Tim Hagans: Trumpet and Musical Elegance

R.J. DeLuke By

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"Thad Jones is the biggest influence," Hagans says of his writing. "Of course, the other people I've played with: Maria Schneider, Bob Belden, Bob Mintzer. Everybody who's written for big band I can probably name as an influence. But what I've tried to do—and this is what Thad did as well—everything was based on his way of improvising on the trumpet, or in his case the cornet. So all the melodic lines and then the emotional support, which is harmony, comes from the way I play when I'm improvising in a small-group situation. Then the flexibility and the events that happen at the spur of the moment in those situations is what I've tried to orchestrate, so that it doesn't sound written. Even in a big band setting, it sounds like it's happening unplanned and in-the-moment, like in a small group. That's kind of like the overall way I'm trying to write. The influences are definitely Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer, but through the way I improvise with my melodic language."

He's writing other things besides material for the Norrbotten band. Other musicians within the band are coming up with charts, as well as people outside the organization. "This gives me time to work on some other things that are not necessarily geared toward this specific project." His arranging skills are mostly self-taught. He says that while he writes best on project deadlines, "I write everywhere. I can concentrate on airplanes or in waiting lounges or on a bus, or hotel rooms, at home with a piano. Some of my best stuff has been written late at night in hotel rooms after a gig, when everything is calm. The day is over, successfully completed. Then I get in a zone at midnight for a couple of hours, when the rest of the world is sleeping, at least in the time zone I find myself in. Then good things happen," he notes. "Also at 30,000 feet, good things happen because you're in a confined, limited area. Believe it or not, sitting in a cramped, economy-class airplane helps concentration. I don't know why."

As for his trumpet playing, television seems to have played a fortuitous role in the process for the Dayton, Ohio, native. Fans can be thankful for television shows that featured trumpet players. He started on the instrument at the age of 9, in the early 1960s. "Herb Alpert was a big deal. He was on TV. You heard him everywhere. I just loved the sound of the trumpet. Al Hirt was on TV a lot. My parents had his records. Doc Severinsen, when I was allowed to stay up until 11:30 [at night, for The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, on which Severinsen led the house band] to at least hear the theme song to The Tonight Show and then see what Doc was wearing. These are all reasons why I wanted to play the trumpet. But it was basically the sound."

His parents had a record that featured Rafael Mendez and Harry James. "Also, I was listening to a lot of pop music, and there was trumpet in pop music a little bit—especially after I started playing a few years and was in high school— Blood, Sweat & Tears [which at one time employed Brecker and, later, the brilliant Lew Soloff on trumpet] and Sly & the Family Stone with Cynthia Robinson, Chicago."

His ideas about guitar surfaced at this point in the '60s, when the guitar was the emblem of rock music. "I wanted to be the Jeff Beck of the trumpet. I didn't have a guitar. The trumpet was an approved instrument in my household, so I tried to play the trumpet like the guitar players I was hearing with rock bands," explains Hagans. "Then I heard Coltrane and said I want to play the trumpet like that, as well as like Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis. I was infatuated and knocked out with the trumpet sound and all the trumpet players. Then I saw it as an instrument that I can take influences from other instruments to try to play it a little differently."

Hagans listened to all kinds of music as a kid. On a family vacation to New Orleans in 1970, he heard Ray Maldonado with Mongo Santamaria. Maldonado became a hero, and Hagans soaked up the albums he purchased of that band. Big bands of the day—Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and more—came through Ohio, and the trumpeters in those bands were also an influence. Miles' live recordings In Person: Friday Night at the Blackhawk and Saturday Night at the Blackhawk (Columbia, 1961) brought new ideas. But a more modern sound tilted the scales for the budding musician. Never much of a transcriber of solos by his heroes, Hagans preferred to listen and extract qualities, particularly emotional qualities, from artists he heard.

"When I was 14, that's about the time Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) came out," he says. "That was maybe the first jazz record I bought that was a new release. I bought records from earlier '60s later. But when Bitches Brew came out, I bought it. It was life changing. That's when I really started listening to jazz."

He adds with a chortle, "I also wanted to be an ice hockey player and played for five or six years in youth leagues, but I had an eye accident when I was 15 and decided it might be safer to be a trumpet player."

Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw became big influences. "Freddie is probably the guy who knocks me out consistently every time. I was lucky to know Freddie and play with him. We did a record for Blue Note, Hubsongs (Blue Note, 1998). Marcus Printup and I were the two trumpet players. Freddie was the producer on that record, in the studio. He was an amazing person and the ultimate trumpet player."

Hagans attended Bowling Green State University in 1972, but in a couple years, that was left behind. His education would continue, but on the road. "I was 19 when I started with Stan Kenton, and that was an incredible thrill. I'd heard all of the big bands up in Ohio. There are lots of colleges and clubs in the cities, so I heard all of the big bands. They were all still traveling. Ellington, Basie, Woody Herman, Maynard, Buddy Rich. Even Don Ellis. But Stan was always my favorite, and when I got the call, that was an incredible thrill. We did one-nighters for 50 weeks a year. That was a great experience."

After leaving Kenton, he joined the Woody Herman Orchestra, but soon moved to Malmo, Sweden, playing in a variety of settings, including with the Swedish Radio Jazz Group, Orjan Falhstrom and the jazz/funk group White Orange. His association with Thad Jones began when he played with the Danish Radio Band and, later, Eclipse. He was a member of the Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band for a time, and gigged with musicians including Sahib Shihab, Kenny Drew, Horace Parlan, Ed Thigpen and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.

Returning to the States, he got involved in teaching, including at Berklee College of Music, where he also benefited from playing in that heavy music scene. Eventually, the New York scene summoned him, and Hagans was involved with the likes of Joe Lovano, Schneider and others.

"I'm very fortunate and lucky and thankful for all my opportunities. I feel, even though I'm not 19 anymore, I still feel I'm 19 for my desire for hearing new sounds and creating things and being influenced by others," says Hagans. "I feel like there's a lot more to come. I'm trying to get back on the New York scene a little more, sitting in, and playing with my own band. Hopefully, that will lead to more opportunities."

Selected Discography

Tim Hagans/Norrbotten Big Band, The Avatar Sessions (Fuzzy Music, 2010)
Tim Hagans, Alone Together (Pirouet, 2008)
Tim Hagans, Beautiful Lily (Pirouet, 2005)
Tim Hagans/Norrbotten Big Band, Future Miles (ACT, 2002)
Bob Belden, Black Dahlia (Blue Note, 2001)
Tim Hagans/Bob Belden, Re: Animation, Live in Montreal (Blue Note, 2000)
Tim Hagans, Animation/Imagination (Blue Note, 1999)
Tim Hagans/Marcus Printup, Hubsongs: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (Blue Note, 1998)
Marc Copland, Softly (Savoy Jazz, 1997)
Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Coming About (Enja, 1994)
Tim Hagans, Audible Architecture (Blue Note, 1995)
Tim Hagans, No Words (Blue Note, 1994)
Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Evanesence (Enja, 1994)
Thad Jones, Eclipse (Storyville, 1980)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 2: Erik and Gunnar Westergren

Page 4: Courtesy of Tim Hagans

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