Paul Motian

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Paul Motian
Frisell lovano motian by MT.jpg
Joe Lovano, Paul Motian and Bill Frisell in Rome
Background information
Birth name Paul Motian
Born (1931-03-25)March 25, 1931
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Origin Providence, Rhode Island, US
Died November 22, 2011(2011-11-22) (aged 80)
Manhattan, New York, US
Genres Jazz, bebop, hard bop, post-bop, avant-garde jazz, free improvisation
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, bandleader
Instruments Drums, percussion
Years active 1954–2010
Labels ECM, Soul Note, JMT, Winter & Winter
Associated acts Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Bley, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Marc Johnson, Geri Allen, Enrico Pieranunzi, Masabumi Kikuchi, Chris Potter

Stephen Paul Motian[1] (March 25, 1931 – November 22, 2011)[2][3] was an American jazz drummer, percussionist and composer of Armenian descent.

He first came to prominence in the late 1950s in the piano trio of Bill Evans, and later led several groups. Motian played an important role in freeing jazz drummers from strict time-keeping duties.


Motian was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. After playing guitar in his childhood, Motian began playing the drums at age 12, eventually touring New England in a swing band. During the Korean War he joined the Navy.

Motian became a professional musician in 1954, and briefly played with pianist Thelonious Monk. He became well known as the drummer in pianist Bill Evans's trio (1959–64), initially alongside bassist Scott LaFaro and later with Chuck Israels.[4][5]

Subsequently, he played with pianists Paul Bley (1963–64) and Keith Jarrett (1967–76). Other musicians with whom Motian performed and/or recorded in the early period of his career included Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz,[6] Joe Castro, Arlo Guthrie (Motian performed briefly with Guthrie in 1968–69, and performed with the singer at Woodstock), Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, and Don Cherry. Motian subsequently worked with musicians such as Marilyn Crispell, Bill Frisell, Leni Stern, Joe Lovano, Alan Pasqua, Bill McHenry, Stéphan Oliva, Frank Kimbrough, Eric Watson and many more.

Later in his career, Motian became an important composer and group leader,[7] recording initially for ECM Records in the 1970s and early 1980s and subsequently for Soul Note, JMT, and Winter & Winter, before returning to ECM in 2005.[4] From the early 1980s he led a trio featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano, occasionally joined by bassists Ed Schuller, Charlie Haden or Marc Johnson, and other musicians, including Jim Pepper, Lee Konitz, Dewey Redman and Geri Allen. In addition to playing Motian's compositions, the group recorded tributes to Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, and a series of Paul Motian on Broadway albums, featuring original interpretations of jazz standards.

Despite his important associations with pianists, Motian's work as a leader since the 1970s rarely included a pianist in his ensembles and relied heavily on guitarists. Motian's first instrument was the guitar, and he apparently retained an affinity for the instrument: in addition to his groups with Frisell, his first two solo albums on ECM featured Sam Brown, and his Electric Bebop Band featured two and occasionally three electric guitars. The group was founded in the early 1990s, and featured a variety of young guitar and saxophone players, in addition to electric bass and Motian's drums, including saxophonists Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Chris Cheek, and Tony Malaby, and guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Shepik, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, and Jakob Bro.

In 2011 Motian featured on a number of new recordings, including Live at Birdland (with Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden), Samuel Blaser's Consort in Motion, No Comment by Augusto Pirodda, and Further Explorations with Chick Corea and Eddie Gómez. Bill McHenry's Ghosts of the Sun was released - by coincidence - on the day of Motian's death. Motian's final album as bandleader was The Windmills of Your Mind, featuring Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan and Petra Haden.

Motian died on November 22, 2011 at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital of complications from myelodysplastic syndrome.[8]

Box set releases[edit]

CAM Jazz released a box set titled Paul Motian in September 2010. This release compiles a number of albums which were originally issued by the Soul Note label; The Story of Maryam, Jack of Clubs, Misterioso, Notes (with Paul Bley), One Time Out (with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano) and Flux and Change (duet with Enrico Pieranunzi).

In November 2012, Winter & Winter released Paul Motian on Broadway Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 which collects the five volumes of On Broadway into a single set.

ECM Records released a box set titled Paul Motian in April 2013, as part of the label's continuing Old & New Masters Edition series. This set compiles the six albums that Motian recorded for ECM between 1972 and 1984; Conception Vessel, Tribute, Dance, Le Voyage, Psalm and It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago.

Posthumous releases[edit]

The first posthumous release to feature Motian was Sunrise by the Masabumi Kikuchi Trio (with Thomas Morgan), released in March 2012 by ECM. This was followed in July 2012 by Owls Talk by Alexandra Grimal (also featuring Lee Konitz and Gary Peacock), released by Harmonia Mundi.

Two live recordings, led by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, have been released by CAM Jazz; New York Reflections: Live at Birdland (with Steve Swallow) was released in October 2012 (exclusively in vinyl format), while Live at the Village Vanguard (with Marc Johnson) was issued in March 2013.

CAM Jazz reissued One Time Out in March 2013, in 180g vinyl format. A compact disc edition is supplied with it. One Time Out was also issued on CD as part of the CAM Jazz Paul Motian boxset.

Motian compositions recorded by others and tributes[edit]

Motian Sickness - The Music of Paul Motian (For The Love of Sarah) was released in September 2011, featuring Jeff Cosgrove, John Hebert, Mat Maneri and Jamie Masefield. The album is available as a CD or in downloadable formats from Cosgrove's official website.[9]

November 2011 saw the release of Joel Harrison's String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian. Harrison arranged Motian's music for a string quartet (featuring Christian Howes, Sam Bardfeld, Mat Maneri and Dana Leong), plus two guitars (Liberty Ellman and Harrison).[10]

Russ Lossing's Drum Music: Music of Paul Motian (Solo Piano) was released in July 2012 by Sunnyside Records.[11] Lossing originally recorded the album to celebrate Motian's 80th birthday; he has published a video on YouTube about the recording.[12]

Ravi Coltrane has included the Motian composition Fantasm on his 2012 album Spirit Fiction. The performance features Joe Lovano.


As leader[edit]


  • Selected Recordings (ECM, 2004)

Box Sets

  • Paul Motian (Compr. the four albums for Soul Note, CAM Jazz, 2010)
  • Paul Motian on Broadway Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Rec. 1988–2008, Winter & Winter, 2012)
  • Old & New Masters Edition: Paul Motian (Six albums rec. 1972–1984, ECM, 2013)

With Tethered Moon (Trio with Masabumi Kikuchi and Gary Peacock)

As sideman[edit]

With Michael Adkins

  • Rotator (HatHut, 2008) with Russ Lossing and John Hébert

With Geri Allen and Charlie Haden

With Mose Allison

With Tim Berne

With Samuel Blaser

  • Consort in Motion (Kind of Blue, 2011) with Russ Lossing and Thomas Morgan

With Paul Bley

With Salvatore Bonafede

  • Plays (Ken Music, 1991) with Marc Johnson
  • For the Time Being (CAM Jazz, 2006) with Joe Lovano, Michele Rabbia, Mark Dresser and Adam Rogers

With Jakob Bro

With Bob Brookmeyer

With Guillaume de Chassy and Daniel Yvinec

  • Songs from the Last Century (Bee Jazz, 2009) with Marc Murphy

With Anders Christensen

With Marc Copland

  • New York Trio Recordings Vol.2: Voices (Pirouet, 2007) with Gary Peacock

With Chick Corea and Eddie Gómez

With Eddie Costa

  • Eddie Costa Quintet (Interlude, 1957)
  • Guys and Dolls Like Vibes (Coral/Verve, 1958) with Bill Evans, Wendell Marshall
  • The House of Blue Lights (Dot, 1959) with Wendell Marshall

With Marilyn Crispell

With Furio Di Castri plus Joe Lovano Quartet

  • Unknown Voyage (A Tempo, 1988)

With Jakob Dinesen

  • Around (Stunt, 2001) with Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • Dino (Stunt, 2009) with Anders Christensen

With Bill Evans

With Pierre Favre

With Anat Fort

With Bill Frisell

With Larry Goldings

With Alexandra Grimal

With Charlie Haden

With Yuri Honing

With Keith Jarrett

With Masabumi Kikuchi (see also Tethered Moon)

  • Sunrise (ECM, 2012) with Thomas Morgan

With Frank Kimbrough

  • Play (Palmetto, 2006) with Masa Kamaguchi

With Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden

  • Live at Birdland (ECM, 2011)

With Lee Konitz and Steve Swallow

  • Three Guys (Enja, 1999)

With Rudy Linka

  • Songs with Larry Grenadier

With Russ Lossing

  • Dreamer (Double Time, 2000)
  • As It Grows (HatHut, 2004)

With Joe Lovano

With Joe Lavano Wind Ensemble

  • Worlds (Label Bleu, 1989; reissued by Evidence Music, 1995) with Bill Frisell, Tim Hagens, Gary Valente, Judi Silvano, Henri Texier

With Bill McHenry

  • Bill McHenry Quartet Featuring Paul Motian (Fresh Sound, 2002)
  • Roses (Sunny Side, 2007)
  • Ghosts of the Sun (Sunny Side, 2011)

With Sam Most

With Simon Nabatov

With Stéphan Oliva and Bruno Chevillon

  • Fantasm - The Music of Paul Motian (BMG France/RCA Victor, 2000)
  • Intérieur nuit (Night Bird, 2002)

With John Patitucci

  • One More Angel (Concord, 1997)

With Enrico Pieranunzi

  • Untold Story (IDA, 1993; reissue EGEA, 2006) with Marc Johnson
  • Flux and Change (Soul Note, 1995)
  • The Night Gone By (Alfa Jazz, 1996) with Marc Johnson
  • Fellini Jazz (CAM Jazz, 2003) with Kenny Wheeler, Chris Potter and Charlie Haden
  • Doorways (CAM Jazz, 2004) with Chris Potter
  • Special Encounter (CAM Jazz, 2005) with Charlie Haden
  • New York Reflections: Live at Birdland (CAM Jazz, 2012) with Steve Swallow
  • Live at the Village Vanguard (CAM Jazz, 2013) with Marc Johnson

With Augusto Pirodda

  • No Comment (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011) with Gary Peacock

With Enrico Rava

With Gonzalo Rubalcaba

  • Discovery: Live at Montreux (Somethin' Else/Blue Note, 1991) with Charlie Haden

With Jacob Sacks and Eivind Opsvik

With Saheb Sarbib

  • Seasons (Soul Note, 1982) with Mark Whitecage and Mel Ellison

With Martial Solal

  • Just Friends (Dreyfus, 1997) with Gary Peacock
  • Balade du 10 Mars (Soul Note, 1999) with Marc Johnson

With Martin Speake

  • Change of Heart (ECM, 2002) with Bobo Stenson and Mick Hutton

With Bobo Stenson

With Tethered Moon (Trio with Masabumi Kikuchi and Gary Peacock)

  • First Meeting (Recorded 1990–91, Winter & Winter, 1997)
  • Tethered Moon (King/Paddle Wheel, 1992; Evidence, 1993)
  • Triangle (King/Paddle Wheel, 1993)
  • Play Kurt Weill (JMT, 1995; Winter & Winter, 2005)
  • Chansons d'Edith Piaf (Winter & Winter, 1999)
  • Experiencing Tosca (Winter & Winter, 2004)

With Henri Texier

  • Respect (Label Bleu, 1997) with Bob Brookmeyer, Lee Konitz and Steve Swallow

With Pietro Tonolo

  • Portrait of Duke (Label Bleu, 2000) with Gil Goldstein and Steve Swallow
  • Your Songs: The Music of Elton John (ObliqSound, 2007) with Gil Goldstein and Steve Swallow

With Helen Merrill


  1. ^ His surname is Armenian, and is often mispronounced "Moe-tee-un;" however, Paul Motian pronounced it "MO-shun."[1]
  2. ^ "Paul Motian Dies at 80". JazzTimes. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  3. ^ Paul Motian, Jazz Drummer, Is Dead at 80, The New York Times, November 22, 2011
  4. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Paul Motian: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved November 23, 2011. 
  5. ^ Berendt, Joachim-Ernst (1976). The Jazz Book. Paladin. p. 298. 
  6. ^ Ind, Peter (2005). Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and His Legacy. Equinox. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-84553-281-9. 
  7. ^ "Paul Motian". The Daily Telegraph (London). November 24, 2011. 
  8. ^ McLellan, Dennis (November 24, 2011). "Paul Motian dies at 80; jazz drummer and composer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 25, 2011. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Video on YouTube

External links[edit]