Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer

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BH: Just to save energy, I would prefer it. But of course, it's a treadmill. Because I work so much, I don't have time to work on that. What the problem is, is it's hard for me to stop for whatever reason. It might be very illogical. Maybe the most logical thing to do is to stop and work on my own band while there's still a chance I have enough energy to put into it. You know, I'm getting pretty old now!

AAJ: Well, none of us are getting any younger! It's honorable seeing you in so many different contexts and playing with so many different people, which speaks volumes to the fact that your phone's off the hook. You're one of the more well-rounded drummers out there. Do you have any weaknesses? It would seem your job is not to have any weaknesses because you can play in all these situations.

BH: Well, a master of none and jack of all trades kind of thing. That's a weakness. It might really be the primary weakness. Because you know Art Blakey was Art Blakey, Elvin Jones was Elvin Jones, Max Roach is Max Roach, Jeff Watts is Jeff Watts. Maybe that's the weakness. What's missing is, somehow, I'm not quite realizing myself.

AAJ: Many would agree that you're certainly not as well known as you should be.

BH: It would seem that in terms of media reaction. You know, when I go to Europe with Don Byron, I know all those guys better than he does, all the promoters. The question is why doesn't somebody ask me to bring my own band? Is it that I've been seen too much? Or is it just cheaper to get me that way? Then you don't have to have my own band. I'm in Europe, four, five, six times a year anyways. In Japan, at least once a year, sometimes three times a year. Though maybe I'm not as popular, I'm certainly seen more than the most popular guys. You don't see them that much, but their publicity is. And I'm seen all the time [laughs!], and nobody, well you know what I mean.

Then of course [there's] the delight and the thrill of all the new young guys that come on the scene. And they demand a lot of attention and excitement. I read the magazines like anybody else to see and talk to those guys, see what they're talking about and how influential they are on both sides: on the media side and the musical side. Of course, the musical side is a little more important to me...but it's also interesting to see how they're affecting the scene in terms of who works with who, or whatever.

AAJ: There's an impressive list of young drummers who have studied with you, too. You're talking about people like Tyshawn Sorey.

BH: He was in this class years ago.

AAJ: And all of these guys are moving on to create, and you obviously have had a very significant influence on a young crop of drummers that have come up in the last five years in particular...probably also from when you were teaching ten, twenty, thirty years ago—I don't know how long you've been teaching.

BH: Well, I wasn't always teaching...Now it's funny when you see these little kids, or even the colleges at which I teach. You know I teach at five universities, and at the same time! Did you know that?!

AAJ: How do you keep track of all this?! [laughs]

BH: I'm at NYU on staff and New School University. So, between those, I could have as much as 12 students, but they come to my house. The other schools are Western Michigan University. I've been there the longest, like 13, 14, 15 years. But now my priority is Oberlin—I've been there six years because they gave me benefits and all that, and my own room and the whole thing. I do try and show up there with some sort of consistency. It's still getting there in an airplane. The thing that is complicating things most is that the last three years I've been at New England Conservatory, too [laughs]!

AAJ: Are there three other Billy Harts running around somewhere? [laughs]

BH: ...You know, being addicted to the new things, like if I just have a Tyshawn Sorey at each one of these schools, my addiction, my jones is being fed on this massive level. I had a kid at New England Conservatory when I first got there. I asked everybody because you know they have other drumming instructors as that's one of the primary instruments—so I said, "OK, for you guys to choose me, just so I can help you: What is it particularly about me that you would want, that I could help you which would be different from Bob Moses, or so-and-so?

One guy came up and said well, "I'm interested in you because you played with Herbie Hancock. And I said, "That's very interesting, but I haven't played with him in like thirty years. Why would that interest you? He said, "Well, because I'm playing with him now. I said, "Really? What year are you? He says, "Yeah. I'm a sophomore. I said, "What do you mean 'playing with him'? He said, "I travel with him, I tour with him. I said, "Really? He said, "I've got a video. Next class I'll bring a video of the concert. And sure enough, he did. After Herbie did the Gershwin project [Gershwin's World Verve, 1998)], there was another thing. He and Wayne both have these chamber orchestra projects they do. And so with the chamber orchestra project this kid is the drummer. And he's so great if Terri Lyne [Carrington] can't make it, he's already being geared to go. And he's great. I mean, he really is great! And that's my student. I had him for another two years. You know what I'm saying?

So, if you have one of those at each one of these schools, you see what I mean? In fact, at his graduation recital, he ended up making his own recording, that is at the same time—he made his own commercial recording, and Herbie's on two tracks! I mean, who in the world?! I could never get Herbie Hancock on two tracks of my own [recording]! His name is Richie Barshay. You're going to be hearing about this guy. On this CD, on his record, he plays on one tune tabla and drums at the same time. That doesn't mean that much to you now, except that I will tell you that the future of jazz drumming as I see it implies the study of tablas, of Indian drumming.

AAJ: Jeff Ballard does that.

BH: Jeff Ballard, and there's a new cat in town—Danny Weiss. He just made a record of tabla translated to the drum set that's the best that's ever been done...

AAJ: ...Now, speaking of Herbie. I've always been curious if there's any reason as to the lack of a Mwandishi reunion.

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