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Drummer Jack DeJohnette keeps the beat after 71 years

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 6:55 p.m.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette Credit: Carlos Pericajus

Drummer Jack DeJohnette says his self-defined title as a “multi-directional” musician has its roots in his effort to make his concerts more than simply a show.

“I always want to make them an event more than a gig,” he says.

DeJohnette will be showing off one of those directions Saturday at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild as part of a tour marking his 70th year. With a chuckle, he points out that the tour began in 2012, when he turned 70, and this is actually his 71st year.

“I guess they are just getting some mileage out of it,” he says of the concert promoters.

The innovative and creative drummer will be touring with guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Tim Reis, pianist George Colligan and bassist Jerome Harris. That group is a fairly constant one, but can take different forms, sometimes not using a guitarist or replacing Reis with another saxophonist.

It reflects the many directions of DeJohnette's play.

For instance, it features a guitarist, not a constant presence in his band. But it is not one that is always avoided, either.

“In my Directions band, I had John Abercrombie on guitar,” he says.'

Of course, in any fashion, this band would sound quite different and present different challenges than another group in which DeJohnette plays a notable role: the Keith Jarrett Trio with that pianist and bassist Steve Swallow.

DeJohnette's history has been one of playing the percussion role in many memorable bands. He was the drummer in Miles Davis' band for the seminal “Bitches Brew” album. He had his own groups, each bearing names such as Directions and Gateway, showing the special identities of the ensembles.

He was even part of a memorable, one-time quartet with Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland that made the festival circuit in 1990. Another of his famous groups, the band known as Special Edition, was one of his most striking because its four albums showed constantly changing personnel, each becoming its own edition, as it were.

He says those changes were prompted often by the need to find replacements for members who might not be available to tour or record. But he also says the personnel changes were caused by the demand to create a different sound.

“That's why I came up with the word ‘multi-directional',” he says. “Critics will always come up with names for things, like ‘avant garde' or ‘bebop'. I didn't want them calling it something it wasn't, so I just tried to name it myself.”

He says he was inspired by Ornette Coleman's use of “harmolodic” to brand his music, so tried to do the same thing.

“I didn't want it to be just a name,” he says. “I wanted it to be a label that applied to the music.”

All of that work has kept him active throughout his career. Sometimes that makes him wary about doing more. For instance, right now he has a four-CD collection of his Special Edition recordings on the shelves, and a new Jarrett album on the way, along with a series of Miles Davis recordings from his days in the band.

“I'm pretty visible right now,” he says, although he is not working on any new recordings. “I don't want to over-present myself.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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