Interview with John Hart: People are generally affected, usually in a positive way by music: Video

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Jazz Interview with jazz guitarist John Hart. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

John Hart: – I grew up in Sarasota, Fla and I started playing the guitar at the age of 12. I started playing rock and got interested in jazz after hearing Miles Davis and John Coltrane in high school. I had great teachers in high school and continued my education at the University of Miami, where I compiled many of the tools that I would need to succeed as a musician. Then I moved to NY and learned how to actually use all this information.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

JH: – I was always attracted to the pure sound of the hollow body jazz guitar. When I began my career in the early 1980’s the trend was towards solid bodies, stereo chorus and various other affects. As a professional guitar player I’ve had to do everything and have always been comfortable incorporating rock, blues, and r&b sounds into a jazz context when required. However, I keep coming back to that pure sound as my favorite way to play. In some ways my sound has not changed over the last three decades. What has developed is my ability to play more dynamically and expressively.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

JH: – I have always worked with a metronome, mostly set on beats 2 and 4 if I’m playing swing music. I play with the metronome as though it were playing with another musician, trying to make the inanimate click swing. By increasing rhythmic accuracy and confidence I feel I can play much freer. The rhythmic grid is there but I can push and pull, playing behind, in the middle, or on top of the beat. The metronome has taught me the subtleties of different tempos. It’s very easy for me to tell if musicians are dragging or rushing. Though music it is not meant to be metronomic, ultimately the feel suffers when the tempo starts to drift.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

JH: – For me harmonic considerations are usually directed by musical context. For example, if were to play Stella by Starlight I have a vast palette of harmonic choices. I can play inside the changes and there is so much beauty and elegance in that. On the opposite extreme I could re harmonize every chord and really challenge the listener and myself with dissonances not expected on such a well know standard. A lot of this may be influenced by the stylistic considerations of the musicians I’m playing with as well as my concept of how I would like to present the song and where it fits in a set of music.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

JH: – I try to pay attention to the music that speaks to me, and there is plenty of that in all genres. There is still much to learn, and I try not to get too distracted by what is trending now and gone tomorrow.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JH: – There is a high degree of intellect involved in being a jazz musician. Complex harmony and rhythm are the music’s trademarks. However, there is also an inherent simplicity which the greatest musicians never lose sight of. The blues is very strong and you hear it in abundance from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker to John Coltrane and beyond. We sometimes talk about mastering extensive amounts of musical material and vocabulary and then forgetting it when you’re on stage. Regardless of musical complexity, the goal is to reach inside, learn who you are, and communicate this as an artist.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

JH: – When a musician is true to themselves the audience usually responds positively. When a musician attempts to second guess what their audience wants to hear they risk losing authenticity. The audience wants an honest performance.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

JH: – Too many to single out. I will say that when you have gig you never really know what is in store. Be prepared musically but try to leave your expectations at the door. I’ve played big stage, high profile gigs that left me disappointed and gigs in small dives with scant audiences that have left me exhilarated.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

JH: – Standard tunes are incredibly malleable and even the youngest jazz musicians play them as vehicles to showcase their respective harmonic and melodic process. Music that exists in the category of jazz is more eclectic than ever and reflects not only the wide range of this generation’s musical tastes but the technological revolution that facilitates that. Young musicians are bombarded with choices. Only time will tell us which trends will last and which will fade. It’s my feeling that some part of each new generation is going to discover the Great American Songbook and fall in love with it, much as I did.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

JH: – Coltrane was able to reach a transcendent place with his music. He practiced more than anyone, created an astonishing variety of work in a short period of time, and spoke to a large audience without packaging his music in an overtly commercial way. He really challenged his audience as he moved through the mid 1960’s. Musicians can look at his music to find technical virtuosity, extremely advanced harmony, melodic development and lyricism without equal. Still there is something more. I first heard “A Love Supreme” when I was in high school. Even though I didn’t understand it I knew there was something different happening. I think you will find that kind of spirituality in all walks of life. Is a person born with it, do they work at I, or is it a combination of factors? How do we achieve it ourselves? I think it’s important above all to be yourself.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

JH: – I would like to see young people exposed to a greater variety of music, including jazz and classical music. It will allow them to develop their own tastes and opinions and be less reliant on the limited choices available through mass consumed pop culture.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

JH: – Lately on the playlist – John Coltrane Sun Ship, Benjamin Britten’s War Requim, Johnny Smith solo guitar recordings, Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

JH: – It took me many years to realize that people are generally affected, usually in a positive way, by music. Jazz has a very small audience, but if a musician has an impact on even 10 people during performance, it can be as powerful as playing for 10 thousand people a gig. Someone may come to a club overwhelmed with life’s many challenges and leave an hour later uplifted. It’s impossible to quantify the value of that.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

JH: – I would love to be there to see the development of modern jazz from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. I was born in 1961. I dream of being able to hear Bird, Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Dorham. The list is endless!

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

JH: – What does the future look like for the abundance of young jazz musicians who are entering a music business that is so different from when I started out 35 years ago?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I think a music do not business. Some good, some not better …

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

JH: – I consider myself a success because after 4 decades as a musician I love playing music more than ever. It’s cathartic, invigorating, and the easiest thing that I do in my life. At some point the music plays itself.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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