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Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer

By Published: April 11, 2006

BH: Where they're coming from is more interesting to me at this time. For some reason I'm addicted to what I think the contemporary move in jazz is. I'm addicted in being a part of that. Of course, arguably a great percentage of that is coming from the younger guys, so I'm interested in Dave Douglas and Chris Potter, not to mention Steve Coleman and Branford Marsalis. And one of the few guys of my age that I think is the ultimate of that is Dave Holland. Then of course you look at guys, well not last summer but the summer before I was on tour with Ravi Coltrane. That was really heavy because I told Ravi I had something else that I couldn't make so he actually built his tour around this other tour. So that actually meant that I was doing two separate tours simultaneously, as there was this Danish band. At least I got a chance to play with Ravi. Say somebody like Vijay Iyer—I can't turn down a chance to play with someone like that. You know what I mean?...They've got too much to offer to me. There's so much for me to learn with that. I love Vijay. I had a chance to play with him once or twice.

And oh, I've got this other thing—this band that I'm not "really the leader of. This is this band with [bassist] Ben Street, [pianist] Ethan Iverson and Mark Turner, who could be the newest and freshest sounding saxophonist today. I'm really lucky to be with these guys and we've actually been playing on and off for a couple of years now. We've already got a gig at the Village Vanguard as an [originally intended] record release, [but] we haven't even done the record yet! [HighNote plans to release the band's debut by Fall 2006]... Of course, on the other hand if that hadn't happened, it's already a conflict because if someone came up with a gig for my band, I still have the band I put together with the violin. There's Mark Feldman, who is a greater violinist and composer than that, and you put that together with [Dave] Kikoski, and Santi [Debriano] and [Dave] Fiuczynski, look where he's at—alternative, whatever. I put together something I thought was...

AAJ: Are you still playing with those guys?

BH: I think of it as that. I haven't done it in a couple of years. I still think of that as my concept. That's the culmination of all my records is that sound. The violin, the alternative rock guitar whether it's Fiuczynski, [Bill] Frisell, or Kevin Eubanks—it's still that direction. Of course the second record had Steve Coleman and Branford Marsalis.

AAJ: I think my favorite record of yours is your first one as leader—Enchance (A&M, 1977).

BH: Oops, you know about that! Well, it's the same, I don't see those as any different—contemporary ambitions. I don't consider how successful that is, who knows. I say that, because you can't really say that I was consistently working with Don Pullen, and Dewey Redman, and Oliver Lake...

AAJ: They all sound so great on that session. They've all got great careers and produced amazing music. But on that session, it's certainly on par as exemplary and some of the greatest music they've produced.

BH: But I was somewhat an outsider on my own date as I was on the other ones. So when I did have some kind of working band, I tried to put all of that into the same thing like some of that kind of material, adventuresome material. But then, once you put a band together, then right away you are faced with that commercial reality: Will the Village Vanguard hire you with something like that?! I was getting a few gigs at Sweet Basil's at a time, and finally James Browne [club owner] said, "Why don't you go down to the Knitting Factory with that band? There was no Tonic at that time. They said, "Look this is a little too deep for us. Because the record's one thing but if you heard the band live, you'd see we pushed a half an envelope or two. I was pleased with that. You know, I'm still pleased with it. I still wish [I was playing with that band, too].

There was another band I put together, my first working band—a band I put together that people don't understand that I had called the Great Friends. It started with Billy Harper, Stanley Cowell, and Reggie Workman, and then the next record [with the addition of] Sonny Fortune. We toured, went all over Europe and Japan. They just re-released one on Evidence from 1986...Then we never got to record when it became a sextet when Eddie Henderson joined the band...

AAJ: Was that a leaderless band?

BH: It was my band. That's a good question, though! It was my band. I got the gigs, but it was still a leaderless band. To be a leader is—what's a good word for that—it's an award, I mean it's a prize. It's something that you really have to be adept at; it's a talent...

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