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Born in Chicago in 1942, JACK DeJOHNETTE is widely regarded as one of jazz music’s greatest drummers. Music appreciation flourished in DeJohnette’s family. He studied classical piano from age four until fourteen before beginning to play drums with his high school concert band and taking private piano lessons at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. DeJohnette credits his uncle, Roy I. Wood Sr., who was one of the most popular jazz DJs in the South Side of Chicago, later vice president of the National Network of Black Broadcasters, as the person who initially inspired him to pursue music.
In his early years on the Chicago scene, he led his own groups and was equally in demand as a pianist and as a drummer. He played R & B, hard bop, and avant-garde and was active with the experimentalists of the AACM in its early days, with the likes of founder Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, and Joseph Jarman. In 1966, he drummed alongside Rashied Ali in the John Coltrane Quintet. International recognition came with his tenure in the Charles Lloyd Quartet, one of the first jazz groups to receive crossover attention, also alerting the world to Keith Jarrett’s skills.
DeJohnette has collaborated with most major figures in jazz history. Some of the great talents he has worked with are John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Sun Ra, Jackie McLean, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter, Lee Morgan, Charles Lloyd, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, and Eddie Harris, who is responsible for convincing DeJohnette to stick with drums because he heard DeJohnette’s natural talent.
It was in 1968 that DeJohnette joined Miles Davis’ group in time for the epochal upheaval marked by Bitches Brew, an album that changed the direction of jazz. Working with Miles also brought about collaborations with John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, and Dave Holland.
In 1968 he recorded his first album as a leader on the Milestone label, called The DeJohnette Complex. In the early ’70s he recorded “Have You Heard” in Japan and two albums for Prestige. These early sessions united Jack with Gary Peacock, Bennie Maupin, Stanley Cowell, Miroslav Vitous, Eddie Gomez, Alex Foster, and Peter Warren.
DeJohnette began to record as a leader for ECM, with each of his successive groups Directions, New Directions, and Special Edition making important contributions to the evolution of jazz. The New Directions band featured two musicians who would have long-term associations with DeJohnette: John Abercrombie and Lester Bowie. DeJohnette has recorded as a leader on Columbia, Landmark, MCA/GRP, and Toshiba/EMI/Blue Note, but the bulk of his recordings are on the ECM label.
While continuing to lead his own projects and bands, DeJohnette has also been a 20-year member of the immensely popular Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette trio. DeJohnette has appeared on more ECM albums than any other musician; his numerous recordings for the label display his subtle, powerful playing and the ‘melodic’ approach to drums and cymbals that makes his touch instantly recognizable.
Jack has received many awards for his music, including New Directions, which received the prestigious French Grand Prix du Disque’s Charles Cros award in 1979. Album, Album and Special Edition both won Album of the Year in Downbeat’s annual readers’ polls. Audio-Visualscapes became album of the year in the Downbeat 1989 annual critics’ poll. Parallel Realities won album of the year in Japan. In 1991, Earth Walk won album of the year and recording of the year in Japan. Jack was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1991. There is an extensive list of awards for drumming, including at least 14 years of the Downbeat polls, the NY Jazz awards, and the Jazz Central on line awards, along with many international awards.
As well as his previous credentials, DeJohnette has also composed soundtracks for both TV and video. These include a collaboration with Pat Metheny for a PBS play called Lemon Sky, a soundtrack for a documentary called City Farmers by Meryl Joseph, and a video production with fellow percussionist Don Alias on Homespun – Talking Drummers – which includes a documentary that was made of the whole process. Jack also enjoyed a cameo appearance as a member of the “Alligator Blues Band” in the Blues Brothers 2000 movie.
In 2004, DeJohnette recorded and toured with two Grammy-nominated projects: “The Out of Towners” with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock (also known as the Standards Trio) and “Ivey Divey” with Don Byron and Jason Moran. While continuing to tour the world with the Standards Trio in 2005, DeJohnette launched and toured with three new projects of his own: the Latin Project with Don Byron, Giovanni Hidalgo, Jerome Harris, Edsel Gomez, and Luisito Quintero; the Jack DeJohnette Quartet, featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Jerome Harris; and Beyond Trio, a group celebrating the works of Jack’s friend and master drummer Tony Williams, featuring John Scofield and Larry Goldings; and founded his own imprint, Golden Beams Productions. Golden Beams’ inaugural release Music in the Key of Om was nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age Album category.
Since then, Golden Beams has released “Music from the Hearts of the Masters,” a stunning duet with the revered Gambian kora player, Foday Musa Suso, and a remix album Hybrids, by The Ripple Effect, DeJohnette’s collaborative project featuring Foday Musa Suso, Marlui Miranda, the most acclaimed and recognized performer and researcher of Brazilian Indian music, multi-instrumentalist and composer John Surman, producer/engineer and guitarist Big Al, and mix master Ben Surman, who produced the album with DeJohnette. DeJohnette’s latest on Golden Beams is The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, a duo album with guitar great Bill Frisell, recorded live at the Earshot Jazz Festival.
Before beginning his fall/winter tour in 2006, Jack released Saudades on ECM, his tribute to the late, great drum master Tony Williams. The album, led by DeJohnette, features John Scofield and Larry Goldings, and earned a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental album. The group, known as Trio Beyond, toured North America in 2007.