Take Five With Skip Heller

Skip Heller By

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Meet Skip Heller:
Grew up in Philly, enticed by all kinds of improvised music—jazz, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly. Played with Yma Sumac, Phil Alvin, Les Baxter, Wanda Jackson, DJ Bonbrake, Cannibal and the Headhunters, NRBQ, Karen Mantler... get the idea?


Teachers and/or influences?
Mose Allison, Willie Nelson, Bill Evans, John Hartford, Roger Miller, Bacharach/David, Doug Sahm, Hank Jones, The Beatles, Ahmad Jamal, Johnny Mercer, Merle Haggard, War, Bob Wills, Jethro Burns, Bing Crosby, Nick Lowe, Jack Teagarden, Uri Caine.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I saw John Hartford on The Smothers Brothers TV show.

Your sound and approach to music:
American roots music with its emphasis on both good songs and good improvising.

Your teaching approach:
Make things really, really clear. No problem is insurmountable when you can see things by their components. Teach process, not the end result.

Your dream band:
My dream band was NRBQ when Tom and Joey were the rhythm section. I got to be in the band for some shows in 2001. Dream accomplished.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
Best: playing duos with Bob Dorough, recording with Roland White, recording with Stan Ridgway, playing in a trio with Terry Adams and Karen Mantler, interviewing Carla Bley... My life is charmed.

Favorite venue:
The Flying Monkey in Huntsville, AL. Great sound, sightlines, amazing staff, great food nearby.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Foolish Me, because it reflects my tastes best, and because the recording has a nice lean, spontaneous feel. Or The Night's Not Yet Over, which is a duo recording with pianist Heath Allen, because we played to each other in such an enjoyable way. His warmth is incredible.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Coleman Hawkins, The Hawk Flies High.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Any musician who is expressing what he knows, who he is, and what he means—that's really good.

Did you know...
I love English trad jazz and skiffle.

CDs you are listening to now:
Various, This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel On 45 rpm 1957-82 (Tompkins Square);

Nick Lowe, The Old Magic (Yep Roc);

Uri Caine Trio, Siren (Winter and Winter);

Jack Teagarden, Think Well Of Me (Verve).

Desert Island picks:
Louis Amerstrong/Duke Ellington, The Great Summit (Roulette);

John Hartford, Aereo Plain (Warner Bros);

Bill Evans Trio, Explorations (Riverside);

Roger Miller, Golden Hits (Smash);

Merle Haggard, Same Train, Different Time (Capitol).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
It's in flux, but it's always moving in new ways. Too much emphasis on free and electronic elements for me.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Musicians staying curious about the past while not being defined by it.

What is in the near future?
More gigs, more recording.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
steamboat pilot.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Skip Heller

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