The great drummer/bandleader/composer Paul Motian passed away last Tuesday at the age of 80 (file this blog post in the better-late-than-never department). While Motian was most famous as the drummer in the revolutionary Bill Evans trio with bassist Scott LaFaro, he had a long career defined by his commitment to a personal and singular musical vision. He was an integral member of bands led by other legends like Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, but he also led and co-led some of the most important jazz groups of the last 30 years.
Motian possessed one of the most distinct musical personalities of any drummer in jazz history. Like his sometime employer Thelonious Monk, Motian bypassed displays of polished technique in favor of an individual sound stripped of pretense. His approach was eloquently described by New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff as "spare and never facile, as natural as breathing."
Personally, I first became a fan of Motian in high school, when I first started getting serious about becoming a jazz drummer. A bassist friend gave me a compilation of the famous Bill Evans Trio's 1961 Village Vanguard recordings (with selections from both Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard), and told me it was the most "interactive" piano trio ever. It took me a few listens to get into it, but once I did, I was hooked. I probably listened to Sunday at the Village Vanguard (and the track "Solar" in particular) more than anything else my senior year of high school.
To honor the musical legacy of Paul Motian, we are featuring his music on our Give the Drummers Some channel. The channel is playing an extra dose of Motian, as heard on albums by Evans, Jarrett, Haden and Paul Bley as well as on many under his own name.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an outpouring of love and appreciation for Motian in the days since his death. Here's a round-up of some of the highlights:
-The official New York Times obituary by Ben Ratliff
-A personal remembrance by Time Out New York jazz critic Hank Shteamer
-Ethan Iverson also has a personal take
-Peter Hum has been interviewing musicians who knew Motian
-Young pianist Dan Tepfer shares some stories
-As does photographer John Rogers