David Hazeltine: Modern Standards
DH: That's probably true. Criss Cross has an engineer that comes along from Europe to do all the recording. Marc Edelman uses the engineers in Systems Two, the house engineers. They kind of have a little more flexibility in terms of... like I say, even at that point of the recording, I have a lot of say in how it sounds. In different projects I'm looking for different kinds of sounds. Nothing big or overwhelming. Things maybe people wouldn't even notice. With Criss Cross or the Japanese label, they don't involve me in that. They won't allow me to dictate too much about how it sounds. So I kind of like this idea that Edelman uses the house engineers and he gives me this kind of freedom.
AAJ: I read about a conservatory you taught ata jazz studies program you started up. I wanted to know some of your thoughts on that type of learning situation as opposed to learning more out on your own, just private lessons. People have lots of different attitudes about that. It seems like you've maybe had your hands in both types of situations, you know?
DH: Well, it's interesting. I'm basically self-taught. I had some teachers, I went to music school, and I had classical piano teachers. In fact my major at music school was classical composition.
AAJ: That's relatively far removed from interpreting standardsclassical composition.
DH: Right. But when I was twelve years old I studied with a guy for about two or three years who was a jazz organist, and he was my first and only jazz teacher really. I was very young and naive. I didn't know much about jazz at all. I started on organ and I was still playing organ when I met Will. His name was Will Green. He passed away not long after that. I was just getting turned onto jazz and liked things on a deep level. But I wasn't really ready to get into too many theoretical things. So he taught me in a very hands-on way how to play all these different songs. In a year I sounded pretty good, but I didn't know what I was doing. It wasn't really improvising, you know? But I was sounding good and I was doing what he told me. Later, after a few years of that, I started asking, "Why am I doing this? What is this actually?" And he would explain things to me. And then he passed away and I was kind of on my own again. So I had a lot of stuff he showed me that I kept thinking about.
But meanwhile, while I knew him, I started building a record collection and I started learning things from the records. He always encouraged me in that and told me it was an important thing to do. To be able to train my ears to be able to play what I heard. He didn't say, "You must transcribe all the solos," because that's what they do in a college program now. They say you need to transcribe solos and you need to do this and that. But at that point he just said you need to develop this ability to play what you hear, and in order to do that you should practice hearing stuff on records and then playing it on the piano. So I did it. He told me to do it so I did it. It was slow going at first. When I first got turned onto Charlie Parker at fifteen years old, that began the whole period of spending all my free time at the piano with a tape recorder, learning Charlie Parker solos. That was a big thing. In fact, spending the time cutting classes and practicing Parker solos is basically what I'm trying to say (Laughs).
So I had a very practical hands on, teach myself approach to my own education. But then, as I was doing that, I was also thinking for some reason, like an educator. I was writing everything down. I was very organized like that. I guess I was trying to figure out the logic behind what would make Charlie Parker play this way. Then as I got into more pianists like McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, I was always asking myself, "Why are they doing this? What are they thinking about?" So I developed all these little theories and things and that's what I ended up teaching people, in the hands on way I could, at this conservatory where I developed the jazz studies program. I went about it [by studying and playing this music in a hands-on way] and then I, sort of in retrospect, figured out how to teach other people to do it. In that way I think it's a great thing. But I don't necessarily think that kids who start taking music in these jazz studies programs they have today... while they're really good, I still think they're only as good as the student who is personally involved. 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.