Jim Hart: The Art of Juggling
AAJ: What's something that you've got on your iPod that might surprise your fans?
JH: I play drums in a really cool blues/rock originals band called Sister Mary and the Choirboys, and we're all into a duo from the States called The Black Keys, it's a guitarist and singer and a drummer, and that's something outside the jazz world. They've got a really cool album called Brothers (Nonesuch, 2010) and I'm listening to that quite a lot and it's really good.
AAJ: Speaking of Neon, Here To There (Basho, 2007) with Stan Sulzmann and Gwilym Simcock is a great recordingsaxophone, vibes, and grand piano without drums or bass. On the final cut, "Sweets," Simcock also overdubs a French horn and Sulzman overdubs flutesit's such a great sound.
JH: Yeah, that's Stan all over that tune and it's just a really great piece of writing and arrangingbeautiful. I forget about that as we never played it live because of the overdubs, but yeah that is a really great tune, and it's nice to hear Gwilym on French horn, I don't think he does much of that anymore because he's so busy with his piano playing. But it's also great seeing him get European wide, perhaps worldwide recognition. He's flying really high and that's great, but I miss playing with him as regularly as I used to.
AAJ: I'm curious about your attitude towards overdubbing, I noticed you haven't overdubbed any piano or drums on your recordings so far.
JH: It's not because I'm against it. I think when you're in the studio and you've got those facilities available to you, it's definitely an option. I'm totally in favor of it, I guess the only reason I haven't done it is because I haven't felt the need on those sessions. [Laughs] I always get great drummers to work with, so there's no point in saying, "Well, I going to overdub myself on this one, you just go get a pizza or something."
I have got this new project with Ivo Neame that we're premiering at the Loop Festival in March which is called Duo Plus. He's a great sax and pianist, so we're doing this thing where he plays both, and I play drums and vibes. We mix it up with all the different combinations, there can be drums and sax, vibes and piano, vibes and sax. We've done a few gigs like that recently, and Rory Simmons a great trumpeter from the Loop Collective happened to be there, and he came and sat in. And suddenly there's this fifth instrument and all these new combinations.
So we're going to have him on a few tunes as the "plus" and we're going to have Orin Marshall who's an amazing tuba player from London who will also join us for a couple of tunes. So Ivan and I have been writing a bit for that, and with the tuba you can almost have a piano trio. It's going to be exciting and I'm going to get to play quite a bit of drums on that. That will actually be the first time I get to play drums on music that I've written.
AAJ: I noticed you spent some time in Brazil, I wonder if you could share a bit from that experience.
JH: Oh God, where to start. The overriding feeling I had coming back from Brazil was the sense of injustice that I came from a country where folk music was no longer celebrated by the folk.
In Brazil it seems like everyone you meet is connected with the music of that country somehow, even if they just dance, or sing. There's this tremendous wealth of traditional music and the majority of the country seem to know all of the songs.
There's live music everywhere, and if the band starts playing one of these songs, the entire place is singing along. And this happened everywhere we went in Brazil. It was like, wow, this is amazing! And it's great music, it's like jazz standards, they've got these rich harmonies, killing grooves, and everyone singing and dancing. I just felt the entire country placed an enormous importance on their culture.
So I came back and I thought, I can't think of a tune in England [laughs] apart from "We Are the Champions," "God Save the Queen," a line from "Auld Lang Syne," or "Happy Birthday" that everyone would know. I just thought, this is so sad. I think in other countries it's like that too. Like in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland they've got that strong folk roots, so I'm surrounded by the countries who've got this rich folk tradition, and yet we don't have it.
But the music of Brazil is amazing, I was in love with it before I went, and I discovered so much more when I was there. I got to see the Olodum drummers in Salvador. I knew them from when they collaborated with Paul Simon on the Rhythm Of the Saints album (Warner Brothers, 1990).
That was just incredible, the power of it. They were up on the stage and then the audience was below them and facing them, they were all dancing in unison doing the same dance, and the drummers were all kind of swinging back and forth as they played. Salvador has a real African feel to it, much more so than in the South in Rio or Sao Paulo. So there was this face-off between the drummers and the dancers and the energy in the room was just amazing.
We were standing to the side so we could see the drummers to the right and the dancers to the left, so that was definitely one of the most powerful experiences I took away from the trip. The beat of the drums was just hypnotic.
AAJ: Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
JH: I'm quite a keen juggler, I've always juggled since I was about thirteen. I took it quite seriously, I actually thought about going down that road and being a street performer, or joining a circus or something. I've got a few circus skills, I can ride a unicycle and my dad was a gymnast, so I was always kind of interested in acrobatics. So I keep my juggling up, and I enjoy swimming regularly. I sail, I windsurf, and I surf when I go home to Cornwall. So those are my interests, but some are harder to keep up here in London.
AAJ: I know you were in the States, but it's a bit difficult for Europeans with the work permits and everything. But I was wondering if there are some Americans you are interested in working with?
JH: I did a collaboration with Ralph Alessi here last year. He's a great trumpet player from New York and one of my favorite musicians on the planet. We did about a week's worth of gigs and I hope that's the first of many. I'd really love to work with him again, it was really some of the most enjoyable music making I've ever done, and I'd really like to do more with him again. We also recorded one of the gigs and if it's okay with him we'd like to release it, it was with my trio, Mike Janisch (bass) and Dave Smith (drums.)
So I'm planning a trip to New York in June and I'm hoping to meet up with him then.
AAJ: Anything else on the horizon?
JH: The new Neon Quartet will be touring in the UK from mid April to mid May, I think we've got about ten gigs lined up.
AAJ: So just for fun. Let's say you get to be part of a seven piece band made up of your musical heroes who are no longer with us, who would they be, and if you could only play the music of one composer who would it be?
JH: So it would be Elvin Jones on drums. I'd like to get Dennis Irwin on bass, it was really sad that he died last year, not old at all, he was an amazing bassist. Thelonious Monk on piano [laughs] and find out what that would be like! Coltrane on tenor sax and Miles on trumpet. Finally, Roland Kirk on flute or whatever else he happened to have with him. And seeing that Monk is in the band, we could do Monk's music.
Neon Quartet, Catch Me (Edition Records, 2010)
Jim Hart Quartet, Words & Music (Woodville Records, 2009)
Jim Hart's Gemini, Narrada (Loop Records, 2009)
Neon Quartet, Here To There (Basho Records, 2007)
Jim Hart's Gemini, Emergence (Loop Records, 2006)
Pages 1, 2: Courtesy of Jim Hart
Page 3: Mike Stemberg