Today we remember one of the greatest jazz drummers to ever grace us with his music. Legendary drummer Paul Motian died early this morning at the age of 80. His easily distinguishable minimalist approach to holding down a beat brought our the best in musicians like Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro in the historic trio, Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley, Bill Frissell, Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Joe Lovano and Keith Jarrett, among many others. His candid personality and endless timeline of contributions has left jazz fans and musicians alike remembering their favorite recording or meeting.

Paul Motian was born in Philadelphia, but grew up in Providence, RI. He was raised in a musical family, but was forced into the Navy during the Korean War. By the time he was 24, he had left the Navy and moved to New York to pursue a career in music. As he got called for more and more sessions, Motian famously recorded with Thelonious Monk as a fill in for a mere ten dollars. As Motian recalled in Downbeat Magazine, that made him “the happiest guy in the world.” Later on Motian found a steady gig playing with Bill Evans in a trio format with Scott LaFaro on bass. This began the process of cementing the Paul Motian sound. His ability to color his percussion, not just as a time-keeper, but by filling more of an accompanist role. The give-and-pull Motian procured was a mixture of tasteful fills as well as his uncanny use of silence that made for both a backdrop to his band member’s solos as well as a melodic and rhythmic statement in it’s own right.

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After stints throughout the ’50s and ’60s with key players such as Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden and others, Motian spent the ’70s and ’80s setting himself up to be a key bandleader and composer. From 1972-1989 he released upwards of twelve albums under his namesake. Throughout the last few decades of his life, Motian continued to inspire younger generations of musicians to not only study their predecessors, but succeed them by innovating their own way to the top. He continued recording and performing with many live albums at the Village Vanguard in New York City. He will be remembered as not only a musician, but an inspiration. Comment below with your favorite recording or memory of Paul Motian.

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Selected Discography

Words by Eric Sandler


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