The jazz composer, famous for his part in 1980s free jazz ensemble Loose Tubes, pays tribute to Charlie Parker in his new piano trio album Belovèd Bird
Why have you decided to do a Charlie Parker tribute album at this stage of your career?
In 2006 I was asked to be involved in an evening of remembrance of Charlie Parker. I thought it would be nice to go and play some tunes but didn’t want to play them out of the book, as written. I wanted to make a bit of a statement with it musically, so I did some arrangements. I was rehearsing with a bass player and a drummer for fun.
We did a lot of improvising for two hours straight – and then we met again and thought this is a good vehicle for this Parker thing. I wanted to focus on the Parker stuff and put it out as an unexpected statement. It’s not what people expect me to do at this time.
What has made you return to the piano?
When I took this job in Copenhagen – as a professor at this Rhythmic Music Conservatory – I’d wander from one room to the other giving lessons and I’d often sit down at a piano. It reminded me about this great instrument that’s been with me all my life but I haven’t explored in terms of making albums.
I’d wanted to separate myself from everybody else using piano – Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau etc. And one of my ways of doing that – when I started forming bands back in 1979 – was to not use the piano. It was interesting to find myself getting back into the physicality of playing a piano – instead of an electronic keyboard.
The track ‘My Little Suede Shoes’ stands out. How did you decide which pieces to include?
Each of the tracks I chose were from the Charlie Parker records I grew up listening to as a kid – ones that stuck in my mind. I first heard ‘My Little Suede Shoes’ on a live album where the band are playing at a dance evening. You can hear all this talking, singing and shouting and this alive, intense music. It’s more of a Latin groove and the drummer uses a lot of cow bell – a nod towards the Cuban influence that was coming into jazz at that time.
You are still famous for playing with Loose Tubes…
I’ve been working on some tapes of our last London performance. Three nights of it were recorded, and I want to release those later this year [on Lost Marble]. That coincides with my 50th birthday – so it’s a time of significant dates.
You’ve got some striking outfits. How did they come about?
I’ve known the photographer for years – he ran away with the idea and started getting hold of keyboards and building this incredible keyboard spiral hat. It’s about having a bit of fun and sparking more interest for people to have a listen to the music.
And finally… what got you into jazz in the first place?
I grew up listening to my father’s extensive record collection. Within each genre of music he’d pick out the most eccentric part. We’d listen to one thing and then we’d go crashing straight into Romanian folk music, and then a piece of Schnittke or Scott Joplin. I grew up with no perception of different styles. It was just all music and I think the results of that are quite clear.
Interview by Neil McKim
Audio clip: Django Bates 'My Little Suede Shoes' on Beloved Bird (Lost Marble LM004 55:13 mins)
Image: Nick White