David Hazeltine: Making it Mean Something
'Tatum, for his harmony and his presentation of ballads, especially the rubato, impromptu-sounding intros. Amazing. Harris, for his flowing, melodic, effortlessly articulated, swinging melodic lines. Evans, well, it's so obvious, his voicings, his majestic touch, his Chopin-like approach to the piano. It's beautiful. Tyner, for his completely original approach, his fourth voicings, his angular, ultra-rhythmic improvisations. Hancock, for his beautiful musicality, his swinging and his almost impressionistic harmony. Walton, for his precisely articulated, Charlie Parker-like lines on the piano and his pretty voicings and his writing style, a true master of the idiom of jazz, in my book. Montgomery, for his incredibly unique shaping and phrasing in his improvisations. He approaches the piano melodically like a vibes player, which he is also, and you know Buddy is one of the most profound writers that I know, so in that way, compositionally, Buddy is also a very big mentor.'
'Some of the best improvisers were great composers.'
'You see, composing to me is very important and very gratifying. However, I should say that it doesn't come easy. I work hard at composing. I spend a lot of time doing it and am almost never satisfied with what comes out. It's only maybe years later after I've recorded the things and I go back and listen to them and think, That's not a bad tune. I get a lot of pleasure from playing things I've written after I've recorded them. Playing gigs, I get a chance to perform my written music and they become sort of like standards in my mind. They flow very easily and that's kind of a kick to think, Hey, I wrote that. But the process of doing it, when I actually sit down and record it, I'm never happy with what comes out right away. But I think it's also very important because our focus in jazz is always improvising and, you know, some of the best improvisers were great composers. In fact, even if they didn't compose a lot, their improvisations are almost like compositions. So composing is kind of like a blown up version of what happens when we're playing. Although, obviously, in composing you get to go over it and change it and correct it. When you're playing, it happens real fast, from moment to moment, so it's interesting to approach the music in a slower manner and that's something that very much appeals to me.'
Shaping the future ...
'I love the way my idols play and hope some of that love and respect comes out in my playing.'
Speaking of David's playing, Cedar Walton has said, 'His style has a deep-seated commitment to jazz history while communicating a wealth of "today's" ideas.'
This commitment, in particular to the great tradition of jazz piano playing, results in David's audience hearing an artist whose playing is not only highly sophisticated, but is also highly accessible.
'Two natural musical inclinations of mine are to feel good and to make it mean something. Maybe that's where the apparent contradiction arises. I think that music that feels good has some kind of joy. Even if it's melancholy, even if it's sadness, it can still be joyous at some level. That's my main underlying motivation. But right after that there is also another motivation - and I think maybe that's the engineering side of me - to want something deeper from my music, some intellectual satisfaction. I can't just play three choruses of a blues and satisfy myself intellectually. It's got to be interesting to me as well.'
Among the results of this musical policy have been a growing body of critical acclaim and an ever-expanding audience for his work, whether live or on record. It is not hard to understand why. Immediately apparent is the fact that, never, at any time, does he lose his great attachment to the melodic core of his artistry. Equally important, is David's consummate skills as a performer, skills that are underpinned by an unfailing sense of the needs of the music, an ability to swing at all times, a questing musical intelligence, and the enormous technical ability to bring off his ideas with understated flair and great aplomb.
Anyone who worries over the future of jazz need only listen to this immensely talented musician to know that this future is in safe hands.
Let David Hazeltine have the last word on how he sees his future:-
'It's tough to survive doing what I do. I would have to be successful enough to keep doing what I do and in so doing hope to contribute to this glorious art form.'
Among David's recordings have been half a dozen as leader for Sharp Nine Records, including Four Flights Up, The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander, and The Classic Trio Volume II. Four for the Criss Cross label, the most recent being Good Hearted People. And three trio sessions, appearing on the Venus label in Japan, include tributes to Bill Evans, Waltz For Debby, and Horace Silver, Señor Blues.