I don’t even remember when I met Joel. I feel like I’ve always known him. He’s like a brother in another life and we just bumped into each other again in a perfect situation. We could talk about anything; we could laugh about everything. He didn’t take none of this shit seriously, and that’s exactly the way I kind of think of myself from time to time.
The thing that allowed Joel to excel as a producer was being honest with himself and not claiming to know something he didn’t know, which was perfect for jazz musicians because they don’t want anybody telling them how to make a record. They want somebody to do all the technical stuff if they know that or get somebody to work with. But mainly a producer’s job is to say, “That feels good,” or, “That’s not happening, let’s do it again.” And in that sense, Joel was a divine injection into Atlantic Records. He wanted the music to be who the person was. He never tried to create an artificial situation by saying, “I want you to play with so-and-so and do such-and-such kind of album.” Joel never did any of that. Pop artists need that kind of direction. In that genre, the producer is the guy telling them almost everything, from choosing the songs to putting the musicians together and creating the whole package. But in jazz, that can’t work. You have to trust the musicians to do their thing. After that, all you can do is decide what is good and what is not good. In jazz, the bottom line is the musician, and Joel understood that.