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Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer

By Published: April 11, 2006

BH: Yeah, my family uses it all [laughs]... I ended up at a summer camp in Belgium with great musicians, and a lot of the times it's with American musicians, too. Lovano used to teach there. Let's see, Mark Levin the pianist from California. [There are] brilliant saxophone players and a great faculty there. I came there from Sicily, from doing this Italian band—Marco Tamburini—which I made two CDs with them, so they're a working band. They have one American other than me: Cameron Brown's the bassist in that band.

Then from there I came with the Don Byron tour doing most of the major festivals in New York. Don called me first but I actually had a call for that same time from about three or four different bands, one in particular, which is why I mention this. Jordi Señol the Spanish promoter—he usually deals with, I won't say more conservative music, [but] anyways—he called me, and said that he was putting together this band because of me which is the one with Benny Golson and Cedar Walton. Because by coincidence, I got a call to do this other festival—I guess it must have been around last September—I never get a chance to play with Cedar Walton. This guitarist, this Danish guitarist, it was his dream to play with me and Cedar Walton, so he got a concert and put it together.

[And so] I had a chance to play with Cedar Walton because of this guy. Cedar doesn't do much without Jordi Señol, who's been booking him in Europe for 30 years, so he was there. The next day, they hired me to stay over because Golson was going to be there and needed a rhythm section, so I ended up playing with Cedar Walton and Golson. And Jordi liked it so much, and it was different, he put together a summer tour based on that band. But it was too late—I couldn't do it because I obligated myself to Don. The trick is—I'm mentioning all this to say, those guys pay better. They [veteran musicians] say, "We're getting along in age now. We don't see why we have to work more than three days or four days a week, and it was paying better. I chose the Don Byron gig, [and] jumping up and down on and off these trains, oh man—I hadn't really done a European train tour in years! And it's rough going up and down those steps and carrying your cymbals and your bags and all that.

AAJ: Makes you wish you took up the flute!? Seems like you're true to your commitment—that you're committed to someone even if there are other offers, though...And it seems like you're playing with everybody these days.

BH: When I'm broke, it doesn't seem like I'm playing with anybody—you can also look at it like that! There are some guys who don't work that hard and make a lot of money... Being busy: there's two ways of looking at it. Even though I'm busy, it means I've got to keep being busy... In the final analysis, though, it's the music itself. Certainly I felt like I was, how can I say it, in a different way more challenged musically with the Don Byron situation. Which my wife thinks is foolish. "How old are you going to continue to be, how long can you, as far as she's concerned it's like looking for the fountain of youth. "What's so interesting that you have to keep playing with these younger cats all the time? What is it? You say you want to keep up with some of the latest trends. In the final analysis, how long are you going to do that, and why? At a certain age, when do you stop? Trends are always going to be new. How long are you going to be chasing it and if you're chasing it, there's another logic involved: why don't you get your own band and hire those guys?!

AAJ: Would you prefer to be primarily leading your own band versus being the quintessential sideman?

BH: Just to save energy, I would prefer it. But of course, it's a treadmill. Because I work so much, I don't have time to work on that. What the problem is, is it's hard for me to stop for whatever reason. It might be very illogical. Maybe the most logical thing to do is to stop and work on my own band while there's still a chance I have enough energy to put into it. You know, I'm getting pretty old now!

AAJ: Well, none of us are getting any younger! It's honorable seeing you in so many different contexts and playing with so many different people, which speaks volumes to the fact that your phone's off the hook. You're one of the more well-rounded drummers out there. Do you have any weaknesses? It would seem your job is not to have any weaknesses because you can play in all these situations.

BH: Well, a master of none and jack of all trades kind of thing. That's a weakness. It might really be the primary weakness. Because you know Art Blakey was Art Blakey, Elvin Jones was Elvin Jones, Max Roach is Max Roach, Jeff Watts is Jeff Watts. Maybe that's the weakness. What's missing is, somehow, I'm not quite realizing myself.

AAJ: Many would agree that you're certainly not as well known as you should be.

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