In a career that spans five decades and includes collaborations with some of the most iconic figures in modern jazz, NEA Master and Grammy winner Jack DeJohnette has established an unchallenged reputation as one of the greatest drummers in the history of the genre. The list of creative associations throughout his career is lengthy and diverse: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker, Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter and so many more. Along the way, he has developed a versatility that allows room for hard bop, R&B, world music, avant-garde, and just about every other style to emerge in the past half-century.
Born in Chicago in 1942, DeJohnette began studying classical piano privately at the age of 4 and later took lessons at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He added the drums to his repertoire when he joined his high school concert band at age 14.
By the mid-1960s, he had entered the Chicago jazz scene – as a leader as well as a sideman on both piano and drums. He experimented with rhythm, melody and harmony as part of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians during the group’s early days, and later drummed alongside Rashied Ali in the John Coltrane Quintet.
In 1968, DeJohnette joined Miles Davis’s group just prior to the recording of Bitches Brew, an album that triggered a seismic shift in jazz and permanently changed the direction of the music. He stayed with Davis for three years, making important contributions to prominent Davis recordings like Live-Evil and A Tribute to Jack Johnson (both in 1971) and On the Corner (1972).
During this same period, DeJohnette also recorded his first albums as a leader, beginning with The DeJohnette Complex in 1968 on Milestone. He followed up with Have You Heard in 1970, then switched to Prestige, where he released Sorcery in 1974 and Cosmic Chicken in 1975.
The mid 1970s were marked by a series of groups and projects – many leaning toward the experimental side of jazz, including The Gateway Trio (featuring Dave Holland and John Abercrombie), Directions (with Abercrombie and saxophonist Alex Foster), and New Directions (Abercrombie, with Eddie Gomez on bass). Special Edition remained active into the 1990s. DeJohnette has worked extensively with Jarrett as part of a longstanding trio with Gary Peacock. The threesome will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2013.
In the ‘90s, DeJohnette’s led and recorded a touring quartet consisting of himself, Holland, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny, the results were then captured on the landmark recording Parallel Realities. In 1992, he released Music for a Fifth World, an album inspired by Native American culture that also included appearances by Vernon Reid and John Scofield. Given the diversity of players and styles that he had embraced by this point, DeJohnette was already describing his music in the ‘90s as “multidimensional.”
As the new century got under way, DeJohnette continued to look forward with a series of ambitious recordings and other musical projects. In 2004, he recorded and toured with two Grammy-nominated groups – Out of Towners, with Jarrett and Peacock; and Ivey Divey, which featured Don Byron and Jason Moran. He assembled the Latin Project in 2005, with percussionists Giovanni Hidalgo and Luisito Quintero, reedman Don Byron, pianist Edsel Gomez, and bassist Jerome Harris. Other projects in 2005 included The Jack DeJohnette Quartet, featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Harris; and the Beyond Trio, a group that celebrated the music of drummer Tony Williams, featuring John Scofield and Larry Goldings.
He also launched his own imprint, Golden Beams Productions, in 2005. His first two recordings on the new label were Music from the Hearts of the Masters, a duet recording with Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso, and a relaxation and meditation album entitled Music in the Key of Om, featuring DeJohnette on synthesizer and resonating bells. The latter recording was nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age Album category. He closed the year with the release of Hybrids, a weave of African jazz, reggae and dance music that featured Foday Musa Suso and an international cast of guest artists.
Two live recordings emerged in 2006: The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers (Golden Beams), which captured DeJohnette’s first musical encounter with guitarist Bill Frisell at the Earshot Festival in Seattle in 2001; and Saudades (ECM), a 2004 London concert showcasing the music of Tony Williams featuring John Scofield and Larry Goldings.
DeJohnette continued to explore African music in 2007 via the Intercontinental project, a partnership with South African singer Sibongile Khumalo that included a successful European tour. Other initiatives in 2007 included studio gigs and tour dates with Bruce Hornsby, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter. He also appeared on Michael Brecker’s posthumously released final Grammy Award winning album, Pilgrimage.
The touring continued in 2008, along with the recording of a trio album with Patitucci and Perez during a snow storm near DeJohnette’s home in upstate New York. The sessions resulted in Music We Are, released in April 2009. DeJohnette’s Peace Time won a Grammy in 2009 for Best New Age Album.
The Grammy is just one of many awards that DeJohnette has received over the years, beginning in 1979 with the French Grand Prix Disc and Charles Cros awards. He has figured consistently into readers polls and critics polls conducted by Downbeat and JazzTimes over the past two decades. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1991, and was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society’s Hall of Fame in 2010. Marking his 70s birthday in 2012, he received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship in recognition of his extraordinary life achievements, contributions to advancing the jazz art form, and for serving as a mentor for a new generation of aspiring young jazz musicians.
More than any awards and accolades, though, DeJohnette continues to make the creative process his highest priority. To that end, his most recent recording is Sound Travels, a nine-song, genre-spanning album that includes Latin rhythms, West Indian sensibilities, meditative pieces and straightahead jazz. Among the guest players are Esperanza Spalding, Bobby McFerrin, Bruce Hornsby and Jason Moran.
For over two decades, Don Byron, a recipient of the first Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, has been a singular voice in an astounding range of musical contexts, exploring widely divergent traditions while continually striving for what he calls “a sound above genre.”
As clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and social critic, he redefines every genre of music he plays, be it classical, salsa, hip-hop, funk, rhythm & blues, klezmer, or any jazz style from swing and bop to cutting-edge downtown improvisation. He has been consistently voted best clarinetist by critics and readers alike in leading international music journals since being named “Jazz Artist of the Year” by Down Beatin 1992. Acclaimed as much for his restless creativity as for his unsurpassed virtuosity as a player, Byron has presented a multitude of projects at major music festivals around the world.
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Byron was exposed to a wide variety of music by his father, who played bass in calypso bands, and his mother, a pianist. His taste was further refined by trips to the symphony and ballet and by many hours spent listening to Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Machito recordings. He formalized his music education by studying classical clarinet with Joe Allard while playing and arranging salsa numbers for high school bands on the side. He later studied with George Russell in the Third Stream Department of the New England Conservatory of Music and, while in Boston, also performed with Latin and jazz ensembles.
Collaborations: His artistic collaborations include performances and recordings with Mario Bauza, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, John Hicks, Tom Cora, Bill Frisell, Vernon Reid, Marc Ribot, Cassandra Wilson, Hamiet Bluiett, Anthony Braxton, Geri Allen, Hal Willner, Marilyn Crispell, Reggie Workman, Craig Harris, David Murray, Leroy Jenkins, Bobby Previte, Gerry Hemingway, DD Jackson, Douglas Ewart, Brandon Ross, Ed Neumeister, Tom Pierson, Steve Coleman, Living Colour, Ralph Peterson, Uri Caine, Mandy Patinkin, Steve Lacy, the Kansas City All-Stars, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Medeski Martin & Wood, Angelique Kidjo, Carole King, Daniel Barenboim, Salif Keita, the Atlanta Symphony, Klangforum Wien, Joe Henry, Paul Auster, Meshell Ndegeocello, Allen Toussaint, and many others.