The drummer Jack DeJohnette has recorded with all the jazz superheroes of the last half century – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Keith Jarrett, to name a few. He was recently named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, recognizing a lifetime of contributions to the field.
So he's a drum legend. But DeJohnette tells Studio 360 that what he really wanted to do was play piano. Inspired by Fats Domino, he'd begun a promising career as a pianist in the Chicago clubs when he heard Ahmad Jamal's 1958 album But Not for Me. DeJohnette was entranced by the drummer Vernell Fournier, who had a particular way of handling brushes. "He had an impeccable touch," DeJohnette remembers, "a deep sense of swing and of the use of time and space. He wasn't flashy but played with purpose." DeJohnette went out and bought a set of brushes, not owning any drums yet, and started practicing on an album cover.
Then one night, John Coltrane's drummer Elvin Jones left the gig early, and DeJohnette was asked to sit in. "And it hit me, clearly, like a bolt of lightning: drums is going to be what I'm going to do. This is going to be my instrument."
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Video: Vernell Fournier performs with Ahmad Jamal
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