Fusion guitarist Richard Hart is a well known studio and touring musician in jazz circles having worked with "Chuck Datillo, Larry Nance, Tony Molina, Ansley Dunbar, Ron Eschete, Tom Scott, Heath Brothers, Kirk Whalum, Russell Malone, McCoy Tyner, and Mel Torne," he roll calls. His musical experiences inspired him to create his own songs and release an album of original material called Fearless Shores on Innervision Records.
"I wanted to incorporate all the great influences of the many genres of jazz to create a collective repertoire of original songs. The deep emotions I have for the music called jazz," he emotes.
Fearless Shores is his individual pattern in the giant quilt of jazz touching on aspects of contemporary cool jazz, standards, hard-bop, smooth blues, and his gift for fusion. Joining Hart for the recordings are alto & tenor saxophonist Ron Munn who has played with the Dave White Trio and Swingshift, bass guitarist Dorothy Soto who is an avid player and fan of Latin jazz, and percussionist Mark Winkel who has recorded with Gib Gilbeau, the Flying Burrito Brothers and for Motown Records. Combined, the four players form the Richard Hart Quartet.
"I met all the musicians at a music school I was teaching at in Southern California," he explains. "Ron Munn and I started working together at first on the compositions I had written so as to hear those melody lines played back to me while polishing the chordal comps. I invited Dorothy Soto and Mark Winkel to rehearse with us to complete the quartet and it worked quite well. With Ron’s ability to incorporate his cool/west coast jazz interpretations, Dorothy’s influences of Cuban and Brazilian music and enthusiasm to learn new ways of expression, rounded off by Mark Winkel’s years of experience as a percussionist, makes for a perfect mesh of talent and conveyance of the songs interpreted."
Richard Hart wrote the compositions for Fearless Shores from a creative perception of chord structures and harmonies, which he started developing at a young age by listening to other jazz performers like "John McLaughlin, Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Django Reinhardt," he lists.
He picked up on his instinct for visualizing chord patterns and harmonies and his talent for composing songs, "At about age 20," he recollects. "I started writing and arranging my own songs and incorporating the many influences I had. Most of my arranging is self-taught. It’s what I call ‘head’ arrangements - I feel them before I hear them in my head and then put them down on paper."
Since then, Hart has been applying this method of head arrangements to his songwriting and used this technique for the tracks on Fearless Shores. "My layout was head arrangement of each song," he discusses, "I started with just the rhythm comp parts and timing as well, then went back with each song jotted down the melody line structure I heard in my head against the chordal changes, and added the critical part which is the part that comes from the heart. All the solo interpretations were left to each musician."
Fearless Shores is the product of team work and Hart’s sixth sense for melodic jazz. There is also an element of improvisation like on the track "Getzmondes," which Hart describes, "’Getzmondes’ was a concept I came up with while listening to ‘Take Five’ and later ‘Girl From Impanema.’ When I wrote out the arrangement I had to come up with a title so I used to play on words, actually with names." Saxophonist Paul Desmond who composed the hit song "Take Five" with David Brubeck, and saxophonist Stan Getz who wrote the single "Girl From Impanema" with Joao Gilberto, were the two names that Hart fiddled with to form the title "Getzmondes." "Stan Getz - ‘Getz’ and Paul Desmond - inverted last name is ‘mondes,’ together is ‘Getzmondes’ creating a phonically smooth sound. It’s my hope that my impressions of these two greats come across in this arrangement, a joyous mainstream cool effect."
Feeling the music and being inspired by its movements has always been a motivational factor that stimulated Hart’s playing, ever since he could remember first hearing music.
"I grew up in Southern California," he shares. "Growing up in our home with my mother and grandmother, we listened to all types of music from Gershwin to Nat King Cole, from Led Zeppelin to Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass which encouraged me to be free, exploring these types of music and applying them later in my musical progression as a jazz guitarist."
He reminisces, "My mother played piano and had a soprano voice. She sang a lot of standards and church hymns. My grandmother was a retired school teacher and inspired me to pursue the guitar and to learn as much as possible about the instrument."
He recalls, "I started playing guitar in my junior year of high school at about age 16. I never took music lessons while growing up. I was basically self-taught and started learning music by ear and then using chord charts."
He encourages, "Practicing is critical for me to keep my thought processes actively engaged. But in most cases the spontaneity of improvising, leads to greater creativity and a true balance as an overall musician."
Richard Hart has parlayed his instincts in the studio to being an exceptional live performer which is actually what broke him into the music business. "Saxophonist Tom Scott gave me my first professional break back in November 1979 while I was in the US Air Force as the opening act for his tour through Utah with the LA Express. It was a great and overwhelming experience to get a standing ovation and encore to perform on opening night as jazz guitar duet with Joe Kondzilla."
Since that performance Richard Hart has found opportunities to continue playing jazz live which has included opening for the late jazz luminary Mel Torme. "I opened for Mel Torme in October of 1995 at a jazz festival in the intermountain west. The experience was truly enjoyable as well as educational." Hart extols. "He is a true professional, very personable and truly loved his music. He loved to entertain the audience and was a consummate performer."
Mel Torme also taught Hart one of the most important lessons he will ever learn about playing jazz. "Always remember why you do what you do - you love the music."
Hart’s love for music is evident in his present guitar collection in which each one serves to capture a specific tone that he desires to achieve in his compositions. "Epiphone Emperor Regent 1994 Model, Cordoba Nylon Acoustic/Electric Cutaway, and 1973 Giannini 12-string Acoustic Kidney Bean Shape D-Hole." He adds, "I also play the mandolin, bass guitar, and some keyboards."
Richard Hart has also learned that playing jazz goes deeper than learning to simply play standards, hard-bop, bossa-nova, or fusion. It is in the personality of the artist and comes through in the chord movements. It is something which he saw in McCoy Tyner when he worked with Tyner.
"I learned by watching and listening to McCoy Tyner that he is very intense and a focused performer. Articulate in every sense of the word, very easy going, approachable as well as bringing words of encouragement personally for me."
Playing live gave Hart a priceless sense of accomplishment and joy. "The vibe playing on stage is a very comfortable feeling and exciting. When we are on stage performing it’s like having a sixth sense knowing how to play off of each other and sending that energy to the crowd, which inevitably returns right back at you as responsive positive impressions."
He endorses, "Playing live and being on the road, meeting new people is a great experience for me. I have played at major jazz festivals such as the Charlie Christian International Jazz Festival as well as college venues and jazz clubs throughout the US."
Hart was engaged early by jazz from the lively interaction that musicians have on stage and in the studio. He has a history of collaborating with musicians. In the early ‘80s he collaborated with Blood, Sweat & Tears keyboardist Larry Pierce for the musical project Swan’s Down.
"Larry and I met in Oklahoma through his Aunt who was a friend of mine,"Hart remembers, "I had previously just finished doing some touring and started another group called Swan’s Down with bassist Mike Little, vocalist Lawrence Baldwin, and then asked Larry if he would be interested in rehearsing with us and he agreed to do so. Larry Pierce and I started collaborating on the original tunes which I started writing along with the other members. In October of 1981, I believe it was, we performed at the Susan Powell Fine Arts Center in Elk City, Oklahoma with the group featuring Larry Pierce, Swan’s Down and myself. We did a 1-hour live concert to approximately 300 people. It was great, live jazz, spontaneous and in western Oklahoma. It was an overall great experience to work with Larry Pierce, a great pianist and arranger/composer."
A tool that the Richard Hart Quartet has at their disposal which his previous collaborations did not is the use of the Internet. Online webcasts provided by AOL Sessions and AT&T Blue Room can simulcast live shows which can be viewed by millions more people than one show in any one venue can hold.
Richard Hart claims, "The Internet is a marvelous tool connecting musicians, organizations, and especially mp3’s. The websites that are out there from around the world - a great interactive audience globally. Every website has some piece of critical information that you can add to your knowledge base and helps you to create a more rounded, informed and conclusory opinion or approach to any question, especially if that question pertains to the art of jazz."
Hart’s present ensemble the Richard Hart Quartet is hoping to bring their music to the live stage for audiences. "It is my hope that throughout the course of this year, we will be able to perform as many venues as possible to get the music heard to so many that have not had the opportunity to do so, also to complete the new arrangements for the upcoming CD."
Throughout his life jazz has inspired Richard Hart’s material, and his latest album Fearless Shores is a culmination of his present and past influences. He examines, "Being a musician gives me opportunities to express and expound upon the talents, which I have been blessed with, bringing joy into my life. Jazz guitar playing for me is an outlet of spontaneous and mood sensitive expressionism that otherwise I could not communicate as well to others."
What keeps Richard Hart moving forward is taking in the influences around him and instinctually creating music that represents the world around him. Sometimes that source can come from the musicians he collaborates with or from his findings about jazz over the Internet. But wherever the inspirations come from, the ideas all go through his sixth sense which visualizes their melodic lines and puts them into silky tangible form.