Born in Chicago in 1942, Jack DeJohnette is widely regarded as one of jazz music's greatest drummers. Music appreciation flourished in DeJohnette's family. He studied classical piano from age four until fourteen before beginning to play drums with his high school concert band and taking private piano lessons at the Chicago conservatory of music. DeJohnette credits his uncle, Roy I. Wood Sr., who was one of the most popular jazz DJ's in the South Side of Chicago, later vice president of the National Network of Black Broadcasters, as the person who initially inspired him to pursue music.
In his early years on the Chicago scene, he led his own groups and was equally in demand as a pianist and as a drummer. He played R & B, hard bop, and avant-garde and was active with the experimentalists of the AACM in its early days, with the likes of founder Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman. In 1966, he drummed alongside Rashied Ali in the John Coltrane Quintet. International recognition came with his tenure in the Charles Lloyd Quartet, one of the first jazz groups to receive cross-over attention, also alerting the world to Keith Jarrett's skills.
Jack DeJohnette has collaborated with most major figures in jazz history. Some of the great talents he has worked with are John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Sun Ra, Jackie McLean, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter, Lee Morgan, Charles Lloyd, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter and Eddie Harris, who is responsible for convincing DeJohnette to stick with drums because he heard DeJohnette's natural talent.
It was in 1968 that DeJohnette joined Miles Davis's group in time for the epochal upheaval marked by Bitches Brew, an album that changed the direction of jazz. In his autobiography, Miles Davis said, "Jack DeJohnette gave me a deep groove that I just loved to play over." Jarrett soon followed DeJohnette into the Davis group, and the drummer's first ECM recording, the duet Rutya and
Daitya was made in 1971. Working with Miles also brought about collaborations with John
McLaughlin, Chick Corea and Dave Holland.
In 1968 he recorded his first album as a leader on the Milestone label, called The DeJohnette Complex, where Jack played melodica along with his mentor Roy Haynes on drums. In the early 70's he recorded Have You Heard in Japan and two albums for Prestige, called Sorcery and Cosmic Chicken. These early sessions united Jack with Gary Peacock, Bennie Maupin, Stanley Cowell, Miroslav Vitous, Eddie Gomez, Alex Foster and Peter Warren.
Jack began to record as a leader for ECM, with each of his successive groups Directions, New Directions, and Special Edition making important contributions to the evolution of jazz. The New Directions band featured two musicians who would have long-term associations with DeJohnette: John Abercrombie and Lester Bowie. A friend from Chicago days, Bowie played intermittently with DeJohnette until the end of his life. Most notably, Lester and Jack collaborated on a duo album called Zebra, which was a world beat influenced video soundtrack and CD. Abercrombie continued to work with DeJohnette in the Gateway Trio, along with Dave Holland. Special Edition, with its rotating front line, helped introduce the sounds of David Murray, Rufus Reid, Howard
Johnson, Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, Greg Osby, Michael Caine, Lonnie Plaxico, Gary Thomas and John Purcell to a wider audience.
DeJohnette has recorded as a leader on Columbia, Landmark, MCA/GRP, and Toshiba/EMI/Blue
Note, but the bulk of his recordings are on the ECM label.
While continuing to lead his own projects and bands, DeJohnette has also been a 25-year member of the immensely popular Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette Trio. DeJohnette has appeared on more ECM albums than any other musician; his numerous recordings for the label display his subtle, powerful playing and the “melodic” approach to drums and cymbals that makes his touch instantly recognizable.
Jack is also known for his cutting edge collaborations; his Parallel Realities CD, with Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny toured successfully and received much acclaim. Another major collaboration was a CD called, Music for the Fifth World, inspired by Jack's studies with a Seneca native elder, named Grandmother Twylah Nitsch. This project brought together the likes of Vernon Reid, Will Calhoun, John Scofield, traditional Native American singers, Michael Cain, and Lonnie Plaxico. Most recently, he has also performed and recorded with Bobby McFerrin, Don Byron, Danilo Perez, Gonzalo Rubalcalba and Meshell Ndegeocello.
Jack has received many awards for his music, including, New Directions which received the prestigious French Grand Prix du Disque and Charles Cros award in 1979. Album, Album and Special Edition both won Album of the Year in the annual Downbeat readers' polls. Audio- Visualscapes became album of the year in the Downbeat annual critics' poll 1989. Parallel Realities won album of the year in Japan. In 1991, Earth Walk won album of the year and recording of the year in Japan. Jack has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berkley College of Music in Boston in 1991. There is an extensive list of awards for drumming, including at least 15 years of the Downbeat polls, the NY Jazz awards, and the Jazz Central on line awards along with many international awards.
DeJohnette's drumming, though originally influenced by masters including Max Roach, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Art Taylor, Rashied Ali, Paul Motian, Tony Williams, and Andrew Cyrelle, has long drawn on sources beyond “jazz.” Thirty years ago, he was already describing his work as “multi-directional music.”
“As a child I listened to all kinds of music and I never put them into categories. I had formal lessons on piano and listened to opera, country and western music, rhythm and blues, jazz, swing, whatever. To me, it was all music and great. I've kept that integrated feeling about music, all types of music, and just carried it with me. I've maintained that belief and feeling in spite of the ongoing trend to try and compartmentalize people and music.”
As well as his previous credentials, DeJohnette has also composed soundtracks for both TV and video. These include a soundtrack in collaboration with Pat Metheny for a PBS play called Lemon Sky; a soundtrack for a documentary called City Farmers by Meryl Joseph and a video production with fellow percussionist Don Alias on Homespun tapes, Talking Drummers, which includes a documentary that was made of the whole process. Jack also enjoyed a cameo appearance as a member of the “Alligator Blues Band” in the Blues Brothers 2000 movie.
Beyond his own groups, some of DeJohnette's most wide-open playing can be heard in his recordings of spontaneously improvised music with Keith Jarrett (Always Let Me Go, Inside Out, and Changeless); John Surman (Invisible Nature, The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, and the transitional sequences in Surman's music for reeds, drums, piano and brass ensemble, Free
and Equal); Michael Cain and Steve Gorn (Dancing With Nature Spirits); and Don Alias, Michael
Cain, and Jerome Harris (Oneness).
In 2004, DeJohnette recorded and toured with two Grammy-nominated projects, The Out of Towners with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock (also known as the Standards Trio) and Ivey Divey with Don Byron and Jason Moran. While continuing to tour the world with the Standards Trio in
2005, DeJohnette launched and toured with three new projects of his own—the Latin Project with
Don Byron, Giovanni Hidalgo, Jerome Harris, Edsel Gomez and Luisito Quintero; the Jack DeJohnette Quartet featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Jerome Harris; and Beyond Trio, a group celebrating the works of Jack's friend and master drummer Tony Williams, featuring John Scofield and Larry Goldings—and founded his own imprint, Golden Beams Productions.
On April 26, 2005, Jack DeJohnette opened his musical world up to his fans with the simultaneous release of two singular projects: a stunning duet with the revered Gambian Kora player Foday
Musa Suso called Music from the Hearts of the Masters; and a sublime recording for relaxation and meditation entitled Music in the Key of Om.
Music in the Key of Om is a seamless, one-hour piece created for relaxation and meditation featuring DeJohnette on synthesizer and resonating bells, a new line of instruments that he developed with the Sabian cymbal company. It was nominated for a GRAMMY in Best New Age Album category.
Music from the Hearts of the Masters is a scintillating collaboration with Foday Musa Suso, the innovative Mandingo Griot and master of the Gambian Kora. This stunning duet contains deep, mesmeric grooves and passages of inspired improvisational dialogue which crosses and transcends musical genres.
In October of 2005, Jack released Hybrids (Golden Beams), a remix album by The Ripple Effect, DeJohnette’s collaborative project featuring Foday Musa Suso; multi-instrumentalist John Surman, one of the key figures of the European jazz scene for the past four decades; Marlui Miranda, the most acclaimed and recognized performer and researcher of Brazilian Indian music; producer, engineer and guitarist Big Al; and sound engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and mix master Ben Surman, who produced the album with DeJohnette. Hybrids blends shades of African jazz, reggae and dance music to launch jazz into the 21st century.
On February 8, 2006, Golden Beams released The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, a live recording documenting the first meeting of Jack DeJohnette, “our era’s most expansive percussive talent” (JazzTimes), and Bill Frisell, “the most important jazz guitartist of the last quarter of the 20th century” (Acoustic Guitar) at Seattle’s Earshot Festival in 2001. The album features 11 mind- blowing tracks covering a breadth of sonic territories, created from the prepared themes and on-the spot compositions. Adding to the breathtaking guitar and drum artistry are live sound manipulations, such as Frisell’s delay/sampler/looper and DeJohnette’s electronic hand
percussion, and some tasteful post-production (bass lines, ambient sounds and so forth) by mix master Ben Surman, DeJohnette’s collaborator on his electronic project, The Ripple Effect’s Hybrids. The group toured in fall 2006 as a quartet, adding Jerome Harris, the multi- instrumentalist, singer, and published author, who is internationally known for his versatile and penetrating style on guitar and bass guitar to the line up.
The Elephant tour coincided with the release of Golden Beams Collected, Vol. 1 (October 2006), a collection of highlights from the Golden Beams label, including a never released duo track with the late Don Alias and a brand new remix of tracks from The Ripple Effect’s Hybrids by DJ Logic.
DeJohnette has kept his long-standing relationship with ECM with the June 6, 2006 release of Saudades, a live recording of “Lifetime and Beyond: Celebrating Tony Williams” concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2004. DeJohnette conceived the project in a conversation with guitarist John Scofield regarding the importance of Tony Williams’ influence on them both, both musically and as a bandleader. To echo the instrumental format of Lifetime—drums, guitar, and organ—they brought in Larry Goldings, a fellow admirer of Tony, and dubbed the group Trio Beyond. The 2-CD set, nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Recording, revisits material once played by Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, and Larry Young, as well as Tony’s early days with Miles Davis, and Trio Beyond’s original compositions and improvisations.
Jack’s wide-ranging style, capable of playing in any idiom while still maintaining a well-defined voice keeps him in constant demand as a sideman.
He has also recently appeared on Michael Brecker’s last album, Pilgrimage (Heads Up, 2007), and
Bruce Hornsby’s jazz debut, Camp Meeting (Sony Legacy, 2007), with Christian McBride.
DeJohnette’s latest release is Peace Time, an hour-long continuous piece of music composed and performed by Jack: “flights of flute, soft hand drumming and the gently percolating chime of cymbal play, moving the piece along a river of meditative delight. Subdued layers of overtone singing and the distant drones of sitars waft in and out like comforting and familiar spirit guides that manifest themselves in sound.” (eMusic)
Jack DeJohnette is the winner of DownBeat magazine’s 2006 Critics Poll and 2006 & 2007
Readers Poll for Drummer of the Year, as well as JazzTimes magazine’s 2006 & 2007 Readers’
choice for Best Drums.