Billy Hart: Welcoming New, Loving Old, Sounds

Billy Hart: Welcoming New, Loving Old, Sounds
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We're still trying to get in touch with that same emotion that everybody refers to as swinging or grooving or funky or whatever. It's just that now we have so much more of a vocabulary to choose from. —Billy Hart
The ubiquitous drummer Billy Hart brings a special energy to the many projects of which he is a part. A band leader, composer and educator, he's been on hundreds of albums. He has taken the stage with countless bands, adding his rhythmic pulse to formations led by a litany of the biggest names in the business.

And at each concert, when Hart is being introduced by whomever the leader—Christian McBride
Christian McBride
Christian McBride
b.1972
bass
, Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias
b.1960
piano
, Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, the Cookers—they always do so beaming with pleasure. It never fails. It's always done with a sense of genuine warmth. They know Hart has their back. He brings a quality to the music that's appreciated, whatever the situation.

"One of things would be my enthusiasm for their music," says Hart. "We're talking about some of the most creative minds that we have in this music today. It's not hard to be enthusiastic about it. And it's a worthy challenge. It gives you something positive to look forward to. Working toward a goal. My gratitude for that is my enthusiasm for their music."

"I work at it," he adds. "It isn't just that I do it. I enjoy it so much, that I work at it. I study the music. I study the people. I enjoy the work and enjoy the people. I think they see that enjoyment in me."

That has resulted in a long and busy career for the Washington, D.C. native, that includes associations with musicians like Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
, and Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
1925 - 1968
guitar
, McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
, Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
, Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
b.1940
saxophone
, Marian McPartland
Marian McPartland
Marian McPartland
1918 - 2013
piano
, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
, Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
, Shirley Horn
Shirley Horn
Shirley Horn
1934 - 2005
piano
, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
and many more. Sideman gigs still keep him busy, as does teaching, but he also leads a noteworthy band that recently released a new album, One Is the Other (ECM). The band is comprised of saxophonist Mark Turner
Mark Turner
Mark Turner
b.1965
sax, tenor
, pianist Ethan Iverson
Ethan Iverson
Ethan Iverson
b.1973
piano
and bassist Ben Street
Ben Street
Ben Street

bass
. It's a lush, free-flowing collection of songs from a group formed to comply with Hart's quest for pushing music forward, using a variety of influences from music he has listened to from all over the globe.

"We have been together for a while. I think it's a situation where I offer a certain amount of experience to them in exchange for the youthful, new innovations that they bring to the table," says the drummer. "That's a healthy combination from my viewpoint. It gives me more energy and gives the whole situation more depth. As far as being free form, it's not as free as it would seem. The intent is still the same as it was with Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
. The intent is to get in touch with that emotion. People give different names to it, because there are a lot of people who don't think of this music as classical music. So they've never given it any kind of name or nomenclature. We're still trying to get in touch with that same emotion that everybody refers to as swinging or grooving or funky or whatever. It's just that now we have so much more of a vocabulary to choose from.

Jazz music, to Hart, is inclusive of new ideas, expansive rhythms, other forms and other genres. The world is a smaller place now and that's applicable to the music and sounds embedded in it.

"In other words, as great as all the older masters are, in terms of commercial contact with the audience ... I don't think of Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
as being thoroughly connected, authentically, with Cuban rhythms. Today you have to be. I don't think of Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson
1897 - 1952
arranger
or Earl 'Fatha' Hines as incorporating a lot of Indian rhythms. But today, you have to. We're talking about a vocabulary that defines a whole culture, so it's a whole new study of these different cultures. The world is getting smaller, and we're becoming more and more—at least through the music—one people. When you add the improvisation factor, as opposed to cutting things down for commercial purpose, then you have a lot to choose from. What it becomes is: How good are you at making choices in a compositional way?"

The eight songs on the new disk are all originals except one ("Some Enchanted Evening"), penned by Hart, Iverson and Turner (not on tandem). They have a certain open feel, with each member of the group adding their voice. It's never rushed; rather the songs unfold and their stories are told at an easy pace.

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