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Published: 2013/05/31
by Ron Hart

Solo Time for John Medeski

Fans of such choice MMW titles as Tonic, Farmer’s Reserve and the recent Free Magic can heartily attest to keyboardist John Medeski’s affinity for the acoustic arena. But fans can now hear him take his love for the piano to the next level on his long-awaited debut as a solo performer A Different Time, the inaugural release on the freshly resurrected “race music” imprint O’Keh Records that now serves as the jazz arm of Sony Music. had the chance to catch up with Medeski to talk about his unique and beautiful approach to his work of a single artist and find out about the next moves for Medeski Martin and Wood, among other keen insights.

What made you wait until 2013 to release a solo album and did you always have a solo LP in the back of your mind?

Piano is my first instrument. I have always played solo piano, concerts, background music, etc. It’s one of things you do as a piano player, and what I do when I’m alone. I have thought about making a solo record for years, but have been so busy doing other things that I never got around to it. I don’t know if anyone really cares and I don’t feel the need to put everything out there, show what I do or have a product. That’s not why I make music, but I finally set the time aside to record some solo piano music.

Did your participation in Gregory Rogove’s Piana project inspire your solo venture?

I was actually working on my own solo recording when Greg asked me to do Piana. I had a set up in a little cabin in the woods. It ended up just being a writing and practice session for me, but I got to do Greg’s record!

What prompted you to go with the 1925 French Gaveau for A Different Time over the Steinway?

I recorded for a couple of evenings, mostly on a Steinway (actually two different ones). Henry Hirsch, the engineer, kept encouraging me to try the Gaveau that he had in the studio, hailing its sound and how well it recorded. It was the last thing I recorded. When I went back and listened to everything, for some reason the set I played on the Gaveau felt like the record. The piano requires a much more controlled touch. It is much more difficult to get a beautiful sound out of it, but there is a lyrical quality that made me perform differently.

You’ve cited Oscar Peterson as a huge influence on your acoustic piano playing, but who are some other artists you’ve admired over the years that helped you shape the direction of A Different Time ?

Oscar was the first jazz pianist I remember hearing, but hopefully my music isn’t only shaped by who I’ve listened to. This is the greatest misconception I continually encounter, the concept of “influences” and what that means. This is more of a historian’s way of looking at things, which is not necessarily where things come from. We have teachers and musicians that inspire and we admire, but music comes from within. Techniques and tools are learned from many places and people, but when it comes time to make music, I don’t think about other artists. I AM inspired by a lot of music, and at this point, the list is huge!! Everyone you could imagine. some of my favorites for solo piano are: James Booker, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Ran Blake, Art Tatum, Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, Thelonious Monk, Jaki Byard, Jason Moran, Rubenstien, Cortot and the list keeps going…....but this record doesn’t sound like any of these artists.

As you get older, do you find yourself gravitating back to more acoustic forms of jazz?

I love acoustic music, always have. It’s natural. Pure vibration. A sound generated by striking, plucking, blowing, bowing or just singing. Nothing to plug in.

As someone who first got into jazz at a young age, how did you go about discovering the universe of great jazz albums as a youth?

I bought lots of records.

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