Life, Theory and Practice of a Master Drummer
Book excerpt by Jono Podmore
ED NOTE: The following comes from a biography of Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit who died on January 22, 2017. Years before he became the founding member of the legendary kosmische (kraturock) legends, Liebezeit groomed his skills outside of rock, including jazz, classical, African and Spanish music. This fascinating look into his formative early years can be found in a book by writer Jono Podmore, which is still in the funding stages- you can contribute to the funding of the book at the Unbound site in additon to higher level pledges which not only get you the book but also tickets to memorial shows for Jaki in early 2018. In addition, there is a promo code for U.S pledgers- it's JAKI and will give you £5 off the P&P. You can enter the code when you proceed through the pledge process on the site.
Special thanks to Thomas Ziegler.
As early as 1961, outside of the jazz scene and the Musikhochschule (German conservatory), Jakiís interests were expanding in other directions:
"I bought a record... it was called The Music of India. This was before hippy times, no one knew about Indian music. This was in a music shop; they had special records for ethnological research. I was so impressed. So I was listening a lot very early on to North African, Indian, also Turkish music, Iranian music. Jazz and rock to me were European, they had nothing to do with all this."
Meanwhile on a trip to Ibiza, which in the 1960's was the bohemian home to a growing international group of artists primarily due to its isolation from the fascist catholic-nationalist regime of El Caudillo Franco, Jaki was offered a gig at Jamboree, a 2-story jazz club in the Placa Reial in the heart of Barcelona:
"I was there for seven months, not a single day off, can you imagine? Two dates a day. There was a law that for every foreign musician, a Spanish musician must be employed. And so every night I played from twelve to one in the morning, then two 'til three, alternating with this local band..."
Although the Placa Reial, just off Les Rambles, is now one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, Barcelona was a very different city in the 1960ís to the post-Olympic, liberal, tourist and party mecca we know today. It was a defiant stronghold of the republican sentiment so loathed by the Franco administration. Consequently, the economy was depressed; there were random police checks and, strangely, no trees Ė another attempt by the administration to demoralize the Catalans. But it was here that in a spirit of resistance, jazz and an underground gay scene thrived, forming the foundation of the club scene thatís central to Barcelonaís economy today. In fact the Jamboree, 17 Placa Reial, is still a jazz venue.
Jaki was working with blind Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu who had been playing in the Jamboree since it was founded in 1960. The club soon became part of the European touring circuit for American musicians and so Jaki would play with visiting soloists including stars such as Chet Baker and Don Cherry. More importantly, it was here that Jaki was exposed directly to the music of other cultures at source: "In the same building as the club was a flamenco club. I was impressed by the rhythm, and I thought, 'They play with much better rhythm than the jazz musicians.' Also when I was in Spain, I could receive North African stations on the radio. So I listened to Moroccan music, all kinds." The bass player in the trio played in a rhythmically precise Cuban style, which Jaki loved. This opened the doors of Afro-Cuban music and the Clave principle to Jaki, which was later to play a part in his systematic thinking.
Not only was there new cultural input, but also the money was comparatively good and the nightlife of the Catalan capital was there to be enjoyed. Jaki told how Tete, being blind, would select prostitutes on the basis of his sense of touch and consequently his choices would reveal a different, if not surprising, set of priorities.
So with a deeper understanding of rhythm from Spanish, Arabic, Gipsy, North African and Afro-Cuban music, on top of his earlier interests in non-European music, Jaki returned to Cologne to find that The Manfred Schoof Quintet (his old group) were now dedicated to the principles of Free Jazz:
"They told me: 'You have been away in Spain, you have been sleeping, this is how things have moved on.'" Although the ideas had been fermenting with musicians disillusioned with the restrictions of jazz convention throughout the '50ís, the term 'Free Jazz' first appeared as the title of a 1961 album by Ornette Coleman. Rejecting the basic building blocks of jazz (12-bar blues, 32-bar song structure, pre-existing sets of chord changes), the emphasis in Free Jazz is on melodic improvisation and exploring sounds. For Jaki and the young avant-garde in Cologne at the time, this further departure from the restrictions and abhorrent culture of the generation gone before them was enormously attractive. Just the word "free" was enticing enough, and the openness to ethnic music and non-Western instrumentation maintained Jakiís interest. Free Jazz also drew the jazz scene closer again to the experiments in improvisation of the classical avant-garde in Neue Musik.
The renowned composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann was employed at the Cologne Musikhochschule and was responsible for overseeing development of new forms, including film music, theatre and jazz. Consequently his opera Die Soldaten (The Soldiers) completed in 1964, followed Rolf Liebermannís lead and was scored to include, amongst other unusual additions to the 100-piece orchestra, a jazz band. It was commissioned by the Cologne Opera, so for the premiere, Zimmermann chose the Manfred Schoof Quintet to perform. For Jaki, this was ridiculous:
"Die Soldaten was somehow great as a large scale event. But musically it was very peculiar. With a classical conductor! I absolutely could not play at all with conductors. It was only five minutes, somehow incorporated into the opera as a scene with 'abnormal free jazz.' I think it was pointless."
Jaki began to feel increasingly skeptical. Although deeply embedded in the nascent scene, at one point even sharing a flat in Cologne with one of its leading figures Don Cherry, Free Jazz and its connection to classical Neue Musik was beginning to wear thin for Jaki.
Also see our articles by and about Can's Holger Czukay
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