This was the art of Joe Morello, a man whose technique could rival that of many great concert artists but whose musicianship and melodic sense is unsurpassed. Joe loved performing Take 5 but he never let that tune define him.
Joe loved opening doors to new musical ideas. He always did that with a sense of swing,
He could make the drabbest technical exercise move. Swing is a dance feeling that is not confined to 4/4 but applies to every meter under the sun. It is this more than anything that made Joe the Innovator and sage that he became.
He died on March 12 2011, eighty-two years after his birth in Springfield, Massachusetts. As a youngster he was a violin prodigy who played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra before he ever picked up a drumstick. When Joe made the switch to drums, he studied with the legendary George Lawrence Stone who wisely pointed Joe towards Jazz -- and he never looked back.
His work with Dave Brubeck and other artists has been written about many times and I want to celebrate his life with a slightly different perspective. I was never a student of his. I was just a drummer and lifelong fan who became a friend. Joe’s technique always took a back seat to the music and he affirmed this many times. What awed me was his sense of space. When you listen to the Take 5 solo you can feel the space that separates the figures. You can hear him constructing his own composition on top of the piano ostinato.
He could also hear and execute the oddest subdivisions when he was playing even when the tune was a Blues, yet it all made sense. He was also very giving, warm and generous and I will never forget the Man or the Music.