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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bruce Hornsby: Halcyon Days

By Published: February 23, 2009
BH: ...that some people take issue with but it's so silly and confining to feel as if you have to play within a tradition but generally, it's a very tradition oriented audience. Ricky Skaggs struggles with it himself. He's always getting slams from people that think he is going too far with things. So he's become used to it and I'm damn sure used to it. When I won the Bluegrass Grammy, the purists howled in protest. And I don't blame them, but at the same time, I'm really proud of the record I did with the Dirt Band (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played "The Valley Road" with Bruce). I think it really holds up, and I don't always feel that way, but I felt that way with this particular record.

LP: Do you consider the criticism a validation of the work that you are doing?

BH: (Laughs)...I don't think about it that way either. I mean, I don't live in a vacuum or keep my head in the sand. I read about what people say about me both good and bad and luckily for me, 90% of it is good. But there is always going to be someone who is going to take some shots but generally in my case, it's usually someone that has typecast me as this old Top Forty relic. So they usually don't know that much about me. They are coming at my music from a point of ignorance so it's something that's easy to dismiss.

LP: But has forward thinking creativity always been criticized by traditionalists?

BH: It's always happened and it's always going to happen. It happened in the classical world in the 17 and 1800's. And anyone that is innovative in any way has had their efforts decried, vilified by conservative opinion. So you just cannot be bothered with that.

LP: You have developed your own sound, your own voice. It doesn't matter what genre of music that you play, you can tell it's you and importantly, it always has your soulfulness that transcends any style of music that you are part of. When did you know you had your own voice musically and how did it develop?

BH: I think my own voice pianistically really comes from listening to so many different styles of music. I created my own harmonic aesthetic based on harmonies and chord voicings or harmonic movement that moved me and gave me chills. It was a very natural stylistic progression based on my emotional reaction to music and finding out what I loved so much about it and then gradually incorporating that into my music. When people ask me to describe my style, my standard answer is usually, "Bill Evans meets the hymn book." And I think that's pretty accurate because there is a sort of an open American folk/church feeling in my music but I also love the more harmonically advanced conception coming from Bill Evans and onward; McCoy Tyner and quartal harmonies. In all that music and all those approaches, I picked and chose all the areas that moved me the most and hopefully in the end, something creative that is my own comes out of that.

LP: Even with your Bluegrass work, you still have that sense of seeing where the music can and wants to go.

BH: I am comfortable in any given genre situation but I am most comfortable where I can draw on all of it. And it's obviously going to be a little limiting when I'm playing with a bluegrass group or a jazz group because I am not going to be able to go to certain places where I love to go. I am not going to be able to play a Cajun waltz on the accordion. My band has been playing together for so long and we have shared so much developing a common language that we have been able to keep growing and expanding that language.

It could happen with a Bluegrass or Jazz setting but it's probably not going to because there is just not enough time. It's a question of time served, time spent together and knowing each other well. My band has a connection and so you can see us attempt to create something new every night. But in these other situations, we are just trying to play the songs well. Given time, these situations would grow to be in the same place.

LP: Jazz is one of the most important contributions in American history and culture but I don't think enough significance has been placed on Bluegrass and its importance towards our history and culture.

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