice on all kinds of surfaces. On a pillow, on a book, on an album cover, on a padded chair. I practiced getting a rebound on different surfaces so that when I got to different drums I could play them without being swayed.
I sat at Art Blakey’s drums once, and I realized how he got that snare sound. He had the top head tuned real loose, and the snares were loose on the bottom. I couldn’t get that sound myself; Art had this way of rolling so that once he got momentum it sounded like a hailstorm. It sounds crisper than it is, but really the snare drum was tuned low. It was the reverse of what you would think.
Terri: I remember sitting in on Roy’s clear Ludwigs.
Roy: Horrible, right?
Terri: It was hard for me because I was twelve! [laughs]
Jack: I remember once at Fat Tuesday’s seeing Art Blakey, and Roy sat in and played a solo. Then I made the mistake of trying to play some hip stuff on the ride cymbal. The band looked at me like I was crazy! [laughs] “Where’s the cue?” You look at those early pictures of Art.
Roy: The sound Art could get out of the drums!
Jack: I remember Tony Williams talking about first hearing Art, and he couldn’t get that sound out of the drums. Art had this big sound. It was natural. He had a touch.
Terri: These days I can’t define a drummer so much from their touch like you used to be able to. The actual sound of the instrument, not so much what they played, used to be more identifiable. I mean with my students. I see people murdering the drums or drummers who are too timid. It’s a lifelong process.
Jack: I used to describe my playing like Muhammad Ali. I like boxing. Miles [Davis] and I would talk about boxing. Muhammad was great for a heavyweight, the way he would dance around and throw jabs and combinations. It’s a similar thing to keeping your touch no matter what volume you’re at. That’s something you have to consciously work on.
Terri: I have students practice everything as loudly as they can and as softly as they can. Or they play the Alan Dawson Rudimental Ritual—the feet playing a samba pattern and the hands playing the rudiments in fourbar phrases, sometimes over the barline—and that’s hip because some people have trouble going over the barline. I have them practice the Rudimental Ritual as loudly as they can on a floor tom so that they don’t get as much rebound.
Roy: On a floor tom? That’s a whole lot of echo, isn’t it?
Terri: But that makes them work on their articulation. I can hear the difference quickly if they do that for a whole semester. Roy, if you had two recordings that were most representative of you, what would they be?
Roy: If I started hearing something I might like that. But I don’t think like that.
Terri: Well, let me play you something! [Carrington plays “Dear Old Stockholm” from The Roy Haynes Trio.]
Roy: I wouldn’t even know that’s me! But I like it. [Carrington then plays Chick Corea’s “Matrix.”]
Jack: Listen to what he’s playing behind Chick! Whew! The way he’s playing just leaves it open for Chick. Those singles are so crisp.
Roy: Playing that with somebody like Chick is what makes it effective. He’s leaving that space, then you got it. Lord, have mercy!