John Mc Laughlin

talks at

"Berklee in Perugia Workshop"

  July 11, 1995

John: "...rhythm is like mathematic. There is an Indian theory in which
you sing it and with the help of your hands keep the beat on a second
rhythmic line. I have added this theory to jazz music and it helped me a
lot: the metronome consists of your hands and the divide of the various
rhythmic figures has done by vocal. If you are able to sing a line that
means you understand it".

Which principle could you suggest to improve and learn?".

The key word is "attention". On every discipline this is the way we
learn. For example, you study piano at the Conservatory you might have a
good teacher or not. You will try to imitate him/her, it's normal. Then
at home you'll listen to your favourite pianist. Then again, you 'll get
something from him/her. On that case we are all thieves. It's the only
way to identify yourself with someone you admire. You imitate him/her.
Even when you emulate someone it's very important a certain quality.
Knowing to analyze from every musician, it makes you able to take
something, how playing a melody or soloing. These days it's easier than
before, you got the Real Book and books of giants' solos. It wasn't like
that for my generation. I know, somebody has said it's easy, isn't it?
Starting from a solo , trying to know the meaning, the rhythm, inside
the solo itself adopting the thing you like to be part of your style.
It's a slow process of assimilation, then from the inside will come out
what really you are. The nicest thing is that in jazz there are many,
many styles and everyone belongs to a different personality. My main
influences have been Coltrane & Miles. Coltrane is like a fountain where
the music pours everytime. Instead, Miles is a master on musical
economy. It's much more difficult to be economic, play less, because
there you're talking about poetry. I grew up with the post-bop era and
the main effort was to understand what they were playin'! Me either am
playing many different styles, more electric or acoustic, but to acquire
your style is only a matter of time. If you use an analytic way to
study, then or before your style will come out, even if your work might
be an hard one!



What do you think of the "sweeping pick"? In Italy, Gambale's method is
one of the most followed.

It's incredible! I hate him! It's revolutionary, as much as Van Halen.
Frank is a friend of mine; I met him on the backstage and I told him:"
If I knew what you do I'd steal it to you!".
Anyway, let's stay on the Trane school; sometime I guess he's playin'
too much, because I love the "economic" style. It's prioritaire! It's
much more difficult to play less.
Anyway, the "sweep" it's a revolution, mainly for the right hand.
Talking back of style, it depends who you are, how you are, introvert or
extrovert, on your character nature.
If you're introvert, you probably will go towards a meditative style.
For example, I can't play alone. To me music is the joy of
communication. Apart the technique, the style, there is the importance to
play together. Communicate with other people must make you happy; to be
a musician is really an honor. When you play, don't keep apart yourself.
Listen to the others, you are talking with them. To me this is the most
joyous part of music. If there is this kind of communication, then it
goes to the audience too.

At the speed you play, how is spontaneous and improvised and how is

If you're inspired you has music, otherwise it's all mechanic.
Inspiration is something you can have no control! The most important
thing is avoiding to isolate yourself; leave at home the analysis and
the study. Must keep the heart and soul, in this case you won't be ever

Apart what you say, I felt that there's been a certain aggressivity or
competition yesterday at the session with Zawinul...

I wouldn't use that term "aggressive", because our session doesn't have
anything to do with violence. It's true also than in a human being there
are strong and competitive passions...but then in the second piece we
played (In a silent way), has been so delicate and tender that I ask
myself where had gone all this aggressivity which you refer to, maybe
was your impression.

Competition could be a sort of a challenge where the musician come out?

I don't think so! I know Joe since 1969 and to me his current band is
one of the best he did. I don't know if Joe is a musical dictator, to me
the important is what he has done and what he does!

Do you have any relationship between passions and musical intervals?

Yes this and not only this! The art of composing speaks of the intervals
and the various qualities underneath every interval. The harmony book of
an Italian, Vincent Persichetti, talks about that relationship. In the
end you're interacting with your personality to the intervals.

Robert Fripp talks of a school of the heart, one for the mind and one
for the hands. What do you think of that?

To me there 's only one school: life! I think that analysis can't be an
intellectual thing.
Music is so rich that pushes to use some schemes and in this sense we
should judge Fripp's thinking. Perhaps on some way, we can reconnect to
some 60's philosophy whom we all have belonged and which talks about the
search of the himself. But it's a big question!

Why in your trio did you use the sound of the Hammond for bass parts?

It's a classic trio, I like the sound of the Hammond organ for bass

How much time do you need to set a gig like that?

No time! There's no time to prepare it. We have a repertory of thirty
pieces and on stage we start to play, deciding what to play at the

Will you play again with Dominique di Piazza?

I don't now! He left music to study teology! To me is a big mistake.
He's closer to God playing than studying. His choice is very radical and
it's the sign of an interior spiritual revolution. He is a man with an
absolutely unique musical talent. A natural talent, because he can't
read music!

What's music for you?

It's a deep question. In a final view is my salvation. Can't go

What do you listen to?

I really listen anything.

How do you listen to?

With my ears!

I mean, what's the perfect way to listen to?

Any way is good to! The best is to feel joy to listen to! There's no one
way to listen to or play. Don't limitate yourself to one way.
Concentration is more an intellectual matter of fact. The true thing is
a step ahead! You must love what you do! On listening, music must touch
where you want to be touched!

Somebody listening to you can have an impression of extreme technique
and then the communication is reduced to that.

You can't satisfy anyone! Sometimes we can't satisfy even ourselves!
After a gig one would kill himself! It's impossible to play for
satisfying someone, like a critic than today can speak well of you and
tomorrow destroy yourself. Believe me, it's for yourself only and I have
so many imperfections as somebody else, even playing myself. Perfection
is an absolute matter of fact, it doesn't have anything to do with
music! Perfection in music is to give the best out of ourselves. And
therefore you'll always find somebody who dislikes you. Maybe he's right

On 80% of cases I believe we express pain.

Obviously you're right! That's because is part of life. Twenty years ago,
when on tour with Alice Coltrane, she asked me: "How are you ready
suffering to love?". If you're ready to answer to this, then
you know yourself.

What can you say about right hand technique?

It's a very individual thing. For example I articulate every note. Allan
Holdsworth plays ten notes with one pick. My approach is more similar to
flamenco, much percussive. Perhaps, the only secret is that you must
find a balance between tension and release. If you don't have a minimum
of tension, you can't articulate your notes, then if you're not relaxed
they will sound too rigid.
It's a personal thing. My only student (Yan Maresz) has some
difficulties to play with my technique. Anyone has a different hand,
there's no a good rule which fits for everyone. Even for this our school is much
difficult than classical one: there, after two hundred years the setting
out is almost a scientific fact. In jazz we aren't only interpreting:
every musician invents its own style. This is very difficult to do. On
classical music ten pianist are much more difficult to distinguish one
each other. We have a double difficulty: master the instrument and find
a own voice. In the end the audience recognize your own voice.

What do you expect from the audience and critic?

I don't care of critics. What I expect from myself is much more far beyond
than what I expect from my audience! At this purpose I want to say that
I'm glad to be here because this is a place and a culture I love. I'm
happy that maybe my proposals can help somebody.

What can you say more on improvisation?

To me there are two schools only of improvisation: jazz and Indian
music. For how I am concerned, I joined Indian culture and philosophy
since the 60's. First, I was attracted by the Indian way of thinking,
then I discovered that they are masters on improvisation, mainly because
they don't care too much of harmony, instead they are totally
concentrated on melody and rhythm. It is well worth to analyse this kind
of music. In jazz harmony has a much important role. To me India is a
source of inspiration since thirty years and it will continue to be, I
guess ! But this is good to me.

by Giovanni Palombo - "Chitarre- Dec. 1995"

translated by Massimo Morrone