Remembering Paul Motian

Remembering Paul Motian

It was over 20 years ago that I plucked up the courage to get in touch with one of my main inspirations in music - Paul Motian. Somebody had passed his address on to me and I sent him a letter with a recording of my first album ‘In Our Time’ asking him if he would play with me in the UK if I organised a tour. I gave it a couple of weeks and called him to see if he had received the package. The conversation was short but very positive. He said yes he would like to do it, my music was nice and he wanted a fee of 2000 dollars for a week of work.
I started work on trying to get a tour together and chose John Parricelli and Mick Hutton to be in the band. I had no response for a while after calling various promoters and gave up on the idea until Belfast Festival called and said they would programme us for two nights and pay for Paul’s flight. This is what I needed to then be able to fix some other gigs. We played the Jazz Café, Cardiff, Brentwood, the two dates in Belfast and played at the Royal Academy of Music where I was teaching (and still am).
I had a great time and found Paul very easy to play with and hang out with.
He would have been 62 years old at this time. I had listened to him on recordings so much prior to meeting him that I knew what it would be like. I was ready. It was as great as I thought it would be from the first moment of him striking the cymbal in his unique way.
I can remember walking down the street in Belfast when a taxi pulled up and out got Honor Blackman and without a moment’s hesitation Paul shouted “Pussy Galore”!! (The character she had played in a James Bond film).
The actress looked terrified and quickly moved away with her minder.
Paul was great to hang out with and I was wary about asking about Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett as I was sure he had been asked many times before but when I did he was ok about talking about any of his musical experiences over the years.
I remember he recommended the book But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer when we  were brousing in a bookshop as one of the best books on Jazz.
At this time Paul was ok about rehearsing and in fact he suggested it before a gig.
In later years he said“I think rehearsing takes away from the beauty of the music. I’ve been playing long enough to know what I’m doing at this point of my life! I’d rather depend on my skills and intuition to play well when the time comes.”
The tour was too short and I vowed I would try and get Paul back to the UK again. It took me seven years. In 2000 the Cheltenham Jazz Festival commissioned me to write some music for an International Quartet. I had just seen pianist Bobo Stenson play with his trio in London and approached him to see if he would be interested in the idea of a collaboration.
He didn’t know my playing but was attracted to the idea of playing with Paul. He and Paul had both recorded extensively for ECM but didn’t know each other although Bobo remembers when Paul came to Stockholm in the late 1960’s with Keith Jarrett’s trio and he met him briefly. Mick Hutton was always my first choice of bass player at that time and he completed the quartet.
I fixed 10 consecutive dates (which is hard to do now), received some Arts Council touring support and had the commission from Cheltenham. Everything worked out well and we drove in the same van. Mick did most of the driving.
Everything about the tour was great, the music, hanging out and getting to know each other, looking at the good pub guide each day to find a nice place to eat on the way to the next gig and the fact that we all got paid the same money.
This made the band equal rather than the “international stars” getting more money. Bobo in particular often mentioned it was one of his favourite tours years later. Maybe there will be something about it in Paul’s diaries if they are ever published.
I was so excited about the band and easily we played together that I worked on fixing another tour for 18 months later in November and December 2001.
This had more stress involved and didn’t fall into place as easily as the 2000 tour. I managed to get quite a few dates but they weren’t consecutive so this meant having to pay for hotels for Bobo and Paul on the days off. I was hoping to get Arts Council touring support again but this proved a bit optimistic as I was turned down after all the dates were in place and the musicians booked.
There was friction on this tour at times probably because of the various stresses but the music was great and I felt we were developing as a band playing my music.
Just before the tour 9/11 had taken place with the destruction of the World Trade Centre. I am sure this had a big effect on Paul as he lived in Manhattan.
Not long before the tour, I can’t remember when exactly but maybe 2 or 3 weeks, Paul rang saying he didn’t feel good about the tour and he didn’t want to do it and had asked Barry Altschul if he was free to do it.
I said I didn’t want him to pull out. It was advertised with him doing it and I had printed thousands of tour flyers and posters with him on them. At this time he was adamant about not doing it and I said I will have a think about who would be suitable for the band instead. I contacted Joey Baron’s management but he wasn’t free. I was stuck about what to do as Paul was so unique.
I spoke to Bobo about it and he said Paul can’t pull out at such short notice so he called him and persuaded him to do it. I was relieved. The night before our first gig, which was sold out at the Purcell Room, Paul left a message on my phone saying “You haven’t got a drummer for your tour.” I went to the airport in NY and they didn’t have a ticket for me so I have gone home”.
This probably took 10 years off my life when I heard this!
I called the travel agent and then got through to the airport in NY. I had paid for it but somebody somewhere along the line had probably not pressed a button on a computer to confirm this with the airline. They admitted their mistake and I got Paul a ticket for the next flight. If he had waited at the airport and called me from there everything would have been resolved and he would have got on the original flight. I called him and confirmed this next flight with him.
I still don’t really know what happened next. Paul had gone back to bed after returning from the airport. He got up and got dressed, went down to the street to get a cab and then changed his mind and went back to bed and was not going to fly. He then did this again possibly 2 more times before he decided not to let us all down and take the flight.
I will probably never really know what went on that evening but he eventually made it.
We played with no rehearsal and got the music together throughout the tour. My tunes are not hard and they are vehicles for improvising so maybe that is how it was meant to be.
We had great times on this tour but Paul was noticeably a bit pricklier at times.
Just before the tour started one of the promoters pulled out as we had not sold many tickets. So we were a gig down but a strange thing happened during the tour. We were just about to go on stage at Norwich Arts Centre when I got a call from Trevor Taylor who promoted a gig in Westcliff. He asked where were we as he had an audience waiting to hear us play there!
This was bizarre as we had not confirmed a date with him in Westcliff for the tour. I had made sure I had contracts for every gig in writing. Trevor then suggested why don’t we play for him on one of our days off. This was agreed and I thought that this would make up for the cancelled gig that had happened a short while before the tour. However at breakfast one morning Paul insisted that I pay him for the cancelled gig and the new gig we had just got! He pulled out of his bag a copy of the original itinerary I had emailed him and the fee I said he would get. He insisted that I pay him for the cancelled gig and the new one but that I could pay him whatever I wanted for the new gig. He suggested 50 dollars.
I found this whole argument strange but he wouldn’t change his mind.
The gig in Westcliff was the only gig I was not able to pick Paul and Bobo up from their hotel in Chelsea. Ingrid, Bobo’s partner was also at the hotel now.
I had a teaching commitment so I took the drums in my car and gave them directions to the venue by train.
It was an easy train journey from Liverpool Street to Westcliff and then the venue was a five minute walk from the station. Nothing could go wrong or so I thought.
Mick was unable to do this gig as he already had another gig so I asked Tom Herbert to do it who was excited to be playing with Paul and Bobo. I got stuck in traffic making me very late and I turned up at the venue at 9pm, which was the start time of the gig. After walking in with the drums I saw Tom but no sign of the others but an expectant audience.
Tom had been there 2 hours waiting to rehearse before the gig. A couple of minutes later Paul, Bobo and Ingrid walked in angry with me. Their train had broken down and that had to get off and walk on the tracks to get to the platform and there were lots of train delays because of this. When they did arrive they had walked the wrong way out of the station and got lost before eventually arriving later than me. They blamed me for everything and this made me furious, and the promoter who refused to offer them a drink. It all got very tense and I said didn’t want to play with them as they were treating me badly. Poor Tom was an onlooker to this. Within a few minutes we all made up and the gig was fine.
With some of the negative experiences on this second tour I vowed never to try and book a tour with foreign musicians unless there was funding, a tour van we travelled in together and no days off. It was a learning experience for me.
The first tour had worked so well because all of those things were in place.
Manfred Eicher of ECM Records had heard about the group through Bobo and Paul and got in touch with me or maybe I called him, I can’t remember, and we confirmed a date for recording in Oslo at Rainbow Studios in 2002. I couldn’t believe this was happening. So many great recordings had been made in that studio and now I had the opportunity to record myself for this wonderful label.
The plan was to record for two days and then when the others left I would stay on for a third day and mix it then. This changed when Manfred said he had booked another session featuring John Taylor, Marc Johnson and Joey Baron for this third day as it was the only day that could all do to finish off John’s album which was eventually released as Rosslyn.
So when I flew home I had no idea what would become of my recording. It was nearly four years later that Manfred sent me an email saying the cd had been mixed and he had decided on an order of tunes and could I suggest a title.
At first I was frustrated that I hadn’t been at the mix but with hindsight I quite liked it that he had done it without me and decided the order. We agreed on Change Of Heart as the album title. Bobo sounds incredible on this tune.
It came out in 2006 and although I wasn’t particularly happy with my own playing, the others sound great and I was pleased it had nice reviews all over the world.
Paul had heart bypass surgery a year or two after the recording and although he was feeling better than ever after it he decided to not travel anymore out of Manhattan. Unless I could book gigs in New York I knew I would never play with him again. I didn’t manage to go to New York but I am so lucky that I had the musical experiences I did with Paul and also got to know him a little bit.
As many other musicians have recounted about Paul, he had a really warm, generous and funny side in addition to being childlike in a great way. He seemed to be in the moment as a person and in his playing, which made him exciting to be around. He had a darker side as well that I experienced on a few occasions.
I could hear the history of jazz drums in his playing and his wide beat is from another era that is rare to hear now. By playing with him I felt I tapped into something from those great players he had collaborated with such as Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Lee Konitz, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Garrison, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, all of whom have influenced me.
By contacting him all those years ago I followed my instinct and it worked out.
Paul has left such a great legacy of recordings from those early Bill Evans trios up to Windmills Of Your Mind, which was one of his last recordings with his own band, that I will always have the opportunity to hear his unique sound in my life even though his physical body has left us.
I was devastated when I heard he had died and couldn’t stop thinking about him for days. I didn’t know him that well but he had a powerful influence on my life and how I feel about making music. I then found out deeper reasons why he resonated with me so much. According to Ancient Chinese Philosophy Paul and I have the same energy and therefore are replicas of each other in how we express ourselves. Interesting!

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