Jack DeJohnette, Influential Drummer and Mentor, Visits Berklee
Grammy-winning drummer, pianist, and composer Jack DeJohnette has played alongside Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins '03H, Herbie Hancock '86H, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans, among others. He has also mentored an array of Berklee faculty members, and he recently spent a week participating in workshops for students at Berklee. The workshops focused on areas ranging from drumming to jazz to a music therapy-oriented panel focusing on the intersecting relationships of music, health, and healing.
At a panel presented by the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) on Wednesday, December 7, DeJohnette, a National Endowment for the Arts jazz master, discussed the importance of continually challenging oneself and trusting in one’s fellow musicians.
“You play with musicians who are as good or better than you to help you grow, so I always put myself in those situations,” DeJohnette said. “To keep up on your game, you need to be challenged by musicians who are driven in a good way.”
“Miles brought the best out of musicians,” DeJohnette added. “You had to play your best to survive, but Miles never said, ‘I want you to play this; I want you to play that.’ He picked musicians who were spontaneous composers. The magic happens when we improvise and create, so I always look for musicians like that, because it just makes it so much fun and it challenges you. One of the best things I learned from Miles and Coltrane was trust.”
The BGJI panel was moderated by jazz journalist Ted Panken and featured Grammy-winning Berklee faculty members who DeJohnette has either influenced or mentored directly: Danilo Perez ’88, BGJI artistic director; Terri Lyne Carrington, '83 '03H, BGJI Zildjian chair in performance; Joe Lovano '72 '98H, Berklee's Gary Burton chair for jazz performance; and John Patitucci, Berklee visiting scholar.
Prior to the discussion, DeJohnette and the featured panelists performed a captivating and engaging 25-minute set that was filled with momentum and energy as each played off of one another’s enthusiasm. After the performance, the panelists described their individual experiences with DeJohnette and his influence.
Carrington discussed her "mentor-mentee" relationship with DeJohnette and how he helped her when she was at a crossroads in her life, inspiring her to move to New York City to pursue her dreams. "He's very responsible for so many things in my life that he doesn't even know about," Carrington said, noting that DeJohnette exposed her to a lot of music as a young woman, from a jazz great like Keith Jarrett to a prog rock pioneer like Yes.
"I would go to his rehearsals and I'd help transcribe something or help out in any way that I could because that's what young musicians should do when they have a chance to be around somebody so great. Hint hint," Carrington said, with a laughing nudge to students.
Perez recounted an experience with DeJohnette in Cuba in which they met a drummer who was playing on a hi-hat with a huge hole in it. DeJohnette told Perez that he wanted to give him one of his cymbals and immediately arranged for that to happen.
Perez said, “That day, Jack, was the greatest lesson. You transcended the music and the drums and showed how you really cared for people. That is when I finally understood that that’s how you play the drums, and that’s how you play music.”