Drummer Jack DeJohnette, who turned 75 in August, isn’t the kind to rest on his laurels — though he’s helped push artists including Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Charles Lloyd, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Bill Evans and Jackie McLean to some of the highest heights they ever reached.
DeJohnette remains open to new adventures in music, such as the one that brings him to the Kansas City area on Sunday, Oct. 15. We’ll hear his new band Hudson, an all-star collective where he strikes sparks with guitar giant John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier. It’s the first show in the Winterlude series at Johnson County Community College.
The four busy artists, all top players on their instruments, first got together for a one-off show at the Woodstock Jazz Festival a few years ago, DeJohnette says.
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“I’d worked with John Scofield on other projects …. I’d done recordings with Larry Grenadier and played with him locally. And Medeski, I’d never played with him, but I thought this was a good opportunity.”
That gig worked so well that the four agreed to become a band.
“This year being my 75th birthday, I thought it would be a good idea to get this group together and do some touring,” DeJohnette says.
“We decided to play some originals, some improvisations and some cover tunes,” the drummer says. “We’re all residents of the Hudson Valley, and we were thinking of all the artists and singers and songwriters who were part of that: Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell. So we picked out some songs, went into the studio for five days and recorded quite a bit of material.
“We all live up in this area, it’s beautiful and peaceful, it’s a place for creativity, and that comes through in the music. And so does the love that we have for these pieces.”
They’ve achieved something that few all-star jazz bands ever get — a real group sound — and their workouts on unexpected tunes are refreshing. Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” and Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” have Scofield’s voluble guitar melodies gushing forth, while Medeski’s piano, organ and Fender Rhodes splash new colors into the music, Grenadier’s bass knits everything together artfully and DeJohnette’s dancing drums levitate the whole thing.
“Everybody in the band is such an individual storyteller, and it really comes across,” DeJohnette says. “We’re a conversational band, there’s always a dialogue going on. And we’re always discovering how to play these pieces differently every time.”
DeJohnette grew up in Chicago and was involved in music from an early age, studying piano, which he still plays very well. He was propelled into drumming as a teen when he heard drummer Vernel Fournier in Chicago’s most popular jazz band of the time, pianist Ahmad Jamal’s trio. “When I first heard him, I went and bought a pair of brushes before I even had a drum set.”
And since that time, DeJohnette has been an unstoppable force in jazz. Does he ever look back?
“When I listen to that music, it’s fresh, not old,” he says. “I always hear new things in it. I listen to things I’ve done in the past and I hear things I didn’t hear before that inspire me in the present day.”
Hudson performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, to begin the Jazz Winterlude series at Johnson County Community College. The show is in Yardley Hall; tickets are $15 to $40. Call 913-469-4445 or visit www.jccc.edu/TheSeries.
The Winterlude series continues with trumpeter Hermon Mehari’s quintet on Dec. 17, singer Deborah Brown’s quintet on Jan. 28, pianist Charles Williams’ trio on Feb. 13 and tenor saxophonist Matt Otto’s quintet on March 18.
▪ Tenor saxophonist and composer Matt Otto has joined forces with Ensemble Iberica to record an album of distinctive music that melds jazz with influences from Spain, Portugal and their colonies in the Americas. They’ll celebrate the collaboration in a performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, in the Musical Theater Heritage theater in Crown Center. Players in the project include Beau Bledsoe, Jordan Shipley and Michael McClintock on guitars and other related stringed instruments; Brad Cox on electric piano; Karl McComas-Reichl on bass and cello; and Michael Stover on steel guitar. Tickets are $25 at 816-221-6987 or musicaltheaterheritage.com.
▪ Don’t overlook the other jazz programming at Johnson County Community College. The free midday jazz series has drummer Todd Strait’s quartet at noon Tuesday, Oct. 10, in the Polsky Theater.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has singer Kathleen Holeman’s trio at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, followed by tenor saxophonist Steven Lambert’s quintet at 10:30 p.m.; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9, followed by tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin’s organ trio at 10:30 p.m.; Hopper’s Agora band at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, followed by organist Chris Hazelton’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, followed by sax man Todd Wilkinson’s organ trio at 10:30 p.m.; Lovern’s trio at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, followed by organist Matt Villinger’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, followed by singer Molly Hammer’s quartet at 8:30 p.m. downstairs and Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m. upstairs; pianist Roger Wilder and singer Lisa Henry at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, followed by Max Groove’s organ trio at 6 p.m., Hazelton’s trio at 9 p.m. downstairs and Martin’s quartet at 10:30 p.m. upstairs.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751