Kevin Hays: Creative Flow

George Colligan By

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But for me it was playing with friends. Sean Smith coming over to the house—I met drummer Leon Parker at a record store in White Plains, and then he would come over to the house and we would play. I was going to hear a lot of music in the city—not to sound stuck up about the New York thing, cause there are probably lots more scenes now then there ever were in other parts of the world.

GC: Maybe...

KH: Well, let's just take Europe for instance. Do you think 20, 25 years ago, you could perceive anywhere near the same kind of jazz experience that you have now? I don't think so... you didn't have the level of guys that could play. There were some, but it kind of exploded!

GC: A lot of those guys studied here.

KH: Yes, but they brought it back home. What I'm saying is that if you don't want to go to New York, you could go to Munich and there would be a scene there. That wasn't the case two decades ago.

GC: When did you start recording for Steeplechase?

KH: I actually did my first record in 1990 for a Japanese label before Steeplechase, a label called Jazz City. That CD was bought by Evidence years later. Then, 1991 through '93 I did three CDs for Steeplechase. Then I signed with Blue Note in 1993.

GC: I had all three of your Blue Note CDs. In reverse order, Andalucia, then Go Round, and then Seventh Sense. Which is your favorite?

KH: I don't know, I haven't listened to them in a while. I think they all had something. I think SeventhSense had a great vibe—the sound was great. It was great to play with Brian Blade; there was something special about that one.

GC: I only played with Brian Blade a few times, but I think that it is easy to underestimate his playing.

KH: [Laughs].

GC: What I mean is, and with many jazz drummers, it's not a chopsfest.

KH: It's a musicfest!

GC: Right! It's about putting everything in the right place and his interpretation. You get the sense he has total commitment to the music.

KH: And the drama factor with Blade, he's got this simmering quality.

GC: And Billy Hart on Go Round and Jack DeJohnette on Andalucia.

KH: I love playing with great drummers!

GC: And you worked a lot with Al Foster and you played with Bill Stewart. So the bar has been set pretty high for drummers. Did you ever play with Art Blakey?

KH: No, I never did. I'm not sure I would have fit in with that scene. I was a little freaked out by that whole thing. I didn't identify with playing with him.

GC: As opposed to Geoffrey Keezer, who I think really fit that band.

KH:I did have a chance to play with Roy Haynes for a bit and also Joe Chambers. The drummer thing in New York is a big thing. You get such an education with drummers.

GC: Do you think the fact that you played the drums when you were young helped you to play with these great drummers?

KH: Maybe...

GC: A lot of my students always ask, "How can I play and not turn the time around and keep the form?" and so forth. I always say, "Listen to the drums. Listen to their vocabulary. You can't just count."

KH: Hear the phrases. You have to take that leap of faith. Listen instead of count. It's weird, because lately I've been playing with Bill Stewart so much, but I've been playing with some different drummers lately, and I'm so used to Bill that it's weird. I've been playing with Jochen Rueckert and Rodney Green, some of the younger guys, and I find I have to get used to their phrasing so that I don't have to think about it too much. Playing with drummers—it's much more important to listen to their phrasing than to be uptight and worried about getting it wrong. It's not about not screwing up. It's about screwing up and learning from that. If you are too tight about it, it's no fun. Of course, this is years later talking about it! I'm talking from the experience of being uptight. I mean you don't want to get lost in the form when you are playing with Roy Haynes! [Laughs] Cause you might be lost for a while!

GC: I remember the first time I saw you play was at the Visiones jam session, which was led by Eddie Henderson. You were playing with Ed Howard on bass, Greg Bandy on drums, Joe Locke on vibes, and I remember there was a tall female singer that sang. You guys played one of your hits, "El Gaucho" by Wayne Shorter, and then Eddie said, "I wanna change the color a little bit..." and then you and this singer did a duo, I don't remember what tune it was, but I remember being VERY intimidated and thinking "Man, I gotta learn how to comp like that!" Many that know you speak about your great comping, and it seems as though the people that hire you are sort of enamored with your comping, they continually hire you for that. Is it something that you could always do or did you study it?


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Bridge Over Troubled Water

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Kevin Hays
You've Got a Friend

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Album Reviews
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Newvelle Records



Sunnyside Records

New Day

New Day

Sunnyside Records



Pirouet Records

Seventh Sense

Seventh Sense

Blue Note Records


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Lionel Loueke, Kevin Hays
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