"It just gave us a chance to investigate other things that we were hearing," adds DeJohnette. "I was doing things with Sun Ra, as well. It was a pretty eclectic scene.
"Chicago was a great melting pot of lots of kinds of music."
All of which helped make DeJohnette one of the most eclectic artists to pick up a set of sticks. From the fusion experiments of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" to the delicate, classically tinged work of Keith Jarrett to collaborations with Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk and others too numerous to name, DeJohnette has been an uncommonly protean instrumentalist.
The Gateway trio he'll lead, with guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist David Holland, on Friday night at Symphony Center stands out, if only for the subtlety of its expression and the rarity of its appearances.
"It's a very special trio," says DeJohnette, in explaining why he wanted to celebrate his 70th in Chicago with this group.
"It's something that may not happen again; it's a one-time reunion thing. There are a lot of people who always ask, 'When are you guys going to get together again?'
"It's a unique way we play together. … We bring out something different in each other that doesn't happen in other situations."
But Friday's concert will be doubly historic, for it will mark DeJohnette's homecoming. Don't be surprised if sometime during the evening the drummer tips his hat to Von Freeman, the quintessential Chicago tenor saxophonist who died this summer at age 88 and has been inspiring stage tributes from practically every major touring jazz musician who swings through town.
Freeman also was awarded an NEA Jazz Masters Award in January, but he wasn't well enough to attend.
"At least he was alive to know he got it," says DeJohnette. "He had a unique voice. He had his own way of playing harmony, playing ballads, standards and going outside (traditional harmony), going inside and outside the music.
"I had the good fortune, the opportunity to play with Von in some jam sessions. … It was really great fun."
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.
Tickets: $27-$60; 312-294-3000 or cso.org
Also worth hearing
Barry Harris: Two far-removed generations will converge when the veteran pianist collaborates with the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble. 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 and 8 p.m. Sunday; at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court; $20; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com