Jack DeJohnette (bornAugust 9, 1942 ) is an American jazz drummer, pianist, and composer.
An important figure of the fusion era of jazz, DeJohnette is one of the most influential jazz drummers of the 20th century, given his extensive work as leader and sideman for musicians including Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, John Abercrombie, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, and John Scofield.
Early life and musical beginnings
DeJohnette was born in Chicago, Illinois. He began his musical career as a piano player, studying from age four and first playing professionally at age fourteen, but he would later switch focus to the drums, for which he is known. DeJohnette would later credit an uncle, Roy I. Wood Sr., as the person in his life who inspired him to play music. Wood was a Chicago disc jockey who would later become vice president of the National Network of Black Broadcasters.
DeJohnette began his drumming career playing R&B, hard bop, and avant-garde music in Chicago, leading his own groups while playing also with Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, both of whom were members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. In the early 1960s, Dejohnette had the opportunity to perform with John Coltrane and his quintet, an early foray into playing with big name jazz musicians.
In 1966 DeJohnette moved to New York City, where he became a member of the Charles Lloyd Quartet. A band that recognized the potential influence of rock and roll on jazz, Lloyd’s group was where DeJohnette first encountered pianist Keith Jarrett, who would work extensively with him throughout his career. However, DeJohnette left the group in early 1968, citing Lloyd’s deteriorating, “flat” playing as his main reason for leaving. While Lloyd’s band was where he received international recognition for the first time, it was not the only group DeJohnette played with during his early years in New York, as he also worked with groups including Jackie McLean, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, and Bill Evans. DeJohnette joined Evan’s trio in 1968, the same year the group headlined the Montreux Jazz Festival and produce the album Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival. In November 1968 he worked briefly with Stan Getz and his quartet, which led to his first recordings with Miles Davis.
The Miles Davis years
In 1969, DeJohnette left the Evans trio and replaced Tony Williams in Miles Davis's live band. Davis had seen DeJohnette play many times, one of which was during a stint with Evans at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London in 1968, where he also first heard bassist Dave Holland. Davis recognized DeJohnette’s ability to combine the driving grooves associated with rock and roll with improvisational aspects associated with jazz.
DeJohnette played on the album Directions, and was the primary drummer on the landmark album Bitches Brew. DeJohnette and the other musicians saw the Bitches Brew sessions as unstructured and fragmentary, but also innovative: “As the music was being played, as it was developing, Miles would get new ideas...He’d do a take, and stop, and then get an idea from what had just gone on before, and elaborate on it...The recording of Bitches Brew was a stream of creative musical energy. One thing was flowing into the next, and we were stopping and starting all the time.” While he was not the only drummer involved in the project, as Davis had also enlisted Billy Cobham, Don Alias, and Lenny White, DeJohnette was considered the leader of the rhythm section within the group. He played on the live albums that would follow the release of Bitches Brew, taken from concerts at the Fillmore East in New York and Fillmore West in San Francisco. These ventures were undertaken at the behest of Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records.
DeJohnette continued to work with Davis for the next three years, which led to collaborations with other Davis band members John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, and Holland; he also drew Keith Jarrett into the band. He contributed to such famous Davis albums as Live-Evil (1971), A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971), and On the Corner (1972). He left the Davis group in the middle of 1971, although he returned to the group for several concerts through the rest of that year.
DeJohnette as a solo artist and bandleader in the 1970s and 80s
DeJohnette had begun his career as a bandleader during his time in the Davis group. His first record, The DeJohnette Complex, was released in 1968; on the album, DeJohnette played melodica as well as drums, preferring often to let a mentor of his, Roy Haynes, sit behind the set. He also recorded, in the early 1970s, the albums Have You Heard, Sorcery, and Cosmic Chicken. He released these first four albums on either the Milestone or Prestige labels, and then switched to ECM for his next endeavors; ECM gave him a “fertile platform” for his “atmospheric drumming and challenging compositions.”
The musical freedom he had while recording for ECM offered DeJohnette many dates as a sideman and opportunities to start his own groups. He first formed the group Compost in 1972, but this was a short-lived endeavor, and DeJohnette cited the music as far too experimental to achieve commercial success. During this period, DeJohnette continued his career as a sideman as well, rejoining Stan Getz’s quartet from 1973 to October 1974, and also enticing Dave Holland to join Getz’s rhythm section. This stint briefly preceded the formation of the Gateway Trio, a group that DeJohnette helped form but did not lead. This group came directly out of the DeJohnette’s time with Getz, as Holland joined him in this group along with guitarist John Abercrombie, both of whom would become associated with DeJohnette throughout his career. His next group effort was Directions, a group formed in 1976 featuring saxophonist Alex Foster, bassist Mike Richmond, and Abercrombie, showing the links between the members of the Gateway trio. This was another short-lived group, yet it led directly to the formation of DeJohnette’s next group, New Directions, which featured Abercrombie again on guitar along with Lester Bowie on trumpet and Eddie Gómez on bass. This group coexisted with another DeJohnette group, Special Edition, which was the first DeJohnette-led group to receive critical acclaim. This group also helped the careers of many lesser-known young horn players, as it had a rotating front line that included David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, John Purcell, and Rufus Reid, among many others.
During this period, especially with Special Edition, DeJohnette offered “the necessary gravity to keep the horns in a tight orbit” in his compositions while also treating his listeners to “the expanded vocabulary of the avant-garde plus the discipline of traditional jazz compositions.” DeJohnette’s work with Special Edition has been interrupted regularly by other projects, the most significant of which are his recordings in 1983 and tours from 1985 as a member of Keith Jarrett’s trio, which was totally devoted to playing jazz standards. The trio included his long-time compatriot Jarrett and bassist Gary Peacock, and all three have been members of the group for over 25 years.
In 1981 he performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, held in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Creative Music Studio.
DeJohnette in the 1990s and the present
DeJohnette continued to work with Special Edition into the 1990s, but did not limit himself to that. In 1990 he toured in a quartet consisting of himself, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and his long-time collaborator Holland, and released the Parallel Realities CD with this group the same year. In 1992 he released a major collaborative record, Music for the Fifth World, which was inspired by studies with a Native American elder and brought him together musically with players like Vernon Reid and John Scofield. He had also, during the 1980s, resumed playing piano, which led to his 1994 tour as an unaccompanied pianist. He also began working again with Abercrombie and Holland, reviving the Gateway trio.
In 2004 he was nominated for a Grammy award for his work on Keith Jarrett’s live album The Out-of-Towners, and continued to work with that group into 2005. In the next few years DeJohnette would begin and lead three new projects, the first of which was the Latin Project consisting of percussionists Giovanni Hidalgo and Luisito Quintero, reedman Don Byron, pianist Edsel Gomez, and bassist Jerome Harris. The other two new projects were the Jack DeJohnette Quartet, featuring Harris again alongside Danilo Perez and John Patitucci, and the Trio Beyond, a tribute to DeJohnette’s friend Tony Williams and his The Tony Williams Lifetime trio (consisting of Williams, Larry Young and John McLaughlin)featuring John Scofield and Larry Goldings. He also founded his own label, Golden Beams Productions, in 2005. That same year, he released Music in the Key of OM on his new label, an electronic album which he created for relaxing and meditative purposes on which he played synthesizer and resonating bells, and which was nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Age Album category. He continued to makes albums as a leader and sideman throughout this period as well, one of which was The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, a collaboration that documents the first meeting of DeJohnette and guitarist Bill Frisell in 2001 and led to another tour, with Frisell and Jerome Harris. The next year Trio Beyond released Saudades, a live recording of a concert commemorating Tony Williams in London in 2004. In 2008 he toured with Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, and the Jarrett trio, and the next year won the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album with Peace Time. In 2010 he founded the Jack DeJohnette Group, featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, David Fiuczynski on double-neck guitar, George Colligan on keyboards and piano, and long-time associate Jerome Harris on electric and acoustic bass guitars. In 2012, DeJohnette released Sound Travels, a multi-genre album that DeJohnette himself dominates but features many new collaborators like Bruce Hornsby, Esperanza Spalding, and Lionel Loueke as well as old faces such as McFerrin, Quintero, and Jason Moran. He was also, in 2012, awarded with an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for his "significant lifetime contributions have helped to enrich jazz and further the growth of the art form."