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Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer

AAJ Staff By

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BH: You know it's never good enough. Maybe now and then I would enjoy what the rest of the band did. I'm pretty much self-taught, so all the little things that you end up learning, of course you get stuck with that. You're so pleased with learning this little thing that you stay with that and next thing you know you really look like you're even older. Like I remember I had a conversation the last gig with Saxophone Summit that Michael [Brecker] was on and you know Michael he's a quiet kind of guy, so he gives me this big compliment. I just say, "I'm sort of just trying to play like Baby Dodds. He said, "Man, I'm trying to say that you're one of the guys, like Al [Foster] and Jack [DeJohnette] and Tony [Williams] and now you want to talk about Baby Dodds, now?! He didn't say that, but that was the look on his face. But I had! I had just discovered this Baby Dodds thing. I said, "Oh man. WOW. That's how you... [laughs]. "

But it is important. It is important. Those are the kinds of things that cats like Al Foster and those guys knew all the time, Tony Williams, too. I didn't know that! It's always these things that I'm learning. I'm chasing the newer things and I'll hear a record every now and then and I'll say, "God, I was already playing that! I thought I was just trying to learn this now. So I must have stumbled on it by osmosis or something. I must have just learned it in the situation, in the moment—which explains that too, that it can be gotten like that. Everything isn't academic. I think you kind of get academic as you get older.

AAJ: That's a downside, being over-academic... People are relying on that rather than the osmosis and the feel because they're overly academic. It's the feel you lose.

BH: That's what I'm saying. That's exactly what I'm saying now. I know Nasheet [Waits]. He's still saying, "Mr. Hart I'm saying, "Come on, man! ...EJ Strickland, too.

AAJ: Are there any instrumentations, or contexts you prefer not to play in or with? You've accompanied Shirley Horn, and I heard you once with Judi Silvano. I don't know how many other vocalists you've played with?

BH: A lot. A lot. Because I was playing with Geri Allen...[on] this record we just did with this lady from California named Mary Stallings...that record just came out...We already played at the Blue Note with Geri and Wallace [Roney]. But Mary Stallings is the latest one. I was supposed to make Judi's record, but with my schedule, I made the rehearsal [laughs]! What other singers? Well, Shirley Horn. The first time I was ever on an airplane, the first time I met Buster Williams, was with the Betty Carter gig. Buster and I met on that gig. Even then she was getting these young kids because I couldn't have been more than 20. Betty Carter—Buster I met on that gig. And that's how I got in Herbie's band. Because Buster recommended me. Buster, I love him...

AAJ: So there's no context you'd ever not consider?

BH: No, no.

AAJ: That's another aspect is that you talk to a lot of musicians, and they're very particular. It's almost limiting in that they're not as open-minded with playing in all these different contexts, different places, different people. They know what they're good at, and they're comfortable doing that, and it's this sense of comfort....

BH: That's what I'm saying. I think that's an advantage.

AAJ: You think? I think it's an advantage what you do. You play in any context and people respect that.

BH: Maybe my enthusiasm. Just how well can you do that if you're so scattered. When you get a guy who can do that! Isn't that a good definition of genius: The ability to concentrate on one thing at a time?

AAJ: Yeah, but the downside to that...would you rather be a genius doing one thing for your whole career, or somebody who is just great at everything and is growing as time goes on.

BH: There's a bunch of those guys, but they grow out of the media. Look at Frank Wess. Look at Kenny Dorham. The last years of his life, he had really grown. But who talks about him? [And] well, Frank Foster's not playing anymore...

AAJ: Like Hank Mobley. When Hank Mobley died, he was penniless.

BH: That's one thing. If you don't establish yourself as one thing, thinking it from my side sooner or later, that's detrimental, it's dangerous—with the exception of [Billy] Higgins. He just worked himself to death. Who didn't love Billy Higgins? You talk about someone who had it all!

AAJ: You know that last Charles Lloyd recording that Higgins played before passing away shortly thereafter?

BH: That's what I'm talking about. Who was really listening to Higgins? The more I got, the more I got into him. You end up chasing Down Beat. That's what I like about your paper. I don't know how you have the capacity to see all of this. Bill Dixon [a recent AllAboutJazz-New York cover story subject]? [laughs] You know, Robin Kenyatta? Whoah!


Hart's quartet with Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner, and Ben Street is at The Village Vanguard April 11th-16th, 2006

Selected Discography

Quest, Of One Mind (CMP, 1990]
Sonny Fortune/Billy Harper/Stanley Cowell/Reggie Workman/Billy Hart, Great Friends (Black & Blue-Evidence, 1986)
Billy Hart, Enchance (A&M, 1977)
Miles Davis, On The Corner (Columbia-Legacy, 1972)
Herbie Hancock, Mwandishi (Warner Bros, 1970)
Pharoah Sanders, Karma (Impulse!, 1969)

Photo Credits:
Top Photo: John Abbott
Second Photo: C. Andrew Hovan
All other photos: Dragan Tasic

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