All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Interviews

Alexander Hawkins: Retaining The Sense of Discovery

By Published: January 15, 2013
Piano Heroes

AAJ: You mentioned some pianists you love there, so who are the most prominent pianists in your pantheon? And given what you've said about not wanting to reproduce them, what have you taken from them?

AH: My real hero, my first love, is Art Tatum. I find it very difficult to extract technically what the influence of certain people has been, because for sure there are a lot of things I could pinpoint in Tatum's playing that I absolutely love. His harmonic sense is just extraordinary, and for me he really incorporates virtuosity in a non-self- conscious way, presaging Cecil Taylor more than anyone else, I think. I love his time feel. I actually love his way with a melody. But if I think why do I love Tatum, it's not because of those technical things—that's not how I listen to the music, generally; I just like how it sounds. And with all these guys, I'm inspired by the fact that they sounded like themselves and no one else. I love their music, and that inspires me to do my own music rather than to do theirs. So Tatum would be the main guy for me.



I remember my dad having a tape of a half-hour BBC program about Tatum, and in introducing Tatum that mentioned Earl Hines
Earl Hines
Earl Hines
1903 - 1983
piano
and Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
, so I got very into them. Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson
1912 - 1986
piano
is another huge favorite, and I've got a real soft spot for Chicago pianists like Meade Lux Lewis
Meade Lux Lewis
Meade Lux Lewis
1905 - 1964
piano
, Albert Ammons
Albert Ammons
Albert Ammons
1907 - 1949
piano
, Pete Johnson
Pete Johnson
Pete Johnson
b.1904
piano
. And then moving forward from Tatum, I quickly got into Bud Powell and Monk. Another guy from that era who is a real inspiration to me is Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope
1923 - 1967
piano
. He was interesting because he reassures you as a musician. Whereas Powell and Monk were conspicuously geniuses—well, if you try to emulate a genius it's quite daunting— Elmo Hope seems to be just a guy who did something completely distinctive but without that kind of awesome baggage that Monk has. Then I work forward from there chronologically to Herbie Nichols
Herbie Nichols
Herbie Nichols
1919 - 1963
piano
, Dick Twardzik, Hasaan Ibn Ali—that record with the Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
Trio is just amazing [The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic, 1965)].

AAJ: That's the only record he made, isn't it?

AH: I think there was a quartet record with [saxophonist] Odean Pope
Odean Pope
Odean Pope
b.1938
saxophone
in the can, but it was destroyed in the Atlantic Records warehouse fire, or at least it's thought to have been, as far as I'm aware. But Hasaan, his big influence was Elmo Hope. In fact, there's a great tune on the Max Roach record called "Hope So Elmo." Then of course Cecil Taylor, that's where you begin to have another game changer, language wise. I think that was the first jump in the language where I really had to figure out how that related to all the stuff I loved.

AAJ: But you knew there was something there that was worth pursuing?

AH: Absolutely. For example, one guy who I didn't mention: Ellington. If he'd never ever gone near a big band, he would still be thought one of the great pianists. And listening to Cecil, I could very, very immediately hear Ellington in the touch, in the way he would voice certain things, and Tatum in the sweep, the architectural aspect of his playing. Then more recently, someone like Marilyn Crispell
Marilyn Crispell
Marilyn Crispell
b.1947
piano
was hugely important to me because when I first heard her with the Braxton quartet, her music was like a Rosetta Stone because, for me, she was a pianist who had synthesized so many of the pianists that I loved—Monk, Cecil and so forth. Their languages are so all-consuming, you need to be quite inventive not just to ape them. And Marilyn was really inspirational to me because she showed how you could take those languages and mold them into something personal. And she shows the way, significantly for me as a composer as well, where you could take Cecil's language and use it in a very composed context, which is what I was hearing in her playing in the Braxton quartet.

And then looking for other contemporary ways with my influences, I very soon arrived at Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams
b.1930
piano
, who is another big hero of mine. And Don Pullen
Don Pullen
Don Pullen
1941 - 1995
piano
. And Horace Tapscott
Horace Tapscott
Horace Tapscott
1934 - 1999
piano
is another guy who I spend a lot of time listening to. And that's to miss out Jaki Byard, who blows my mind whenever I listen to him—which is a lot. And Andrew Hill, who fascinates me because he's a pianist who's essentially an inside player in the sense that he's always playing compositions, pretty much like Monk in that he's always within the composition, but incredibly free as well. So all these people I spent a long time listening to. Chris McGregor as well; in part because of my connections with [South African drummer] Louis Moholo, I spent a long time listening to Chris. So all these people were hugely influential.

AAJ: But in the ether rather than in the particular?

AH: I think so. It's an interesting thing, these streams of influence, because for sure I could probably take any one of my recordings and say, "Ah, that owes a stylistic debt to so-and-so," but because I've very single mindedly never transcribed anybody and always studiously avoided thinking I'm going to do an Irene Schweizer
Irene Schweizer
Irene Schweizer
b.1941
piano
, for instance, on this tune, the assimilation of ideas has never been a conscious thing. And it would be telling, I think, if I was to go to my iTunes library—I don't like to listen to music digitally, but when I'm on the road it's a good thing to do—if I was to look at the most played pianists, actually in recent times it would probably be Hampton Hawes
Hampton Hawes
Hampton Hawes
1928 - 1977
piano
and Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
. I'm a real sucker for Hampton Hawes.

So I think it goes back to what I was saying about Tatum; the real inspiration is that I like the sound. Obliquely, I can adopt certain rhythmic things from Cecil's playing and certain harmonic things that Muhal will do and Sun Ra
Sun Ra
Sun Ra
1914 - 1993
keyboard
. Actually, if Sun Ra had never gone near a big band, he would still be one of the great piano players. But actually, I'm probably inspired as much by listening to Hampton Hawes or listening to Oscar Peterson. While it's probably fair to say I would struggle to sound like either, I would love to be able to. I mean, that would be amazing to go down the pub and play a standards gig and sound like Hampton Hawes. I would be so happy [laughs].


comments powered by Disqus
Download jazz mp3 “Elmoic” by Alexander Hawkins
  • Elmoic
  • Alexander Hawkins
  • All There, Ever Out