Jim Hart: The Art of Juggling
“ Sometimes I think, is this just too much, is this too wide a spectrum; but, in all honesty, I just love it all so much. But I do wonder, as I get older, if I'll close some things off and focus on one thing more than another. But, in a way, I hope not. ”
Jim Hart is one of the hottest young musicians on the U.K. jazz scene. His impressive skills are matched by a level of experience and maturity that belie his age. His musicianship elicited this praise from vibes heavyweight Joe Locke: "Some of the best music I've heard in a long time. Definitely the best vibes playing I've heard in a long time."
An alumnus of Chetham's School of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, he was awarded the John Dankworth "Most Promising Musician" award in the BBC Big Band of the Year competition for his drumming, and his skill as a vibraphonist earned him the British Jazz Award for "Rising Star" in 2006, and for miscellaneous instrument (vibes) in 2007.
An avid juggler since his youth, his ability to keep several things up in the air at once has served him well as a musician. In addition to fronting two different bands under his own name, this multi-instrumentalist is also a much sought-after sideman whose wide-ranging collaborations, despite his youth, are already too numerous to mention. His recordings have earned him rave reviews from the Guardian, the BBC, and All About Jazz, and foreshadow a bright future for Jim Hart the vibraphone.
All About Jazz: You began playing piano and drums when you were four. You must have come from a musical family?
Jim Hart: Yes, certainly there was always music going on around the home. My mum was always into folk music, she used to run a folk night in Birmingham when she was a teenager and in her early twenties. So, she used to play guitar and sing.
My dad was always involved with choirs, particularly male voice choirs. My brother, who is four years older, is a trumpet player, so he was really involved in music and there was a lot of music at home.
There was a lot of support when I expressed an interest, and they were very helpfulproviding me with lessons and encouragement.
AAJ: So, how did the piano come about?
JH: We did have a pianomy dad plays piano. So, there was one in the house and I was keen to play it. And I also started with drums at the same time because I wanted to do both. I was playing drums before there was a drum kit in the house, I was playing pots and pans pretty regularly.
AAJ: That shows a lot of commitment from your parents to let a small child loose on drums.
JH: Yes, I was probably about five when I got a kit at home. I went to take lessons and they told me to come back later because my hands were too small. They said, "Come back next year when you can reach the pedals."
AAJ: What kind of music were you exposed to around the house?
JH: Because my brother was older, he was already taking trumpet lessons. The only guy who was around was a jazz trombonist, so through him he actually got introduced to jazz quite early.
So, some of the earliest things I remember, apart from male voice choir things, was some of my mum's Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and people like that. Some of the things that really made an impression on me were Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960), Oscar Peterson, you know we had just a few jazz things in the house, it was mostly through my brother.
AAJ: Did your brother stick with music?
JH: He left it for quite a long time when he was eighteen or nineteen, but now ten years later he's gone back to it in a very keen way. He's in an amateur band, and he called me the other day and said they've already got thirty gigs booked this year. He's playing jump-jive music and he was in a reggae band before, so he's really actively involved.
It's a shame he quit back then because he was a very good jazz player and improviser, but he's getting his chops back together and sounding good.
AAJ: You started playing jazz when you were around ten, so who were some of your first jazz heroes?
JH: Chick Corea was my biggest hero for years. My piano teacher was from Philadelphia and heavily influenced by Chick. So, we worked on a few transcription things, like "Spain," "No Mystery," and things. So I listened to quite a few of his records, especially the Return to Forever stuff.
Oscar Peterson would have been another of my big heroes, the trio with Ray Brown. I had compilations of various sax players, and I was into Cannonball without really knowing who he was. He was one of those guys who was on a compilation, and I just loved his sound. Of course later I really got into him and discovered his whole legacy and who he was, and the enormous amount of stuff that he did.
When I was sixteen I went to music school in Manchester, so for me that was a real period of consolidation. I met a couple of guys who had really big record collections. So I started to explore in much more depth names that I knew, and recognized what they did, but I really didn't know that much about them. People like Miles, Cannonball, John Coltrane, and Birdyou know, basically I got to check out nearly all of their records. I got to know their various bands and understand how it really all fit together.
AAJ: How about in terms of drums, who impressed you?
JH: Yeah it wasn't until I got to Chethams (School of Music) that I really started to take jazz drumming seriously. Up until that point I played a lot of funk, but I really wasn't focused on jazz drums. As a child I'd always been into Buddy Rich, later I got into Sting and Vinnie Colaiuta, and groove players. I guess I kind of knew about Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and definitely Max Roach.
But I really didn't take jazz drums too seriously until I met Dave Hassell. He was my drum teacher in Manchester and he encouraged me to look at these guys in more depth, people like Philly Joe Jones and Roy Hayneswho is my favorite drummer of all time. So Dave really introduced me to him and showed me what an amazing musician he is.