That's one of the fascinating things about you: You've gone along with a philosophy that you don't ever want to do a sequel. You always want to do something new on your next album.
Yeah, the instrumentation changes, the tunes change. Well, there are certain songs that I've written that I love to play. So I may do them once or twice because I like the songs, but maybe not one album right after the other using the same songs. I don't usually do that. Do something in the middle and then maybe do that song that I really love later on, you know? I think it's important to highlight your own writing.
Sure. You always seem to go back to the trio format.
Yeah, that's right. I like the trio. Some people mentioned to me a long time ago… I liked to write for horns and I had sextets, septets, quintets, you know?
And you've done the big band thing, too.
I've done the big band thing, yeah. So some people have mentioned to me years ago, they said, "I'd like to hear more of you. Why don't you do something in a trio?" And I thought about it and I said, "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense." [laughs] And I'm glad that I started doing that again.
What is it about the language in the trio?
It's just a very intimate thing. In a trio setting, I can play a solo. I can play duets. I can do a lot of things. A trio is like a larger ensemble; if you're playing together and listening, you can get a big sound together. If you play together. There are a number of things you can do with three people. I've found that to be true.
Right. I imagine there's a lot more open space for improvisation.
Yeah, exactly. You got that right. That's a good way to put it. I like it. It allows me to play more, get more playing in. Instead of relying on a horn all the time, you know? [laughter] I've had a lot of horns in my day. Playing with John [Coltrane] was an education, though. That was a great experience.
Sure, yeah. I talked to a few musicians, saying I was going to have an opportunity to speak with you, and that was one of the things that came up -- playing with John. With one musician it was more of a theory-angled question. So I figure I'll ask you about it in those terms and also the connection in terms of communication. He was saying when you were playing with John, that great quartet, it was really the first time that two people together in a band did the things with modal playing where you'd leave a tonal center and really stretch and take it out.
Yeah, well, all of that worked because we were like a family. That's the thing. That's what a lot of people don't realize, but we were like a family. We listened to each other. It wasn't an "I" thing; it was us. [laughs] And that's the way it stayed. We played together as a group and had concern for each other as friends. That's what it was -- a musical family. I think that helps. It makes the music sound better, and you can take chances and rely on your partner to support you. I mean, I was always listening to what John was doing because I wanted to know what kind of carpet I should lay down.
So that's really the connection there, just the closeness and trust.
Yeah, when guys have something that they love to play together and we're all on the same page, thinking on the same page and emotionally involved. We had great leadership, and we just put everything aside and concentrated on the music. And that's how it worked. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do that. That was really nice.
Yeah, so amazing.
Yeah, what came out of it… But we humbly submitted. [laughter] He was the leader and we followed. But he used to listen to us. He told me what he played had a lot to do with what was going on around him. So he definitely did listen a lot to us, and we listened to each other.
That comes across in the music, the willingness to absorb everything and really listen to what everyone else is doing.
Exactly. It's very, very important. You can't beat that. Because if you're thinking about yourself only and you're onstage with two or three other guys, it's not going to work as well. You have to think of the group itself. I had a wonderful six years with him. I really enjoyed it.
You then went on to lead your own bands.
I did my stint there. He used to tell me, you have to do this. He looked at the future and sensed what might be happening and he mentioned a few things. I wasn't ready to jump out there. I wanted to stay as long as I could, without overstaying. And take advantage of the opportunities that came about, rather than try to anticipate everything. A lot of the young guys wanted their own bands. And you need to stay in a band to get your thing together. Fortunately, a lot of them realized that.
Something coming out of what you were saying, how influential that quartet was and how you were saying you were humble about what you produced, that's really a fascinating thing about you. You really seem to keep that aspect of life in perspective.
Yeah, a lot of guys get their heads so darn big [laughs] there's little room left. It's a "me" thing. An "I" thing. Whatever. I grew up like that. I really did. I grew up thinking, "What can I do to make this situation better? What can I do to add to the group? How can we get closer musically?" And I found out the best thing to do is listen. See if you can add something to the vibe. See what happens. It does work. It really does. Everybody's time in the sun shows up. Eventually, it comes. But you shouldn't rush it. Just take it easy and try to learn. Be as sincere as you possibly can. Learn as much as you can. There's always something to learn. See what happens.