David Hazeltine: Milwaukee's Best Becomes One of New York's Finest
AAJ: Speaking of One For All, what's it like working with that terrific band?
DH: One For All is just a killin' group. You've got these high level musicians that just play your stuff better than you can even imagine it.
AAJ: I was fortunate enough to catch you guys playing at the Labor Day jazz festival in Detroit last year and really enjoyed your set.
DH: Somebody told me they heard the broadcast on NPR and said it was tremendous.
AAJ: I would concur. Now, you also have a fairly new quartet record out too for Criss Cross entitled Blues Quarters. That's another fine set.
AAJ: Well, let's backtrack just a bit. Tell us about your early experiences with music.
DH: I started on the organ and started taking lessons when I was eight years old. I begged my parents to buy an instrument and they figured out how to do it and were nice enough to do it. But actually, years before that, both of my parents worked and so I would stay at the neighbor's house before and after school. So, their daughter was taking piano lessons and just hated it and I would always play their piano. I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I loved to play that piano. So it had started years before.
When I was twelve I met this blind organist by the name of Will Green; my mother found him somehow. I had been through a series of teachers and was kind of "out running" my teachers. Just before that, I had got into jazz. My older brother was in the service and when he came back he came back with all these records, like Miles at the Blackhawk, and he was playing that stuff constantly and I just hated it as a kid. Then, something happened when I was about ten or eleven and I started to listen to his records, like Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, and just started to love it. Then, I got interested in Jimmy Smith, because I played the organ. My mother brought home by total accident a Jimmy Smith record and that was it for me. And so that's what started getting me interested in playing and then we found this teacher. He showed me this very hands-on approach to playing music. He wasn't a theory guy per se, but he would just show me how to play stuff and at that time it made me sound good right away. Who cares if I wasn't being original, I didn't know how to be original anyway. Until this day, I think of teaching that way. You know, I've been involved in teaching a long time and one thing I'm a firm believer in is that approach in learning to play any music. You start by playing the pieces all put together and take the puzzle apart that way, as opposed to trying to put the puzzle together not even knowing what the hell the pieces are. It's about the sound and you copy that sound and then you hopefully evolve that somehow. So anyway, by the time I was 13, I was working professionally and then when I was 16 I met Brian Lynch and started to play with the younger and pretty hip guys in Milwaukee.
AAJ: You mentioned your involvement with jazz education. Where do you currently teach?
DH: Right now I'm teaching at the Berklee College of Music. I go there once a week and teach there on Mondays. Prior to that, the ten years I was in Milwaukee, from about '82 to '92, I chaired the jazz department at the conservatory there.
AAJ: Before we close here, tell us about any favorite records or musicians who have influenced your own work.
DH: One of my all-time favorites is Miles Davis' My Funny Valentine. I used to sing all of George Coleman's solos before I realized that what I should do is learn to play them. They were just so beautiful to me, I mean I just spent years listening to that record and completely wore it out. Oscar Peterson's The Trio is my all-time favorite Oscar Peterson record without a doubt. And then there is a Cedar Walton record that he hates and I have always loved and it's called Firm Roots. Then, in "different flavor land" I definitely like Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. I love Stevie Wonder. I like Steely Dan and I think the new record is killin.' I haven't done anything yet with it, but I figured out how to play "Almost Gothic" because it's such a beautiful tune and I'm thinking there's got to be something I can do with it. I've learned a lot of stuff from Earth, Wind, & Fire, just little harmonic moves that are kind of out of the mainstream of jazz players and there's a lot to learn from all kinds of music. As far as classical, Chopin and Brahms are favorites.
AAJ: What about Brazilian music?
DH: Oh, definitely. Joao Gilberto is somebody that I adore. In fact, Jon Hendricks told me more than once that Gilberto was the only singer that he liked and Hendricks is one of my favorite singers and I've worked with him quite a bit.