Gary Husband has long cemented his reputation as one of fusion's premier drummershell, even Billy Cobham thought two was better than one and hired him as a second drummer. Husband's flexibility has seen him drum in the NDR Big Band, with jazz-funk outfit Level 42, and in a trio format with guitarist Robin Trower and bassist Jack Bruce.
Since the early '90s he has built an impressive discography as a leader which underlines his status as a composer of note. Two solo-piano albums, bold and personal interpretations of the music of guitarists and fellow Yorkshiremen, Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin, are a reminder of Husband's equally impressive skills as a classically trained pianistone with a unique vision.
Husband has collaborated with Holdsworth for nigh on thirty years, and has in recent times recorded and toured with McLaughlin; the inspiration drawn from these two giants of modern jazz-fusion guitar, both of whom speak of Husband with mutual reverence, has pushed Husband to make some pretty stunning musical statements of his own. Husband's story to date is, in a way, a tale of three Yorkshiremen.
Hotwired sees Husband at the head of a vibrant, pulsing acoustic quartet which recalls the best of Tony Williams' combos. It also reveals another side of Husband's drumming which has the snap and crackle of Elvin Jones no less.
Big BandsAll About Jazz:
- Big Bands
- The Musicians And The Songs
- On Drums
- Three Yorkshiremen
- On Composing And Allan Holdsworth
- On Piano
- Other Projects And Collaborations
- Coming Soon
You're in Germany with [composer] Colin Towns and the NDR Big band. What's the program of music you're playing?
Gary Husband: It's a suite of music that Colin Towns wrote some time ago, some of which I played on a recording, and it's always nice working for composersthere's quite a lot of reach in Colin's music. It's a pleasure, it's very creative, and of course this band is one of the greatest big bands in the world.
AAJ: You're very familiar with the NDR Big Band and Colin Towns, aren't you?
GH: Yeah, I come over a lot for lots of different programs, writers from Europe and America. Last year also we were on tour with the singer Al Jarreau and that was a very nice tour. It's always very varied when I go thereabstract sometimes, other times more traditional. And I never know what is going to be placed in front of me in the way of charts or style or anything beforehand.
AAJ: Your professional career, I guess, began in a big band, in the [trumpeter/band leader] Syd Lawrence Orchestra when you were a teenager. What did you learn from that experience, from playing in a big band at the age of sixteen?
GH: On a couple of different levels really. In England they used to have national service and you had to do your three years, and in a way this was a kind of equivalent of thatand not just the music and the performance of a particular kind of music, but also in life too. There was no band bus, so I had to arrange who I was going to meet at a particular point to take me where I would end up sleeping and who I would connect with the following day to get to another placeto have to get all that together at sixteen when your head is full of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was something. But it was a really great experience and grounding, really. I can really recommend it! (laughs)
AAJ: Your head was full of Mahavishnu Orchestra, but the Syd Lawrence Orchestra was Glenn Miller and Count Basie. Is that right?
GH: It was the whole gamut of big band material from the '30s to around the '70s, reallyfundamentally the music of Glenn Miller, who Syd rose to fame highlighting, but also the Dorsey brothers' bands, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Basie, plus a lot of Sinatra hits and things.
I always had a passion for big bands anyway, but this just required a different discipline and me going back and trying to familiarize myself accurately with what the original big band drummers did there. I learnt the importance of doing research and fully preparing myself for the task in hand. Once that's done, it's always a special, exciting pleasure to play in a big band, and it's always very nice to return to it.
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AAJ: Let's talk about your new album, Hotwired. To me the music sounds rooted in tradition yet utterly modern and progressive at the same time. Is that a fair comment?
GH: I appreciate that comment; that's a reaction I really like, thanks. I guess the fundamental inspiration behind this particular band stretches back to when I used to go to Ronnie Scott's years and years ago and see groups like [trumpeter] Freddie Hubbardtraditional kind of frontline trumpet/tenor kinds of things because I have always admired a nice, spirited, forceful, much more American approach to the ones I heard back home.
Subsequently, groups like the ones Ralph Peterson Jr. brings, a real drummer-led band, and of course Elvin Jones groups were always an inspiration, and I wanted to get something that really captured that spirit, but with the notable difference being no mainstay keyboard player or guitarist to create plenty of harmonic space, because everybody improvises in a very strong way and there's a really good blend with the people I've chosen for this band.
I always choose my musicians really carefully. Then there's the music, and I've been digging deep to find some nice ways that I feel work for this kind of unit. And as usual, it's got a bit of reach to it as well. I chase wider dimensions.
AAJ: The band, if I understand well, was originally a trio, but you talk about abandoning the trio and the original music compositions before you added Richard Turner on trumpet. Can you talk us through the birth and rebirth of this band?
GH: Originally I had the idea for a saxophone, acoustic bass and drums trio, where I'd contribute a little bit on piano. I came up with a series of compositions which I thought were going to work out well, but there was something in it that I just couldn't get away from, and that was that sonically it was just a trio blend. The palette wasn't wide enough, even though I wanted to do something with a lot of space. We did one gig and I ditched all the music.
You know, you dip your toe in the water and try out stuff, and it's always interesting to try out things on stage rather than in a little rehearsal room. But as I say, I basically just wasn't happy enough, and so I then abandoned it. A short time later I was checking out a MySpace friend request, and I found a trumpet player named Richard Turner that I really responded to on a few different levels. And I suddenly started really thinking about the addition of trumpet. This way, it would all go from being a trio to suddenly being a band, just with the addition of one guy.
It was a mammoth difference, and immediately I had the opportunity to write nice angular things between the sax and trumpet. And of course you have the rhythm taken care of too, so automatically it's a much more stimulating compositional and conceptual task.
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The Musicians And The Songs
AAJ: The song "Heaven In My Hand" is an old Level 42 number. You've had a very long association with Level 42, and bassist Mark King in particular. Do you know if that old story about King learning to play slap bass in two weeks is true?
GH: Probably. He's a pretty able sort of guy. He's the kind of guy who can fix your car without necessarily knowing anything about cars. I hate this kind of guy! (laughs) It wouldn't surprise me if he learnt to play bass in two weeks, put it that way. With this gig though, well, I sort of considered the original Level 42 the real band in all honesty, and in what I do, I work very much in the capacity of a session musician in a sense, playing old music, most of which somebody else played on.
It's my challenge to make it work and feel as good as I can though, and I just concentrate on making sure I'm a strong, reliable and dependable drummer in order to make the show go right. I don't want to play it down at all, but I do see my role for what it isit's fulfilling and always challenging because I'm not by nature a jazz-funk player, so I have to really work at that. And I do, always, whenever I play and tour with the band. I got a little better at it over the years, slowly but surely.
Gary Husband's Drive l:r: Julian Siegel, Gary Husband, Michael Janisch, Richard Turner
AAJ: This song, "Heaven In My Hands" on your album has a kind of Miles Davis-like feel to it, and I hear Miles in quite a lot of what you do. You've cited him as a major influence before, and I hear a bit of Miles in your trumpet player Richard Turner. Is that one of the reasons that you liked his playing, because he's somehow reminiscent of Miles?
GH: Actually I didn't hear it, but you know I was taken with Richard Turner on a few different levels. The first I heard of him was on a track where he was effortlessly improvising in 5/4and very fluently too. I do particularly love people who can feel easy in different time signatures.
I like to be able to play with the time and get into sophisticated rhythmic ideas in music like this, and Richard has a natural flair and a real good handle on rhythm. He doesn't panic and flounderactually he's too cool to panic and flounder!
Another thing is that he doesn't sound like by-the-book bebop, you know, and there's so much proficiency in a lot of players these days, seemingly being able to easily turn out a lot of bop-type phrases which sound kind of "learned" to me. But that really isn't the deal with Richard; he's kind of got his own approach and I can tell him apart from everybody else already. That was an element immediately attractive to me.
Actually, in the studio, he was really dissatisfied with some of the solos he was playingyou know, little cracked notes here and there, little tuning things or little things where he didn't make the phrase. And I said, "Listen man, I want you to leave those, all those kind of things are full of expression to me. I like hearing that pain. It's an edge that I really heard and loved in Miles."
AAJ: That resonates with methere are a couple of tracks, "Deux Deux's Blues" and "Take the Coltrane," with trumpet intervention where it sounds at times like there's something on his lips or on the end of his trumpet, which gives a slightly rasping, fragile sound, an unclear sound, and I liked it a lot; it sounds a little original.
GH: I like it too. And back to this little conversation we had, Richard just went home one night and he came back the next day, and on the Ellington-inspired "Take the Coltrane Around," he played a really different kind of solo. And I was really pleased that we'd had that conversation because he'd felt a confidence as a result of it to produce something that wasn't like a full-on, red hot jazz-blues solo, and that was really what I wanted out of him. He found a piece of himself he didn't really know, and I like it that he did.
AAJ: I was speaking recently to the drummer Eddie Locke who was Coleman Hawkins drummer for years right up until Hawkins died. And Eddie, who's pushing 80, now still had things to say, and he was saying that jazz has kind of got lost because a lot of musicians in his opinion are technically very proficient, but there's little feeling, no swing, the original voice is not there. And that maybe echoes a little of what you are saying.
GH: Yeah, I look for that in musicians and when it's not there, I miss it. When somebody plays, I want to hear and sense the musician's life in what they dowhat they've been through, what they reach for. I want to hear a bit about their inner complexities as a person. I love to hear a good strong, strong character and distinctive personality in musicians.
AAJ: What's Richard Turner's background?
GH: He's newtoo young to have a background! Well, he's from Leeds, from the same shire as me, Yorkshire, and he's making a name for himself in Londonnot only with his excellent playing but also out of what he's doing getting involved in running jazz clubs and things too. My conviction is we'll all be hearing a lot more about Richard within a few years.
AAJ: Another track on the album, "!0/4," which is a Julian Siegel tune, has a kind of [trumpeter] Don Cherry/Art Ensemble of Chicago vibe to it. He's another very talented musician. What can you tell us about Julian Siegel?
GH: Julian I've know quite a few years now, and we've played together in different contexts. He's a good friend, a sweet, sweet man, and a jewel of a musician. In fact, he started a quartet a few years ago that I was involved in, and I also got to play on his first album.
He's a very soulful musician; he plays just like he is as a man. He has a very kind of quirky thing about him, and again there's no heavy bebop format. He speaks more than he deals in lines sometimesyou know, a little bit like a Wayne Shorter-thing, but in his own way. I love that. He's beautiful on this record.
AAJ: Wayne Shorter I hear a fair amount in your music, and on this album I hear it in two songs in particular: "The Agony of Ambiguity" and the beautiful "One Prayer" which I like a lot. Is this Wayne Shorter's influence in these tunes?
GH: Actually, there's a little development in "The Agony of Ambiguity" piece that, when I finished it I thought, wow, there's a little bit of Weather Report in that. It's funny, it's never by intention, but I see it afterwards. It's got a little lost feeling to it, a kind of searching, innocent quality to that melody, and I wanted him to play it really childlike.
I remember in a lot of the instructions that I gave him regarding the mood for the pieceeverything I was saying, I seemed to be getting nearer and nearer to blurting out, "Oh look, just play it like Wayne Shorter!" (laughs) But I wouldn't have ever done that. Not really.
I must say that each piece is straight out of the Duke Ellington methodology. I love writing for people, and when I choose musicians this carefully... once I've got them, I love writing for them out of a wish to highlight them as the individuals they are. I wanted to write something for all the guys in this band that corresponds with their make-up and personalities, and to try and make them feel at homeand from there give them a hard time. (laughs)
AAJ: The partnership you have with Michael Janisch is absolutely smoking. He gets such great sounds from his bass. What can you tell me about Michael Janisch?
GH: Well, Michael is also a new acquaintance of mine. I met him only a couple of years ago. The first time I heard him I was aware right away of this really robust, in-your-face approach of his. My type of bassist, and he has great time and a great spirit. He just possesses exactly what the bass should be about, particularly in this kind of group. I couldn't wish for a better participation than the one I instantly found with him.
AAJ: The pair of you sounds just great on this album. You strike up a wonderful partnership. Did you guys connect musically from the get-go, or is there a lot of hard graft involved to sound so tight but loose?
GH: Well, that connection was really important to me, and I'm glad you hear it, I'm glad you felt it. In any groupand this group is no exceptionthe bass and drums have to really be tight. I need a strong bassist, someone confident and who has great conviction. I don't really believe you can teach those qualities, really. I think you basically have it or you don't.
Also, it's just about the chemistry too, and how compatible someone's feeling of pulse is with your own. As long as someone's strong in these areas though, I'm always going to be able to play with them. Michael's got it all in abundance, and in him I got the guy I was looking for in this group. It's just a great feeling of instinctive trust, assurance and solidity between us, in spite of the fact we've still only played a handful of times.
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AAJ: You play beautifully yet within yourself. How difficult is it in a dynamic band like this to rein yourself in?
GH: I don't try to rein in anything, really; I like to go to the edge. I feel good there. And that's not a feeling expressed in terms of wild and furious playing. For me it exists in the most understated things, just the same. I try to play as eloquently as I can and with beauty and poetry, but also of course as a constant reaction to everything that's going with the other musicians and from the sound of all of us together.
We all push and pull with each other wellone minute someone's a protagonist, the next we're interacting or being more collectively conversational. And I think all this kind of improvisational balance is reached just through the compatibility between the personalitiesthe trust and real inner pursuance within each of us. And Richard, Julian and Michael all have those qualities.
For me, I just live it. Every note is important, and I strive harder and harder to make just the best music that I can. For a drummer to be in tune with those principals just as much as any linear or harmonic instrumentalist, I think, is the very healthiest thing anyway.
AAJ: Your drumming on Hotwired is very inventive and driving, but it in no way dominates proceedings. It is very sympathetic to the requirements of the music. Is this something that you set out to achieve at the beginning?
GH: Yep, very much so. The drums are about being inventive, being supportive and inspirational, and raising some good heat when the time comes too. But the drums are also totally as much a musical participant as anything else, and they should always be played that way.
In this setting particularly, and this setting for me incidentally is not new. I've had a lot of input in the bebop kind of realms and so called "straight-ahead" jazz playing with a lot of different people over the years, even though it may be a shock for some people to hear me in this kind of context.
I also feel very much at home on a smaller-based jazz kit too. In fact the first times [guitarist] Allan Holdsworth and I played, I was on a pretty small kit. Beyond that, it's just all just about the musicthe conversational and interplay aspects, the feeling of it, and how we can get to make some meaningful and spontaneous poetry together.
That's totally my main concern and quest, and was absolutely what this group was about from the beginning. And I'm really happy in the fact that Hotwired, our album, really highlights that in a very nice way. The drumming I almost don't even hear in drumming terms. And you know, when that happens, I feel I'm really succeeding a lot more at being the kind of drummer I always aspire to be.
AAJ: David Gilmour, guitarist with Pink Floyd, once said that no matter what guitar he held in his hands, he could always get his sound out of it. How much does your own sound depend on the equipment you have at your disposal, and how much of your sound is down to playing style?
GH: I think Dave's bang-on in that comment. I know this is me saying this, but if I revisit the recent album I did with [guitarist] Robin Trower and [bassist] Jack Bruce Seven Moons (V-12 Records, 2008), a few of the things I did with Holdsworth, or a big band session, or even some of the stuff I did with the Level 42 group, I think it's actually quite evident it's the same guy. I think it's evident anyway.
Another story is of an afternoon jam session a few years ago in Ronnie Scott's club in London once with [drummer] Dave Weckl and both kits were onstage as I was playing with guitarist Jim Mullen supporting his group this particular week. Anyway, at one stage we switched kits, and he got on mine and I got on histwo very differently tuned set-ups. And Dave sounded just like Dave, even on my little cranked up sounding jazz kit, and you know I don't seem to ever bring about a different sound characteristic no matter whatever kit or whoever's kit I might play.
I'll get a rental kit, right out of the boxes, and I'll always get this sound. As far as I feel, it's really like that with all instrumentalists. For drummers it's everything you've been through as a player and everything your technique has been adapted to in the past.
My old big band stuff is in thereit's in the clarity of the way I hit and way I guess I formed, but more significant than anything else. And as Allan Holdsworth says, the sound's just in your hands. It's an amazing thing though, isn't it?
I find all this akin to the fact you would instantly recognize the certain sonic characteristic of a person you know whose speaking voice is instantly recognizableinstantly, out of the multitudes of speaking voices you may have heard over the last many weeks or months in your life.
It's not just the sonority, it's the whole nuance and "music" of the way one person in particular will articulate something. And it really is just unique and that distinctive. Incredible, eh?
AAJ: Absolutely. The sound of the music, and I'm talking about the quality of the recording, is also really great. Listening for example to "Deux Deux's Blues," I thought how up in the mix everything is. You must be pretty happy with the way this has turned out sound-wise?
GH: Oh, I am. I was lucky. I think I made some good decisions as to where and how we recorded it, and I should say it all really worked out for the best. And it was also at a studio not even too far away from where I live. This guy has got a lot of vintage microphones and a lot of nice warm tube equipment, so the recording had quite a ... I think you picked up on ita very kind of analogy presence to it which was ideal for this kind of music and this album, and I am really happy with it. It's punchy and warm and ideal for what we set out to doreally perfect for this band and this music.
AAJ: Who is this guy you mentioned?
GH: Philip Bagenel, and he's just great. He's been in the business for a long, long time, in a central London studio that he runs with all these massive overheads. But he just works and works, and manages to get by okay. He's got a bit of a history to him too, in that he used to work at a place called the Gaslight in New York and actually did out-front sound for Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra when they first emerged, on their very first concerts. So he has been around.
AAJ: You're bringing this out on Abstract Logix?
GH: Yes, and Souvik [Dutta] is a good friend, great spirit, completely on the level, and he's totally in the business for and towards the music and to the musicians, which is rather wonderful and very rare to find. So I'm very proud to have this record released by Abstract Logix.
He's always been very interested and supportive of ideas I had, and of course he now works for [guitarist] John McLaughlin so there's also another tie there too. He's a beautiful, beautiful guy, and I've been excited about the way he wants to work with me on this. And it's really the first time I have ever had so much support from any kind of label.
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AAJ: In the song "Take 5" there's, for me, a hint of a motif of "In a Silent Way." And I hear very clearly the same motif, I think it's in the title track of "The Things I See," your piano tribute to the music of Allan Holdsworth. Is this intentional or just one of those things that makes its way there by happenstance?
GH: You are bang on the money. Yeah, you're right, it is straight out of "In a Silent Way." And for the life of me, I don't know where that came from, on either occasion. It just came in. Instinct just made me quote it or something. Funny.
AAJ: It's a beautiful motif.
GH: It is beautiful, and at John McLaughlin's sound checks, we were always going into it. There's something really hypnotic about it. Ah, that's just Miles though, isn't it? Some of those bass lines he came up with too. Just fantastic.
AAJ: I remember in an interview not that long ago Herbie Hancock saying how he hears Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) everywhere, which is true, but I hear In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) everywhere, in so many musicians and so much diverse music. Is that your experience as well?
GH: Absolutely, it's a pivotal and seminal Miles album, and testament to one of his incredible turns. Those albums are just so... well, the world knows it, the world of musicians anyway, how important those records are. For me, In a Silent Way and Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970) are desert island discs. Period.
AAJ: A tune I love on the album is "Angels Over City Square." With this cracking energy, it also has some free jazz and a slightly mystical element. And listening also to Complete Diary of a Plastic Box, mystical impressionism seems to be a presence in your music, which to me ties in with "In a Silent Way." And I think you could write a very good soundtrack to a movie. Would that appeal at all?
GH: It's been a long ambition to do that, Ian. Although my music is not set to imagery, it evokes imagery inside of me and it's great when other people pick up on it. That's all I ever wanted to do anyway: produce music that can bring up things inside people.
AAJ: To me this album Hotwired sounds a bit like a soundtrack to a modern-day urban thriller. I mean, it has all the moods, the suspense, energy, mysticism and edge.
GH: Ha! I'm delighted to hear that because that's exactly how I feel about it, and also it really ties back to when I was very young studying classical piano and, as my mum reminds me, I used to go up to the little room in our house where the piano was, and I would just turn the light out and improvise very sparsely for a long while, just looking to stir something in me.
I realized later it was very similar to what [composer] Thomas Newman had suddenly emerged with on this "American Beauty" soundtrack. And people have been copying him to death since he came out with itfunny little quiet suspended triads hanging there, with so much tension to them. Everyone's been doing that on the TV ever since, shamelessly, but the first time I heard that soundtrack, I thought, God, that sounds like me. Peculiar experience.
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AAJ: You have firmly established yourself as a pianist with your two tribute albums, your interpretations of music inspired by Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin. It's really a tale of three Yorkshire men isn't it?
GH: Yeah! It is, I guess. A tale of three Yorkshire men, I like that. (laughs)
AAJ: What was your first encounter with McLaughlin's music? Was it the Mahavishnu Orchestra?
GH: Yes, it was, and my introduction to the Mahavishnu's music was a real testament to my dad and what kind of man he wasa very benevolent spirit towards me musically, but also a great musician himself. He used to work in music for televisionin fact, I used to do a lot of the music for him too, but he couldn't enter me because at that time I couldn't register my name as a composer since seemingly I was too young.
AAJ: Presumably he gave you pocket money for it, no?
GH: Yeah, he did. He actually gave me so much. I never got the chance to tell him how much he gave me.
AAJ: Beats doing the paper round for pocket money.
GH: Yeah, absolutely. (laughs) Well, every time he had one of the big TV sessions, there was a sizeable band coming from London, and he would be checking them out on my behalf saying, "What should my son be listening to?" And one brought up for me a cassette of Head Hunters (Columbia, 1973) and I also had a Tony Williams Lifetime compilation, but on another one of these occasions, someone brought an album called Birds of Fire (Columbia, 1973) and my dad was advised I should be getting into that.
John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension l:r: Mark Mondesir, Hadrien Feraud, John McLaughlin, Gary Husband
He dutifully brings this album home, and since I always wanted my father's approval of the music, I said, "Oh great, but do you like it?" and he said, "No, but just go upstairs and play it." (laughs) It's a story which really encompasses the selflessness and wisdom of my dad, that he could see right past his own taste barrierand of course the music just captivated me right away. The thing was, I was going around thinking this was somehow just modern commonplace music. My contemporaries thought differently. (laughs)
AAJ: John McLaughlin has described how strange it was to be sitting in his room as a kid listening to Miles Davis, and then a few short years later he was playing with him. The same could be said for you. How did you end up playing with him?
GH: I did spend a good few years going to gigs; I was just too young to have seen the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I think the first thing I saw of his was Shakti in 1976, which was perfectly good enough. And then I saw the One Truth Band, and on each of these occasions I would always make it my business to stalk him a bit, give him update, a cassette or anything I could to get an impression out of him, and on a couple of occasions later, he actually offered me a slot.
I remember, it was in the mid '80s I went to hear himI think Tommy Campbell was playing drums with him at the timeand I said, "I want to play drums with you." I had balls in those days. (laughs) I took him a tape recorder with earphones and said, "John, please listen to this." And I played him a drum solo I had just done with Allan Holdsworth from a piece called "Metal Fatigue" that I was kind of proud of it at the time. As I remember he was playing a pinball game as he was listening, but I think it was actually going in, bit by bit.
Shortly after that, he said, "Well, I do have a second keyboard slot open at the moment." And I said, "Nah, I want to play drums." (laughs) I was insane enough to turn it down. Some years later, I was on tour with Billy Cobham and he asked me to play on the first track of an album called The Promise, (Verve, 1996) one that features him and [guitarist] Jeff Beck
I was really trying to make it happen, but it just turned out to be impossible in the end. I missed it. It was really third time lucky, and this really came together at a good time as, really, I can be of much better assistance to him now as a musician. So it's all for the best.
AAJ: I think that Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006) and Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008) are two of the best albums he's ever recorded. What was it like to work with McLaughlin on Industrial Zen?
GH: Just, just greatI can't put it any other way. He is one of the most generous people, in all respects, artistically, in terms of your input, fiscally, and just totally supportive and straight up as a man. There's a big challenge in playing for somebody like that for me, automatically, but to have somebody be that straight up with youI mean, if he doesn't like what you're doing, he'll let you know.
In general it's very difficult for me to think of anything that isn't completely inspirational about that man. He has really helped me too, and I am absolutely overjoyed to be working with him nowI mean, I would sweep that guy's floors.
AAJ: What was the audience reaction like in America to the Fourth Dimension concerts? I think I'm right in saying that it was the first time McLaughlin had played there with an electric lineup for ten years or so. Is that right?
GH: It was good. It was very, very good. I think. You're right though, it had been quite a while since John had toured with an electric band. The only real big shame about that tour was that I was in near agony with three lower-back prolapsed discs and could hardly even stand up or walk straight through the whole tour.
I was taking so many painkillers and mind-altering anti-inflammatory drugs, and it didn't lend itself in the least to what I was trying to do onstage, but I just had to do the best job I could. So it wasn't the ideal situation, on that US tour, at all. But I think the reaction to the tour was really good thoughthat and the Industrial Zen album, and everybody was very excited about a new electric project from him. The spring and summer tours that followed, in Europe, were tons better.
AAJ: Being on the road with John McLaughlin, he must have plenty of interesting tales. After all, his career has been nothing short of remarkable. The temptation must be to pester him all the time for stories about Miles and Tony Williams, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti. Does he tell a good tale?
GH: Yeah, he tells a good tale, and holds court very well, all of which I just lap upquite a few great Miles stories. We played quite a bit of music on the bus, just about everythingbags of John Coltrane, obviously, quite a lot of Miles. But the main bus tape of the American tour was Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise Records, 1966). He just loves Sinatra, as I always did too. It was all no surprise to hear that his musical enjoyment and his palette is as wide as it is. It's a universal thing for him, music. Life is.
AAJ: I love your description on the sleeve of your solo piano album to describe McLaughlinelegance, conviction and swagger. I thought that was a perfect combination of adjectives to describe him.
GH: I like the swagger adjectiveand pretty much when I thought of Elvin Jones too, he had a lot of swagger. Perhaps Elvin epitomized it.
AAJ: You've mentioned already McLaughlin's wide musical palette, but you yourself don't really fit into one box. The two of you are kindred spirits in that sense.
GH: I really feel that, Ian, and I always kind of felt that. Maybe it's unconsciously one of the reasons I was very drawn to what I felt John was about in the first place, and it's the fact I feel very much at home with people who are very open. There's so much broadness to John I just haven't found in a lot of musicians. The term universal really seems to apply to him, yet I can hear something in him that is always like one messagealways such a clear, unconfused message.
Actually I really worked hard to try to define my feelings about him in those notes for the A Meeting Of Spirits album. And with the help of my darling at home, whose literary skills are excellent, we managed something I was really happy with in the end.
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On Composing And Allan Holdsworth
AAJ: Listening to the two piano albums, as well as Diary of a Plastic Box, your first solo album, it strikes me that there are a lot of, let's say miniaturescompositions that last just a minute or maybe just a couple of minutes. And there's that lovely contribution you made to [drummer] Asaf Sirkis' album, The Monk, (SAM, 2008) the song "The Bridge." You seem to be very comfortable with miniature compositions, sketches, whatever you want to call them.
GH: I like what a very short piece can give you; I like what it leaves you with. Most of all, this is about the effect to me. When I write like that, it's almost as if I form a little movie or little scene in my head to stimulate my imagination first. If it's a good day, I usually begin to come up with something, and really, the smaller statements have a very particular charm. I like the short form very much.
AAJ: What is the hardest part of composing for you?
GH: More often than not it's actually to sit down and start. Once that's started and from that point, there's a lot of help aroundsomehow in the air. Immediately I feel I am in the realm of the mystical a bit there, as so often it doesn't seem to be even coming from me.
AAJ: I hear this from a lot of musicians, that they feel that the music comes through them, as though they are some kind of portal. Let's talk about Allan Holdsworth. He's undoubtedly one of the most influential guitarists everI mean everyone talks about I.O.U. In what way has he inspired your music-making?
GH: He's been such a predominant figure in my own development for sure, as he actually was the first one to hire me and let me really play and not try and change it all. Back in the old days, I was a little bit on the intense side for most people's tastes as a drummer. I was always into something with a lot of reach and fire, and he was the first one who said, "Bring it on, go for it." And he really loves that from a drummera very improvisational input and participation.
He doesn't like rigidity, and in that respect I felt I'd found a place where I could reach a lot with someone. I wonder sometimes if it isn't very close to what Elvin felt like with John Coltrane, or Tony Williams with Miles.
At that time it was perfect for mea very big stepping stone insofar as how my development was about to take shape. And there is no question that a lot of significant movement was arising as a direct result of the musical relationship with Allan. I also always felt very naturally his (quite uncommon) way and just understood it immediately. That's another thing. Very much as if we were brothers or something. Peculiar.
AAJ: Holdsworth has for years made his guitar sound like anything but a guitar. It seems almost fitting to tackle his music on piano.
GH: Yeah, but in order to do it the way I wanted to do it, I had to abandon it. I abandoned much in the music only to rediscover it in a way I thought was ideal for the project in hand and for what I wanted to say through it. I know it sounds strange but I had to let him go to really discover himmaybe because I'm so close to him, and this was the only way I could instinctively do it.
AAJ: It succeeds in capturing the essence of Allan Holdsworth, and at the same time, it captures the essence of who you are as a musician. But still I think it was a very brave thing to do. Did you think at any point along the way that you were sticking your neck on the chopping block?
GH: Yeah, but that's where I like my neck. I like to walk to the edge, and I don't really operate in any kind of comfort zone. I mean, well a lot of things I've tried to do haven't seen the light of day, but of the ones that have, I am really happy about how they've turned out and what they say. They were done very fast, my projects, usually just for reasons of money constraints. But maybe because of that, I enjoy them more now. They weren't "built," they were very much performances and usually first takes.
AAJ: You played the solo Allan Holdsworth music at the London Jazz Festival, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That must have been a very special occasion. What are your memories of that night?
GH: It was a little exposing. That is a different kind of challenge, being on stage alone. You'll hear musicians the world over say that the greatest enjoyment is one of participation, and it's what makes you feel strong, in spite of the fact you are improvising.
Solo is a completely different deal completely though, but one I do actually enjoy in spite of the fact it's very challenging and you feel just naked up there. I'd love to do a lot more of it. I have a feeling that if I did a lot more of it, the music would start evolving from where it is, which would be my highest ideal.
AAJ: Have you presented either the Holdsworth or McLaughlin interpretations in a solo context often?
GH: I've done it about three times now. I have a little format for it, mixing up a program from both the albums, using prerecorded extra piano because there are two and sometimes three pianos in those scores and because they are very much of the score, written very much in a classical way. It might surprise you how much of it is actually written. I wanted it that way though; I didn't necessarily want it to be an improvisational thing. There was a lot of writing there.
For these concerts, I have tabla sounds and things on a few tracks where there's rhythm and a few different things like that. It makes for a very nice audio spread and augments the arrangements nicely.
To be clear, I have a recording of a lot of the second piano parts on a little multi-track sequencer which I put through the P.A. And in certain segments of the music, I'll have a little click track that I can monitor through headphones so I can line up timing things.
It's not easya lot of rubato and pulls and pushes in the music. It's incredibly complex in fact, but it does work very well. It's not the ideal maybe, and probably the ideal would be another pianist, I think.
AAJ: That layering of sounds reminds me, conceptually at least, of Bill Evans' Conversations with Myself, (Verve, 1963) only I find your work much more listenable than that particular Evans album.
GH: It's very kind of you; it is Conversations with Myself truly. I loved that record, another seminal influence right there. Big Bill Evansso beautiful.
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AAJ: I was going to ask you about this because one thing I like a lot about your piano playing is that I don't detect obvious jazz piano influences in your playing. I can hear that there has been classical training, but you don't carry the baggage of the usual heavyweight jazz pianistsat least not overtly. Who were your models?
GH: I don't know really. All of them in some way, and none of them in another way. Hmm, well, the first admission I have to make is that I get very tired very quickly, sonically, of the sound of piano and always kind of did. I don't know why. I've got other associations too, coming through this whole classical training as a youngster, and I felt myself having to shun the classical world rather quickly because I did not feel at all comfortable with the competitive aspects, and that was really enforced from day one.
I did, in fact, rebel against it massively. I think because I then became a professional drummer, a "drummer for hire," so to speak, playing a lot of different types of music. And making a living as a drummer, the piano was starting to take shape again, behind the scenes so to speak, but this in my very own terms.
In the realm of harmony and my somewhat obsessive pursuance of it, or in a lot of the improvising way, I wasn't really coming out of any of the piano players. I've been just following my own aspirations and impulses, and exploring things on my own.
AAJ: That's what I feel.
GH: The other thing is that I never transcribed anything, never adhering to any particular methodology, or tried to follow in the footsteps of any pianist or any other instrumentalist really, no matter how huge or groundbreaking or affecting what they have done is. Because with the strongest people, you know, it's about themthat's their story. Their lines tell their story; their harmony does, their way of moving, etc. I don't really want to know Allan's lines or [saxophonist] Michael Brecker's lines, or Bill Evans' or Herbie Hancock's lines.
I really wanted to try to discover a way of aspiring toward the essence of everything fantastic I heard in those and all the others, but without necessarily knowing what it was, and then sort of having that kind of movement instilled in my own playing or something. I wanted to find another, more personally affiliated way of moving and articulating, and I'm kind of forever searching along those lines all the time.
And it is a search, but I mean, imagination is the key, isn't it?that and chasing the right kind of timing in things. We're improvisers, not emulating machines. I honestly consider it our responsibility. I mean, I love hearing great players, but then I'll hear a snapshot of Herbie or Coltrane, and I just go, why? I don't really get it. For me, this whole thing is fundamentally personal, and the goal I have for coherency and consistency in improvisational terms corresponds directly with that conviction.
AAJ: That would explain why the two piano albums, in spite of addressing the music of Holdsworth and McLaughlin, sound so personal.
GH: Well, those projects were, from the beginning, about saying a thank you to two perennial influences and inspirational artists. And in that, the projects warranted an approach based in creativity, whereby I'd be literally building that music again from scratch.
I just don't think it's enough anymore to do identical cover versions of thingsexactly the same versions. I've done it to death with people I've worked with, and I've heard numerous other people doing it to death and I'm so sick of it. It's old!
Unless you can bring some imagination to the presentation of something, or bring about a kind of freshness that certain material had when it was first brought about or something, it seems kind of fruitlessexcept, of course, when you have commercial pressures on you or something. When I read that passage from [bassist] Charles Mingus where he defines jazz as the sound of surprise though, that really had a joyous resonance in me. No one put it better than that. Brilliant.
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Other Projects And Collaborations
AAJ: This year has seen the release of your debut album, Complete Diary Of A Plastic Box. Why did it disappear and how did it come back again?
GH: Like all of my albums up until this point, and as with a lot of musicians, I've had a really tough time with companies, finding the suitable people to get my material out via, and all this stuff. With Plastic Box, the label in question actually told me they had put it out because they felt sorry for me, which was not the greatest basis for a relationship.
I knew very quickly the writing was on the wall, and I took it out of their hands as fast as I could. Actually I had to fight legally for longer than two years to get it back in my hands, tediously. From that point, however, I sort of put it on the back burner, considering that somewhere down the line maybe there would be another time to look at a possible rerelease for it.
It is a very kooky album, I know, and in spite of the fact that it's a very idiosyncratic offering, I really am particularly fond of it. There's a lot about my own personal forming and expression as a musician documented there, and I'm really very happy to have it out again now, this time through a very good label in the UK named Angel Air.
AAJ: Are there any plans for Force Majeure to record or to tour again? That was such an exciting lineup, but you didn't play too many gigs, did you?
GH: Other than two tours only in the UK, no, we didn't. It was actually a project that I kind of dreamed up with the encouragement of my loving partner who had the idea to make a presentation to the Contemporary Music Network in England. And to my surprise, I got a commission from them and we worked very hard to make it all happen, using the very people I specifically chose to feature.
It was a lineup that I thought would be very appealing to write for with the violin, trumpet and trombone. It was really like a mini big band, or even a small orchestra.
AAJ: It must have been a real thrill to play with [violinist] Jerry Goodman.
GH: Oh, absolutely. He was the real soul of that project. I think I could probably have replaced anybody in that lineup, but if he hadn't been there, it would have been an entirely different band. Every time I hear him, it's such a stirring, haunting thinghe's so powerful. Also, I was delighted to be inviting him because he hadn't played in England since the Mahavishnu Orchestra more than thirty years before.
I must say, I tried really hard to drum up the interest in somebody to make an album, because I would have liked to record that music and produce it all nicely. But the times as they are, and trying to get the kind of budget together to do something like that, has been, and is particularly now, damn near impossible unless you have the kind of necessary resources on hand yourself.
AAJ: It's such a pity. It just seems crazy that with a lineup with [trumpeter] Randy Brecker Jerry Goodman, and [percussionist] Arto Tumboyaciyan, that somebody wouldn't be chomping at the bit to get you in a studio and get a quality recording out.
GH: Well, we see a lot of all-star lineups, particularly on festivals, but ones, in terms of conception, are really not necessarily bound to work in any way that might prove memorable. It's too often a commercial trick, with not a lot else thought through. I wanted to present a meeting of great individuals thathad been thought through, and one that didn't revolve around inevitably jamming in E and then switching to A on a funky riff or something.
This is another thing altogether, and it was probably a little far-reaching for a lot of promoters. I mean, the names looked good, but the music was probably regarded as being a little, shall we say, on the dangerous side, so I didn't unfortunately achieve a lot of call backs. It could always still happen though, and I'd like to think it couldespecially since, as it would appear, the live DVD now seems to be deleted, which is all another big shame.
AAJ: You've been commissioned as well to write music for [percussionist/composer] Evelyn Glennie, [drummer] Terry Bozzio as well as for [composer/multi-instrumentalist] Django Bates and I imagine these kinds of projects must be as challenging as they are maybe rewarding to see realized.
GH: Yeah, I love that fact that someone can approach you with a specific request, and there's a real strong side of me that loves rising to that kind of challenge. Whether I feel qualified for it is another thing, but I will certainly give it everything I've got. And if I don't feel that inside of myself, then I won't take it on.
I love that it happens from time to time, and I guess it's come about through being around for a while and people seeing you as someone able to perhaps bring something different to the table. I'm always very up for that.
AAJ: After you left Level 42 in the early '90s, you started working with Billy Cobham which must have been a huge thrill. But he talks about wishing to sound like you. That's a big compliment, no?
GH: He has said a few very nice things about me over the years. I always feel very flattered. That's very nice.
AAJ: When you toured with the two drum kits on stage, was that totally improvised or did you work around themes?
GH: Billy had an idea to feature it inside an ostinato-type thing where somebody would play and then I would play off that, and then I'd present one for him and he'd play off thata little bit like an Indian way, a little rhythmic composition to end it. But night after night, that got immediately thrown by the wayside and transpired into something completely improvisational, which I was very happy about. And so he seemed to be. It was incredible to be up there with one of my perennial drum heroes. Great experience.
AAJ: I was surprised to read somewhere that Billy Cobham said he has no problem playing slow or fast tempos, but he finds it difficult in the middle ground. What aspect of drumming do you find most challenging?
GH: Ah, that's interesting. Actually I don't really feel any certain or particular difficulty with any particular region of tempo, which is certainly not to imply I don't face challenges, because I certainly, certainly do! One problem I really do wrestle with is when those drums feel estranged from me, and all this is that very mystical realm.
The drums have to feel like an extension of my body, and a lot of the time they do and then sometimes they don't! It's like one night I can have a beer before playingjust to take the edge off and shrug a bit of that tension or nervousness away. And that one night it'll work fantastically, and really aid my flow. I'll try it the next time and I feel that beer all night, and feel it hindering everything.
It's stuff like this that makes you realize there's another set of elements and powers and balances in play, and we are not able to be in control of anything to the extent we wish. It's all very humbling! Then again, I'm happy we can't be. It kind of reminds me of how small we all are in the great scheme of things or something, but at the same time how divinely blessed we are to be able to channel energies creatively in music like this. And actually I find it a really beautiful thing to fail, to fuck up and be human!
I love mistakes. In fact, I don't, if I've made stupid ones, but I love listening back to something where a mistake has turned into something very special, unique and interesting in the music. You can discover some interesting effects that way.
All you can do really is throw yourself out there, and I think from that point, you trust. If I hear a musician really battling up there onstagewith himself, with his stupid habits, or trying to get out of the way of all his "formed" and learned stuffI am really inspired by that. I was always very inspired by performances like thatsome guy wrestling so hard to break free.
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AAJ: Upcoming projects?
GH: Diversification seems to be the way of my working life, moving from one project to another, but it's also continually refreshing and keeps me alive. Maybe it's the Gemini in me. I've got some shows coming up with Robin Trower and Jack Bruce, and more big band things with Colin Towns, playing interpretations of Mahavishnu music with the NDR big band from Frankfurt.
Further down the line, there's a high probability that I'll be doing more stuff with John McLaughlin, which I'm very excited and remain hugely hopeful about. I'll also be doing some shows in 2009 in Europe with Allan Holdsworth and [bassist] Jimmy Johnsonwe haven't really played too much since around 2000.
I've had a little interest to do a little more with [guitarist] Mike Stern as well. What else? I've made contact with a performance and tutorial DVD company called Altitude Digital, who I feel are really setting the standard, and I plan to be doing at least one DVD product for them. There's also the fact two of my older trio records became recently deleted too, so as a part of a sort of Gary Husband Archives set, I will be putting out again the best of that older stuff, maybe via CD Baby.
As far as a next record is concerned, it'll be a drums-led, electric, fusion, maybe electronics kind of affair of some kind or another. I'm also talking with Mark King about some ideas to do a little recording together. So, lots of things on the horizon.
I would really like to start doing more in 2009 and 2010 with my current band though. In contrast to my earlier projects, which have come and gone rather quickly, I'd like to have this band stay around and really develop, really grow as a band.
I hope so much that people will enjoy this group. And providing I can get it together for us to get out in the world and do some great concerts, I really feel they will. I've had such a great reaction to the recording and the concerts so far, so I'm thrilled to say it all really looks good for this new band.
Gary Husband's Drive, Hotwired (Abstract Logix, 2009)
Asaf Sirkis Trio, The Monk (SAM, 2008)
Gary Husband, Complete Diary of a Plastic Box (Angel Air Records, 2008)
Jack Bruce & Robin Trower, Seven Moons (V-12 Records, 2008)
Gary Husband's Force Majeure, Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (DVD) (RSJ Grove Productions, 2005)
John McLaughlin, Industrial Zen (Verve Fontana, 2006)
Gary Husband, A Meeting of Spirits: Interpretations of the Music of John McLaughlin (Alternity, 2006)
Gary Husband & Friends, Aspire (Jazzizit, 2004)
Gary Husband, The Things I See: Interpretations of the Music of Allan Holdsworth (Angel Air, 2004)
Gary Husband, From the Heart (Jazzizit, 1999)
Billy Cobham, Focused (Eagle Records, 1998)
Jack Bruce, Cities of the Heart (CMP Records, 1994)
Allan Holdsworth, Hard Hat Area (Restless Records, 1994)
Allan Holdsworth, Wardenclyffe Tower (Restless Records, 1992)
Level 42, Guaranteed (RCA, 1991)
Level 42, Staring at the Sun (Polydor, 1988)
Allan Holdsworth, Atavachron (Enigma Records, 1986)
Allan Holdsworth, I.O.U. (Enigma Records, 1985)
Allan Holdsworth, Metal Fatigue (Enigma Records, 1985)
Top Photo, Group Photo of Gary Husband's Drive: Courtesy of Gary Husband
Husband on Jungle Kit/John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension: John Kelman
Husband Playing Yellow Kit: Dick Morrell
Husband Playing Keys Standing: Courtesy of Sobie151
Husband Playing Red Kit: Courtesy of Point and Shoot