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Take Five with Julian Hartwell

Julian Hartwell By

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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.

Favorite venue
Locally I gotta plug Rittenhouse Soundworks right in my neighborhood of Germantown, northwest Philly. It's a complete hidden gem... this immaculately repurposed multimedia production/performance space in the building of an old Chrysler factory, home of the first car-lift in America in fact. The 2nd floor where recording and concerts happen is like a Brooklyn loft space, but warmer, more inviting... with a wood stove, exposed brick, beautiful woodwork. Great piano too. Owner Jim Hamilton implies that the building was destined to be this kind of space all along, as if it had a will of its own..it really does feel that way. Every concert there has a special feeling to it, and people actually listen. I'm planning on doing some video shoots/recordings here in the near future, so look out for that!

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Well, the discography is still pretty small haha, but naturally I'm pretty proud of the Julian Hartwell Project's debut album (released 2015). Owing to the fact that I wrote and arranged all the tunes on the record, it was a big milestone for me. I feel like it showcases a good variety of what I can write/play, and also really allowed specific players to shine in the arrangements. That being said, I learned a whole lot in the process! For one, I feel I could've rehearsed the band a bit more before going into the studio. I'd like to have a more focused intention in terms of a unifying concept or theme for the next album, instead of just stringing various tunes together. And I'm excited to really challenge myself even more as writer and arranger, expanding my definition of what's possible for me and the band.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
It's not even intentional per se, but I've been told repeatedly that my music is "approachable" and generally "feel-good." I think I'm not only bringing to the table a fuller, small group sound, but one that is indeed relatable and can meet the listener where they are, jazz fan or not. Straddling a line between intellectually, harmonically satisfying... but also forging that emotional, inviting connection with the audience. And plugging in a whole host of influences from funk, hip-hop, etc that reflects the state of modern jazz, while (hopefully) pushing the genre forward. So I think developing this accessible sound is a big part of my contribution.

Did you know...

I'm a southern boy at heart, originally from Birmingham, Alabama. If I still lived down there and hadn't discovered the piano I could very well be a professional skateboarder right now, that is if my knees weren't blown out or something yet haha. I do miss all those adrenaline boosts sometimes.

The first jazz album I bought was:
Bill Evans Trio: Portrait in Jazz. But my Aunt Diane gave me a Duke Ellington compilation for my birthday and the stuff on that record REALLY turned my world upside down.

Music you are listening to now:
Kurt Rosenwinkel: Caipi (Heartcore Records); Kneebody: Anti-hero (Motema Music), Ben Wendel: What We Bring (Motema Music), Raphael Saadiq: Instant Vintage (Universal), Kuf Knotz: A Positive Light (Ropedope)

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