Monday, April 10, 2006

Billy Hart

Tons to talk about today, which means I won't get to most of it. Most of my weekend was wrapped up at the aforementioned Yoga Journal conference, which was great, and I'll get to in depth soon. (Again, I recommend their blog, especially the video coverage, which is still breathtaking, despite its mediocre quality. None of the classes I took are in that blog, so it'll at least seem fresh) But that takes time and brainpower, so I'll start with the easy stuff. Darcy beat me to the coolest of the music buzz- live Radiohead online! So:

The great drummer Billy Hart finally has his own website, focused on his current quartet, which conveniently is at the Vanguard in New York this week. (If I make it to New York, you can be sure I'll be there.) The site features a fantastic long interview with Billy by his (and The Bad Plus') pianist Ethan Iverson, as well as soundclips from a (hopefully) forthcoming album. I've haven't given the interview a thorough read, butI'm already enthralled. (via TBP)

I personally think that Billy Hart is one of the most underappreciated musicians in the history of jazz. And I know that Bill Dobbins, Charles Gayle and Michael Cain, for starters, agree with me. (I can't think of three more disperate jazz musicians offhand) He's played with damn near everyone, in damn near every "bag", since he hit the scene in the late 50s. He is an innovator in his own right- check him in Herbie Hancock's seminal Mwandishi band, and a walking history of jazz percussion (see said interview). On top of it, he is one of the sweetest human beings you'd ever want to meet, quiet, kind, friendly and deeper than the Pacific.

I was exceedingly lucky that Billy started teaching at NEC my last year there. I never got to work with him, but we were on a "hi, hello" basis, and a couple of times I got him talking just a little. I was completely knocked out just by those few interactions, and the couple of little stories he told. And interestingly enough, given his background and playing, apparently he spent a lot of time with his drum students teaching old- pre-Baby Dodds old- second line New Orleans beats, trying to get them to really intertalize and nail that stuff.

Since many of us in the music community spent last week recognizing two great musicians upon their death, it's good to spend some energy on musicians living, vital and active.

Critic's side note: listen to the sound clip of Mark Turner's solo on Moments Notice, the old Trane tune. I tell you, on first hearing, I haven't been that excited about a jazz cover since Frisell mutilated Madonna's "Live to Tell". And the way Ethan, Billy and bassist Ben Street play behind him, it's like they channeled The Bad Plus and took their hatchets to a jazz tune. (That's a good thing) And they ride that energy through the first chorus, and it's exciting, and it keeps going, and it builds, and then, then... eight bars into the second chorus Mark decides he needs to be a "jazz musician", and goes into robotenor mode, playing the crap out of the changes, running headlong in the opposite direction of the first chorus. AAAARGH! (I was interested, I was very interested, I was VERY interested, and suddenly...) Mark, if you're going to go, GO, all the way! Don't halfass it like that.

Read any jazz magazine and they'll tell us (rightly) that Mark Turner is one of the sharpest, smartest, most adept young jazz tenor players in the world, (and right now there are a lot of sharp, smart, adept young jazz tenor players). Note to Mark- you don't need to prove it to us every time out of the gate. And kill a great cut in the process. I'm sorry to single this out- I have no particular beef with Mr. Turner, really, but it's a frustrating pattern in the "jazz" I hear these days; great players who start to do great, creative playing, that then strangle themselves in some notion of how jazz is "supposed to" sound. We don't need any more great "jazz", but we sorely need great music.

Billy sounds great the whole way, though...

Also- now, for something completely different, Gary Willis' Op-Ed piece in the NY Times this morning. A very brash, thought-provoking piece. Definitely worth the read. Hope to get to it later.

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