David Hazeltine: Modern Standards
“ The idea that we can create jazz musicians like we create accountants, it's just not happening. I think the music suffers for that and I've heard evidence of that. ”
David Hazeltine is now, and has been for over a decade, an omni-present force in the New York City straight-ahead jazz scene. Through the years, he's played piano and recorded with masters like Curtis Fuller, Jon Hendricks, Slide Hampton. Now with many recordings as a leader to his credit, he still plays many, many dates throughout the year and is as energetic and enthusiastic about the music as most players half his age (not to say that he's old, by any means).
To some, the concept of his new recording, Modern Standards, may seem a large departure from his earlier aesthetic of playing straight-ahead interpretations of standards and be-bop tunes, while throwing in a few originals with each set. Arranging and improvising on tunes by the likes of The Bee Gees and The Beatles may seem radical to the un-initiated. But it doesn't have to be. And if it is, that's OK too. Hazeltine has joined many modern players in the belief that much of the best pop music written over the last few decades is just as deserving to be interpreted by contemporary jazz artists as the pop music from the '20s-'40s. If not more so. Modern Standards is a welcome addition and Mr. Hazeltine took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about it with All About Jazz.
All About Jazz: I've had a chance to listen to a bunch of your music lately, mostly the new one, Modern Standards, which was really cool.
David Hazeltine: Thank you.
AAJ: Yeah. Looking over the titles from a lot of your [recordings] it looked like you'd maybe had a project like this in mind for a while: pop tunes played / arranged in a jazz context.
DH: Yes, well... I've put a Burt Bacharach tune on just about every one of the last, say, ten CDs or so that I've made. Burt Bacharach, I've been a big fan of his. There've been a few other little things that I've done... I guess you wouldn't call them pop songs, but maybe popular back when I was a kid back in the '60s or '70s.
AAJ: We're relatively close in age so I have maybe a similar relationship to some of that music.
DH: Ok, I see. Ok, good.
AAJ: I actually never really went through a phase where I was checking out Bacharach in particular. What is it about him that seems to get to you?
DH: Beautiful melodies and traditional enough harmony. When I say traditional I mean in the same kind of ballpark as, say, Cole Porter, in the overall view of his tunes. But then he does very interesting, very Bacharach-ish kinds of things that take him out of that realm and make him a little more modern than say Cole porter or George Gershwin. So, I guess overall, he uses similar formats and phrase structures, and numbers of bars and so on. But then when you get down to specifics he has some interesting little things about his harmonic movements that kind of separate him from them and make him a little more modern. Like other composerslike Jimmy Webb. He's a guy I didn't get to on this project. I have the intention of getting to some of his music. I actually did a Jimmy Webb tune on The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander. We did "Didn't We." That was a popular tune in the '60s when I was growing up.
AAJ: That might be a little bit before my tyime. I'm not familiar with Jimmy Webb
DH: Yeah, Jimmy Webb wrote a bunch of tunes for the 5th Dimension like "Up Up And Away" and a lot of great tunes. He's another guy like Burt Bacharachkind of starts out with the same formats as the traditional 20th Century American composers. But then he adds little things, little twists that actually make it sort of jazz-like. Now the interesting thing about Bacharach, he actually grew up here in New York in the '40s and '50s going to listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He talked about that in several interviews. So he's always had this jazz thing in the back of his mind. I think that's why it comes out in his music in a 'pop-ish' sort of way. It's not like I'd ever consider him a jazz guy or a jazz musician. But it comes out in his music in such a way that it's just open enough that I can mess around [with it]. I never record or play any of Bacharach's music like [he] wrote it. But I think one of the things that appeals to me is that it has so much space for me to mess around with it. You know, for me to get something else out of it.
As opposed to other music that I really like a lot. For example, Earth, Wind, & Fire is a group that I really love. I'm talking about music in the pop vein. I listen to them all them all the time. I know a lot of older jazz musicians who love it too, like Louis Hayesolder guys that you wouldn't think would listen to pop music. But everybody loves Earth, Wind, & Fire. But the problem is I can't do anything with it. It's so jam-packed full of stuff. Great harmonies, great rhythms, all this stuff is packedit's very highly produced music.