Nov 23, 2011

Pioneering Drummer Paul Motian Dead at Age 80

Paul Motian died on Tuesday. Motian was perhaps the most important drummer in contemporary jazz because, as I wrote several years ago in a review of his album "Holiday for Strings:"
Motian has helped he helped liberate percussionists from their role as simple timekeepers by employing a style and phrasing that used tempo as a starting point, not an end in itself. In the process he produced an invigorating body of work that veered from post-bop clich├ęs and instead evoked the subtleties of mood, atmosphere and texture.
Motian also made a point of working with young musicians, including pianist Anat Fort, who was stunned by the news of Motian's death. "My personal connection with him and his music and what he has done for me are something that will never be repeated. I am truly sad today," she said via e-mail.

German bassist Peter Schwebs, whose terrific CD "Stories from Sugar Hill" I reviewed here recently, had this to say about Motian:

"I first got to know about Paul Motian when I started checking out bassist Scott LaFaro and the famous recordings of the Bill Evans Trio. This was about 12 years ago. At that time I was finishing high school in a small town outside of Hanover, Germany, and I just started playing the double bass. I checked out the sales corner in a small record store every other day to find all the “must have” legendary jazz albums. The Bill Evans Trio albums really blew my mind, and I always had the CDs or copies on Mini Disc with me.

New Jazz Conceptions (Riverside, 1957)
Portrait in Jazz (Riverside, 1959)
Explorations (Riverside, 1961)
Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside, 1961)
Waltz for Debby (Riverside, 1961)

Since my high school years up until last year, I was fortunate to see Paul Motian playing live several times. Especially since I moved to New York in 2006.

In fall 2010, when I saw Paul Motian last time at the Village Vanguard with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, it was one of these rare concerts where everything was just perfect: The communication between the musicians, the interplay, the mastery of the instruments, the freedom in the music, and the live sound and atmosphere at the Village Vanguard. There is no recording device that could possibly capture all this, and it reminded me why it is so important to listen to this music played live. Fifty years after the Bill Evans Trio sessions at the Vanguard, Paul Motian’s playing sounded as up-to-date and fresh as back in the day. He was truly a master musician who always played in the moment and brought innovative and surprising ideas to all kind of different musical situations.

Not just for drummers, but for all musicians and music lovers who are interested in improvised music, Paul Motian’s approach to music and to playing the drums will remain a major influence and live on as an important part in the jazz tradition."


-Tony Rogers

Pictured: Motian on drums, Joe Lovano on sax and Bill Frisell on guitar. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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