Steve Hass: A World of Rhythms
AAJ: Other musical influences?
SH: The obvious ones are Trane and Miles. Herbie Hancock. Oscar Peterson, I went through a thing with the trio drumming, brushes and all that. I learned from everybody, to tell you the truth. I go through these phases of listening to people. Lately, I’ve been picking up various CDs at stores and popping them in.
Definitely, Prince. P-Funk guys are huge influences. Keith Jarrett. I try to stay open to everything. I went through a little Ornette thing. A Stan Getz thing. Some of it comes from the Berklee student in me still, because the first thing you there is check out tons of music. Depending on which faculty member you’re hanging out with, you’re going to be checking out a lot of different stuff, because they all have their favorites and they put you through their routine.
AAJ: From Berklee, you were probably playing with a lot of bands.
SH: Yeah. I lucked out because I went there as a somewhat technically developed player. So when I got there, didn’t really have to work on my playing as much as I had to work on my music, my approach musically. I didn’t sit there doing hand exercises. I was doing a lot of listening and working on my ride cymbal feel and my approach to playing big bands. For me it was more like a late night session and ensemble sort of school I got the most out of the ensembles and hanging with the students in the practice room and playing tunes out of the book, the real book. Just rapping with cats about what they’re listening to and learning from the student – that was just great.
AAJ: Other people have said that the atmosphere there is maybe the best part, and the interaction with others.
SH: Yeah. It’s like a micro music industry. That’s how they have it set up. That was fun.
AAJ: Was there any particular big break; people that you started playing with that got your name out there?
SH: Definitely Ravi. I actually started playing in Ravi’s band when I was still at Berklee. I me him on a gig in Athens, Greece, which was probably my second touring experience ever. We played this club called the Half Note with two French musicians, both Berklee alum. I didn’t know Ravi at that point and I was a little nervous about playing with him, because I had a video of him playing with Elvin and Sonny Fortune and Chip Jackson. I was checking out the video before hand. And he’d actually grown a ton since that video, so we played together and we had a good vibe. And we also got along. He’s a sweetheart of a person. A few months after that gig, he called me to start playing at the weekly thing. Either Al Foster or Cindy Blackman couldn’t do it any more. They were the regulars. He had me come down and we got along, musically and personally. It was great.
Then he put out his first record with Tain [Jeff Watts] and I did all the touring with that. He did a second one after that. He wasn’t really using the live band yet, I guess the labels were pushing him to use certain guys. But they sounded great. The records were great. Then the third one I got on, but by that time I got so busy doing other projects I couldn’t go out with the touring band.
Ravi’s the one who made it OK for me to move to New York. I didn’t want to come here and struggle. I knew great players that were really right above the poverty level. I didn’t want to live like that, because in Boston I was playing all the time. So I was really comfortable. And there were great musicians there, like George Garzone and Danilo (Perez) was there and Billy Pierce. I got to play with guys like that, so I was kind of content. I really wanted to be in New York. Any night in the Village you just go and check out a million different bands. It’s that energy. So I wanted to come here, but I also didn’t want to starve. So I got the gig with Ravi and finally moved down to New York from Boston.
AAJ: You’ve played with a million people since then in all kinds of styles.
SH: I’m trying to.
AAJ: A lot of the jazz guys aren’t doing that.
SH: Which is fine for them, as well. There are some that are doing it. Some that are doing it are not even known as jazz guys because they haven’t really had a big jazz gig. But if you’ve seen them play little gigs around town you know they can swing and they’ve checked out a lot of stuff. And then there are the guys who just want to play jazz, which is great. Whatever makes you happy.
AAJ: You’ve played Art Garfunkel and Billy Joel and George Benson.
SH: Yeah. George just pops in places and we end up playing all night. One time, he sat in with Manhattan Transfer, which was really great, at the Blue Note, and played a few tunes with us.
AAJ: You play with Manhattan Transfer quite a bit?
SH: I’ve been with them for about a year and a half, maybe a little more. That’s a really fun gig. It’s a show, but at the same time we play some backbeat stuff. There’s a lot of big band and small group swing. They’re really into grooves. Singers can feel stuff right away if it’s not right and it’s really demanding on the drummer. The dynamic thing, especially. Because they want that intensity; they want that kick behind them. But when you hit the cymbals too hard or something that’s at ear level to them, they don’t appreciate that. They’re still traditionalists in the sense that they don’t use ear monitors, they have the regular monitors on stage. So they’re not cut off at all. They hear the band, they can feel us right there. So far, so good. I really dig that gig. It’s fun, playing tunes like “Four Brothers” and stuff like that.