Sex, Love & Sensuality In Jazz: An Interview With Rachel Z
It's time to change the conversation
When I taught a Wayne Shorter course last fall, the first guest lecturer I contacted was composer and pianist Rachel Z. Few people know just how closely Rachel worked with Wayne on compositions for his High Life album. Even fewer know that Rachel moved into Wayne’s LA home in the mid-90s, becoming family to the Shorters. She’s a brilliant musician and educator.
In the following interview, however, Rachel and I discussed something entirely different.
First, a quick overview: Rachel’s had an outstanding career as a sideperson while also recording 13 superb albums as a jazz leader on Sony, Savoy, Verve/GRP, OZmosis and NYC Records. Rachel has worked with Wayne Shorter, Peter Gabriel, Terri Lyne Carrington, Steps Ahead, Al Di Meola, and Regina Carter, among many others. She’s been a professor at the New School since 2000. Rachel is married to drummer Omar Hakim.
Now for that interview. I was interested in discussing sex and sensuality with Rachel because she struck me as a serious artist who might have moved through some record industry objectification to define sensuality on her own terms. She’s also spoken up about jazz industry ageism.
Addressing these topics resulted in an intimate, funny and profound conversation. With Rachel sharing so openly, it only seemed right for me to offer some of my experiences in the jazz world, too.
A friend asked, “Aren’t you worried about people saying, ‘Here are two women in jazz. Of course they’re talking about photo shoots?’”
I’m not worried. The photo shoot discussion has real significance. What could be more feminist than someone telling the stories behind their photos? This transforms the person photographed from object to subject.
We addressed far more than photo shoots, starting with how alternative values on tour can complicate a woman musician’s experience. The conversation flowed on to many real-life issues that are rarely covered in a public forum.
This interview does touch on Wayne Shorter a couple times. Rachel and I just can’t help talking about him. And why should we? Only a fraction of our Wayne discussion is included here. Its full content will appear another time. And blow minds.
In a departure from standard journalistic practice, I invited Rachel to edit this transcript. She didn’t change much. It doesn’t seem quite fair that interviewees typically are given only one chance to express themselves precisely in speech, especially when an interview concerns sensitive topics. Here I wanted Rachel to feel free to speak her mind on sex and sensuality, confident that she could refine her comments in the transcript later.
We want to make this interview as widely available as possible. It’s accessible to anyone and everyone. Please consider supporting Call & Response becoming a free or paid subscriber. Paid subscriptions are my only remuneration for work on this Substack newsletter.
Sex, Love & Sensuality In Jazz: An Interview With Rachel Z
Zoom interview with Michelle Mercer, April 2023
MM: Before we started recording you were saying that there are a lot of love addicts in jazz. . .
RZ: Yeah. In music period, sex and love addicts. Not because everyone's so crazy dysfunctional about sex in music. For Americans it goes back to the Puritan society, and repression. If you placed us all in France, we'd probably be pretty close to normal. You know, they're just free about it. They don't fear nudity. They don't have double standards about nudity and women's bodies and all that stuff. But in the states the repression can cause confusion. And so along with that, you put a band together. A band goes on the road. The road is a fantasy world. It's like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The road was very surprising to me, actually, when I was a young musician.
MM: So when did you start going out on the road?
RZ: I was in my early 20s with Steps Ahead. The first band I went out with was Najee. So that was a little before Steps Ahead. Najee’s live set was a really interesting because it was kind of a sexy show. One, his music was really slinky. When I moved to New York, he gave me a job which enabled me to stay in New York, which was incredible. And the opening act was Angela Bofill, who is just this incredible musician and vocalist-seductress. And then the other band on tour was Jonathan Butler. It was quite a traveling show. And big tours are full of fun. But I'm not the fun type, actually. Because I'm like a music dork. So I had no idea all this fun was going to be around me.
And then the next band I went out with was Steps Ahead. And that's a jazz band, more hardcore, serious jazz. In that band, there were a lot of issues that came up around women, sex, and love. And if I had known what I know now, I wouldn't have taken it all so personally, and been so afraid. When you're in your twenties, as a woman, you feel like, by 29, I need to be engaged.
But the message you're getting from the guys in the band is that they don't want to be engaged. They don't want to be married. They never want to be married, or if they are married, they might not want to be faithful. So it was quite terrifying to experience that as a young woman. If I knew what I know now, I would be less afraid. I would have more compassion and detachment from their reality.
MM: Oh, so the general environment of licentiousness was kind of surprising for you at first. They were respecting you as a musician, I'm guessing. Were they hitting on you hard, or as a teasing thing? You weren't interested in dating them, I'm guessing.
RZ: None of us knew what we wanted at all. You know, nobody was clear. I mean, you're in your 20s, you don't know anything about anything.
There's so much complexity going on. I think you have to have extremely good boundaries to tour with respect. Guys have to have good boundaries on what they're, what they've decided for them is appropriate behavior. Because some guys that have been married for. . . I mean, they might be celebrating their 60 year anniversaries, but they have an arrangement where they can see other people on the road. And at first, I would be judging the hell out of that. But I've been married three times.
MM: Hmmn. Okay.
RZ: You know, Omar and I talk about this, as a matter of fact, because we tried to be all chaste and follow a spiritual path and follow monogamy really perfectly with our previous mates. We have that in common where we're just kind of monogamous. Both of us are. We're on our third marriage, each of us. Luckily, we're together, we agreed on how to be married. And so we don't really have an issue. Also, we're older, so we don't have the temptations that are the same level as when you're 20 and you haven't experienced life.
You know, some guys and some girls are just very sexual, and they're okay with it. They're not not necessarily going to be offended by a non-monogamous situation. So if you're in a band with that kind of person, they're going to behave in a way that feels disrespectful to me, because I'm monogamous. So it wasn't so much that they were hitting on me, but it just looked like they were hitting on everyone. And, you know, maybe late at night on a train ride, they were hitting on me. And I was like, they don't respect me. It all got really, really confusing. Whereas all I needed to do was say, Yo cat, that's inappropriate for me, but go ahead and live your life.
MM: A musician's wife once told me the most incredible story about their marriage and road life. She said when her husband went on the road, she didn't care if he slept with other women--they had one of those arrangements. But the trouble was, this musician would often stay in some concert city longer than planned because he was holed up in a hotel with cocaine and triplets, or whatever, and by not coming home, he'd disrupt their family life. So she'd go fetch him from these . . . entanglements. And she'd also do sneak visits on tour, stuff like that.
One time he didn't come home as scheduled, and she was ready to fly off to Tokyo or wherever, as usual, to retrieve him. Instead she said she thought to herself, "I don't want to go fetch him anymore. I'm disrespecting myself." She didn't go. After that, he started coming home as scheduled! They had a whole dysfunctional cycle that she managed to break by refusing to play her role in it anymore. So there’s an example of a special arrangement that needed some working out.
RZ: Yeah, yeah. Alcoholism and sex and love addicts! Alcoholism and drugs. If the wife is getting involved and her life's getting turned upside down, that's not so great. For me, I just knew I couldn't hang with that kind of thing. But I do know some younger women that are like, yeah, I just want to go party with lots of guys. I think it really comes down to boundaries. There's lots of rock stars that literally live that lifestyle, and sleep with two supermodels every night or three or four, and whatever party they're having is great. Many musicians have blown up our lives with these behaviors.
When we observe these pitfalls of touring, we say, "Well, you know, there's always a willing participant." And the participant is often a woman. They're participating with someone else's husband. If you know someone's married, then you don't have to participate and you can respect the boundary of marriage, right? So it's dependent on the women to respect ourselves and be like, Okay, I don't want half of a guy. I want all the guy. I want an available man. So that means that you have to be available to yourself. First, you have to love yourself enough to say no to inappropriate relationships and say yes to finding the right person. And once you love yourself enough to do that, you won't have any complexities where you feel like you have to judge other people's behavior.
But that wasn't really something I had together when I was 25. So I would be the angry girl. Especially if I knew their girlfriends really well, back in New York, I would be kind of pissed. And cats would ask, why are you so angry? And I would say, because why are you doing this? Now I totally understand why the guys would tend to be cool with multiple partners. But if a girl is unaware that that's how they're thinking, then it's not usually a good fit. You know? When I delved into these things and learned to understand how to find a good mate . . . that’s when you get into the 15th date rule.
MM: Yeah, I followed that rule when I started dating my husband, and that's why we're married now. I learned it as 10 dates, though. 15 sounds like a lot.
RZ: Certain things happen in a progression and by the time you're on the 10th date, and you have sex, you could be willing to have sex with that person, because they're a cool person, and they're your friend. And then you leave, you can let go. You don't have to enmesh and be like, Oh, he's the love of my life. Like on the first date, that's definitely a disaster. You could be headed for Love Addicts Anonymous, a romantic obsession you know? Whereas the 15 date thing, it takes one night stands off the table, which I think if you're over 30, you don't need to experiment like that. But under 30, you might need to check them all out, but then you can't be afraid to get hurt, you know?
MM: Yeah. So what's interesting to me is you're out there and you're as serious a musician as they come, right? You're also this extremely hot woman. I want to hear about what this is like, especially in the beginning when you're still defining yourself as a musician and also defining what your stage persona is going to be, presenting yourself in a sensual and artistic way on album covers. I saw that you posted a photo of yourself in a beauty pageant in high school. You maybe had an awareness of self-presentation as an artist early?
RZ: Not so much. I was definitely the dorkiest girl on that Junior Miss stage. I had probably a dress that was way too mature for me. My cousin picked out my dress, and then I played "Tempus Fugit" by Bud Powell.
MM: "Tempus Fugit" at a teen pageant! I love that.
RZ: Everyone was like, what is Rachel doing? And then the baton twirler beat me out. I was so mad. But I was going to be an opera singer, too. So I did end up going to a lot of operas in gowns, you know, so I was aware of the operatic presentation.
But I dressed really dorky until I met Regina Carter. And she just went through my closet and chucked clothes. "I can't be seen with you in these clothes," she said. "So let's get rid of it." I had gunny sacks dresses.
MM: How old were you then?
RZ: 16? Because I was at NEC [New England Conservatory] pretty young.
MM: That's right. You were a prodigy who started college early. That explains the dorkiness; you were younger than everybody else. So in college, Regina helped you out in the fashion department.
RZ: Regina had good imaging. She had cool bands. She had some cute clothes. She had purple cowboy boots that she let me borrow. But I didn't really have imaging very together. I would wear pretty dorky clothing, even into the Steps Ahead time period.
I don't think I dressed very well until when I got with Columbia Records, because then they literally styled me. I didn’t have a great sense of fashion until I got with a good stylist. I was on Columbia, and for my first cover I asked them if we could sort of do the Nirvana baby. I wanted to be the baby floating in water.
MM: Oh, the Nevermind cover image.
RZ: They said, I don't know if we can do that. But they were like, alright, we can get you wet anyway. Like a mermaid. So some various shots on my first record, Trust The Universe, somewhat approximated a mermaid. The back cover looked more erotic than I had planned. I was just hoping to be swimming, because I'm a swimmer. But it ended up being kind of like a little bit erotic. So that was Columbia. That was funny.
Then the next one was Room of One's Own and I'm like, alright, we have to be serious here. That cover is a little bit more like happy go lucky. You know, it's not sexy.
MM: Yeah, you're sitting on the piano bench leaning over. You wanted that cover to reflect the album content, which was a tribute to women artists. Virginia Woolf, Joni Mitchell . . .
RZ: Yeah, and fitting both yourself and the piano in the frame is hard. So that's always a factor in creating album art. Mike Mainieri was the label owner and my producer [NYC Records]. He was an important mentor for me. We collaborated for five years in Steps Ahead. Mike has four daughters. So he was trying to get me to be more myself, you know, rather than a glamour girl—Columbia had worked a glamour angle to sell a product. Mike was more like let's bring out the real you. You have a cute sunflower hat, he said. You always wear that, you know. So this cover was styled to who I really was. Because I wore these clothes in real life—chunky shoes and weird stuff like that.
So the third record was Love Is The Power. Now that's a really funny one. Don't give the art department a bunch of choices, because they're going to choose the one where you're on all fours. But that dress, I got it in Poland, and I was really fit, because I had the whole band running all the time. Then they even airbrushed it more, like they did a digital tummy tuck. So that just told me a lot. It looks good like that, I thought, but it's just an image.
The way the image happened was kind of organic. It wasn't like I was posing on all fours. The photographer's a genius. It was sunset, and he had lit these rocks on fire. So that was actually really on location with real fire real rocks at a beach. And for him to get that beautiful light before Photoshop and Dall-E, he he really had to work hard. And we waited for the shot. There was another beautiful shot running through the forest. And it's in the package. But they're like hell no, we got this hot shot, can we use it for the cover? And I was like, whatever. I love blue. It was really pretty, you know?
MM: It's a gorgeous image. As much as you being on all fours, what sticks with me is the quality of the light. So tell me, though, when that album cover came out, how was it received? Some women musicians have told me that they feel like they're between a rock and a hard place, because they have to be attractive enough to get work. But if they go just a bit too far in the sexy direction, people stop taking them seriously.
RZ: That's such a funny thing. The first review in Modern Drummer on my first record was like, it looks like they're trying to make Rachel Z “The Sex Kitten of Jazz,” but hell, it's okay, because this woman can play.
In all fairness, my record covers involve styling and hair and makeup, man. You know, I don't walk around like with a DIVA light and like makeup on. I never wear makeup and I don't dress up. I do have some funky clothes. I try to stay fit. I run, and I swim. There’s body consciousness. But I'm not doing makeup or hair for hours on end.
MM: These shots are artistic. They should be studied for their art direction and for sensual self-expression.
RZ: I went with rubber for First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. That was for Venus Records, and the owner is Japanese. He likes pretty women. All of his boys' records had models on them. So I'm like, what the hell? Let's just do rubber. It'll be funny. You know? So my photography team totally went full bondage imaging on that one. And we had a series of outfits. We usually did five outfits. But it was also artistic because John Abbott shot it. It was a live shoot at a railway yard. You know, he shot President Clinton, he’s just the best photographer. And we had Lorena Bustos, who works with Peter Gabriel’s band, Regina Spektor, and Lenny Kravitz. So we had a great team for making beautiful shots on my own terms.
MM: I recently went back and looked at a lot of your album cover art with an eye toward sex and gender issues. But I found myself thinking about the record label budgets that used to allow for such great shoots.
RZ: If you're on Columbia, you're gonna be imaged by a really major team. Then GRP. They spent money. On Venus, he spent money, too. Then I developed that team after that point. Then I don't have to worry so much if it's going to come out good. You're in good hands.
But I mean, I think it's tricky. One time I wore the rubber dress and then we did a background in the graveyard. I had angel wings on. That was my postcard image for my tour. And the most hilarious thing was taking that around at IAJE [a jazz conference]. It shocked people, and we were dying laughing. And I had tour dates, and would hand them out at gigs. It was just hilarious to see the reactions.
MM: Yeah, sometimes a sexy appearance is really more avant-garde in its presentation and that alone can rock the boat.
Now I want to get into issues of ageism. But let me ask you Rachel, first of all, have you seen the Amy Schumer skit Last F**kable Day. No? So Amy Schumer's out walking, and she comes across this little picnic scene, and it's Tina Fey, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette. They're out in the woods celebrating Julia's last f**kble day, when her career in effect ends, because f**kability is necessary for every female perfomer.
It's really biting satire. Feminist satire. And it's funny, which is important.
MM: Anyway, in Hollywood there's hyper-awareness of how aging affects a woman's opportunities for work. In the pop music world, there's also awareness around this. But in the jazz milieu, there can be more denial about this reality. And we can point to exceptions, of course, women who continue to play and do well into middle age and beyond. But I think jazz culture wants to believe that these issues aren't there for jazz, that it's an art of such substance that ageism doesn't apply. It wants to pretend that the desirability and sexiness of youth doesn't matter when it obviously does.
RZ: Cold burn subject! Now we're definitely gonna get barred completely, but that's cool. The truth is, things have changed a tiny bit for younger women artists. But what I’ve felt lately is, now that we have many younger beautiful women artists, we can replace the older women, rather than building and promoting a female jazz lineage. You know, a good example of that was at the Saratoga Jazz Fest where I was playing with my band OZmosis, with Omar [Hakim].
In a review, the writer focused on Connie Han. [NOTE: An interview with Connie will be posted here at Call & Response soon]. And photographers were taking her picture and inappropriately commenting on her outfit. She's a badass player, of course, a serious musician. Deserves attention for her music. But simultaneously they were signaling by omission that Rachel Z and Amina Figueroa are ”voices from the past.” That particular writer did not see the historical value of three generations of women who are developing their art in a continuum.
Another issue is that middle-aged women in jazz seem to not have the equivalent status of their male counterparts. So our inner compass needs to bcome immutable. Women in our society might get knocked off their center when they reach their last f**kable day. And may get knocked off their center as a woman in general culture. But if you do the work on your internal system, you'll realize, first of all, life is eternal. If you hung out with Wayne like you and I did, you're lucky because he empowered everybody. If he was 89 and he slammed it to the end, I think he would want his younger mentees to slam it to the end. So that's you and I. You know, Terri Lyne Carrington, for sure, and if Geri Allen had lived, she would be. And therefore I think we have to really develop our internal system of valuation and not allow an external feminine standard of beauty to diminish our self worth.
We have to love and approve of ourselves. Due to the law of attraction and the law of allowing, you will overcome any kind of pitfall because external human forces, they're not God. Not in charge of the world. It’s us who turn over our power to them. This has been a tough lesson. It's been a tough year for me. And losing Wayne was a huge part of it being tough, because, not only do I have to build my own musical history, but I feel a responsibility to pass on Wayne Shorter’s information to the next generations.
It has been difficult to be recognized without bias, because over the years I’ve noticed that when women do well, people think, did she just trick us by being good? And this is something that my young mentees discuss, the male gaze, particularly my bass player Maeve Royce. She's an expert. She did her thesis for her master's degree at NYU on how women are perceived in the press as musicians. And there's a certain feeling that if you're a woman musician, if you're really killing it and they like you and they're attracted, you tricked them. And they're a little mad, too. I've had people say, when I looked down, it's like I hear like a McCoy Tyner. But then when I look up, there's just a little girl there.
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MM: Yeah. Agency as a woman is the hard thing to get. The recognition that you've created something deliberately, with a clear intention and design and craft and work. People don't necessarily ask the most fundamental "What is this artist trying to create?" questions about women in the way they do about men. They assume you magicked the work into being. Or used some trickery, as you say.
RZ: I believe that women in jazz will thrive if we uphold recognition and respect for the lineage of accomplished women musicians, along with owning our personal power.
I wanted to bring attention to these ideas with my record A Room of One’s Own in 1996. It’s title of the Virginia Woolf book, which basically says that an artist just needs a room of their own to hear and develop her inner voice.
I was exploring the diminishment of HERSTORY. That concept builds on the premise that women are systematically ignored. I wanted to honor important female artists who have been left out of HISTORY. For example, we don't know who Artemisia Gentileschi is. Her work is right next to Michelangelo in the Uffici Museum in Florence. We know Michelangelo, we don't know her. We don't know that Murasaki Shikibu wrote the first novel in the world—she's from Japan. So I wrote a song for her called "For The Concubine." I wrote a song for each of these artists: Joni Mitchell is still influencing younger artists like Brandi Carlile . And I was exploring how the erasure of women's history makes us think that guys did all the fantastic things. Women have done a lot of them. And also Black people have done a lot of innovative things: the first open heart surgery, Black surgeon. People aren't given credit.
MM: You have the experience of working with younger women in a more meaningful way as a teacher, of course. At the New School you teach and lead these strong ensembles and everything. I'm curious about what you see happening among younger women students.
RZ: We're not expected to talk about it as professors. That's why Sasha Berliner could write an article about things she experienced in our school, but I can't write that.
But that article you wrote about that Glasper and Iverson conversation really bummed my vibe as a woman in jazz. Because their viewpoint was, women can only be looking at men from the audience; they thought that they were just seducing us. A ridiculous concept that women cannot take in complex forms of art. It was insulting to women in general.
MM: It was hard to see where women musicians could fit into that worldview at all. Yeah, the sexism was so casual in that Glasper interview that it showed just how endemic sexism was in jazz. I had to speak up, but in my article tried to use humor to lighten up a kind of Feminism 101 critique of those interview comments. I did lots of critical theory in a Cultural & Literary Studies PhD program before I became a writer.
Also I was careful to acknowledge those guys’ accomplishments and value to jazz culture at large. So there was some nuance in my piece—the thrust of it was, this can be a teachable moment for all of us. That piece went so viral, and it was before the MeToo movement. Then of course the MeToo movement broke out in full force and in some cases lost nuance, with minor sexism offenses sometimes, like, equated with actual criminal ones. My article got grouped in with the less nuanced movement that followed, and I ended up getting problematized by much of the music world. I wasn’t canceled, but it’s been intense.
RZ: I didn’t know that.
Yeah. Nine months after that article was published, I led a panel discussion on Gender and Jazz at Lincoln Center. This was January 2018. It was a high profile slot, right after Wynton’s interview and right before Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s address. Anyway, after my panel discussion—where we didn’t discuss that article at all, by the way—I went out into the conference area where I saw so many people I knew from the jazz world: editors, label owners, publicists, musicians. These people I’d known for years were physically turning away from me, shunning me. They didn't want to be seen talking to me in public. That’s when I knew I’d become problematized, or understood the extent of it.
I think the real violation was writing something critical of jazz that was effective enough to go viral. The jazz world likes to keep its skeletons deep in its closet, always hoping that putting its best face forward will give it, you know, broader legitimacy and relevance.
It's not that I regret writing that article—people told me it inspired them to come together with other women and organize. It made a difference. But I didn't understand how deeply I was sabotaging my own ability to work when I published that piece.
Anyway, I went on here. But it’s important to note that it’s still safest in jazz not to speak up about gender issues at all, and pretend like they don’t exist.
RZ: Your article fired women musicians up for sure. I can tell you when Sisters in Jazz started, I was on a panel and they were like, “Okay, so tell us your experiences on the road.” And I just went for it. I just told girls, look, so you have to be watching out for guys, they may hit on you and you don't need to mix sex in the band because it could turn into a disaster. And I just broke down some rules. Because when I first started going out to play, my teacher Richie Beirach said, listen, you're probably going to get hit on by jazz masters. Like say, a Dexter Gordon. Richie said, seriously, don't sleep with all these guys that you admire. With my Catholic upbringing I wasn't going to do that. But you know, some girls are more vulnerable.
Glasper might talk about the “musical clitoris” and sexuality, but I don't think they know what sensuality is, you know. I said, the way you guys are talking is very sexual. But I don't know that women are really turned on by your shit as much as you think they are. So I was like, I'm gonna bring you sensual. You know?
MM: Your new album is called Sensual right? The one coming out in the fall? With Omar Hakim on drums and Mino Cinelu on percussion? What’s it like playing music with your husband Omar?
RZ: He's sensual. He is sensual. His playing is sensual. He makes the world dance. He makes the world feel through drums. And when we play together, our bass player has accused us of being very disgusting. He said, You guys are making love in public. This is gross! Solomon Dorsey, he has a great sense of humor. He's like, I'm outraged.
It's fun playing with your mate, someone you love, someone you do have sex with and you're enjoying in life, in music. And so, you know, we do have a beautiful song called "Sensual." And it's really funny that it came in the wake of your article, out of me being like, Oh yeah, Glasper, let's see how you feel about this.
We have a video for “Sensual” too. It's got art by Miho Morita, which is beautiful.
When I was a young musician, I did pretend to be a guy. And I had defenses up. When I went to Wayne's house for the first time I wore a suit. I wore a suit a lot back then. Had some of my Dad’s ties and jackets, you know. When I sat in with Wynton Marsalis at the Blue Note for our Columbia record release party, I wore a suit, but a kind of sheer shirt on under.
I wrote a song called “Under The Suit.” Because I wore these mesh shirts that were a little bit see-through—my secret femininity. It was fun on Al Di Meola's gigs to wear like an Anna Sui kind of chiffon gown. It was pretty see through. And the fun thing about that was that Al, who also had a sexy style, seemed to have mixed emotions because some of the audience would be looking at me. There are times when being a woman is an advantage, you know, and if you play with that, that can be fun. Then you balance it out at this age with mentorship and other skills.
MM: For sure. You can get special attention, especially when you’re younger, if you’re a woman in a male-dominated field.
RZ: The only thing that makes me a little sad is like what we were talking about with being maybe not as respected. When I toured with Terri Lyne, once she was explaining a musical idea and someone in the band was razzing her, and she erupted with, “Would you guys be doing this I was HERBIE? Wouldn't you be paying more attention?” I was like, wow, I can't believe she said that. Because I've totally felt that way.
I'm very grateful to play now with a lot of great musicians that are my friends, like Omar or with someone like Mino Cinelu. He's hilarious and a legendary musician. But, you know, he's French. So he's focused on the importance of a sexy groove.
When you play with Mino, it's definitely smooth. It's tribal. And he wants it that way. He wants it to be sexy. He's gonna make you want it. And he's not pulling any punches about that. And Omar, you know, he, he just plays for the song. Most songs are about love and sex and romance, most of our songs in jazz, the classic songbook, you know? Oh, here's a funny thing. Lena Horne, she met Omar. When Omar met her, she was 75 or something. And she just took his hand and said, "Oh well hello, Omar Hakim." And he was like, yes, mistress. She was so confident, so beautiful. And so loving of herself and others.
MM: I was really responding to what you're saying about being playful, finding a playful space with sensuality. Playfulness, like, in general, is what women can lose in the bid to be taken seriously. Look at how playful Wayne was onstage. That’s the space of grace for the performer, right? I didn't play music with Wayne, of course. But I felt a unique ability to relax and just be myself around Wayne, to exhibit masculine and feminine qualities, or what are supposedly male and female qualities, in a kind of dance of the self, in these interactions that felt like improvised music. I think he brought that out in everyone around him—I can only imagine how it must have been working with him on the bandstand.
RZ: Yeah, before that I’d often felt like a loner and an outsider and he really helped me. Wayne really was always searching for 360 degree Buddha wisdom. Wayne and [his then wife] Ana Maria as well as Carolina Shorter, his widow, and chanting, really helped me own my power and self love.
Unfortunately, sex in Western Civilization, or in the United States, sometimes it feels like it can be transactional—people may have sex in trade for dinner. In the Buddhist cultures, people are sharing an experience. Buddhism taught me me how to let go and gradually become non-judgmental.
But I want to say that for young women, there's a real danger of rape, and that’s happening more than I ever thought it could. It’s so sad and concerned and scared me. I’m pretty careful, myself. But we do go into a lot of vulnerable situations as women, where you’re at a private lesson at a guy's house, and you wore “the wrong thing.”
MM: Yeah, and there are all those rules you pick up on the road to protect yourself. When I traveled to report, I learned it was just easier to never meet anyone in my hotel room, even if it would have been convenient. That ambiguity about why they were coming to my room got dangerous a couple times, and at the very least created intrigue I didn’t want. If you’re a younger woman, especially, just meet a dude in the lobby.
RZ: We could probably make a checklist of how to stay safe from having gone through the uncomfortable moments. Because the last thing you want to do is get slammed against the wall. And you know, Ana Maria, right before she died, she saved me from a date rape situation. It was the most random thing. She was in New York, at an outdoor cafe in Soho, on the way to that TWA Flight that crashed soon after that. So I walked by with this guy, who had left his knapsack at my place. And Ana Maria came out! And I was like, whoa, you know, why are you here? She said, I'm leaving from New York to meet Wayne in Europe. Then she said, Come here, Rachel. She whispers in my ear, Get rid of that guy.
She picked it up. So I called another friend who is a black belt, and I told him, Yo, I'm gonna be heading home around eight o'clock. So can you meet me there like around eight? And he was a little bit late. I'm in the apartment. The minute I shut the door, the guy I was dating grabbed me. And he just started pushing me against the wall. And I was like, Oh, I'm sorry. I gotta go. And he's like, No. And then my friend showed up and I buzzed him in. And it really saved me. But I would not have had a way out of that.
MM: That's amazing. That you saw her right before she left for the flight where she died. I’ve heard stories like this about Ana Maria, about her psychic powers.
RZ: She caught a lot of people that night. A lot of people and dropped wisdom.
MM: You know, Wayne was funny about my boyfriends. He didn't like some people I dated, but he could recognize the ones that weren't going to last. He only spoke up when he needed to intervene in a relationship that could get serious and shouldn’t.
RZ: 360 Buddha wisdom! My life really changed when Omar and I got together. And it was so exciting when Omar and I got together and I got to tell Wayne we were getting married. He loved Omar, knew him from Weather Report and other musical situations, of course. He knew it would be cool with the two of us.
Michelle, I'm really glad that we got to know each other. I'm sure we could talk forever about Wayne and so many things.
When i was going through a Steely Dan spiral (they come and go) I stumbled on Rachel's "Kid Charlemane." This was my introduction to her work, and I was puzzled that she wasnt already on my radar, wasn't better known. Still am. Seems like she had beaten the Bad Plus to the punch by several years. Enjoying her music on Spotify all morning, dismayed by the low play count numbers. Thankful for this reintroduction to her music
I didn’t know how much I needed this interview and this perspective - thank you so much for this incredible interview!