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Legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette speaks to The Journal

When it comes to jazz, drummer Jack DeJohnette may as well wear a crown as standard. Sam Wonfor talked to him ahead of his Tyneside arrival

Legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette
Legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette

At the age of 71 and with a list of unrivalled achievements in his chosen tuneful field, Jack DeJohnette could be 100% forgiven for buying himself a recliner and enjoying the memories for the next 30 years.

“Yeah, but why would I do that when I still love it so much?”, says the legendary jazz drummer, speaking from the Belgium stop of a European tour.

“I keep myself in shape. Playing music is like being an athlete. You have to eat right, exercise and keep a positive frame of mind. I just want to keep writing and playing as long as I’m physically and mentally able to. If I’m interested, I’m there.”

Thankfully for the organisers and attendees of the Gateshead International Jazz Festival, Chicago-born Jack was interested in their 10th anniversary event, which kicks off tomorrow. And as good as his word, he’ll be there.

His inclusion is one of the undoubted highlights of the busy and eclectic three-day programme for the three-day festival, which also welcomes the likes of guitar maestro Bill Frisell, Django Bates, Robert Glasper, Courtney Pine and GoGo Penguin to name but a few.

Jack is coming as part of the Spring Quartet – the latest in a long successful line of music projects and collectives he has been involved in for the best part of five decades.

Having worked with a list of legends and luminaries, which we frankly haven’t got room to print (but John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock would be a few), Jack’s current focus sees him composing and performing alongside Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese.

It has rightly been termed a “jazz supergroup” and it sounds like NEA Jazz Master and Grammy Award-winner Jack is having a suitably super time being part of it. “We came together out of appreciation for one another’s talent,” he says. “We’ve worked with each other in different circumstances, but not as the Spring Quartet.

“The opportunity came for us do some dates – there was interest in it, we all agreed to do it and it has been fantastic.

“Esperanza and Leo are amazing young talents and then you have Joe and myself who have been around a little longer,” he laughs. “We inspire each other.

“It’s like a workshop group. We use compositions from everybody but we also have room for spontaneous improvisation on the spot. We’re having a great time. It’s excellent musicianship, high creativity and a lot of fun.”

I’m starting to see why the notion of retirement has no place in Jack DeJohnette’s daydreams.

The Spring Quartet have rightly taken Saturday night’s primetime slot (7.30pm) in Hall One and will be performing material from their individual and collection composition catalogues. “There will be pieces from all of us – some old, some new. We have a lot of material to choose from,” he laughs.

Known as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the past 50 years, I wonder whether knowing people look to him for inspiration brings pressure.

“Not really,” he says simply. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing and, if in turn that inspires and influences people, then great. I’m happy about that.

“I too get inspired by the people I surround myself with and people I enjoy to listen to. The whole thing is all about being stimulated and making sure you keep interested. I have lots of things going on all the time – my own quartet, a new trio with Ravi Coltrane (son of John) and Matthew Garrison which will be touring in the all. And I have a surprise project which will be coming out in January, but I’m not saying anything about that right now.”

I think we can safely say he’s earned the right to please himself.

The Gateshead International Jazz Festival runs at Sage Gateshead from tomorrow until Sunday. For full programme and booking details, call 0191 443 4661. Or, anyone interested can visit: www.sagegateshead.com

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