John Medeski

The following, is a relaxed conversation with John Medeski done after a outside concert in Mpls. June 14 2002. Medeski is the keyboard player in MMW (Medeski, Martin & Wood). Their original instrumental recordings can be found in the jazz section of most Record/CD stores. The music is fresh, powerful, & interactive. You can dance to it (many do) or get lost listening to three incredibly talented musicians in dialog together. This power trio is a roller coaster of sound not to be missed. John Medeski plays Piano, Hammond A-100 organ, Clavinet, Wurlitzer piano, Mellotron , etc, and of course melodica. John is full of energy, well versed in a variety of subjects & was kind enough to spend an evening hanging out & talkin music.

Hegman-Well how’s the summer tour going?
Medeski-Well this is almost it for us. We’re not doing much ’cause Chris is having a baby–Chris Wood.

Hegman-Chris’s wife?
Medeski – Yeah — I don’t know he’s acting like HE’S havin’ it. His wife is definitely havin’ it. She’s big – she’s havin’ it sometime in July.

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Hegman-So the rhythm sections has kids?
Medeski-Yeah, two guys they’re both gonna have kids, so it’s good to take a break, y’know, it’s a good time to take a month or so off — when a little being comes into the world.

Hegman-And you’re experimenting with another group I thought I read somewhere.. a gospel group?
Medeski-Oh I do a lot of different stuff actually, but yeah, one of the projects I’ve done in the past years is called “The Words” – gospel music – there’s a great peddle steel guitar player who, if you haven’t heard of him you will be soon — Robert Randolph- he’s got a big record deal with Warner Brothers, brilliant musician, great guy, charismatic character grew up ya know playin’ in the church – definitely whoop it up. He’s great.

Hegman-I heard you play melodica in that group.
Medeski-I do play melodica in one song on the record. It’s this tune called “Blood on the Rock” and it’s an old gospel tune that we ahem – I can’t recall the recording we got it from, but it incorporates a little of that flute in the original, where the flute’s kinda playing this melody that’s like similar to but slightly different from the actual melody. So it’s simultaneous along with the vocal, and the lyric, and it’s kinda this other sorta counter melody that’s within the same realm. So that’s kinda what I use the melodica for.
Hegman-Cool.
Medeski-meladica -melodica (laughs)

Hegman-What is the pronunciation? ( Me low di ca )

Medeski- We’ll find out.

Hegman- Well, what are the new projects you have coming up?
Medeski-Well, I’ m going on the road with Suzannah Bacha, actually on Wednesday, this Wednesday. With Mark Reevo? on guitar, too and we’re gonna play with her in England for a couple weeks. I also play melodica on that gig, too. On her record, too, I do one song – she does this New York tune I play melodica on. Actually, a couple songs we pulled it out. She likes it because it has a little bit of that accordion sound and so much of it makes from a folk music standpoint.

Hegman-Do you remember the first time you were exposed to a melodica? Or the first time you saw one?
Medeski-That’s a good question.

Hegman-Steve Allen on TV?
Medeski – No, he had one?

Hegman- Yeah, that’s where I got turned on to it.
Medeski- For me, it’s like I have a real desire to have something portable to play – and then I’m trying to think of who I saw with one — maybe Don Cherry. — I might have seen him playing with one.

Hegman – Don Cherry, Jack Dejohnette.
Medeski- I never saw him but I heard him on records and I think I heard Hermeto on records playing, but I think the first time I SAW one was Don Cherry. I don’t remember the first time I got one — I gotta be honest. I found one, I just like picked one up somewhere and it was great. Especially when we went out to Hawaii?? and we’d go out on the rocks and play.

Hegman- Hey, I did that in Mexico and I thought I was gonna be killed. I was playing melodica up — I didn’t want to disturb anybody so I went way the hell up on the rocks.
Medeski-And everybody could hear it everywhere?

Hegman- I didn’t think anybody could hear it and all of a sudden I looked up and there were four rifles pointing at me – and I didn’t speak any Spanish. Apparently they thought I had a pipe, cause I was blowing in the extension tube, but I didn’t know – and they were asking me questions I couldn’t answer, so I ended up playing Mexican music with them. And two of them started singing, which was great, cause they put the rifles down and they sang. Then they escorted me down the rocks, when I left the cliff, I still didn’t know if I was going to prison or what. But they just wanted to check – they didn’t know what it was I guess. And there were a lot of drug deals going off on the rocks.
Medeski- Yeah, I guarantee you, you were into their stash

Hegman- With all the keyboards you’ve got – you’ve got the electric piano, you’ve got the Hammond A
Medeski – In our studio we have in Brooklyn, I’ve got like 38 or 40 keyboards.

Hegman- So what’s your concept of the melodica? Is that in its own territory – sonically or conceptually?
Medeski- Absolutely, to me it’s just that – the fact that you use your breath, as a keyboard player, ’cause it forces you to create melodies in a more vocal way, which is something I think you end up working on anyway.

Hegman-The phrasing?
Medeski- Yeah, ’cause it forces you to do it, um … for me it’s the fact that it’s unamplified. I mean I love playing loud amplified instruments — I love organ, clavinet, wah wah — but I ultimately I really love playing piano and I like the ability to play without any electricity, and pianos are heavy and melodicas are light. One of the instruments I’ve never really explored is accordion or harmonica. Almost intentionally, ’cause for me, I just like the mystery of those instruments. Eventually I’ll probably get around to some accordion, but there’s a certain, you know, there’s a whole thing to it — it’s like organ, or piano, or violin or something where it’s Bulgarian or Hungarian accordionists or Brazilian stuff. It’s a life’s work to be a great one – and I don’t know how many more instruments I want to try to take on. So the melodica was always kind of the answer to that sort of sound and that sort of world. It’s a completely different instrument and it does it’s own thing, which I love, but for me it kind of fills that Jones.

Hegman- How many melodicas do you have?
Medeski-Well, the volume of melodicas I have is totally your fault -(laughter) but I’ve got about nine right now – nine with the one I just got. I’ve got nine different ones and they’re all very different, except for the two Ls?? that are the same. Two broken Ls – two Ls that don’t work.

Hegman- Do you amplify them at all when you play live?
Medeski – No, that’s one of the things that we love about it. That’s one of the things we’ve always done together as a group, as MMW I’m talkin about, is that we’ve always, you know, whenever we rehearse or just when we get together to play for the sake of playing, especially, you know, when we’re first getting to know each other and working on our music. You know, we’d go to Hawaii and we’d always play in some kind of acoustic realm, where we’d all play percussion together and melodica fits right into that. So whenever we pull it out on a gig we go into that space. It’s our chance to like you know go there and for us it’s really fun, so we usually just treat it as acoustic. We do it in a room where we walk away from the mics and people have to shut up and check it out. They don’t always keep quiet.

Hegman – Well, you could hear a pin drop the last time I saw you. At O’shanasy Hall over in St. Paul
Medeski – Yeah, some times they don’t shut up. That was great, that was cool.

Hegman – And the acoustics for the melodica were fantastic.
Medeski- Yeah, it’s great cause we play a lot of theatres, so it works in there. So it’s fun, y’know, Chris will play his upright no amplification, Billy will find something to squeak or bang on.

Hegman-If people who are reading this interview now are interested in hearing you play melodica, what recordings of yours would you recommend they go out and buy–that have melodica on them?
Medeski- Ya know what, it’s hard to say because.

Hegman-They should just buy them all!
Medeski-Well no, they don’t all have melodica, I guess the ones that have .. it isn’t like real extensive.. the newest record, Uninvisible, has a little section where we do a little bit of that trio acoustic thing at the end of the song and it hints of what we do but it comes in and fades out really fast .. it’s brief. But there’s a record that we have available through our website (http://www.mmw.net/)called Farmer’s Reserve that probably has the most melodica on it. It’s like us in this shack in Hawaii and I play on this piano, ya know, it’s a prepared piano that I’ve retuned, and some melodica, and there’s a little tiny Yamaha CS-1 toy synthesizer through one of those battery-powered moose amplifiers, and Chris is playing acoustic and Billy’s playing acoustic. He even goes upstairs and plays his marimba and plays the walls of the place. We just recorded it in stereo with two mics — and that probably has the most on it. We have some other stuff that we never released actually. I use it on a few other tunes. I use it on the Suzannah Vaca record, it’s a little bit on The Word, like I said there’s nothing really extensive for the melodica part, yet. I would say there’s plenty of tapes out there that people trade of every gig we ever did so we’ve done it a lot … at the end of the night as an encore, or at the end of the set, depending… so you can find it that way. That’s probably the best way to find it

Hegman-You picked up on the guitar/sitars last year. Have you been incorporating that at all?
Medeski- Well, y’know, I have been – I’ve haven’t been incorporating them in MMW, I’ve actually used it a lot on this soundtrack for an art installation piece by this guy, this Vancouver artist named Stan Douglas. There’s this great event in Germany called Documenta and it happens every so often and I guess it’s, y’know I’m not really that up on that sort of modern art or whatever you call that art installation world and contemporary art, but apparently it’s a big deal, this event. Stan is an amazing mind and artist, so he’s putting together this film that basically never quite repeats itself and the narrative goes on and the music never quite repeats itself and it’s generate and the computer kind of combines things in all these different ways for about 100 days. Y’know, it’s intense. And I use those Indian ……….I call them keyboards but I guess they’re not . What are they?

Hegman-I call them keyboard sitars, but they call them banjos or bul bul over there.
Medeski- Yeah, that’s what we were calling them, we were calling it Chinese Banjo even though it was Indian. That’s what we’d call it .I just haven’t made our track notes. But, y’know we used it on some stuff.

Hegman- I caught you on the Hammond organ. I know you’re a fan of the Hammond organ. You just tore it up tonight – it sounded awesome. You’re playing an A, right.
Medeski – I normally play an A – It might have been a B up there, ’cause I was using rented gear, but what I’ve been using lately is an A-100. The past couple records I’ve had an A-100, The Word, all that stuff’s A100 I’ve found that I love. What I like about them, I don’t know why, but there’s something about the low end that’s … I’ve heard theories that the two transformers next to each other, because of the amps for the built-in speakers, I don’t know what it is – it’s a bigger thing.

Hegman- A darker sound?
Medeski – Yeah, just more low end, without having to, y’know you can do all kinds of things to change it, but just on its own they have a thicker low end, nastier, I like it.

Hegman – Do you have any future project coming up that you want to talk about?
Medeski- Actually this is gonna be a light summer, hopefully. We have some gigs coming up and I’m planning on hopefully practicing. Y’know I don’t get a lot of time to just play music for its own sake these days, y’know, so it’s like now I have to kind of schedule it in. So I’m gonna try and use this summer for that, but while I’m doing that I’m working on the soundtrack for Jeff Kerouac wrote a screenplay called Dr. Sax, based on his book Dr. Sax, and I guess they’re working on releasing it either as an audio book or in some way???. So that’s what I’m gonna be working on this summer – working on the music for that.

Hegman – Cool. Well thanks a lot for doing this interview. Are there any last comments you want to make?
Medeski – Buy melodicas now! Buy them! You need a melodica! (laughter)

Hegman – Thanks John.
Medeski – It’s true, everybody needs one. Melodicas are for everyone.

Hegman – Well I know Billy was mentioning that his child..
Medeski – Yeah, well apparently, his son Dakota is not quite two yet and he was saying that he loves his melodica, he plays it all the time. Apparently, he was telling me that story, there was a little poop in his pants, and he’s changing the diaper and he said it’s usually good to have something to distract him. So he took his melodica and played it while he was getting his diaper changed. I personally respect that. I’m gonna do that when I’m wearing diapers again. I’m gonna play melodica when they’re changing… Depends. It all Depends on the melodica. (laughter)

For more info on MMW check out their web site at http://www.mmw.net/

Photos 12/ 7/ 06 Scofield Medeski Martin Wood