Changing Direction

I found myself playing another solo! I wasn’t supposed to but George and Jack were fine with it. They were taking it all in and looking at me as if to say, ‘everything’s cool’. 

I broke it down. I stopped playing lines. I was still in the new tempo but I was playing chords. George and Jack intuitively understood where I was going with the change in tempo. 

George started playing a pedal point while he was waiting to hear exactly where I was going. Now, if you’re waiting or marking time during a recording, it could sound like a hole or an obvious mistake. But George was waiting, creatively laying down some neutral bass figures. 

George Mraz

The music at this point needed a slower tempo that would swing hard. It needed drama. It was reminiscent of the Miles quintet of the 60’s with Herbie and Tony and Wayne who would change tempos perfectly on a dime. 

When I was a kid in the 60s, I used to see Miles live. He would change tempos when you didn’t expect it and that just added to the color of the music and created such a new type of musical journey. It was anti bebop. 

In traditional bebop you start at a certain agreed-upon tempo and maintain a certain form, and then end at the same tempo with which you began. Why keep those old structures for this tune? 

So the inspiration came from Miles and guess who played with Miles? Jack DeJohnette! 

I remember exactly how I felt as we were playing. I knew what was going on. I had that certain state of mind where I was totally in it, but I was watching it at the same time. We were all hearing it and shaping it, composing it as we went along. All this is what it is like to play in the calm of the storm. 

I smoothly transitioned to the new tempo. It could have been a train wreck even though that would have been okay and no big deal. We would have moved on from that first take and recorded another one, But we were recording that all-important first take. 

So, I started suggesting the new tempo. George and Jack heard it, they waited, then they came in under me, as if we had rehearsed it that way for 30 years. But I knew how sensitive George and Jack were to the music. They were deeply listening to everything. 

It was a sweet feeling. We were swinging so deeply with Jack’s left hand perfectly coordinated with my left hand comping chords along with George’s very deep four-four walking bass. This was not ECM music. This was straight from the Blue Note tradition of the 60s. I wasn’t worrying about whether it would be enjoyed or if Manfred was digging it. I didn’t care. I was deep within the music.