Extended interview: More from Billy Hart
When I showed up to meet Billy Hart, he was finishing a lesson with a student. Here’s some of what he had to say about the importance of tradition, as well as some follow-up questions and answers.
BILLY HART: The Afro-Caribbean communities – or cultures, or whatever you call it – and the Indian communities – or cultures – somehow have joined forces to be the biggest influence on American music today. Now, that goes for both the folk music or the pop music or the classical music or jazz, or whatever you want to call it. That’s basically what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about, “It took over.” I’m not saying that Chris Dave is going to be Max Roach. I’m just saying, it’s a huge influence. . . .
If you were studying European Classical music, you’d have to go back 700 years, right? And the interesting thing about our little recycling culture, we can’t even go a hundred years. And depending on how young you are, you can’t even go 10 years. How are you going to play with any meaning, or any depth? How are you going to express yourself, if you’re serious about this music? They say every generation transforms art into its own image. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not the art that changes, it’s the image.
HOW DID YOU BEGIN WRITING YOUR OWN MUSIC? When I was recording Enchance, I said, “Everybody bring out their music.” So Dave Holland said, “Where’s your music?’ And I said, “Well, I don’t have any music. I can’t even find middle C on the piano. The only time I can hear any music is in the shower.” And he said, “Maybe you better go back in the shower, because I’m not doing this record if you don’t have a piece.” Sure enough, I went home and took a shower and I heard this piece in its entirety. So I sort of hummed it into a tape recorder, took it to the piano, and it’s on the record. And that was the beginning of it. And it got a little bit more sophisticated after that. But I’ve never been home long enough to study, and so actually if somebody gave me a billion dollars – a million wouldn’t get it, a billion, because I love music and performing so much – I think I would retire and spend the rest of my life just studying music. I think that’s really what I would like to do. I would like to study music. If I have anything that I haven’t done, that’s it.
DID JIMMY SMITH EVER SAY ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR PLAYING? ASIDE FROM THE GUY WHO ASKED YOU “HOW DID YOU GET THIS GIG?,” DID JIMMY HIMSELF EVER SAY ANYTHING? Nope, nope. Never. Nothing . . . Well, once. Once he did say something. We were in San Francisco and somehow, I can’t remember how this happened, but I started hanging out with [Count Basie Orchestra drummer] Jonathan Jo Jones. He was in San Francisco with somebody. And he decided to come by. He came by my hotel, and we would hang out every day. Three or four days. And for some reason, that Saturday night he comes to my gig with Jimmy Smith. Not only that, but he sits in. So I’m thinking, “Wow. This is amazing, this old guy—” of course, he probably wasn’t as old as I am now – “is sitting in on my drums with this hot organ, loud, contemporary, pre-fusion band.” And he sits in, and of course he’s magnificent. But it still isn’t contemporary. So I’m just like, “I’ll go back up now and play the gig the way it’s supposed to be played.” So I sit down in front of the drums, and Jimmy looks over at me, and you know what he says to me? “That’s the trouble with guys like you, you and Tony [Williams] and Jack [DeJohnette], you young guys. You don’t think enough ahead of time.”
In other words, it seemed he was saying, “You need to have more of a compositional attitude toward your playing.” You don’t just lay under a pork chop tree and have a pork chop fall in your mouth. That’s something my grandmother used to say. In other words, that you actually have a composition in mind.
And that’s the only thing I can ever remember that he said: “You young guys don’t think enough ahead of time.” And I’ve taken that to heart.”
Billy Hart Quartet | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | April 11 | 7:30 pm | $20 | 617.395.3375 or regattabarjazz.com