David Hazeltine has been one of New York City's best kept musical secrets for years. He's toured and recorded with the giants of jazz, helped form the acclaimed collective One for All, and he's currently featured on the popular Spotify playlist Coffee Table Jazz. That's why he's our Talent Scout Artist of the Week.
NAME: David Hazeltine
HOMETOWN: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
MUSICAL TRAINING: Private study 1970-1975, and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music 1976-1980.
FIRST GIGS: I did a weekend organ gig at the age of 13 that lasted two years (one of my parents had to be there). I started on the jazz scene in Milwaukee at 16-years-old, and later ended-up with a steady five night a week gig at the Brothers Lounge for two years. I then did six nights and two cocktail hours at a Sheraton hotel with a singer for a year, and later became the house pianist at the Jazz Gallery in Milwaukee where I met and played with some amazing people including Sonny Stitt, Charles McPherson, Chet Baker, Eddie Harris, Pepper Adams. They all encouraged me to make the move to New York City, which I did in 1980.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Charlie “Bird” Parker, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Barry Harris, Buddy Montgomery, Cedar Walton, McCoy Tyner.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: Cedar Walton, George Coleman, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins live from the Antibes Jazz Festival in 1976. It’s unbelievable music.
MY BIG BREAK: I would say there’s not really a big break, but a number of little breaks. For example, I met and started touring with Marlena Shaw in the mid 1990’s, which lead to a gig (one of the last before they closed) at Fat Tuesday’s here in New York City. On one particular night, [trombonist] Slide Hampton was in the audience, and he hired me that night to do a six-month tour with a Bird Legacy Big Band for which he had done all of the writing. What an extraordinary experience that was! Slide was so kind and generous, he gave me free arranging lessons at his apartment when the band was home in New York. He gave me great advice on writing for sextet, which came in handy because our cooperative group One For All had just formed, and we wanted to play our own arrangements and originals. He also advised, consoled, and critiqued me through my first real paid big band chart.
LATEST ALBUM: Smoke Sessions Records recorded my quartet live at Smoke in New York City featuring Seamus Blake, David Williams, and Joe Farnsworth, and it’s called For All We Know. Then there’s the trio tribute to Cedar Walton I did for Sharp Nine Records, featuring David Williams and Joe Farnsworth, called I Remember Cedar.
FAVORITE PIANO BRAND AND WHY: Without a doubt, Steinway. I feel that the dynamic range of a good Steinway is far greater than any other brand, and I’ve played pianos around the world that are often touted as “the best.” To play with the “right touch” means that you can control the sound (volume/timbre) of each note. So when playing a series of eighth notes for example, a good Steinway responds to every variation on every note. Translation: It’s easier to swing!
HOW DO YOU SEE THE STATE OF JAZZ PIANO IN 2017? I’m working on it through my own practice and writing, but also through teaching. There’s so much music out there these days, it’s important for people that know better to guide students toward an understanding and assimilation of music history, as opposed to the mediocrity of pop culture and the phenomenon of the “day mentality.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? I’m excited about the trio recording I’m doing in November with Ron Carter and Al Foster. I’m writing for it now, and it could be one of my best so far!
ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Tunnel vision all the way back to the source. What I mean is, as a student of music, it’s extremely important to try to find, understand, and track down the origins of what you like about the music that has your ear. In other words, as a 15-year-old trying to figure out how to improvise, I copied Dexter Gordon solos because they were accessible to my young ear. But then I wanted to understand what Dexter did to get there, so I started listening to and copying Bird. And for a few of my teen years, I really wanted to understand how Bird got there, so I started studying Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. History can’t hurt you, but ignorance can!