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A Chat with Tim Hagans

AAJ Staff By

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Everyone has their own definition of jazz but for me it's gotta be improvised... it's not knowing what you're gonna play until you put air through the horn, it's that energy and excitement and suspense that happens when you don't know what you're gonna play until the split second before you play it.
Tim Hagans is undoubtedly one of the biggest risk takers in jazz right now. Along with Bob Belden he ventures into the area of drum and bass music mixed with jazz. The result is a exciting type of music. I had the opportunity to sit down with this two time Grammy nominated trumpeter where he shares about his musical experiences, his time abroad, and his further ventures in new varieties of music.

All About Jazz: First, how did you start playing? What were your first experiences?

Tim Hagans: Well, my first playing experiences are how I got interested in music, which do you want first? Because I mean I started in the fourth grade playing the trumpet and knew that I wanted to play the trumpet before that even. But I really didn't start actually playing till I was actually in college, but I went through a school band program. I started when I was 9 and you know just played in the concert band in high school, played in the marching band. This was like, I was born in 1954 so in the 60's there wasn't a lot of jazz in the schools, definitely not in the junior high. In high school, my last year — '70, '71, 72 — we had the jazz band that actually became part of the curriculum. But you could take it for credit and that was like a major breakthrough, you know, that was just when jazz education was starting actually be taken seriously.

AAJ: Did you go to school around here (Philadelphia)?

TH: No, I'm from Ohio. Dayton, Ohio. So I went through Dayton Public schools and then I went to college in Bowling Green in Ohio, big state university. I went there two years and they didn't have the jazz major at that point. Now, almost 30 years later, no respectable college is without a jazz program, so...we had a lot of informal jam sessions. There were jazz big bands there that in my second year you could take it for credit, it became a real thing.

AAJ: So why did you pick jazz? Why not classical? It seems like people make it out that you can't be a classical player and a jazz player at the same time. Do you agree with that?

TH: Well, you know, that depends on the individual. Wynton Marsalis proves that wrong. You know, he faces a lot of criticism about many things he does, but one thing that you can't criticize him for is actually the way he plays the trumpet. I mean he's an incredible trumpet player, he's born to play the trumpet, and he can play a trumpet concerto and turn right around and play jazz. He's a very unique situation but he does disprove that. You talk specifically about trumpet playing and I'm sure with the saxophone it's the same thing, there is a certain volume level, a certain way that you play jazz with articulations, it's improvised so that you play the horn a different way than you would be playing in a symphony orchestra. We (his family) go to the Philadelphia Orchestra all the time and I'm amazed at the brass section, how they can just sit there and come in with the most beautiful sound and not miss a note. And, to me, I could never do that, I'd be shaking in my boots.

AAJ: Did you ever strictly study classical music?

TH: Yeah, back then because there was no jazz program all my lessons were classical. Although my very first teacher that I had for the first five years when I was in grade school played with Woody Herman in the late 30's, was like a swing style Harry James trumpet player. We didn't really deal with improvisation and chords but we dealt with the swing feel and how to play the melodies so that it sound like music and not just playing the notes. That was very good but he wasn't really a hard bop player at all and we never got into that. So most of my lessons were classical in nature but nobody ever told me the correct way to play the trumpet. I've only figured that out'

AAJ: By yourself?

TH: Well, two teachers, one in Sweden named Lef Baksen and Bobby Shew who's a great trumpet player who lives out in the west coast. Both of those guys in the last 15 years have given me lessons and even as late as two years ago Bobby showed me some stuff that changed the whole way that I approach playing the trumpet and if I had that kind of instruction back when I started maybe I could have played better in the classical world. But I played in school orchestras and concert bands and I was crackin' notes all over the place because I was just playing the horn wrong. Back to your question a little while ago, it was because first of all I could choose what I wanted to play with the improvisation factor and it wasn't any fun to sit in an orchestra and know that I was gonna come in and I was probably gonna miss half the notes just because of playing and breathing the wrong way. But the real reason I got into jazz was more than the style of music, this is something this is very important and nobody talks about, but I always talk about when I do interviews and do master classes, and that is the element of personal freedom and being an individual and growing up in the sixties with the social things that were happening in this country with the assassinations and the anti-war movement and the pro-war movement, social changes, simple changes like so that you could wear blue jeans to school.

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