Charlie Hunter: Living the Music
AAJ: That's the challenge. And you can't worry too much about how an audience will respond. You don't want them to miss the point, but you can't avoid something because you're worried that the audience will think, "oh, a horn solo. I suppose you have to find a balance.
CH: Right. Ultimately, my attitude is to go in with the idea of it being an evening of music. Sometimes the band will be the focus. Sometimes the focus will shift over to John; sometimes it'll focus more on me, or on Derrek. But the ultimate goal is the music being served. Whatever our capacity is as musicians, we are serving the music as a whole on stage. If not, then you have to address it. Usually, if your heart is in the right place and you're playing honestly, you would be surprised what people get! We sell people really short.
If you're in a rock club, and you go to hear Keith Jarrett play, and everyone is standing up, drinking and socializing, no one's going to listen! But Keith Jarrett's up there on the stage! No one's going to listen; no one's going to give a goddamn. Now, if you go and take a bunch of people from the sticks in Iowa, a bunch of people from New York, a bunch from who knows where, and you put them all in a concert hall, sitting down, listening to himthe experience is an entirely different thing. So it's all context. I've played for every different kind of audience you can imagine, and it's all about the context more than it is about the audience.
AAJ: I haven't spoken about how you use your eight-string guitar to play simultaneous bass and guitar parts because, even though you're known for that, to me it's like talking about a tenor player about his horn: it's just what you do. But I wonder if you'd explain how you do the simultaneous parts; not how you trained your mind and fingers, but what your hands do to play this stuff. Is your right hand doing all the work?
CH: Well, no. It's too damn complicated; that's the problem with it. The right hand is kind of the execution hand, rhythmically. If you think about it, there's all of the rhythmic combinations, the counterpoint between the thumb and the fingersthumb playing the bass, fingers generally playing the guitar. Tons of that kind of counterpart going on. Then you have the left hand, which is the conception hand, dealing, in any given millisecond throughout the music, with your four fingers having to act as a team. Then you put those two hands together and that creates a third set of combinations between those two hands. So, basically, through experience you just learn millions and millions of these kinds of combinations. The more you learn, the easier it is to get to the music.
AAJ: I think you're there.
CH: No, no. I'm somewhere. I don't know where it is, but there's plenty of work left to do.
AAJ: Whether there is work left to do or not, it's obvious that at this extent, this is something of a second nature to you. You can improvise using this technique.
CH: Right, and that's the whole general idea. Otherwise, it'd be boring.
AAJ: When you started attempting to play like this, you really didn't have anyone to teach you how to do it.
CH: No, not at all. I just took what knowledge I had from being a guitar player and also from playing a lot of bass. And also from the drums, because I was, at that time, playing drumsnot great, you know, I'm not a drum set player, I'm a drum set owner [laughing]. But I think it's a great thing to have because anyone who wants to approach this kind of music needs to understand how all of these rhythms work together. Even if you're only playing one of the parts. You need to know how it's supposed to sound with the other parts. So I just did that. The real magic thing was listening to lots of organists because even though, technically, that's a lot easier than what I'm doing, at least conceptually it gave me the idea of seeing what these guys are thinking.
AAJ: And some of those guys can just kill on the pedals.
CH: Exactly. But even the ones who can't kill on the pedals, it doesn't really matter becausethey just kill! I heard this guy from Detroit named Gerard Gibbs. He plays with James Carter. Jesus Christ, is that an organ player. Whooo! This cat is bad. He is playing the organ. No joke at all.
AAJ: You've made a bunch of albums so far in your career. I know most musicians don't even listen to their records once they're done, but which albums are your favorites?
CH: Well, I'm like that too. I don't really listen to it once it's done and I probably should, but I'm just not interested. I probably should be.
AAJ: Well, you hear Charlie Hunter all the time.
CH: Yeah, exactly! I'm the last guy I want to listen to, to be honest, though it's really good to for reasons of figuring out why you suck. I mean, you shouldn't kill yourself about it, but it's a good thing to do. But I have to say that as far as the stuff I did on Blue Note, the Ready, Set ... Shango! record is my favorite one. I mean, I'm not really playing shit on it; my playing kind of eats on there, but it's more about the tunes and the band. It's really organickind of just what we were doing. We were just living that at that time. That's what I like about that with all of its faults; it's just who we were at that space and time, and that's nice for me. I like that record a lot. But it doesn't mean I listen to it ever! But I'll tell you what, this record we have coming out on Ropeadope: I am really actually digging this record more than I've ever really dug a record after I've made it. It's rocking. There's a lot of really rocking stuff on there. It's definitely got jazz sensibility, lots of improvisation throughout, but we're not scared to let the freak flag fly.
Visit Charlie Hunter on the web.
Garage à Trois, Outre Mer (Telarc, 2005)
Groundtruther, Longitude (Thirsty Ear, 2005)
Charlie Hunter, Steady Groovin: the Blue Note Groove Sides [compilation] (Blue Note, 2005)
Groundtruther, Latitude (Thirsty Ear, 2004)
Charlie Hunter Trio, Friends Seen and Unseen (Ropeadope, 2004)
Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte, Come in Red Dog, This is Tango Leader (Ropeadope, 2004)
Charlie Hunter Quintet, Right Now Move (Ropeadope, 2003)
Garage à Trois, Emphasizer (Tone Cool, 2003)
Charlie Hunter Quartet, Songs From the Analog Playground (Blue Note, 2001)
Charlie Hunter, Solo Eight-String Guitar (Contra Punto, 2000)
Charlie Hunter, Charlie Hunter (Blue Note, 2000)
Charlie Hunter and Leon Parker, Duo (Blue Note, 1999)
Charlie Hunter and Pound for Pound, Return of the Candyman (Blue Note, 1998)
Charlie Hunter Quartet, Natty Dread (Blue Note, 1997)
Charlie Hunter Quartet, Ready, Set ... Shango! (Blue Note 1996)
Charlie Hunter Trio, Bing, Bing, Bing! (Blue Note, 1995)
Charlie Hunter Trio, Charlie Hunter Trio (Prawn Song, 1993)
Portrait by Henry Benson
Playing live by ND Koster