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Take Five with Julian Hartwell

Julian Hartwell By

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About Julian Hartwell
Julian Hartwell is a sought-after pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator based in Philadelphia, PA. He is inspired by many styles of music which all contribute to his distinctive sound, both solo and in a group setting. For the past 12 years he has performed throughout a wide swath of the Delaware Valley and Philly area—from jazz clubs to rock venues, music ministry to cocktail hours, weddings to jam sessions and everything in between, and now is adjunct faculty at Temple University. Career highlights so far include sharing the stage with jazz legends Christian McBride, Jimmy Heath, and Jon Faddis at Lincoln Center with the TU jazz band, as well as appearing on Dear Dizzy, that band's tribute album featuring the latter two musicians. Julian's full skill-set as a composer, arranger, and pianist are on full display with his group's all-original debut album The Julian Hartwell Project, which released to critical acclaim in October of 2015.

Instrument(s):
Piano, electric keyboards and such. Melodica for the acoustic jams.

Teachers and/or influences?
So many teachers along the way, but the big ones were Jim Walbert, Father John D'Amico, Nick Micholapoulas, Gary Moran, Elio Villafranca, Tom Lawton, Josh Richman, Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, John Swana...on and off my instrument it's a pretty long list, not to mention many of my peers who can be great teachers on the bandstand!

As far as influences on my writing goes, it's definitely a wide spectrum of hip-hop, funk, fusion, RnB, and a whole lot of jazz in between. Everything from Stevie Wonder, Greyboy Allstars, Snarky Puppy, Soulive, The Roots, MMW, Galactic, Weather Report, Rebirth Brass Band, Robert Glasper Experiment...to artists closer to the straight-ahead side of things like Roy Hargrove, Sean Jones, Christian McBride's Inside Straight, Kenny Garrett, Warren Wolf, Marquis Hill... it all goes into the pot. Pianistically we're talkin' Herbie, Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch, Bill Evans, Lars Jansson, Kenny Kirkland, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Austin Peralta...

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
My first piano teacher Jim Walbert gave me my first jazz CD—Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note. Everything about that album was so captivating to my budding 12 year-old ears: Oscar's unfathomable technique (obviously), the energy in the room, the band cohesion/interaction, how friggin' hard they swung...and most importantly, just how much FUN it sounded like they were having on stage! I didn't know the half of what they were doing then, but even now I can still put that album on anytime and fall in love anew. Before that I'm told I always loved to sing and dance around as a young'n too, so I just had performing in my system from the get-go I guess.

Your sound and approach to music.
My sound is a combination of all my influences to arrive at something soulful, evocative, sonically and emotionally satisfying. In terms of the larger group I'm all about a rich balance of written and improvised material on the bandstand, with plenty of room for group dynamics, backgrounds, spontaneous interplay. I feel my job as a bandleader is done if both the jazz purist and novice listener can find a connection to my music; a high standard of quality that can appeal to more down-to-earth sensibilities. I like soulful jazz with a strong emphasis on groove because it can reel in anyone...instrumental music can come off as too heady or esoteric sometimes and it's a challenge to reach just anyone. At the end of the day my sound is just a reflection of me and the rawest version of that I can express.

Your teaching approach
I like to give students the tools they need to start expressing themselves right off the bat. Anything that gives them a new sense of command or confidence on their instrument, yet retaining the element of free play, of fun. Every students' needs are different, so I always try to establish clear goals and outcomes we can work towards. I constantly reiterate that we're playing MUSIC with each thing we do...that rhythm, scales, chords, don't exist in isolation and are there only as the means to our creative expression. I use a lot of duo playing and splitting up accompaniment for that sort of thing. And, because we're surrounded by such a fast-paced, instant results culture —the need for PATIENCE each step of the way.

Your dream band
Tough question, but something like—the sensitivity to sound and technical approach of a Brian Blade or Kurt Rosenwinkel... the raw energy/drive of an Art Blakey or Jaco Pastorius-..the showmanship, audience engagement, and uninhibited spirit of jazz of a Dizzy, Duke, or Louis Armstrong. That'd be an interesting combo right there lol.

Road story: Your best or worst experience
Oh boy... I know just the one. A certain RnB artist from Philly promised an exciting festival in the Poconos that would be great exposure and a fun road trip, so after some negotiating on (average) pay I decided to get on board. This same festival was also supposed to be a cancer benefit as well, mind you. Well, after a long drive we get there and it's like... a Bonnaroo stage for an open mic-sized crowd. Elevated stage, huge PA system, monitor overload, pro lighting rig, you get the idea. After much milling about we finally play our neo-soul/RnB set to this Pennsyl-tucky crowd, which is basically two people in lawn chairs facing the massive stage, the rest a bunch of country bros playing ultimate frisbee in the corner of the field. Literally everyone there was drinking bud light, chain smoking, and wait for it...hitting up a hot dog truck which served mac and cheese and chocolate covered bacon-wrapped hotdogs, to name a few. Remember, cancer benefit LOL. It was absolutely surreal. And to top it off, the sound guy/production manager for the night was named Martian, and had this disconcerting lazy eye among other, um, quirks. But to his credit he invited us to come back to "town" in a few months and rock "LawnStock"! Definitely in my top three most hilarious gig stories.
About Julian Hartwell
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