Way Back When In The Here And Now

by SteveHulse on June 4, 2018 · 1 comment

Try as I might to pretend life is still as good as it was in the 60’s and ’70’s,
it simply isn’t, and won’t be. The comparable simplicity of that time, the
almost naive sincerity of that time faded into oblivion somewhere in the
mid-’80’s. Funny that it took me twenty years to notice it and another ten
to bitch about it. But bitch about it I will.

Of course world communication has changed 180 degrees in that time.
Technology now rules, and would-be clerks, receptionists, even CPAs and
teachers now live in campers and tents in our large cities, and are called
homeless, which, in fact, they are. The computer, the cell phone and the
digital age in general have totally changed how we live every day. Hell,
I check the weather and the scores on my phone all the time, and send and
receive texts nearly every day. And, much to my amusement, use my phone for
every other function it offers WAY more than its ability to be an actual “phone.”

I still watch old TV shows from time to time, and have to chuckle at all
the land lines, rotary-dial phones, the huge monitors on the first computers
and how many more of us smoked back then. Think how much more crazy
shit we might have done back in the ’70’s if we’d had GPS, for instance. Well,
maybe not… we were crazy enough as it was.

I was thinking about all this the other day, and trying to mix and match what
I loved about the ’60’s and ’70’s and what I might have dragged from the
present time back to those times, given the opportunity. So much has changed,
and changed dramatically for the most part. I flew from Boston To Montana
on an American Airlines flight on Dec. 21, back in 1965. I clearly remember
the seat size, the room, the comfort and the great service in coach that was
exactly what first class is now. I felt so cool, enjoying a brandy at 30,000 feet,
having no clue that this pleasant luxury would soon disappear.

And, speaking of which, what is “cool” these days, anyway? Hm. Never thought
I’d get old enough to not be cool any more. It’s a fascinating development,
given the fact that I’ve lived a somewhat interesting and adventurous life and
have thought, from time to time, that I would not live this long. But I did, and
here we are. I now look and dress pretty much like the old duffers I used to
laugh at.

I was young once, really… when i began at the Berklee School of
Jazz back in ’64, the cool thing to say was, “I’m hip,” meaning that I know, I
understand, I agree. In Boston, that was cool. As soon as I left Boston, “I’m
hip” wasn’t cool, so natch I stopped saying it. Now I hear young guys saying
words like “dope” and “I’m down for it.” When, exactly did being “up for it”
become “being down for it??” To me it seems as if our youth will go to
ridiculous extremes to separate their cool selves from the rest of us. I get it,
we did the same things when we were young. I still have an occasional
passing desire to be cool again, but it ain’t gonna happen… and I’ll never
ever say that something good is “dope.” The original meaning is way too
strong in this archaic old mind. And “easy peasy??” Pul-easy… what ever
happened to “quicker than owl shit?”

Anyway, I have figured out how to hold onto the past, with maybe a little
help from the present. It’s restricting, to be sure, but it works…
1. Stay out of large cities
2. Don’t fly anywhere – you feel like the last sardine in a full can
3. Repair your old stuff whenever possible – always better than the new stuff
4. Don’t go anywhere where young people hang, it’s depressing… and you
won’t understand their new slang. I know, I tried. I started every phrase with
“Dude,” or “Wait, what?” but it didn’t work… they just stared at me. And I
didn’t get their “LOL’s” or their “WTF’s…” all BS to me. ( not entirely true…)
5. Don’t update your cell or your computer’s OS every time they tell you to…
Wait until one of your fave apps won’t upload, then grit your teeth and change it
6. Drive an old car or an old truck – you’ll be amazed at how good it feels…
a CD player with ’60’s rock & roll makes it even better. I have a ’59 Chevy
pickup, I drive it to an old dirt road, turn on some Hank Williams, sip on a crotch
beer, and for an hour or so the world is right where I want it to be.










While a little of this “holding on to the past” is okay and fun, it’s not healthy
to overdo it, though I’m tempted from time to time. Sitting in our back yard
in the sun, with a cold beer and The Beatles playing “Here Comes The Sun”
is just right, but that’s about the limit. Following that with a Jameson’s, with
Miles playing Kinda Blue is over the limit, and I end up really missing the past,
killing the buzz of the deep contentment of the previous hour, proving to me
once again that the past, in small doses, works best.

So for now I’ll drive down to Toby’s, a 100 year-old bar here in town. I’ll
belly up, order an Alaskan Amber and ask the barkeep how the Mariners are
doing. Then I’ll whip out my cell phone, check my texts and be eternally
grateful for still being here at all, still able to enjoy being a tiny speck of
continued existence, hovering here between what once was, and what now is.

Steve Hulse

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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!










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.







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.







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!









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.








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.”








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


Requiem For A Genre

by SteveHulse April 17, 2018

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 […]

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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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