Maybe it started with an e-mail. One day in June, 1997, Compuserve delivered a casual note from Pat Metheny -- just a couple of lines, suggesting I call Chick to see if he'd like to get together for a record.
Or maybe it started with a gig. Twenty year-old Pat Metheny was backstage when Chick and I played our first American concert at the University of Michigan in 1973. Now, twenty-five years and about a thousand duet concerts later, Chick and I continue to work together, and Pat has become a major star. As Pat said in his e-mail, "It's about time the three of us finally get together to just play."
When I called Chick, he just said "Let's do it," and the next question was who would play drums. Easy answer: Roy Haynes. Each of us has toured and recorded with Roy over the years, and we agree he's simply our very favorite drummer. Once Roy was on board, we all agreed to round out the group with bassist Dave Holland, who also said yes right away. I had found my dream band. For me, the most exciting prospect was being in the middle while Pat and Chick discovered playing together for the first time.
Chick and Pat are two of the most enduring and prolific jazz composers around, so my plan for the album was to feature some of their best songs, and then ask each of them to write a new piece for the production, as well. (Pat's response to this invitation is ELUCIDATIONS; Chick's is FUTURES.) I don't put myself in their league as a composer by any means -- I only write occasionally -- but Pat wanted to do one of my early compositions from the 60's, COUNTRY ROADS, and he and Chick insisted I write a new song for the record, too.
A few weeks before the record dates, Chick and I were touring in Japan and he wrote the beautiful FUTURES one afternoon in Osaka. A few afternoons later, in the Fukuoka Blue Note (with the cleaning crew's vacumn cleaner droning in the background) I came up with LIKE MINDS. Shortly after that we wrapped up the tour and headed for New York, music in hand, to join Pat, Roy and Dave in the studio.
The sessions were unlike any recording experience I've had. Working with players of this calibre on a lineup of great tunes sharpened and inspired us all; yet the atmosphere was also relaxing, because this was a group of old and trusted friends. What you'll hear at the beginning of the CD is the first take of the first song we tried, Pat's QUESTION AND ANSWER. Talk about instant rapport. And the rest of the sessions went just as smoothly as the first. Six of the ten songs are first takes and two more are second takes. Some of the most enjoyable moments of the sessions for me were the playbacks, with everyone just digging each other's solos.
After we finished each tune, we would gather around the piano or the vibraphone. One of us would play through the next one for the group, and an arrangement would quickly take shape. Then it was back to our corners: Pat to his isolation booth where he could crank up his amp, Chick and Dave sharing a glass-walled room and Roy in his own right next to them. I was out in the middle of the studio, the perfect vantage point. We could easily see each other and hear ourselves through our headphones. The five-way conversations between takes got to be so much fun I almost wish we had recorded those as well. After we finished an exhilarating version of Chick's standard, WINDOWS, he summed it up perfectly: "That was just like putting on an old shoe." When I asked if anyone wanted another take, Chick just said that would be "the ONLY take." End of discussion. Before we started another tune, Pat said,"You know, when I think about what's going on here, it's kind of awesome," with the same kind of enthusiasm he had when he was twenty years old.
The first time I heard Roy Haynes, I was seventeen years old, in the crowd at Connelly's bar in Boston. It was a revelation. I had never heard anyone play like that, and I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to play with him someday. Then just a few years later I played with Roy in Stan Getz's group, one of my early sideman gigs. I still remember stepping out into the afternoon sun after the first rehearsal when Roy joined the band. Steve Swallow, the bassist in the group, looked at me like he'd just had a religious experience, and I knew we were thinking the same thing. Roy had just given us a master class in what great drummers do. From the first beat, we knew he was in charge and we wouldn't have to worry about a thing. He always makes you sound like a million dollars.
The truly amazing thing about Roy is how he has changed with the jazz styles of the times, always staying at the center of what's happening. In the beginning, he played with Lester Young, then Charlie Parker, and then moved on to Miles, Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, and Getz, and that whole time also galvanized some innovative groups under his own leadership. Then, in the late sixties, Roy effortlessly joined in the new jazz/rock and fusion that my band was exploring. By the seventies, he was playing regularly with bands led by Chick and by Pat. (Chick and Roy made a classic trio record, NOW HE SINGS NOW HE SOBS, with bassist Miroslav Vitous.) Even now, on the cuts of this CD, Roy lays down the perfect rhythmic environment for every song and frees us "note" players to explore unlimited possibilities.
And with talents like Chick Corea on this project, we had unlimited possibilities. Chick has mastered everything from Miles to Mozart; he has written for almost every jazz instrumentation and style, and he's tossed off a few compositions for orchestra and string quartet along the way. I don't know any musician who can match him for versatility or innovation. He's re-defined modern jazz (I hear his influence in everything from bebop to Latin jazz), and he's certainly been a huge influence on my playing.
No one understands the idiosyncracies of my improvising the way Chick does. When we stumbled into an impromptu duet as an encore to a 1972 concert, we discovered an immediate connection, like two people who speak the same obscure language. It could be because we both play keyboard instruments, or because we both came of age musically in Boston with many of the same local musicians as mentors. Whatever the reason, we discovered from the beginning that we could anticipate each other's ideas with surprising accuracy, and our duet repertoire has been an essential pillar in our careers. In fact, we always resisted adding other players to our duet projects because we were a little afraid they might get in our way and limit our rapport.
Any worries we had about moving beyond the duets disappeared as soon as we started the sessions for this album. In fact, we each discovered a whole different side to our playing once the other instruments were added. Chick in a group context is amazing. I've never heard such original comping behind soloists, and the way he leads the rhythm section is fascinating. He sets up the dynamic changes and rhythmic patterns, the whole flow of the music. Even more amazing, he's got a way of reaching into your mind at that instant you're realizing the next phrase you're about to play, and nudging you in a way that frees your imagination to do things you didn't know were possible.
Watching Chick and Pat play off one another not only fulfilled my expectations; it exceeded them. I have known Pat for almost as long as I've known Chick. I first heard him play with a student group at a jazz festival in Kansas when he was still a teenager, and even then he had serious talent. Over the span of a few very creative years, he developed into one of the most original guitarists around, inventing a unique sound for himself, an instantly recognizable style. We played together for four years before he launched The Pat Metheny Group and went on to become one of the giants of jazz.
Like Chick, Pat has been a tremendous influence on a whole generation of young musicians. There's a lot to admire about Pat, but what I like best is his disciplined dedication to his music. I have never known anyone who concentrates so passionately on every aspect of his music -- from writing, through the process of rehearsing, to pacing his own solos and even shaping the performances of the other musicians he works with. As a producer, he has permanently raised the standards for jazz recordings with his articulate, impeccable work. He's also terrifically popular, because his discipline and his exacting standards are directed towards one goal: to communicate convincingly with his listeners. His melodic ideas are challenging and yet imminently comprehensible, the perfect combination of opposites.
Like Chick, Pat has been a real musical vagabond, trying a lot of different projects in a lot of styles, with a lot of different musicians. A penchant for exploration is something that all the players on this record have in common. These guys are restless spirits, always looking for something different to try, always looking for fresh inspiration, traveling the world of music to find new experiences. Pat has done record projects and tours with musicians from practically every style of music -- from Ornette Coleman to Joni Mitchell. Sometimes I think he keeps a secret list of favorite musicians tucked in his guitar case, and he goes from project to project just ticking the next name off that list.
I have Pat to thank for introducing me to Dave Holland. I knew Dave only slightly when he first moved from London to the U.S. to join Miles Davis' band. It was Pat who started singing his praises to me, and it was through Pat that I started hearing the range and depth of his playing. I've heard him perform with saxophonist Steve Coleman on a European tour, with Pat's trio on another occasion, and on record with the aforementioned Miles (where he shared the gig with Chick). Over the years, he has also recorded several trend-establishing records of his own, such as SEEDS OF TIME and EXTENSIONS.
While the drummer is the de facto leader of the band (once the count-off has occurred), guiding the rhythm section's perspective on the music, the bass player follows his lead and runs with it, creating a bridge to the music's harmony patterns for improvising soloists. In this role, some bassists almost become background players, without as much clear influence on the music's final sound as the front line soloists and the drummer. It's the unusual bass player who shines through as a powerful influence the way Dave does, with significant contributions to the vision for the music.
Since this was my first chance to really play with Dave, he was the greatest revelation for me. It's one thing listening to a musician from the audience or on a recording, but the dynamic changes completely when you are interacting with them directly. I expected a lot from Dave, and I was blown away by the terrific sensation that he was right there supporting everything in exactly the right context as I developed my solo ideas.
On the last day of our three-day recording session, Marian McPartland and George Shearing, who had been recording a duet album in the next studio, surprised us by dropping by to say hello. Marian and George have had a big influence on all of us. Marian got me my first gig, playing with George when I was nineteen. Pat said he first met Marian when he was thirteen or fourteen: "The band camp thing." Chick repeated a joke he'd made earlier in the day, after we finished our take of WINDOWS: "George Shearing says, 'Here's what Chick Corea and I have in common. We both do 'Windows.'"
Because I'd been thinking a lot about our geneaologies as players and the almost fateful coincidences that brought us together for this project, George and Marian's visit came as an especially welcome surprise to me. Our chance meeting with them helped remind us of parallels among the very different paths that Pat, Chick, Roy, Dave, and I have taken. And because our jazz heroes have also been our friends and mentors, coincidences like George and Marian's visit help explain how we've become group of musicians with like minds.
To be considered truly great, in my opinion, a jazz musician must either redefine how an instrument is played or establish a new style that has broad influence on other musicians. Every one of the musicians on this album has done both of those things. Although I consider them my peers, I'm also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with a group like this. The chance to play with these guys shows what good things can come from keeping in touch with old friends. And it's definitely great incentive for me to keep checking my e-mail.
Gary Burton Boston,