I heard Gary at first on records, with Tony Williams and Albert Ayler and a few other people. Then he moved to Japan, and I played with him there. We made one recording together called Have You Heard? with Bennie Maupin and Hideo Ichikawa [Milestone, 1970]. So before we got together with Keith [Jarrett], I’d already been aware of Gary for quite a while. And I was impressed by his sound, his solos, and his feel.
We [the Standards Trio led by Jarrett] came together as a result of Gary’s record date, for Tales of Another [ECM, 1977]. He wanted Keith and I to join him on that. And then after that Manfred [Eicher] suggested to Keith that maybe we should form a trio. So we had a meeting to talk about the music, and we decided we’d play standards, so that it wouldn’t be like a “band”—we’d have flexibility, using the standards as a satellite jumping-off point.
There was a natural chemistry that happened between us from the beginning, and it just developed and developed over the years. And it was constantly changing; I think that’s pretty obvious from the recordings we did. Still Live [ECM, 1988] is one of my favorites, along with Whisper Not [ECM, 2000] and the one we did live at Montreux [My Foolish Heart, ECM, 2007].
What I enjoyed most about playing with Gary was his energy, his fluidity, and his sense of time, as well as his melodic and harmonic abilities to make the right intuitive choices at the right time. After playing so long together, we just had a feeling. We’d go for things. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. But most of the time, they worked pretty well.
When he wasn’t working, Gary was a solitary person. He liked to keep to himself. But he did rent a place near me [in upstate New York] for a while, so we got to hang out a little bit. Gary applied meditation and Buddhist principles to his music as well as his life. Right up until his passing he stayed with that, and I think it served him in a very positive way.
He liked to repeat something that Albert Ayler told him once: “You know, people be arguin’ about somethin’, and it don’t be about nothin’.” That’s really a profound statement from Albert, that Gary carried with him and passed along to me.
My wife and I saw Gary and his whole family about a week or so before he passed away. And, you know, he was all right with that. He was at peace with himself. So that’s a blessing and that’s beautiful. He will be missed, but I’m glad that he came through here and left us the contributions that he gave us. And we’ll be enjoying them anyway. His body’s gone, but his spirit’s still here.
[as told to Mac Randall]