more in my series of quotations connected to jazz. these ones are not actually from downbeat.
So here you’ve got a case where I was playing with Fletcher Henderson, and Fletcher Henderson’s fellows always said to me, “You play those strange chords! Why don’t you just play like a piano player?” And I said, “Well, Fletcher plays piano, he likes the way I play, and hired me, and you just play horn, so you should shut up! I think a piano player would know what I’m capable of, and he likes what I’m doing; he ain’t saying nothing, so you should shut up!” So then it was a big problem. I put in my notice. I said, “I’m not going to put up with this, because I’m not what you would call a human being. I deal with precision, and if they keep on messing with me, they’re going to get an explosion.” I had to do something about it, it was irritating me. I said, I’ve got to do something to teach these humans don’t mess with me. So the next night I got me a straight razor, and I put it right on the piano, by one of the trumpet players, and I said, “Tonight, I’m going to cut somebody’s head off if they say something about my playing, `cause I’m very evil tonight, and I’m not going to take nothing from no human being. Off goes somebody’s head!” So he didn’t bother me no more. And then the next thing that happened, I just put my notice in. So I came back to see who Fletcher got to play piano. And he was down there directing. He had no piano player. And Fletcher said if I didn’t play, they wouldn’t have a piano. He said, “Come back on the stage!” So I went back on the stage, and Fletcher smiled, and I had my job back.
I used to run into Paul Motian in the Sufi center in the late ’60s and early ’70s and we’d see Hazrat Inyat Khan speaking and this guy is a very, very high person. And he would stand up in front of the 40 or 50 people there who were into him and he’d just be looking out at people in the audience without saying anything for about three or four minutes, which is a long time if you’re waiting for somebody to speak. But he’d be like in the ozone but in a very special way, waiting for the words to come and being totally real and totally spontaneous with the people. And this is really beautiful to see. In fact, it’s the most natural state of human beings. Anyway, that’s kind of an analogy to what I feel about music, which is to say we’re really ourselves most naturally when we’re being spontaneous with each other, which is the best way to be in life anyways. You know, when you have a family, everybody is spontaneous with each other and sometimes a little brutally honest, but nevertheless it’s spontaneous so it cannot really be bad. And that is really my philosophical foundation, if you like, about how groups should be. And maybe this is why I always want great players. I need stimulation, I need them to kick my ass, as it were, and provoke me in some way that will push me to a place that I don’t know, that I’ve never been before.
It interests me more to have a human relationship with you than a musical relationship. I want to see if I can express myself in words, in sounds that have to do with a human relationship. At the same time, I would like to be able to speak of the relationship between two talents, between two doings. For me, the human relationship is much more beautiful, because it allows you to gain the freedom that you desire, for yourself and for the other.