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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bruce Hornsby: Halcyon Days

By Published: February 23, 2009
LP: I read an interview where you said that you were interested in the pursuit of musicality and of finding new ways to be inspired, just trying to be creative. Would you say you are still in a process of discovery?

BH: Oh absolutely! If you are not in pursuit of discovery, then you are, for all creative purposes, finished! I have always been interested in exploring new areas and in a sense, exploring old areas that I have never dealt with or dealt with on a deep level. For instance, I have started a new program at the University of Miami Music School and it's called the Creative American Music Program. And the initial thrust of the program is to turn people onto traditional and basic primitive American music, folk music, early gospel music; African American traditions and Anglo American traditions. Everything from shape note singing and sacred heart music to the incredible traditions of the Black churches and on and on.

So in the process of molding this into my own graven image, I have been delving into areas and resources that I have never deeply dealt with such as the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk Music. It's pretty legendary and I have heard of it but never really delved into it and when I finally did, it made so much sense to me and moved me. In fact, I have an old Bob Dylan bootleg tape where you can tell he obviously acquired some tunes from the Harry Smith Anthology or he got them from someone who got them from there because those songs are on this record. So I have been deeply into this music and basically got into this program from a quote of his. He was asked the question, "How do you become a good song writer?" And his standard answer seems to be, you go back to the roots and go back to the tradition.

It's such a deep well of inspiration and it cannot help but influence you in your own writing. I mean, there are so many musical areas to get into. You could spend two lifetimes and not deal with the literature of the piano. So it's not too hard if you're open minded and as a result will have artists who desire your services from various walks of life. For me, there are so many areas of my life that have contributed to my continued growth and have expanded and broadened my palette.

LP: There is an entire history of horn players who have developed their own voice but the piano is somewhat different. There are literally hundreds of pianists but only a handful who have developed their own personal voice. You happen to be one of them. Why are there so few pianists who have developed a distinguished voice on their instrument throughout the history of the instrument?

BH: You could talk about modern jazz piano through four names that in the jazz world are on a first name basis; Herbie, Keith, Chick and McCoy. You have four people that were sprung from Zeus. They were child prodigies and I think that those four guys together were so incredible and so moving to everyone. They were so influential and also intimidating (laughs) and the jazz piano world spent the next twenty-five years just dealing with what those four guys were putting out.

So you had your school of pianists that came from each of those four guys and I think that it's been only in the last several years that we have seen people finally emerge from the incredible shadow cast by those guys. This is getting a little more cosmic than I like to get but it might have something to do with the mid sixties or more precisely, 1963 through 1974. I consider the sixties to start with the Kennedy assassination and the emergence of the civil rights era and of course, the war was going on as well. There was the emergence of the rock era in about 1963 or 64 and ending about 1973 or 74. There was also Watergate and Nixon's resignation and the advent of disco (laughs). That was such a fertile creative time that really hasn't been replicated or occurred since, to me. So there were all these elements going on and that whole free spirit or whatever you want to call it. There is something in there that might have influenced these four guys but it's hard to say. It was a great time to find your own personal voice.

LP: You seem to have your own personal sense about the importance and quality of time, of always wanting to be in the moment as much as possible. It comes through in your performances very strongly. How important is this to your own creative process and approach?

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