The first thing I do is try not to compare between live and recorded performances. I try to look at them like apples and oranges, enjoying both, though they are two totally different flavors. I look at recordings as something that is archived forever, which lends itself to a bit of a safer environment because the presentation is so important that it must stand the test of time. Live performances, to me, are more of an energy exchange, unique to that moment, never to be captured again, especially in the creative style of jazz. That is what makes jazz so special. The very point of it is for every performance to be incredibly different. Jazz at its best in the live arena is not safe at all. What gives me the greatest charge is to take risks as much as possible, without sacrificing the musical presentation. This is challenging because with this kind of risk taking, it just does not work out the way you want every time, so there is the element of forgiveness that happens naturally from both the player and the listener when one is stretching outside of the safety zone. The most amazing feeling in the world is when it all comes together and every player is on the same page. That’s what makes it magical.
On the other hand, when I am recording or producing, I tend to find the balance between taking risks and holding back. The element of control is very important in the studio. It is paramount for making a classic recording, but not so controlled that it sounds sterile. It is this kind of harnessed energy that pulls the listener in and keeps them attentive. I look at producing records like being a film director. The end result is based on artistic vision and the ability to pull greatness out of all involved, in order to make the strong artistic contribution possible.
The positioning of each musician in a live setting is very important. In jazz, communication is a must and eye contact is essential. The only way to successfully have this is to set up very close. I have to sometimes angle the drums in order to see everyone. When playing with Herbie Hancock, I have to really stay on my toes and watch him at all times. I sometimes have to even watch his foot tapping to know where he is. I like to be close to the bass, but not behind the amp. It is better to get as much of the sound coming from him and his amp settings, rather than coming out of a monitor. In the studio, the luxury of this much contact is not always the case due to isolation booths. Sometimes we are even in different rooms. This is when your ear must do all the work. It is essential to have a well-developed ear and to use your eyes so the presentation is as strong as possible.