Noah Haidu: Carving Out His Place
"He didn't show me a million technical things on the piano," Haidu says of his teacher, "Just playing with him, I would really pick up on his musicality and his soulfulness and his phrasing. He's the type of guy who can take a standard like 'Darn That Dream' and at any given timeyou could call him up in the middle of the night and say, 'Hey Kenny, it's two in the morning, can you play 'Darn That Dream,' and he would probably play a masterpiece. It doesn't matter where or when, what town. Every time he played it, it was incredible."
He played jam sessions in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and even a little in New York City, while in school. "That kind of musicality seemed like something I couldn't learn in school, so in a way, I think Kenny [Barron] was the catalyst for me quitting Rutgers," he notes. "I took a little time off, investigating the scene in Philadelphia. I started getting a few gigs in Philly, but I noticed it was very hard to break into that scene. I ended up moving to New York. I wasn't a very strong player at that time, but I knew I wanted to move to New York and be around the heart of the jazz community and start to make a living. That's when I started playing the electric keyboards. That became mighty quickly what I was doing to survive."
Playing jam sessions and other small gigs got his name around, and his buildup on the scene was gradual. "I still feel it's building," he says. "Over the years, I'm getting more and more busy and more in demand with certain people. The schedule filled up to the point where you're running from gig to gig. Then people want to study with you [he teaches at the Brooklyn Conservatory]. I'm lucky with students and stuff."
Meanwhile, Haidu has met and played with other rising musicians like trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire and Gregory Rivkin. "There've been a number of people that have called, who I've enjoyed working with."
He's not just checking out the younger cats, but learning from jazz icons as well. "Recently I got to go hear Keith Jarrett for the first time. I had never heard a concert at Carnegie Hall, and I went to hear him play solo. I was very taken by the music; it was one of the most musical concerts [I've ever seen]. There wasn't a whole lot of ego going on. He just sat there and played music.
"One of the things I try to do with my own group, when I play music, is have a certain variety," Haidu continues. "I don't want to play a whole set of ballads, or a whole set of up-tempo. I want to do both. I want to do swinging stuff, modern stuff. As long as there's feeling in it, I think it's all there. Keith Jarrett was incredible because he did all of that, all by himself, at the piano. There were moments of gospel, moments of modern classical. There were standards. There were things that sounded like boogie woogie. He never played like anybody except himself. His own voice was there the entire time. It was a beautiful concert. That definitely had an impact."
Haidu takes on the challenges of being a Big Apple-based jazz musician in trying times, and does so with a positive attitude. And it's working for him; the cat can play his butt off. "Even though it's difficult, there're a lot of people playing. We can all check each other out and pick up things from each other. I'm happy about that. I think it's a good time for jazz."
"Even though there's a million people and not enough gigs, I like all the different people who are playing and all the different influences right now. Brad Mehldau is on one end, then you have Keith Jarrett. Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis. There's a great variety of approaches to the music and attitudes about the music. There's a lot of good stuff going on, a lot of different stuff going on. I'm open to anything new. If it seems musical to me, I'm all for it."