Sweet Inspirations

by SteveHulse on April 24, 2018 · 2 comments

Jazz Appreciation Month is inspiring me to get out all my pent-up thoughts
and feelings about jazz while it’s semi-legal to do so. These days my memory
continues to serve up some of the jazz piano giants that I struggled all
my life to emulate. Oh, I finally settled in and played “who I was” and how
I felt at the moment, but always in the back of my mind was this niggling
little thought that I continued to miss the mark. And of course I missed the
mark… the people I was trying to emulate were world class musicians all.

I feel as though I’ve served a life-long apprenticeship to some of my
heroes of the piano jazz world. From time to time my sense of how I wanted
to sound has changed, depending upon mood, place, and who I was playing
with. In those times I would usually float back to one or two of my heroes
of that style, and try to help them, as Ricky Keller would say, to “enter my
body” and guide me to play more like they play.

As far as my style of piano jazz is concerned, different people will tell you
different things. Don’t listen to them… I sound nothing like Floyd Cramer or
Ramsey Lewis. And anyway, if you’re under 50 you probably don’t even know
who those players are. The Herbie Hancock of the ’60’s and ’70’s was
easily my biggest influence. I still love his playing of that era so much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herbie

I heard Herbie live several times in Boston and always came away totally
inspired! I heard Bill Evans live in Boston too, and was also blown away
by him… for different reasons. For me, different players ring different bells
inside me. With Bill Evans, it was his precision and his style, which I could
somewhat emulate. With Wynton Kelly, it was his soloing ideas and left hand
chord structures I could relate to. So it’s no surprise that my style has ended
up being a poor man’s integration of Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans.

 

 

 

 

 

Wynton          &           Bill

Herbie is in there somewhere, of course, as is McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea,
but no one would say I sounded anything like them… and I didn’t. There were
subtle influences that might come out in a 4-bar phrase or a rhythm of some
sort. I listened to the recordings of these giants so much that little bits and
pieces of them stuck with me over the years, though I was never able to
really emulate them. Finally I landed on my own style, which a few folk say
they’re actually able to recognize. One would hope a “style” would finally
emerge after 30+ years of playing. You see, that’s one of the few drawbacks
of being versatile, which, thank god, I am. If I don’t sit at the keyboard with a
conscious intention of playing a certain way, my playing will be scattered…
and as some might say, exposing my true nature. But never mind that. The
trick to my playing consistently well lies in the ability to connect my heart
to whatever I’m about to play. As long as I do that (and I do it every time now)
my playing is as strong and as true to my musical nature as I can make it.
If you were to ask me who I would most like to play like, it would be Keith
Jarrett. He is a monster of emotion, taste and creativity. Just don’t watch him…

 

 

 

 

Keith            &             Russell

I’ve met several of my personal heroes. I know, and have worked with
Russell Ferrante, who is perhaps the most underrated giant of piano jazz
in the country. He is also the most sociable of the group, while Keith Jarrett
would be considered (by me) to be the least sociable. I’ve hung out with
Lyle Mays (of Pat Metheny fame) several times, the most memorable being
playing for each other in EJ’s in Atlanta ’till 5 a.m. A special time with a
genius player that I’ll never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

Lyle

I lived in the apartment above Keith Jarrett for six months in Boston before
he joined Charles Lloyd. I would leave my door open and listen to him play
and practice while I did my homework, many times late into the night. He
was incredible, even as a young man. Guys like Keith, Ernie Watts, Alan
Broadbent, Harvey Mason, Tony Williams, John Abercrombie, Gary Burton…
they came through Berklee in the ’60’s and ’70’s hoping to put a polish on
their considerable abilities, and perhaps pick up a trick or two. I remember
the drum teacher at the time, Alan Dawson telling his student, Tony Williams,
“Sorry man, but there’s nothing I can teach you. Just go out there and
do it!”

Most of them quit after a semester or two and moved on. Berklee was a jazz
broker back then, placing the good players and students with small groups
and big bands. Several of my classmates and friends dropped out early and
went with Woody Herman.

 

 

 

 

 

Alan

I played a jam session with Ernie Watts one night; used to cover an
occasional gig in an Irish bar in Boston for Alan Broadbent when he was
down in the city, taking a lesson from Lenny Tristano. Never met Alan, and
sorry that I didn’t. He’s a monstrous player, has been a member for years in
Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, plus being the conductor for several movie
scores and the conductor for Diana Krall on her concert tours.

There were other great musicians in other circumstances who inspired me…
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, whom I recorded and became friends with before he landed
with Steely Dan and the Doobies. Harvey Mason, whom I also recorded. Sonny Emory,
another fantastic drummer who played on an album I did… Ricky Keller
and I wrote a song for him called “Goodbye Sonny” as he was about to
leave Atlanta. I remember telling him at one point that if he could just “stay
clean” he could go to the top… and he did!

I met Diahann Carroll, Melissa Manchester, Susan Anton, Pat Metheny.
I played and recorded with John Abercrombie… that is a precious memory.
One of my roommates in Boston became a dear and lifelong friend…
Craig Herndon. We lived and played together for about 3 years in Boston
before he went on the road with a band and toured much of Europe. The
three roomies (Craig, Paul Miller & I) all took a Transcendental Meditation
class and learned to meditate. It really stuck with Craig, who finally stopped
playing jazz altogether and taught TM for 28 years! When he retired he
began playing again and was better than ever! I have recordings of Craig,
Paul and me playing together in ’69 and again in 2003… 34 years later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craig

I guess my biggest thrill of meeting my heroes was meeting and playing
five concerts with Henry Mancini. A great composer and a very cool dude,
he also had a big heart and a fine sense of humor. He gave the American
public a classy form of jazz they could relate to… the old TV series Peter
Gunn, The movies Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Moon River and The Pink Panther.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry

Talk about inspirations! I am so lucky and so blessed to have known and
worked with some of these fabulous talents. Many of the fine musicians
in Atlanta inspired me as well. And there was Joe Benjamin, a well-known
bassist from New York City, who played Broadway shows and jazz recording
sessions. We were playing an audition for Jimmy Helms, a singer, for
Columbia Records, down in the City. Joe pulled me aside right before we
played the audition and said, “We’re here to make this guy sound great.
We need to cook, but we need to be quiet, because this room has terrible
acoustics. So what I want us to do,” and spread his thumb and index finger
about two inches apart, “is play about this high above the carpet.” He smiled.
“Because if you can do that, and swing, you’re a damn good player.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmy

And we did that. Columbia didn’t sign Jimmy. He moved to London and
had a great singing career over there. He’s the lead singer in the group
Londonbeat, and still sounds as good as he did 50 years ago. Too bad,
Columbia, you missed a good one!

I am eternally grateful for all these fantastic inspirations. Those of us who
have been lucky enough to have a career in music can only hope that,
somewhere along the way, we’ve been able to somehow inspire other,
younger players and composers to reach for their musical goals. Because
when we do, we complete the cycle of constant improvement… we pass
the torch of excellence, we set the bar for the next generation. And if that
helps to keep jazz, and all art alive, it might just be the most important
and lasting thing we do.

Steve Hulse

{ 2 comments }

Requiem For A Genre

by SteveHulse on April 17, 2018 · 3 comments

April is Jazz Appreciation month. A month for Jazz Appreciation? Really??
Sigh. I guess I should be miffed about the designation of a single month for a
style of music that has defined most of my life. But the truth is, Jazz is fairly
lucky to get its month at all, considering it is far down on the list of
popular music today.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I relate more to the ’50’s and ’60’s… jazz
was fairly big back then, as the big band era was just winding down. There
was (and still is, to a degree) a musical iron curtain of country music
around Montana back then. The jazziest thing you could get on Montana
radio in ’57 was Martin Denny’s “Quiet Village.” Gyla Hulse sent me a
Andre Previn & Friends album in ’60 that I wore out. Rick McGregor and
I found a late-night radio program out of Salt Lake City called “Bowen and
All That Jazz” that really helped give us the larger view of how much good
jazz was really out there beyond Hank Williams.

In 1963 I heard Louis Armstrong live in Missoula and that was a kick. But
what really lit my life-long fire for jazz was a Miles Davis album I picked up,
“Someday My Prince Will Come.” The pianist on that album was Wynton
Kelly, and he was making the piano sound exactly the way I would want it
to sound! And what he played was mesmerizing to me! That was the
beginning, right there!

 

 

 

 

 

Wynton Kelly

My love of jazz naturally led me into other avenues of music… composing,
arranging and sound recording. After completing my studies at Berklee I
wrote music for two plays in Toronto, arranged an album for a singer named
Jimmy Helms and got a job as an intern in a recording studio where I learned
audio engineering.

These activities led me to Atlanta, where i enjoyed a 33-year career as a
( gasp! ) jingle writer for Doppler Studios. During that time I composed and
recorded music to 4 movies, dozens of documentaries and corporate films.
Sandy Fuller taught me to be a location sound recorder and helped me start
my own recording studio… which I ran for 30 years.

Being able to make my living in music for all those years was a blessing
I can’t describe. Jazz led me into some incredible music experiences, some
which were barely music related at all. There was a lot of travel, some
photography… I even taught meditation seminars for a short time. But
always my heart brought me back to my beloved jazz.

A little-known side benefit of playing jazz is the fact that it makes one a
more versatile musician… being a decent jazz player usually means we
can play three or four other styles of music with ease. Piano players and
guitar players benefit the most from this, being able to play country music
and rock and roll very easily. Being able to walk into a club, hear their band
play two or three tunes, then sit in with them and blend in perfectly… that’s
a kick for both the band and the jazzer! I’ve had so much fun sitting in with
strange bands over the years, making new friends in the process!

Funny, how a style of music, and the love of it can guide a person’s entire
life. For most of my career I tried to make my music assignments as jazzy
as my clients would allow, always hoping that its inherent tonal sophistication
would somehow magically transform the listener, or at least raise their
musical taste a notch. Not sure it ever worked, but it was fun trying. and
always, always, I hoped that the emotional power of instrumental jazz
would reach the vast audiences of the world who seemed to need a singer
and a lyric to help them feel the music. I continue to hope it might still happen.

One of my favorite benefits of loving jazz and playing it came in the form of
blurring the lines of racial distinction, then erasing them altogether! Playing
deep into the Boston nights with the black musicians in an after-hours club,
my Montana-born racial prejudices dissipated into thin air and were then
flushed into extinction by the jazz, the harmony, the singleness of purpose
we created. A late evening of hot jazz, Johnny Walker and some fried chicken
began a brotherly love and respect for all races that has never left me. A fine
jazz drummer, Reid Jorgenson of Boston introduced me to the Pioneer Club
and life in Boston after 2 a.m. and I will never forget him for it, or for
all the other great times we had playing together!

A huge benefit of playing good jazz is the spiritual connection it suggests for
those of us jazzers who are looking for an intangible power outside the scope
of organized religions. Good jazz soloists can all relate to the special feeling
of “playing beyond ourselves,” experiencing a “high,” an out-of body, beyond
time and space period when our playing level rises above our normal
capabilities, and seems to be flowing from somewhere outside of
ourselves, or perhaps from an intangible source inside ourselves. Whatever,
it’s real and it’s powerful… powerful enough to give many of us a quiet
personal strength along with a daily guidance that can be tapped into
outside the realm of music.

Atlanta was, for me, a great town for jazz. From ’72 ’till now, there are
world class jazz musicians who live and work there, many whom I’ve been
lucky enough to play with. I would mention them by name, but the fear of
missing one stops me from doing it.

Finally, I continue to love jazz and to play it from time to time as it continues
to sustain me. As long as brain functions and fingers wiggle, I can sit down
at a keyboard, still raise the hair on my own arm, and still draw an
occasional tear. A month for a lifetime love?? Barely a drop in the bucket…

Steve Hulse

{ 3 comments }

Bitter Sweet

by SteveHulse March 22, 2018

          Today I sat down and signed away my old friend, Iron Jack. How do you sign away an old friend? Well, the “old friend” is a truck. That’s right, Iron Jack is a ’66 International pickup. And so, you might ask, why do I call a truck an old friend? […]

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Hey, Remember The Time…

by SteveHulse March 10, 2018

So today, the news of the day and the quiet time following the recent holidays have driven me back out on the sound on my trusty craft, The Aimless. Haven’t been out here for several months now, so time to enjoy a one or two-day cruise on the North Sound. It never fails to clear […]

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Remembering Billy

by SteveHulse February 11, 2018

This is for a dear friend of mine in Atlanta who we just lost. My Atlanta pals will understand this very well. Billy Degnats was a great drummer… world class. And some of us knew he was an even better person than he was a drummer. His wife, Suzanne, has beautifully given us an insight […]

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Time (code) In A Bottle

by SteveHulse January 28, 2018

A Mini View Of The Midi Revolution Non-audiophiles, beware! This one is for my music biz pals who are over 50… and there are quite a few, believe it or not. I’m hoping you will find this interesting, or, at the very least, memory-jogging and perhaps entertaining. It’s one person’s view of the transitional time […]

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What’s In A Name?

by SteveHulse January 13, 2018

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare Well, I get that, Bill. There is, of course, a basic truth in what you said. Turns out, though, your famous quote might not be the be all and end all to this name game, Willy old sport. For […]

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The Child In Us All

by SteveHulse December 22, 2017

I’ll never forget my first electric train. I was six. My dad nailed it to a piece of 4X6 plywood. After I was asleep on Christmas eve, he somehow got it up into our tiny apartment above the bar, and set it up on the floor next to the tree. I remember being thrilled on […]

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In Search Of The Holiday Spirit

by SteveHulse December 19, 2017

B & I were chatting about Christmas the other day, about how commercial it has gotten and about how difficult it seems to be to recapture the spirit of Christmas that we had as kids. “Yeah, my bell has certainly stopped ringing,” I lamented, referring to Santa’s little bell in The Polar Express, which could […]

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The Magic In The Moment

by SteveHulse December 10, 2017

We’ve all had them, those special moments, when there is momentarily more clarity, more awareness of who and where we are, and, perhaps, why. Often we’re in a new and different place, which might trigger long dormant synapses that that sparkle and connect in a way that is unique to each of us. I have […]

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