…that stove flame is as clear as music is in my mind. I was three years old.
The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit. It might have been me playing around with the stove. I don’t remember who it was. Anyway, I remember being shocked by the whoosh of the blue flame jumping off the burner, the suddenness of it. That’s as far back as I can remember; any further back than this is just fog, you know, just mystery. But that stove flame is as clear as music is in my mind. I was three years old.
I saw that flame and felt that hotness of it close to my face. I felt fear, real fear, for the first time in my life. But I remember it also like some kind of adventure, some kind of weird joy, too. I guess that experience took me someplace in my head I hadn’t been before. To some frontier, the edge, maybe, of everything possible. I don’t know; I never tried to analyze it before. The fear I had was almost like an invitation, a challenge to go forward into something I knew nothing about.
That’s where I think my personal philosophy of life and my commitment to everything I believe in started, with that moment. I don’t know, but I think it might be true. Who knows? What the fuck did I know about anything back then? In my mind I have always believed and thought since then that my motion had to be forward, away from the heat of that flame.
Looking back, I don’t remember much of my first years\u2014I never liked to look back much anyway.
If I was the inspiration and wisdom and the link for this band, Tony was the fire, the creative spark; Wayne was the idea person, the conceptualizer of a whole lot of musical ideas we did; and Ron and Herbie were the anchors.
…At first Wayne had been known as free-form player, but playing with Art Blakey for those years and being the band’s musical director had brought him back in somewhat. He wanted to play freer than he could in Art’s band, but he didn’t want to be all the way out, either. Wayne has always been someone who experimented with form instead of someone who did it without form. That’s why I thought he was perfect for where I wanted to see the music I played go.
Wayne was the only person that I knew then who wrote something like the way Bird wrote, the only one. It was the way he notated on the beat. Lucky Thompson used to hear us and say, “Goddamn, that boy can write music!” When he came into the band it started to grow a lot more and a whole lot faster, because Wayne is a real composer. He writes scores, writes the parts for everybody just as he wants them to sound. It worked exactly like that except when I changed some things. He doesn’t trust many people’s interpretations of his music, so he would bring out the whole score and everyone would just copy their parts from that, rather than go through the melody and changes and pick our way through the music like that.
Wayne also brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn’t work, then he broke them, but with a musical sense; he understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your satisfaction and taste. Wayne was always out there on his own plane, orbiting around his own planet. Everybody else in the band was walking down here on earth. He couldn’t do in Art Blakey’s band what he did in mine; he just seemed to bloom as a composer when he was in my band. That’s why I say he was the intellectual musical catalyst for the band in his arrangement of his musical compositions that we recorded.
I was learning something new every night with that group. One reason was that Tony Williams was such a progressive drummer. He would listen to a record and memorize the whole record, all the solos, the whole thing. He was the only guy in my band who ever told me, “Man, why don’t you practice!” I was missing notes and shit trying to keep up with his young ass. So he started me to practicing again because I had stopped and didn’t even know it. But man, I can tell you this: there ain’t but one Tony Williams when it comes to playing the drums. There was nobody like him before or since. He’s just a motherfucker. Tony played on top of the beat, just a fraction above, and it gave everything a little edge because it had a little edge. Tony played polyrhythms all the time. He was a cross between Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes and Max Roach. Those were his idols, and he had a little bit of all their shit. But his shit was definitely his own.