Chuck: When I listen to you play free, I can tell you obviously find clear ideas to play and I can follow your thinking. But some other drummer playing in the same situation might say, “This music sounds good, but what in the world could I ever play to it?”
Paul: Well, thank god I don’t never think about that. I don’t think like that. I just let it happen. I just go by what I hear and I just let it happen.
Chuck: So you’re not self-conscious…
Paul: No. I’m acting on what I’m hearing and what I’m doing.
Chuck: You have a clear idea of what you should do and shouldn’t do.
Paul: It’s not like what I should do or shouldn’t do, it’s what I do. And I have enough faith and confidence in myself and what I do that it’s right. If I start thinking about what I should do and I shouldn’t do, it would suck. It’s like the story Jimmy Garrison told me about the centipede. He’s walking along on the branch groovin’, and then some fuckin’ monkey looks at him and says “Hey, man, look at how you got all them legs, man, how do you know which leg to put down first?” And as soon as he says that, the motherfucker trips and falls off the tree. It’s the same thing. You can’t stop to think about that shit.
Once when I was playing with Charlie Haden, I told him that I couldn’t really get with the music, I can’t find what it is that I should do, whether I should play time or I play free. And Charlie said to me, “well, you’re the one that can do it and whatever you do, you be in control, you do what you think is right, I’m going to take it from what you’re doing.” In other words, instead of me thinking about what I should do or what I shouldn’t do, I should just do, and everything will be OK. And that’s what happened. When I was thinking about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do, shit wasn’t happening. Wasn’t happening, man. After I talked to Charlie and he said to me whatever I do is OK., and I should be in control, then I felt free to do what I wanted to do. And as soon as I did that, everything fell into place. Shit was swinging like a motherfucker.
Chuck: Are you switching over from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind?
Paul: Yeah, in a way. In others words, when something starts happening and I start playing time, I’m not debating in my head, “well, I should play time now or I shouldn’t play time.” I just go ahead and do what I feel I should do. And when I do that, it happens, everything falls into place. If I feel like playing a rumba beat on a fuckin’ tom-tom, that’s what I do without thinking about it, it’s OK!
Chuck: So it sounds like the key is to get rid of any sort of deliberation.
Paul: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely, man. Oh yeah. Sure. As soon as you start deliberating and thinking it’s that story I just told you, man. That’s the key. Definitely.