Billy Hart: A Hart of a Drummer
AAJ: I think my favorite record of yours is your first one as leaderEnchance (A&M, 1977).
BH: Oops, you know about that! Well, it's the same, I don't see those as any differentcontemporary ambitions. I don't consider how successful that is, who knows. I say that, because you can't really say that I was consistently working with Don Pullen, and Dewey Redman, and Oliver Lake...
AAJ: They all sound so great on that session. They've all got great careers and produced amazing music. But on that session, it's certainly on par as exemplary and some of the greatest music they've produced.
BH: But I was somewhat an outsider on my own date as I was on the other ones. So when I did have some kind of working band, I tried to put all of that into the same thing like some of that kind of material, adventuresome material. But then, once you put a band together, then right away you are faced with that commercial reality: Will the Village Vanguard hire you with something like that?! I was getting a few gigs at Sweet Basil's at a time, and finally James Browne [club owner] said, "Why don't you go down to the Knitting Factory with that band? There was no Tonic at that time. They said, "Look this is a little too deep for us. Because the record's one thing but if you heard the band live, you'd see we pushed a half an envelope or two. I was pleased with that. You know, I'm still pleased with it. I still wish [I was playing with that band, too].
There was another band I put together, my first working banda band I put together that people don't understand that I had called the Great Friends. It started with Billy Harper, Stanley Cowell, and Reggie Workman, and then the next record [with the addition of] Sonny Fortune. We toured, went all over Europe and Japan. They just re-released one on Evidence from 1986...Then we never got to record when it became a sextet when Eddie Henderson joined the band...
AAJ: Was that a leaderless band?
BH: It was my band. That's a good question, though! It was my band. I got the gigs, but it was still a leaderless band. To be a leader iswhat's a good word for thatit's an award, I mean it's a prize. It's something that you really have to be adept at; it's a talent...
AAJ: Still. Going back to one thing what you said about the Max Roaches, the "Tain Watts. I think the one thing about this music is that it respects people when it's too late. It just goes without saying that with jazz that people don't realize what they had and what they have, untillike a fine wineyou have the recordings to look back on and then you suddenly realize, "Whoah, we've had some great people with us and whether it happens during that person's lifetime or not, it's hard to say. I think there are lots of people who'd say, yeah there's the Max Roaches, the "Tain Watts, and the Billy Harts. And I wouldn't doubt saying that. I just spoke with Dave Liebman, because I was trying to get in touch with you, and he had nothing but the highest of compliments about you...So what is "The Billy Hart ? What sets you aside, and why are so many people calling you, and why do people always want to play with you?...As a drummer who has played with what seems like everyone, as is the case with everyone who's recently passed you have some connection to, from John Stubblefield to Albert Mangelsdorff. You've got this connection because of all the people you've played with. What's the special thing about your drumming style, and what sets you aside? And also speak of where you came from?
BH: That's more like it, where I came from. There was an article done [on me], maybe it was Down Beat....Dave Holland had some stuff to say, Liebman, Sonny Fortune, everyone but Charles Lloyd who refused to do it for whatever reason...At that time, I had worked with him for 10 years. He said he didn't like the interviewer. That's why de didn't do it. But all these people had these kinds of things they said.
AAJ: And the fact that you came from DC at the time you didhow significant a role has that played in your music career and drumming concept?
BH: ...One of the things I think that happened, fate put me in some very funny situations. I grew up in DC, in 1958 I was sixteen or seventeen years old. So when you think about where the music industry was at that time, whether you want to call it rock 'n roll and rhythm and blues, whatever you want to call it, it was just happening. And it wasn't really being accepted because we were still basically in a segregated society at that point. Certainly '56, schools were supposed to have been integrated, but in society it was still out... so Motown, or Stax, or whatever, there were certain places you just couldn't play. You weren't playing Radio City Music Hall, Las Vegas, Miami Beach.