Jack DeJohnette

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Jack DeJohnette


ARIA winning drummer and composer Jack DeJohnette has played with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny, to name a but a few.

ARIA winning drummer and composer Jack DeJohnette has played with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny, to name a but a few. Now he’s heading to Australia with a hand-picked band to share the story of the world’s first African American heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.

When we speak with DeJohnette he’s just in from shovelling snow at his home in New York. If someone can have a kind voice, then that’s what Jack has. He’s worked with the greats and he’s widely considered as one of them, but there’s not a trace of ego. His previous work includes music for meditation and relaxation, collaborations with players of the African Kora and of course the jazz he is famous for. He was introduced to the idea of playing to accompany the screening of William Cayton’s 1971 documentary on boxing champion Jack Johnson, by his agency in London. DeJohnette was familiar with the Jack Johnson story. "I was aware of it, but a lot of people aren’t aware of it. In fact, from an Australian point of view, Australia was very pivotal, because Australia is where Jack Johnson came to fight the heavyweight champion. Somehow he found the wherewithal to find his way down there and defeat the heavyweight and become the heavyweight champion of the world."

Together with the rights to screen the documentary, the eight-track audio is available, meaning that the live band can be mixed with parts of the original soundtrack by Miles Davis, and elements of dialogue in the film. "Some of the music was from albums that Miles had done and also soundtracks that he did specifically for the documentary. It’s kind of a work in progress, we did performances in London and we did two in France and it’s actually a nice concept because there’s a big screen behind us. Not only is it musically interesting, it’s a historical and educational event, because it chronicles the rise and the fall of the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, in a time when black people were not favoured upon, particularly as being heavyweight champion of the world, in the early 1900s. It’s a fantastic story and then the music celebrates Miles as well, you get both things: you get the movie and a live band performing with the movie and we play a little bit before and we play a little bit after the credits go."

DeJohnette selected the band members, "I put the band together and actually you know the bassist [Jerome Harris] and the guitarist [David Fiuczynski] are part of my main band, Jack DeJohnette group, but the horn players were specifically chosen for the Jack Johnson project. The guys who are playing saxophone and trumpet, Byron Wallen [Trumpet] and Jason Yarde [Saxophone] are really, really exceptional players. They’re well respected in the jazz pop area and they have their own groups and they work with some notable musicians. Jason and Byron work with the great pianist composer Andrew Hill and they’ve worked with a number of groups that I’ve had "

Every performance is different. "We play along with some of it, we play the actual music, and we add our own improvisations to it. It’s fresh every time we do it. This is an event, so it’s not just playing the music, the music and the documentary work hand in hand. It gives us artistic flexibility."

It’s a rare opportunity to head to the beautiful Melbourne Recital Centre and not only see the screening of an excellent documentary, with a soundtrack by none other than Miles Davis, performed by music legends from the United States and United Kingdom. What are you waiting for? Go get your tickets! While you’re at it, Mr DeJohnette is a social media whizz – so you’ll find him on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Jack DeJohnette plays at The Melbourne Recital Centre on Wednesday March 2 in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. Tickets range from $54-$84 and you can buy them at melbournerecitalcentre.com.au.