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Artist’s Choice: Joe Lovano on Paul Motian

The saxophonist chooses seven favorites featuring the late drummer/composer

Producer Orrin Keepnews, Scott LaFaro, Bill Evans and Paul Motian (from left) make jazz history at the Village Vanguard in 1961
Joe Lovano
Paul Motian, 2009

One of the most swinging and creative drummers in jazz history, Paul Motian had a sound, touch, feeling and approach all his own that developed throughout his lifetime, and his relationships fueled his ideas. As a composer he also had a story; his pieces expressed his strong personality and experiences. My focus in this article is to highlight Paul’s innovative contributions as a drummer, composer, collaborator and leader.

“Conception Vessel”

Paul Motian
Conception Vessel (ECM, 1973)

This album was Paul’s first as a leader and put into motion the amazing body of work that resulted over the next 40 years or so. This duet with Keith Jarrett speaks volumes to me and is one of my favorite compositions of Paul’s.

“(If the) Misfits (Wear It)”

Keith Jarrett
Fort Yawuh (Impulse!, 1973)

I had the great fortune to hear the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul live in Boston at the Jazz Workshop, just before they recorded this amazing album live at the Village Vanguard. Before his explosive solo, Paul is swinging so hard in his accompaniment and yet playing free as a bird. Pure music!

“I Love You”

Bill Evans
New Jazz Conceptions (Riverside, 1956)
New Jazz Conceptions was the first of all the timeless, historic masterpiece recordings of the Bill Evans Trios with Paul through 1964. Paul’s contributions make these trio performances different and special. The trio format was a real home base for him. His roots and influences-Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, in particular-come through loud and clear on this cut and throughout this early recording.

“Palo Alto (Strike Up the Band)”

Lee Konitz
Live at the Half Note (Verve; rec. 1959, rel. 1994)

A rare look into jazz history, the origins of this two-disc set lie in a weeknight gig by the Lennie Tristano Quintet with Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Jimmy Garrison and Paul. Lennie took off and Bill Evans came in. Luckily, this evening was recorded and released by Verve in 1994 under Lee’s name. (Ed. note: Interestingly, Marsh’s solos from this date were singled out and released on the Revenant label in the ’70s.) The joyous feeling of this music is what it’s all about. Paul’s long relationship with Lee was well documented, and at the time of this historic recording, the legendary Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul was in full swing.


Memoirs (Soul Note, 1990)

This piece grows from the tuning notes of Charlie Haden’s bass into an astonishing musical journey full of love and passion. This is a wonderful improvised composition, really the heart and soul of jazz itself. They breathe as one.

“Dream Keeper”

Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra
Dream Keeper (DIW, 1990)

The Charlie Haden/Carla Bley collaborations are unique and timeless in the history of large-ensemble music. Paul was an important part of the development of that relationship, beginning at its inception in the late 1960s. I was a member of the LMO from 1986 to the mid-1990s and was so proud to be part of this incredible recording. Paul and Charlie had an amazing way of playing and feeling the music together. It’s beyond words and description.

“It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago”

Paul Motian
It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago(ECM, 1985)

This recording was a springboard for the next 28 years of the trio featuring Paul, Bill Frisell and myself. We recorded and played hundreds, if not thousands, of gigs all over the world with celebration. “It Should’ve Happened” was one of our signature tunes of Paul’s. It’s a timeless folksong. Paul could sustain a mood like no other-a true master of time, space and music.


Joe Lovano is one of jazz’s top tenor saxophonists, though he plays a variety of woodwinds. A perennial poll winner and an educator who holds positions at Berklee and NYU, Lovano’s current projects include a new album with his band Us Five, Cross Culture (Blue Note); his Grammy-winning nonet; and Sound Prints, a Wayne Shorter-indebted quintet he co-leads with trumpeter Dave Douglas. Visit him online at

Originally Published