On thursday, November 6 – 2019 I had the huge honor and pleasure to meet my long life musically brother Jabali Billy Hart, drummer, composer and educator. After playing for one week in New York City with his own quartet (Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner and Ben Street) he traveled to Cologne, Germany for rehearsals and a recording at Riverside Studios for Enja Records, with Christophe Schweizer, Pablo Held, Sebastian Gille and Joris Teepe. And from there he came to teach one week long at the Prins Claus Conservatory in Groningen, The Netherlands.
His way of playing drums and composing music was always available in my life as a music listener, but also as a musician, since his early collaborations with Pharoah Sanders, the Herbie Hancock Sextet, with Miles Davis, with the WDR Big Band, his incredible solo work and last but not least with his new Billy Hart Quartet, as an ECM recording artist.
Born in Washington D.C November 29 – 1940, Billy Hart was gifted to have a piano playing grandmother, she played for the classical singer Marian Anderson. Billy Hart's father was a Duke Ellington fan and all these influences together made Billy starting playing the drums. When he was 17 years old he got his first nine months long ongoing weekend gigs.
He started his career playing with Otis Redding, Jimmy Smith, Buck Hill, Shirley Horn, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Patti LaBelle, Wes Montgomery and the Montgomery brothers. Please note, that this list might not be biographical correct. After moving to New York in 1968 he started playing and recording with McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Eddie Harris, Pharoah Sanders and Marian McPortland.
He was a member of the Mwandishi group of Herbie Hancock from 1969 – 1973, Stan Getz (1974 – 1977), he recorded with Miles Davis the legendary fusion album “On The Corner” 1972, “Big Fun” 1974 and “Tutu” 1986. All in all he recorded +700 albums until today, his creativity is still on fire.
His first solo album as a leader was “Enchance” 1977, with a band featuring Oliver Lake, Dewey Redman, Hannibal Marvin Petersen,Eddie Henderson, Don Pullen, Dave Holland, Buster Williams and Michael Thabo Carvin.
I had the very huge honor and pleasure to meet Jabali Billy Hart beginning of November 2019 in Groningen, The Netherlands, where he was teaching and sharing for one week at the Prince Claus Conservatory his creativity, spirit, enthusiasm, esprit, knowledge, freedom, discipline, passion & joy.
Earlier I was a witness when he told his students:
“I'm not playing like a twenty old anymore, or like a thirty, forty or fifty old. I'm playing now like a +70 old drummer!”
In this interview we talked about stations in his career, such as his time with Mwandishi Herbie Hancock, especially his recording session for “Sextant”. Further he told me about his early period with Pharoah Sanders, his contact with John Coltrane, his connection with Zildjian Cymbals, the “On The Corner” recording for Miles Davis, his relation with ECM Records and Manfred Eicher and of course about his new quartet.
Please enjoy also some other incredible topics during our one hour talk! Many thanks to Jabali Billy Hart for being, who you are!
Extra special thanks to Joris Teepe for connecting me with Jabali Billy Hart in New York City!
Cover picture: Still Image by Bernd Ihno Eilts/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2019.