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Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer

By Published: April 11, 2006

BH: They just released some new live stuff we did. Just released it this year, so we just decided to do it. Live stuff! Just sounds like a drum solo with accompaniment. But Liebman likes that kind of stuff. And plus I don't play like that anymore. You know what I mean? It's sounds like [jokingly makes static/white noise sound as drum sounds]...Even with the band Quest ending fifteen years ago, of course I still ended up making four or five records with Liebman, four or five with Beirach; and the bassist [Ron] McClure, six or seven. In fact I was in the studio with McClure yesterday, so the band broke up for everybody but me! [laughs]... [and playing] with Saxophone Summit [with Liebman] certainly affords me, well it does what I want it to do. Now, there it is again: I get to use my level of Coltrane.

AAJ: It's always moving...You seem to always be developing, alone for the fact that you're playing with so many people, and also you have this interest in all these young guys. It must be interesting to go back and listen to yourself on recordings through time.

BH: You know it's never good enough. Maybe now and then I would enjoy what the rest of the band did. I'm pretty much self-taught, so all the little things that you end up learning, of course you get stuck with that. You're so pleased with learning this little thing that you stay with that and next thing you know you really look like you're even older. Like I remember I had a conversation the last gig with Saxophone Summit that Michael [Brecker] was on and you know Michael he's a quiet kind of guy, so he gives me this big compliment. I just say, "I'm sort of just trying to play like Baby Dodds. He said, "Man, I'm trying to say that you're one of the guys, like Al [Foster] and Jack [DeJohnette] and Tony [Williams] and now you want to talk about Baby Dodds, now?! He didn't say that, but that was the look on his face. But I had! I had just discovered this Baby Dodds thing. I said, "Oh man. WOW. That's how you... [laughs]. "

But it is important. It is important. Those are the kinds of things that cats like Al Foster and those guys knew all the time, Tony Williams, too. I didn't know that! It's always these things that I'm learning. I'm chasing the newer things and I'll hear a record every now and then and I'll say, "God, I was already playing that! I thought I was just trying to learn this now. So I must have stumbled on it by osmosis or something. I must have just learned it in the situation, in the moment—which explains that too, that it can be gotten like that. Everything isn't academic. I think you kind of get academic as you get older.

AAJ: That's a downside, being over-academic... People are relying on that rather than the osmosis and the feel because they're overly academic. It's the feel you lose.

BH: That's what I'm saying. That's exactly what I'm saying now. I know Nasheet [Waits]. He's still saying, "Mr. Hart I'm saying, "Come on, man! ...EJ Strickland, too.

AAJ: Are there any instrumentations, or contexts you prefer not to play in or with? You've accompanied Shirley Horn, and I heard you once with Judi Silvano. I don't know how many other vocalists you've played with?

BH: A lot. A lot. Because I was playing with Geri Allen...[on] this record we just did with this lady from California named Mary Stallings...that record just came out...We already played at the Blue Note with Geri and Wallace [Roney]. But Mary Stallings is the latest one. I was supposed to make Judi's record, but with my schedule, I made the rehearsal [laughs]! What other singers? Well, Shirley Horn. The first time I was ever on an airplane, the first time I met Buster Williams, was with the Betty Carter gig. Buster and I met on that gig. Even then she was getting these young kids because I couldn't have been more than 20. Betty Carter—Buster I met on that gig. And that's how I got in Herbie's band. Because Buster recommended me. Buster, I love him...

AAJ: So there's no context you'd ever not consider?

BH: No, no.

AAJ: That's another aspect is that you talk to a lot of musicians, and they're very particular. It's almost limiting in that they're not as open-minded with playing in all these different contexts, different places, different people. They know what they're good at, and they're comfortable doing that, and it's this sense of comfort....

BH: That's what I'm saying. I think that's an advantage.

AAJ: You think? I think it's an advantage what you do. You play in any context and people respect that.

BH: Maybe my enthusiasm. Just how well can you do that if you're so scattered. When you get a guy who can do that! Isn't that a good definition of genius: The ability to concentrate on one thing at a time?

AAJ: Yeah, but the downside to that...would you rather be a genius doing one thing for your whole career, or somebody who is just great at everything and is growing as time goes on.

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