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Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer

By Published: April 11, 2006

AAJ: ...Now, speaking of Herbie. I've always been curious if there's any reason as to the lack of a Mwandishi reunion.

BH: One of the things about Herbie that's understated, is that as much a musical genius as I think he is, he's a phenomenal genius at business. He got that from studying with certain mentors—Donald Byrd, for instance. You've to remember that when he had the Blackbyrds, he was flying his own airplane. There are certain guys who are commercial successes beyond the thing, the level, that what we see. They're not on Entertainment Tonight. Like they made a movie about Ray Charles but conceivably Ray Charles is above what we think of as normal commercialism. They have a genius that's above that. [For instance] the name of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters is Herbie's. So, occasionally, they tour and he may not be with them, but it's his business.

It's hard to answer that question myself because arguably the last time I saw him, and I don't see him but once every four, five years, and then there's a chance I might not talk to him because he's in this other level. Anyways, the last time I talked to him...he said, "Yeah man, I'm trying to get back to the thing that we were doing. Of course what I would like to say is, "Why don't you just get us while we're still alive?! But I think because of his business thing, he would like to do it with younger faces, something that's more commercially appealing.

AAJ: At this point, that would be very commercially appealing...

BH: Nice of you to say, but...

AAJ: All of you guys still sound great, Julian Priester...

BH: He always will. Eddie Henderson and I talk all the time. All we ever talk about is, "If we just knew then what we know now. If we could get a chance to do that again. Certainly, I think I'm much further ahead than I was then. Obviously, Herbie's concept is probably more influential on my concept than anybody I've ever worked with. When you think of my records, and you think of his band, then maybe you'll see that...

[Anyways] I always have had the kind of interest that encouraged younger guys to come and talk to me, so I would always have this network of guys that used to come to the gigs and who would sit down and talk, I mean in a consistent way... I remember Victor Lewis, Adam Nussbaum, Kenny Washington. They were always there. So after a while, there was a time in the very early '80s, that I was busy and popular. Like one year I made thirty-three records, so a day for me may be going to the studio say eleven or twelve o'clock, try to leave the studio and go to Lincoln Center or Town Hall and doing a concert, and then run into the gig that night. So I always had these guys, called them to sub for me, and to make the sound check at Town Hall for me, and play the first set at [places like] Sweet Basil until I got there. And I even met guys in Europe, people saying, "Man, you didn't even know me but you just handed me the keys to your car and said park the car for me!, because I was running like that. So when that finally ended—that doesn't last that long for anybody—I was actually kind of grateful. I prefer to let Lewis Nash have it because he's one of them people. And I know what he has to deal with.

AAJ: Do you have any criteria for taking on a job? Is there any sort of decision made as to who they are or where they're coming from?

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