On Hudson, the upcoming debut by their band of the same name, jazz luminaries Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield pay tribute to their shared love of 1960s rock. The album features two interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, including a loose, lyrical nine-minute-plus version of the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan classic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” premiering below.
Out June 9th, Hudson also features the group’s takes on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” and the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” as well as Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” plus original pieces by the band members. Their interpretation of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” moves from a pastoral opening theme to a simmering psychedelic climax during Medeski’s spacey keyboard solo.
The quartet takes its name from New York’s Hudson Valley, where all four musicians live. “All of us built our careers in the city and then moved out to the Hudson Valley to raise our kids and have a home,” guitarist Scofield said in a press release. “One thing that we all have in common is that, although we’re urban musicians, we left the city to live in nature.”
Hudson debuted at the Woodstock Jazz Festival in 2014, but the members have worked together for years in various projects. Scofield and DeJohnette – a veteran drummer known for his work with Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and countless other legends – first played together in 1978, and both appeared on Herbie Hancock’s 1995 LP The New Standard, an album that also featured rock and pop covers. In the 2000s, they joined forces again in the band Trio Beyond. And since the late Nineties, Scofield has collaborated extensively with Medeski Martin and Wood, the keyboardist’s long-running collective trio. Grenadier, a constantly in-demand bassist, has worked with all three fellow Hudson members in different settings.
Hudson is available for preorder now. The group will tour North America throughout the summer and fall, including a stop at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 6th, three days before DeJohnette’s 75th birthday. Below the members discuss the inspirations behind the project, and the process of adapting rock classics to the jazz format.
What is your personal history with the music of Bob Dylan, the Band and the other artists you’re covering on Hudson, and why were you drawn to interpreting these songs?
Larry Grenadier: I actually didn’t listen much to Dylan or the Band until I was about 20. I was kind of a jazz snob as a teenager. My own kind of adolescent rebellion. But I do remember finally getting to [Music From] Big Pink and falling in love with it. It was American music, like jazz, even though it was being played by mostly Canadians! I was amazed by the musicianship, the songwriting and the overall vibe. The same with Dylan. It took me a second to get inside it but, once I did, I was hooked. There is so much meat in his songs. Plenty of inspiration in the craft of his writing. I also always loved how his bands highlighted the song first. Everything is played to serve the song.
John Medeski: This music is very simply part of the fabric of my life. I’ve seen Dylan a bunch of times, love everything he does. I came to the Band’s music a little later, but have played with Levon Helm a few times (his groove is life-changing), [and] gone to and occasionally participated in a Midnight Ramble. This past year, I’ve been part of a Last Waltz 40th tour which lead me to dive deeper into the Band’s music, and had the incredible privilege of playing with Garth Hudson a couple of nights.
Can’t leave out Hendrix. His music completely changed me, when I finally got it. I probably wouldn’t be as into playing electric music if it weren’t for Jimi.
Living in the Woodstock area the past 15 years, we’re surrounded by the images and memories of all these musicians.
John Scofield: I’ve been a Dylan fan since I bought the Bringing It All Back Home album in 1965. I was 13. Same goes for Music From Big Pink by the Band. I wore that LP out! Although I’ve never met Dylan, I did get to jam with Levon Helm at his Midnight Ramble a year before he passed, and I treasure that experience.
Jack DeJohnette: I loved the way Levon played the drums. He was very soulful and in the pocket, which spoke to me. When he sung those songs, he owned them, sung them with a lot of conviction.
Garth [Hudson] and I spent quite a few times together. He was [a] genius that played many instruments. When we were building our home, Garth was a “diviner” who helped to look for water by picking up a stick and turning it into a divining rod to seek out the strongest water vein, so we could create a well. My first actual meeting with the Band was at the Hollywood Bowl when I was with Miles and during the sound-check, Keith Jarrett and I jammed with them. They were a big part of the fabric of American Music and throughout jazz history we have seen countless musicians cover modern pop songs.
Dylan is sometimes portrayed mainly as a great lyricist. What are the challenges and rewards of covering a song like “Hard Rain” instrumentally?
Grenadier: “Hard Rain” lends itself to a jazz version since the harmony is strong enough to sit in for a long time. Also, the melody, and in particular Dylan’s phrasing of the melody, is so beautiful and personal. I think John Scofield really conveys this in the way he interpreted this melody on the album.
DeJohnette: John, instrumentally, is telling a story with his interpretation of the melody. If you don’t know the lyrics, you still hear the story in John’s playing.
Scofield: Although Dylan’s lyrics are his most famous gift, his songs are often very melodic and work as instrumentals. I thought “Hard Rain” would work as a jazz waltz that breaks down into a musical post-nuclear winter (via free-jazz soundscape) as the song has been interpreted as a warning against nuclear war.
“I thought ‘Hard Rain’ would work as a jazz waltz that breaks down into a musical post-nuclear winter.” –John Scofield
Medeski: When the music is simple and the lyrics are the main source of variation or the focus, it is challenging to create something and not sound like Muzak. It comes down to using the songs as springboards for musical exploration in some way. Music is its own language without words, so we just try to find inspiration from the lyrics, create an impression of the song, try a new rhythmic approach, or simply play off of the form of the tune. It’s definitely a jazz tradition to play instrumental versions of popular songs.
Dylan’s music is based on folk tunes, so the lyrics are what really take it to the next level. For our version of “Hard Rain,” it starts simple and then goes into an abstract place that, for me, reflects where the tune comes from, or where it takes me. Not exactly apocalyptic, or fallout, but a seriously hard rain. I love how it turned out.
How would you explain the concept behind Hudson as a whole?
Medeski: Hudson is about four guys who live in the Hudson Valley getting together and making music. Taking inspiration from the place we live … its history and beauty.
DeJohnette: This collective allows the opportunity for us to share our love for where we make our homes. The musical resources and stories to be told are endless and ageless. The spaciousness and beauty create inspiration for us to have a musical dialogue at the highest level possible.
Scofield: We’re just four like-minded musicians doing what we do best, improvising together. I think the “Woodstock” theme gave us some great songs to interpret as well as inspiration for original pieces.
Grenadier: All four of us share a similar attitude toward playing music. The starting point was to play music associated with the Woodstock area in which we live. But from there it was all about having a continual musical conversation where anything can happen and all of our disparate musical influences are free to roam. It is a great inspiration to play with these guys, and I look forward to watching the music continue to grow as we play the music on tour.