ECM Records—that jazz record label with the most clear, clean, and distinguishable sound—will be celebrated in Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 1–2 in ECM Records at 50. The evening will present an amazing gathering of over 30 top-of-their-game musicians that have contributed to the ECM label originally founded by producer Manfred Eicher in Munich in 1969.
Legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette has the most recordings out of all the artists on ECM’s deep roster. “The magic of ECM is Manfred Eicher,” explains DeJohnette. “He played double bass and sang in the German Choir and was drawn to all kinds of music. He wasn’t locked into any one kind of music. He recorded classical music for Deutsche Grammophon Records. He just had a natural, highly creative gift for knowing how to bring the most out of artists and also get the best quality sound out of the instruments—a natural sounding instrument. He developed a sound that people really appreciated. People would buy those records just for the sound, aside from the music part itself. But he had a vision, and it’s still going strong. He brought out the best in all of the musicians and was able to do that in the studio, especially with written and improvisational music. He loved that. He also was into film too, so he has a depth of field to the sound. The sound has maintained, and that adds to the value over all these years.”
The show includes an exciting lineup of performers, including Meredith Monk, Joe Lovano, Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer, Avishai Cohen, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Frisell, Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Wadada Leo Smith, Anja Lechner, Ethan Iverson, Enrico Rava, Egberto Gismonti, and Matthew Garrison. Masters, all.
Jack DeJohnette was born in Chicago in 1942. “My first instrument was the piano, actually,” he tells us. “I began playing when I was five or six and took formal lessons into my teens. I started playing jazz piano and was influenced by the Ahmad Jamal Trio with Vernel Fournier on drums. I had a combo, and we used to rehearse at my house, and the drummer used to leave his drums there. I just gravitated to them naturally. I started playing both instruments. In 1964 I was playing with Eddie Harris, Ira Sullivan, and Von Freeman, to name a few. I went to New York City one weekend and got hired by John Patton to play drums, and the rest is history.”
DeJohnette has played with giants including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman…the list is endless. What is it about this drummer that makes him such a go-to guy? “I just try to make the music and interpret the music that the composer has written, and I try to be inspired by the people I play with. Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans…these are people who have their own visions, but they’re stimulating to play with, so I wanted to be in that kind of company,” he adds.
“I practiced a lot and played a lot. Learned a lot by asking musicians questions, watching, and listening. I’m a supportive player, and I like to play with musicians who are strong on their own and enjoy having good interplay with each other. Drummer influences have included Wilbur Campbell from Chicago, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Arthur Taylor, and Roy Haynes.”
On November 1–2 in Rose Theater, ECM at 50 promises to bring to life many a musical vision.
“You’re going to hear the musicians that are present, coming together to celebrate the label and Manfred Eicher. So it’ll be two good nights of music. I’ll be there playing with a trio of Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison and other guests. There’ll be a lot of interesting combinations with a really well-rounded quality.”
Scott H. Thompson is an internationally publisher writer and jazz publicist.