(Reprinted from DownBeat magazine - April 26, 1973)
The Mahavishnu Orchestra has greatly affected the musical world this year. The group has gone through changes culminating in a veritable life-force found in "Birds of Fire", Mahavishnu's latest album. Some critics see only John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham as the main forces in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. While it is true they are dynamic energies, it is also true that Rick Laird, Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman are equally powerful, and the band would not be what it is without them. Apart, these five men might still be struggling to find separate identities in the jazz world. But together they have created a sound called "Mahavishnu" all their own - their own - as a group, not as five individual musicians. To know Laird, Hammer and Goodman, and what they have contributed to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, here are these informal but real interviews.
db: Could you tell me a little about your family
background and its influence on your music?
Laird: I was born in Dublin, 1941. There was a lot of music in my home. My mother played the piano relating images of Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and people like that. So very early I had a taste of jazz which in Ireland is pretty obscure. I grew up hearing those sounds, as well as some good classical music. When I was 16 I went to New Zealand and spent some time on a sheep farm having no aims about being a musician. That dream didn't exist. But I had a guitar and just played. After a few years I abandoned the sheep farm idea as not being reality, and started listening to a lot of jazz records again. I sat listening to bass players and particularly to Ray Brown. I think he was responsible for me, in fact, going out and buying an upright bass and starting the long hard road. I branched out and listened to Paul Chambers, Mingus, Percy Heath, Red Mitchell, and Scott La Faro who really blew everyone's mind. The style that I leaned towards - and found very appealing - was the style Ray played at the time, with Oscar Peterson - the sound he had and the feeling behind it. Leaving New Zealand (I was about 20 at the time) I went to Australia where I could get more experience. I stayed there for a couple of years and met Mike Nock, who had a group called The Fourth Way. We became good friends, living and playing together every day, and growing. He left Australia, went to England, and eventually to the States. Eventually, I went to London. It was in London that I got a lot of really good jazz knowledge and experience. In 1963 I met John McLaughlin who was playing with Brian Auger's group, Trinity. This was pre-Julie Driscoll's day. We played straight ahead - pop tunes and the standard tunes of the times. Then Brian started to write his own songs and lyrics, getting into a quintet with John on guitar and Glenn Hughes, baritone. John, Glenn, and I formed a trio playing gigs and working for a week once at Ronnie Scott's. Then we went our separate ways. John stayed with Brian and I went to Ronnie's as part of the house band. At this time I played with a lot of people in the space of about two years: Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, Ben Webster - master cats. THE CATS. These were the people I'd dreamed of playing with when I was in Australia. I played with Stan Getz making a recording with some other English musicians that never got released but that recording was responsible for bringing me to the States. In fact, it was through Down Beat that I came to the States, as was the case with Miroslav Vitous, and George Marz, who's been playing bass with Peterson; we all arrived about the same time. I attended Berklee and studied under Herb Pomeroy and Charlie Mariano and played with Ray Santisi and John LaPorta. Mainly using my experience from Ronnie's, I gradually began to realize how little I knew about the art of music. Everything I'd learned had come from records up to that point. But playing with live musicians, experiencing that, I realized how little I really knew. The States at the time was a European jazz musician's dream. Most of us were in awe - a little afraid of it - really afraid of New York because of the rumors about how hard it was to make it there. That hadn't changed any. But I still had the dream and the musicians were encouraging. Especially Sonny Rollins who said, "Don't stay at Berklee too long, come to New York and play!" In many ways I feel I stayed at Berklee a bit too long but I wanted to get the arranging and composing to broaden my musical sphere, so to speak. I studied at Berklee for about 2 1/2 years - 6 semesters - until I finished studying Herb Pomeroy's arranging course. I feel that kind of system of education is very valuable technically; but I've since spent time unlearning what I learned. Do you understand? It's like I haven't found a way to apply it and I don't think that I ever will because I feel like it's not relevant. Mainly because it doesn't teach you about how to make it as a professional musician, teaching you only a lot of technical knowledge; e.g., like how to write for big bands and how to compose for situations. But knowing these facts doesn't make you a composer or a writer. That's what I'm saying - it did not change me. It made me slightly better technically. I can read better, understand harmony much better and I have a broader knowledge of music. I became aware of composers that I'd never heard about, started analyzing classical scores, and things like that. In that respect, it was very valuable. In 1969 I left Boston and headed out to L.A. with a "studio dream." The word was, "L.A. is happening!" Okay, so I'm there a week and I get a call from a player in Buddy Rich's band saying they need a bass player. I started in Monterey doing it mainly because the band was going to England and I hadn't been home in 5 years. So I thought I'd take a ride to Europe. I don't want to sound bad about it, or negative, but I must admit it was a pain in the ass, the whole gig. Pain in the ass! I could not get off on it, but it was my choice. I could have got off at any time. I was there because I chose to be there.
db: Your learning process included Ronnie Scott's
and Berklee but didn't you learn anything playing with Buddy Rich's band?
Laird: Musically, I learned. Playing with Buddy every night was an experience because some nights he played his ass off - when he wasn't crowd pleasing, but playing to play, that is. Those were the nights I really enjoyed. There was fire coming out of him that I could really dig - knowing that he really can play and has always been able to play. It's just that his attitude about the music the band plays and the role of the band is to him, ego-wise, is secondary. I just thought the music was insignificant; just a filler between drum solos. I got off the band in 1971 in London, disillusioned about the States and music. I'd been playing for a long time and was tired. I made a living - never made any money - like many musicians. I was married so I had to get something to happen in London. So I was beginning to think about other things like carpentry as a mainstay - something that you had to use your hands, your head, and your heart to do. Something creative. A life-force work. Anything except wearing a tuxedo and playing at bullshit gigs. Then John called. He didn't say he was getting a band together. He said he was making a record and maybe some gigs. So I thought about it and it was definitely what I had to do. It was music and completely new, 'cause I knew what John was playing. And the opportunity to do that was too good to miss. So I left within a couple of weeks. Up and away. And I've gone through a lot of changes since then; such as a separation from my wife, not because of the band or anything, but for the sake of keeping my whole self together as a musician.
db: You talk about goals and dreams. How does this
relate to the bands present form?
Laird: I'm really happy that this has happened with the band. It has restored my faith in many things: the force of music, the power of music, and the need to believe in the impossible, which you always have just around the corner. You've got to be ready; you've got to stay ready. It's an attitude. A positive attitude, that has always been my strongest attribute. I would like to say that young musicians always have a dream. Never aim low. Always aim for the top because you can get there. It takes a long time. A lot of years. But you have to aim there. Don't worry about how far out your dream is, because it's all possible as I found out through this band. It takes a lot of faith to keep going, and to make a living as a musician is no laughing matter. And it isn't getting easier. It never was easy. There are a lot of people and the opportunities are not less, but they are changing. Like the club scene does not exist except for a very few places. There are other areas open to musicians now that were not open before - the college circuit; clinics, etc., for a musician to express his individual beliefs.
db: What about your outlook on life; your
philosophy: Have you gotten into any philosophy on life that relates to you as a musician,
and that has possibly influenced your music?
Laird: I read a book when I was about 21 which had an influence on me. The book, by Sri Krishna Murti, an Indian theosophist, was the "First and Last Freedom". He talks about the idea that most of us are unconscious and that there are states of consciousness. The "Fourth Way" is another book, by Ouspenski. It deals with the idea that most of humanity is asleep even though we're functional, even though we're all successful. Like a list of degrees to be a successful game player is not necessarily intelligence. I started to realize a lot of things. And while going through college people were saying, "Why don't you get a music degree?" "Why don't you get a master's degree?" I had to come to terms with myself. I thought, "Why am I doing this?" I'm already a musician, a natural musician. I have a gift that God gave me. I don't need any degrees to tell me that. I have ears, a heart, and I can feel. My needs are my hands and the desire to play music. So I can continue to grow as a musician, to stretch out my thinking, my feeling, and my music. Yoga has influenced me for a long time but not intensely. I have periods when I do it and periods when I don't do it. I've always leaned towards books that deal with philosophy and spirituality rather than novels or fiction. "The Prophet" by Kahil Gibran is the kind of book I read because there's so much to find out and not much time, not much time at all. The whole aim of everything for me is to be in the present. At the present all the time. It has to do with awareness and consciousness because we have to wake ourselves up all the time. I had a very interesting conversation with Airto. We talked about scientology. A lot of people say, "I don't dig scientology." "I don't dig yoga." I believe we have to taste the fruit before we can say anything. As I get older and reflect on it, we need help, we need outside help in shaping our lives because of the nature of our condition. There are a lot of negative things which condition you in a negative way. At least, I'm speaking personally that is. It can take you many years to get over that if you ever do.
db: I'm going to ask you a double-barreled
question. I've heard a lot about the band's five minutes of silence. Could you elaborate
on this? Also, could you tell me how you feel about the band's energies?
Laird: What we do now at every concert is to ask the audience for five minutes of silence before we start playing. This is truly amazing. We've experienced audiences that were like a bunch of wild animals and after five minutes, not even a sound! They wait the whole time. That's really encouraging to see people do this, giving our music respect and a lot of listening. That's really beautiful. It's more than we ever expected, believe me. But we all, I think, knew at the beginning what we were doing. Getting out on a journey like this was not a gig. I cannot treat this as a gig as I have for 10 or 12 years. This is an experience. It's like a mission.
db: What's your attitude toward contemporary
music, both jazz and classical?
Laird: It seems like there's a re-emergence of contemporary music as an art form rather than just music as it has been for many years. The classical orchestras are in serious trouble. They are supported by the establishment, generally speaking, by the older people, and it has alienated the young people. The classical involvement is very important. There are hugh libraries of music in the classical repertoire that could be played, like Stockhausen, or Schoenberg. These people are at the bottom of the list for many reasons. Their work is very difficult to perform; it takes a lot of rehearsals and, generally, the audiences are small for contemporary classical music. The same state exists for the jazz musicians. Like the really creative energies in New York who don't work in the studio. People like Sam Rivers or Ornette have been very successful in a way. And of course a lot of the young musicians who have been playing with Miles in the past few years are coming into their own now: Chick Corea, Tony Williams.
db: Tell me about your approach to the band's
Laird: Most of our music is just skeleton structure, whatever we feel that night. But when you're dealing with the time signatures we play, like 9/8, or 10/8, there has to be structure. We're all going in the same direction. We try not to plan too far in advance. We always try to have some music in the album that was conceived in the studio, on the spot, usually with one take. There's room in our compositions for stretching out. Anyone can pull outwhich changes the whole course of the composition. Like when Billy and I stop playing, all of a sudden leaving three guys in a complete surprise - you experience creation on the spot. That's when you hear real music because you can't rely on past experiences. Since I've started playing with John, I've unlearned all the cliches and licks that I used to know. I've learned a great deal with him. And what's happening now is a sort of rebirth - a re-examination of what I'm now doing, from day to day, from bar to bar, from note to note. Like why am I playing this note? What does it mean? Music becomes selfless, when in other words, you stop thinking about it, and there's no evil connection to what you're doing. You're not saying it's good or it's bad to yourself. Some nights we all walk off the stand saying, "I didn't play shit," and really mean it. Every musician alive has nights like that, even Miles. We don't concern ourselves with those nights. We concern ourselves with the nights when the band becomes like one musician, with ten arms, five heads. Just five people at the same place at the same time, feeling together. Five energies in the same direction is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever felt because of this band. The intensity that we achieve exists in jazz and has existed in jazz and has always been the force of jazz. I think Coltrane took it to its limits as far as that kind of quartet goes - jazz horn, piano, bass and drums. We have a common goal: Unity. To love each other from minute to minute without question and to somehow help each other get past what we are; to grow; to push forward, inch by inch. I don't think there's a gig we've done together where I've felt I haven't learned something; where I haven't moved forward in some way. I think that goes for everyone. I'm just really very grateful that it has happened to me. I get faith. I don't use the word "God," not knowing if that's the right word. I think of the "infinite" possibilities of higher consciousness and the suprises that life holds for us, just to let life live us. One of the things about the preconceived kind of playing that I did for many years, and a lot of bass players do, is that everytime you play a lick that's really familiar to you, you try to relive something and it's not possible. It's an illusion. Everything is an illusion, we all are illusions. We're striving to get past it - striving, striving, striving.
db: My final question - your bass playing has an
overpowering effect yet you really don't do any solos. Would you want to rap on this?
Laird: Technically speaking, it took a long time to get into time signatures because of conditioning and also the lack of experience in playing them. I always felt stiff. Someone would say let's play something in 5/4 or 7, which always gave me a very traumatic, uptight sort of conscious experience. But now it's becoming natural; it's becoming like you don't even count any more. It's very stimulating. You really learn to love 7's, 9's, 11's, 17's, 19's, opening up whole new avenues of ways of playing. It seems like my playing is simplified as we go along. In fact, we all seem to be simplifying in a way. I'm still not a great bass player whatever that's supposed to mean. But there are great bass players like, Miroslav is a great bass player but generally I can't stand bass solos, my own or anyone else's. Unless they are like something else. Very few people have that quality. Scott La Faro had that quality. As a soloist, I'm talking about now. Miroslav has that quality. He can really suprise you with some melodies, the sounds. For me section playing has always been the main thing. The bass player can be composing and developing ideas equally in today's music. That doesn't mean you should dominate. The role is still to provide a foundation for everyone else to play, and to hopefully inspire them.
db: What can you say, Jerry, about your musical
Goodman: It's basically classical. I studied music as a child in Chicago. When I was 14 and 15, I spent the summer in New York. It was a string seminar in co-ordination with the Julliard School of Music. The head of the violin department was a famous violin teacher. This made it a summer of music - up at 6:30, practicing all day long, and so forth. My parents were both professional violinists. My mother still plays. Basically that's what I was into. But when I was 17, I gave up the fiddle completely, I started doing other things. I left home; hitch-hiked around - the kind of things I felt I had to do; mainly, get experience in the world. And when I did come back and play music once again I knew I really wanted it. My music was never into me before as it is now. I feel that I finally found a place for my talent. There was never really a place for me in classical music. I realized I didn't want to have anything to do with the Bach experience or with jazz. I don't consider myself a jazz player, incidentally, because I never listened to much of it when I was young. You see, since I didn't have that background my roots weren't there. What I play now is my head. That's what's happening to me in my music. That's my reason for playing the fiddle. I just had to create a place for myself in the universe - musically. And I guess I didI did!
db: How did your thing with the Flock happen?
Goodman: Well, that was weird. I was a roadie with the Flock before I was even in the band. I travelled around with them for a while. And I suggested several times the idea of using the violin in the band. At that time there was like nobody playing violin in rock music. However, I also played some guitar. They became upset with their guitar player and wanted some change. So one day they did just that! I moved up from a roadie to a member of the band. This was great! This opened a lot of musical avenues for me. It started me off playing fiddle again. Not really again, but, at least, playing it. It's a long way from what I'm now doing, but I'm really glad it happened
db: Do you have any goals in respect to where you
want to go musically?
Goodman: No, and I really don't want any. Setting goals is also setting limitations, and I'm not into that. I don't think there should be any limitations at all in music. If there is any kind of a goal that I would like to achieve musically it's just getting my chops more together. That's all. So I'll just keep moving along, and growing.
db: Coming from your classical background, what
was your reaction to this band?
Goodman: Well, it was really very strange. There was no way of knowing what the new band was going to be like. John first approached me with the idea of the band even before there were any other members. But I went instead to New York and did the album, My Goals Beyond. The irony in the album title was that I sort of did it against my will. At the time I was living on a farm in Wisconsin really enjoying myself. And I was very much adverse to the idea of going on the road again. That had begun to be a drag, with the Flock, toward the end, and it twisted my brain. I didn't want to go through that experience again. So, I told him to forget it. But we talked a little longer, and I thought about it, and since I was going through a lot of heavy shit at the time - my father had just died - I decided to give it a try, just to see what the music would be like. First, John and I got into a room and started playing together. Zap! Energy was there - all around! All of a sudden I could see it, hear it, feel it, and there were no doubts about anything after that.
db: John's into the spiritual thing. Do you think
this has influenced you at all?
Goodman: The musical aspects of this band are very heavy, but not in a specific, spiritual sense. That is, the music that people come to understand and spiritualize in, is the energy derived from all the members of the band playing together. In this sense, I find it to be a very spiritual trip.
db: What is the relationship of the different
energies in the band? Like you have American Black; classical violin and European talent
within the same band. How does it fit? How did it fit for you?
Goodman: Music is communication between people, and that's why there is a lot of spontaneous energy. Music is the language we speak to each other in. Different sounds can come together and become as one sound - the sound of total communication! In the end result, there is only one sound, one particular type of energy. An incredible language! No words; but feeling.
db: Have you thought of your own band?
Goodman: I've thought about it a little. I haven't come up with anything as yet. But I don't think this is necessarily it for me. I haven't put it together enough to think about band members or instrumentation or any of that. But I've considered ideas of what I would like to do on my own album, exposing other aspects of my music that are not coming out. Like guitar playing. I would like to get back into it. I'd also like to try playing the viola more on stage. I have done it a couple of times on stage. It's a very insane sound. There are a lot of sounds I want to hear.
db: Has Indian music affected you in any way,
hearing sounds that are not on a scale?
Goodman: Yes. A couple of years ago I was into Indian Music. It affected me very heavily. I love indian music. But I also love country music; rock & roll; classical music. It all comes out when I play. This, especially, has to be a factor in my performance, because I'm so open, free, in this band. Because this band is so free. It can go anywhere.
db: Has playing with John, Billy Cobham, Rick
Laird, Jan Hammer, changed you?
Goodman: I'm growing. I really feel that I am expanding! It's not necessarily change. It's a step, like schooling. I'm learning from the other people in the band. It is really beautiful, really fine!
db: Is there anything in particular you'd like to
Goodman: No. I hadn't really thought about anything that would be of interest to the people who want to know about our music or about me. Rather than talk about my family or my background, I might say I'd like to be understood as a person - a musician. I guess it's a little corny sounding. But you've got to know me as much as you can in the little time you have, and the only way for you to do that is by rapping honestly. I do think my past has affected me or influenced me. Everybody's past influences them. But one can't live the past or get hung up in nostalgia in whatever happened eight years ago. It will only affect him adversely.
db: From your experiences can you tell me if being
on the road changes a musician in the sense that it might serve to push his medium of
expression to greater limits? Do you think most musicians are born on the road?
Goodman: Some are; some are not. People who were 20 years ahead of their time have always been just ahead. I'm not saying that that's the case here. But I'm saying that some people are open and want to do new things. They want to move in new directions. Some are more comfortable where they are, however, doing the same trip, the same music, over and over again.
db: Do you think that the sense of security
derived from repetition is a good thing?
Goodman: No, I don't. I feel, personally, a lot of energy and a lot of movement. That's not a secure feeling. It's not a very comfortable feeling. But it is a growing experience. If I cannot predict what is going to happen next week, how can I pretend there is any security there? Our tunes change radically from time to time. And settling down musically for me at this time would be very difficult. But this is the way I would have it right now. It's positive for me and positive for the band, because the band likewise, would not grow if it hid behind the protection of a false security. In music, that which is secure today may well not be secure tomorrow. How many musicians own a house in the suburbs, for instance, support a wife, a car and two kids and a dog and a cat and a gerbil? And do a 9 to 5 gig? Some do, of course. That is what music is for some people; that's what life is for some people. But not for myself. I hope I've helped you to understand me better through this interview. I'm not really a good talker. I don't really talk to people a lot. Most of my talking is done through my axe. If my words don't come off sounding poetic, I hope my music does.
db: Briefly, what is your family background?
Hammer: My father's a doctor and a musician. He played his way through college and the university medical school, playing vibes and bass. He sings sometimes too, what you might call the traditional flavor; e.g., Eddie Jefferson or John Hendricks. Simply, he's a heavy be-bopper. My mother is a jazz singer. I've been playing piano since I was 4, taking lessons since I was 6. My first professional gigs were accompanying my mother when I was 12. Imagine what kind of changes I went through when I got the opportunity to be Sarah Vaughan's arranger. It was symbolic for my mother because she really loved Sarah, and so do I.
db: Coming from Europe, what was your impression
of the American jazz scene and what were some of your first gigs here in the States?
Hammer: Well to begin with, the hardest thing to face up to was that whatever I may have done In Europe didn't mean anything here. I was playing concerts with my own group, under my own name. In Czechoslovakia I was writing movie music, TV music, and everything was fine except I wanted to play with musicians who would inspire me: make me alive. I was playing the same thing over and over. So I went to Germany. Within a few months I was well established and started to have a lot of studio gigs. Played clubs in Munich, everything was great, but again the same thing happened. I wasn't being stimulated by the musicians at all. I could play but it wasn't really growth so I had to throw that away. I had to go to Boston and start scuffling and living on 80¢ a day - tight budget kind of thing. Because I wanted to play a certain way and nobody was going to provide it for me in Europe. I had to go and find it here. I haven't found the total thing but I'm definitely on the way towards it. Now more than ever. When I came here it was like starting totally fresh as if I hadn't done anything at all. I didn't realize what was happening to me at the time. I was without a gig for months just sitting home in Boston and going to Berklee. But, whatever I did in Boston didn't mean anything in New York. The first gig I had in this country was on a little boat that was riding around Boston harbor for some private party. It was frightening. I played a little tiny organ and it was just me and a drummer. The organ was like really sad and after I played one set this lady came to me and said you sound wonderful. I had to turn around and leave. It was the saddest music you ever heard. I went even lower than that. I played in a strip-tease club in Boston. It was incredible. I played my own music there and the owner was so crazy that when the girl didn't like the music he would fire the girl, saying something like: If you don't like the music you can go. At this time I was really going downhill having a lot of bad luck. I made a record on Capitol Records with Jeremy Steig called Energy. The record was out for about three weeks. The first week it sold about 4 1/2 thousand records then, Capitol had a reorganization and the band was dropped. When I came over here I still thought I was going to play jazz music the way we've known it but I could see that kind of jazz wasn't happening any more. There really was no communication anymore between the musicians and the people. All communication that used to be there was gone; it was time for a change. There were no sparks flying except a few like when I first saw Elvin Jones play in 1968. I loved it but even that didn't convince me. I saw the whole thing on a decline. For the first time in my life I really thought I had to change musically. When I started playing electric piano, which made me equal as far as volume, I realized this was an important step and change. I was making a whole different spectrum of tone especially when the time came for a piano solo. The drummer doesn't have to switch to brushes. I want to ride on top of him. This was the first time I was able to do it. The combination of people sensitive to me and electric piano opened up a whole new world. This happened in 1969 and from then it was uphill. I saw the light and realized I could not possibly play the Bill Evans type groove anymore. My whole approach had been changed. It had a lot to do with different rhythms. I would play less and less of straight 4/4 time. I would play more and more rock'n roll rhythms and eventually all time signatures, which didn't start happening until we put this band together.
db: When was your gig with Sarah Vaughan and what
effect did that experience have on you?
Hammer: It happened just as I was getting ready to leave Boston. I had wanted to leave for a long time but I waited to make sure I wasn't going to come back. You see, when you make a move you better be sure you are ready to make it. Some people said I'd waited too long to come to New York. But I didn't feel New York. Sarah taught me so much, not by saying anything but just being next to her, working with her, I learned; for instance, there was an unwritten agreement that I was to have something suprising for her almost every night. It was a mutual stimulation that keeps you on your toes and makes you play your best at all times. At the same time, it's very professional. I started to play with her in April, 1970, until May, 1971 when we started to get the Mahavishnu Orchestra together. The band is really old!
db: Part of your New York experience musically,
was with Jeremy Steig. Could you tell me more about this?
Hammer: A great part of my experience in New York was connected with Jeremy Steig. I did a few albums with him. Jeremy is like one of my really favorite musicians. I really like playing with him. I can do things when I'm playing with him. Do things on my own or together which I can't do anywhere else. It's like a very special thing. It's very sensitive. Jeremy's thing is extremely sensitive to outside energies, vibrations. If something is negative around, it will really take him out of contact and he'll not sound as good. It's a very touchy situation. He's the most mishandled artist in the history of music. I can't think of anyone else that's been mishandled worst than him by producers. They really screwed him up. There was an album called, Fusion which we did a long time ago. We did the album in 1970 and it came out first on Capitol called, Energy, Fusion is not only the same album; it's a double album. It's Energy and out-takes of the same session. They put out the album without our permission. He's got a case against Sonny Lester. I've got four tunes on it and never got anything for it. It's like a rip-off.
db: Do you think you have been influenced by
Hammer: I'm sure I was. I was touched by it in more ways than one. I had been brought up as a Roman Catholic. I'd say I'm a religious person but I learned that we need something universal rather than sectarian. To me there is no church in the world to give the answers but then I didn't know that. I was into that Catholic trip. I went to church every Sunday when I was home. Now I've learned for the first time in my life that I'm aware of God as opposed to religion. But even more than Eastern philosophy, I was influenced by Arhtur Tannoff, who is a doctor who wrote about the primal therapy. That brought me much closer to reality than ever before. He has three books out: "Anatomy of Mental Illness", "Primal Dream", "and Primal Revolution". I read these books. I've never been so enlightened by books in my life. This brought me to a point where I really had to start facing up to things that I had neglected to face for many years, like 25 years. If I had read the books five years ago I wouldn't have known what he was talking about. Now it's all falling into place. Another thing that really opened my ears was Indian music. I listened to it many times before but I didn't know how to listen. If you don't know how to listen to it, all you hear is a drone. People who listen to it for the first time say it sounds like bad bagpipes. There's more to it than that. The drone after a while just fades into the background and all the other music is superimposed. It's unbelievable! I thought I knew a lot about rhythm but when I really listened to Indian music I realized how little I know. How little we in the West know about rhythm. It's a totally neglected area of music. Indian music uses pulse. Western music is either 4/4 or total craziness which you find in contemporary classical music. They claim they get varied rhythms. Various rhythms doesn't mean it's going to create any tension in the way Indian music would. They build up this incredible tension.
db: Because Eastern influence has affected you,
I've heard you are into drums.
Hammer: I consider myself a drummer almost as much as a piano player now. I'm involved. That's why I like playing with Elvin Jones, sitting next to him on stage absorbing his approach and learning. It's school. That's what school's all about. I mean, school is usually sitting in the classroom while the teacher writes something on the blackboard. That's all bullshit. You've got to sit next to your teacher and he plays something and you play something. I mean that's the Indian way, one for one. That's the only way to teach music.
db: In Birds of Fire you use the Moog synthesizer,
how has that affected you?
Hammer: Anything I've played so far has a lock-in keyboard - piano, organ, electric piano, always locked-in pitch. But the synthesizer is flexible; you can bend notes on it. I can finally play the lines (slides) I've been hearing. One cannot be restricted 100% to half-note, eighth notes, quarter note, or whole notes. That's why I freaked when I first played that axe and I haven't heard anybody use it in that way. People use it for all kinds of things, but nobody's been into really bending notes. Peoples have been using the Moog from five to seven years. All they do is like Muzak. It's either Muzak or bombastic symphonic sounds which are great but at the same time the synthesizer is an axe to be played. It's not only a color. I'm just starting to scratch the surface of it. I feel it's going to take me quite a few years to really get inside.
db: Do you think a lot of the jazz players are
Hammer: Yes, that's the feeling I have. They set their own traps although the trap has been set for them and for me. I've been in it. That's how I feel and I'm glad I'm out of it. I really was deep in it when I was in Europe. If I hadn't left and come to New York I would have never gotten out of it. New York is the place. You set your traps and have your dreams eaten.
db: It's like the cookie monster, but it's the
Hammer: It's great! Everybody needs it. Musicians really need it.
db: It's like you either totally find your own
identity or you become lost.
Hammer: Yeah, but when you leave and go somewhere else and try to concentrate in finding your own identity - Europe isn't the place, musically or personally. I believe you can find your own self anywhere but, musically, there are the guys in New York who play. You can't find these musicians anywhere but in New York. That's why I'm here. I need playing.
db: Could you talk a bit about your next step
after the band?
Hammer: I would hope for my own band but I can't imagine any other band I would enjoy working with. Replacing the energies would be hard to do. I am so much a part of this already. This is the closest thing I've come to my own band. It's very balanced. Each person is a certain extreme and it's a five-way tie, making it all round. Like when Jerry stands drinking beer with a cigarette stuck in his violin playing next to the immaculate image of John - it's great having these extremes. The feeling I get is that I've waited for this band knowing it was bound to happen. Every experience I've had led me to this point. Never in my wildest dreams would I really imagine enjoying playing with a Chicago rock'n roll fiddle player. I would never in my life dream about it. It's a whole new way of playing for me. To me music talks of sharing. I have to share, otherwise there's no sense for me to play. If I'm going to play in a jazz club for three depressed people in a corner I might was well not play. I feel jazz and I really live for it.