In speaking with guitarist/composer/educator Bill Hart, I found a sturdy foundation with cemented principles, driven frequently by his deep passions. Strings often take the form of a gentle instrument of sound, with diverse languages and moods. Mr. Hart grooms these same traits and molds them into a deeper dimension, one of intellectual textures.
Mr. Hart is a scholar of the art of string interpretation as he has took passenger on a blue collar bus tour, through his growth. Masterful in manipulation of "fretology", he takes his road warrior mentality and instills this mental headset to the hungry minds at the Atlanta Institute of Music. I found in him, a unique intense perception to other music genres, even finding the jazz influences in rock icon Jimmy Page’s music. He seeks education and growth from territory yet unearthed; thus enhancing his own music along with new mental expressions, for his students to capture.
Subject to Change, his latest studio project, encompasses the art of "attitude" fusion with a crossroads mentality. Attitude fusion is what I define music that has taken "left of center" path in the emotional direction of the artist. Jazz has had several crossroads of late, with many road signs. There is no "Mapquest" for jazz; the path is paved with gut reaction. This is opus of Bill Hart; pure atmospheric enthusiasm!
This is what makes the Hart compositions so appealing, his intimate arenas of rhythmic innovation. Attach to that concept a multi-faceted disguise of expressions in technique.
Mr. Hart is a musician who lifts the arches of the usual artist profile. Educator, author, musician, composer, along with numerous other labels, he has an "aged wine mentality." He soaks in all that surrounds him and transcribes that to the music sheet, taking every inch of information from varied sources. He is a passionate and driven man with an endless yearning for seeking out the unexplored in music.
As he is between books and studio recordings, we enter stage left, as we go between sets with the ever "subject to change" musicianship of guitarist Bill Hart.
JazzReview: Bill, your introduction to the world of jazz came with a profound curiosity hunger at a young age. Go back and tell us of that moment when jazz met Hart.
Bill Hart: Well, I do have a vivid recollection of that day. I grew up a rock player trying to figure out what the progressive rock guys were doing. The lines Steve Howe would play from Yes and the strange jazzy chords Jimmy Page would use in Zeppelin’s music. One day I walk into a music store in Florida and saw a guitarist sitting on the counter. I could see his fingers and hear this cool hip sound coming from his guitar. I said "wow man, will you show me some of that" and he said "I’m leaving town in a few hours but we could do a lesson". He showed me some chords and scale ideas, recommended a few books and unloaded a dozen cassette tapes on me. Al Dimeola, Chick Corea, Jean Luc Ponte, Tito Puente, Mahavishnu and a few more. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. This was a turning point for me, an introduction to a whole new world of music that is still part of my journey today.
JazzReview: Describe for us in elementary terms, the "mathematical precision of jazz."
Bill Hart: Listening to groups like Mahavishnu using a lot of odd time signatures and the Latin groove from Tito Puente sent my curiosity searching for an answer. Music consists of a great deal of math and can be a science in itself. I’ve learned over the years that music needs to have some human element for it to live. When it really hit me was when I recorded with bassist Adam Nitti and drummer Tom Knight in 1996. We recorded a CD titled Liquid Blue. Tom and Adam both had impeccable timing. Not only did it completely amaze me of their precision but added a very important element to my life long journey in music. Sorry to be so long winded but in elementary terms, math is: timing, precision is: how tight your timing is and jazz is the music.
JazzReview: I have had the great pleasure to be surrounded with some innovative European guitarists such as Attila Zoller, Ferenc Snetberger, and of course Rock’s iconic strings such as Clapton and Santana. Within your educated past and experience what molds a well-rounded guitarist? What dynamics and mindset creates that passion and manipulation of the strings?
Bill Hart: Very deep and interesting question. From my own experience I believe that it takes allot of practice and having an open mind. The biggest thing in my way was my thinking. I would practice and practice and couldn’t wait to "get there" when I didn’t know where "there" was. Trying to get ready to get out and play shows or record a CD or any thing in music, I could only prepare so far. I found that allot of my main preparation came from the experience of taking a chance, getting out there and just doing it. That taught me more of what I needed to work on. I have had the great pleasure to be surrounded by some great musicians as well.
When I would get discouraged, which can happen often in this business, I would call Mike Stern or Steve Khan, my two favorite players. They would help me more with my thinking than what the right scale was for an Eb7b9 chord. Mike said, "Just finish your CD, you will learn so much". That was opposite of my thinking, I thought it had to be perfect before finishing it. My suggestion would be to try to participate in the music and not control it. Easier said then done, I’m still trying to do this after playing 30 years but just knowing it helps. Your life experiences will come through your music if you let it. If you are human you have life experiences.
JazzReview: As a musician and author you educate each time you step on a stage. From the current disc Subject to Change escorted on the shelves by your publication Solo Jazz Guitar, The Complete Chord Melody Method; the line to the young and hungry is open. What do you advise those undeveloped guitarist’s, hungry for a start in today’s industry?
Bill Hart: As I mentioned before, try to have an open mind and be optimistic. You don’t want to make this career harder than it is especially instrumental music. I’m still working on this optimistic part. When I get discourage about gigs or CD sales I’m able to call Stern and dump my poor me on him and he resets my clock by reminding me that I’m playing guitar and recording CD’s. I knew what Stern meant when he said "you will learn so much" by doing the book Solo Jazz Guitar for Hal Leonard. The information is invaluable and I still pull from it today. If I didn’t have an open mind about this, I would have missed out on allot of important elements in music. To sum it up, try to see the good in everything in stead of the not so good. The worse thing that will happen is you will live a much happier life.
JazzReview: You’re also a composer; in fact your current spin is 100% Hart. Discuss the process of composition and what goes on inside the artist head when in that mode.
Bill Hart: Some people it does come easy. For me it is work, but it is getting easier just by doing it. I don’t think there is one correct way to approach a tune. Some of my tunes started with just the melody or a groove section or a chord progression or even a certain style or feel. When I lived in L.A. in the mid 80’s, Jeff Berlin told me it was like planting a seed and it grows and takes form. Any one of these elements can be that seed. When you know a little bit about music and have endless options, you can rewrite the same tune over and over forever. My experience is to trust in the process, try thinks, don’t think too much and be able to say this measure or section is done. Then a tune is done, and then two tunes, next all the tunes are done, the art work is done and before you know it your CD is finished. When I finally finished my first CD after some years, I called Mike Stern and he said "Good for you, now start the next one".
JazzReview: Give a simplistic definition of the "chord melody method" and its impact on the music sheet.
Bill Hart: Chord Melody, is just like it sounds. You have the chord and in the chord you have the melody. This is not foreign for piano players so I approached it like a piano, only on guitar. I feel this is the best thing a guitarist can do, to learn how it all fits together. From my experience, I started with the melody on top of the chord, and before I knew it I was seeing all the notes in the chord, the arpeggio and the scale that works with that chord. Doing this for some time, I started to understand what the harmony was and why it all worked. It just made sense in black and white.
JazzReview: Now let’s get into your artistic side and your new spin Subject To Change. This is as we stated a full collection of originals from you. Was showcasing not only your prowess on guitar but also your composing technique a goal from the onset?
Bill Hart: Yes, the composition is very important to me. It is the art of the music. Every note, chord, bass line or shaker etc, has a profound effect on the end result. More chords or notes dose not necessarily make the music better but how they all work together. Writing music is a life long journey of trying to find that balance and be able to feel the music on any level.
JazzReview: It is always interesting to get the personal characterization of an artist’s choice genre. So, let’s ask you to dig deep and make clear the art of fusion as it pertains to jazz, and you’re formulation of the art.
Bill Hart: My understanding is that in the late 60’s and into the 70’s the term "Fusion" had a specific genre. The main concept was mixing the tones and power driven sound of "Rock" with the harmony and theory of "Jazz". Today music is a fusion of all sorts of genres. We have influences from all over the world mixed together in all styles. It really can create some beautiful sounds. I love the feel and tone Jimi Hendrix gets playing one note, and at the same time the lines that Charlie Parker plays in his tunes are amazing. If I were to say what my formulation of the art of fusion is, I would say a mix of jazz/funk with some rock and blues.
JazzReview: Can you give up an example of this on your new project?
Bill Hart: Sure, let’s look at "Look Out For June". It starts out with a funky 4 bar bass groove. Then every one hit on the 5th bar. Drums playing a back beat funk groove with African percussion layered underneath, thus adding a nice vibe to the groove. The guitar plays a horn like melody over this section of the tune. The bridges leads it back to the "A" section and the 2nd time going to the bridge brings us into the "B" section where the groove changes to more of a swing funk feel and the Bass and Guitar are playing a contrary pattern making for a nice feel. Then comes the solo, definitely a rock sound with some jazz textures... along with the harmonic’s and whammy dive! Back to the melody then followed by a flurry of pull offs on the guitar creating a tight ending.
JazzReview: Share with us your relationship with formidable and eclectic guitarist Mike Stern and the impact he had on this project. On that note also drive us into the studio experience with Stern on "What Are You Doing" and "This is Why," from the technical to the personal impacts.
Bill Hart: Mike has been a good friend over the years and stays at my place when he’s in town. I have an in house recording studio affording me to record my own music. It was a great experience recording with Mike and we tracked both tunes live. "What Are You Doing" has two guitar solo sections and for Mikes solo the chord changes are somewhat open with out 3rds and 7th to create some freedom for the soloist. The 2nd solo where I played, I used a static vamp on a Dmin7 to separate the two solo sections. "This Is Why" was a great lesson for me. I was engineering, producing and playing in the studio as we were recording. My solo was on the nylon string Godin guitar plug in direct. I was "thinking" again, there is no way I can do all this and come up with tracks I would want to keep, I’ll just get good tracks and I can come back after Mike leaves and record my solo. Certainly the first take can’t be the one. So when Mike left I relearned the solo and thought I need to use amps to get a sound or a tone and I got the notes perfect but the soul of the solo was missing. That was when I realized what magic had taken place as we recorded together. I kept the first take and boosted it in the track. This was an amazing experience.
JazzReview: Talk to us about the others who joined you on the recording.
Bill Hart: All the players that played on the recording are dear friends of mine. I have played with them for several years. Enrico, my main bass player, came over from Italy and live with me to do the CD and Tom Knight played drums on all those tracks, a great combination. Gary Wilkins, a great friend and amazing player, played on the rest of the tracks, accompanied by Charles Marvray on drums for the three Italian named tunes. The two tunes with Stern was also Gary Wilkins on bass and my friend from the Netherlands, Jef Van Veen another great drummer. Ahsa Ahla played African percussions on five of the tunes that added a great deal to the music.
JazzReview: "Spazio Aperto" has a different personality attached to it. Clearly open as to technique and precise flow, referring to the arrangement, bring us up to speed on this encounter with the spin.
Bill Hart: "Spazio Aperto" translation is "Open Air". This tune does have a personality of its own. It has an openness about it that just floats and feels good. Especially going into the solo section, Charles on drums changes the feel to a 3 feel over 4 creating an African vibe. Soloing on this section just felt right. It is amazing how Charles brings it back to a 4 feel on the way out and Ahsa Ahla adds so much with the percussion ideas that he is doing.
JazzReview: Was there a recording that you felt could have gone to the next level after the taping was completed?
Bill Hart: The good thing about having your own recording studio is that if I needed to re-record something I could and I have. For example the three tunes in Italian were re-recorded live in the studio. I feel this was a good move and brought then to another level. To me it seems like those tunes have more life to them now. Playing them live would bring them to the next level or bring them to life if you will.
JazzReview: Explain the "experimentation" concept that took place and unfolded on "It’s Working," especially pertaining to the second solo.
Bill Hart: I think when you are done with "experimentation" the name changes to "composition". This was exactly what happened with this tune. I had two solo sections and typically don’t like to take two guitar solos on the same tune. At one point I had the idea of having another soloist play here, synth, sax or keys and it ended up being Violin. I love the solo, so in experimenting I learned it on guitar, trying to play like a violin and was going to double the solo and keep both. In the end I kept only the guitar and when I play this tune live, I also play that 2nd solo as heard on the CD. So, it’s really part of the tune now.
JazzReview: On a personal note "Sara’s Song" has such an incredible story behind it. Open your heart if you will and bring us to that time in your life. How was it to record this tune as well, recalling those times?
Bill Hart: Good question. I was in the middle of writing for my CD "Watch the Sky". During this time my wife and I had our first child who was premature weighing in at 1-lbs 11 oz. She was in the hospital for 10 weeks and needless to say I spent a great deal of time there. I would show up after gigs with my guitar and when she would sleep, I would practice. In all the uncertainty this tune just fell in my lap effortlessly. I charted it out and recorded it with my group as "Sara’s Song". This CD has it played as I originally wrote it. I don’t believe in coincidences but it is amazing you’re asking me about this tune today because it is her birthday and she just turned 10 years old and healthy.
JazzReview: Now let’s go off to your print life and your current book Solo Jazz Guitar, The Complete Chord Melody Method. What drove you to put this out and why?
Bill Hart: At the time I was writing core curriculum exclusively for the Atlanta Institute of Music. I had six books and Hal Leonard wanted to publish one, my Chord Melody Guitar Book. As I mentioned before, I think I learned more writing the books then the people reading them. It really helps me get deep into the music on another level.
JazzReview: This book is for what level of guitarist? How should this instructional text be used?
Bill Hart: This is definitely an advanced college level book. The first part of the book is eleven chapters of Chord Melody Concepts, followed by twenty standard arranged in chord melodies using the techniques in the eleven chapters. They are not in any order of easy to hard and there are a variety of styles; standards, swing, ballads, waltz, modern. Pick a tune and go for it, more will be revealed.
JazzReview: With your resume as an artist, composer, and now, author attached where do you go from this point in 2008? Is there another passion yet untapped?
Bill Hart: I just finished another college level book called "Jazz Guitar and Beyond" an improvisational book on what scales fit over what chords and how to get there. My main goal is to perform this music live and tour Europe and Asia. Then record the next CD.
JazzReview: On the lighter side...
Q: If you were not an artist what would you be doing?
A: I think I would work with wood crafting.
Q: Rolling Stone just put out the top string songs. Now it’s your turn top five guitar cuts?
1. KT. Mike Stern
2. Sise-Steve Khan
3. Anthropology Jimmy Bruno
4. Follow Me-Pat Metheny
5. Pasha&&&s Love-John McLaughlin
Q: What is on your grocery list this week?
A: Fruits and veggie’s for this week.
Q: What’s on your iPod?
A: My collection of everything I own including me.
Q: Your favorite expression of disgust?
A: I can’t believe it but this to shall pass.
Q: The place you go to escape?
A: my studio.
Last thought from Bill: No matter what level you’re on. Keep playing guitar and studying music. Most of all enjoy the journey.