It must be a relief every time you finish an album.
LH: Yep. There’s an immediate sense that all is well in the world – that the deadlines were met – the photos done – that kind of thing. I get a bit euphoric actually when I finish – I never take it for granted that an album will get done, even though it’s my nineteenth!
Let’s talk about that – you’ve got nineteen albums now, and a couple in Asia – that’s quite a bit of composing.
I love to compose – it seems to me to be my preferred form of communication, so if I’m not composing, something feels incomplete in my world. Every year I tell myself I don’t “need” to compose – I have about 200 compositions already – so I don’t “need” more, but there are always more things I’m interested in exploring musically and observations I need to communicate.
Give some examples.
Well, for several years I’ve been interested in poly-genre or trans-genre styles: the trend these days is moving away from narrow genres. It’s been really interesting to see how different ideas can be blended in a single composition. Caffeinated Culture has several Latin rhythms in it – stuff like that is fun musically. Dark Sky Day has the feel of a Bach Prelude, yet its filled with blues and improvisation. I like to take traditional ideas and go in altered directions.
You mention in the liner notes that “Day & Night” is also about your “commitment to discover and savor every day moments: to see the beauty in a day from the first glow of sunrise to the dimming sky at sunset…” please explain this a bit.
Our world is going through a time of extreme change, volatility and trauma that is manifested in so many areas – from immigration, to politics to weather. It’s really easy for all of us to focus on these things to the extent that we forget our “riches” – the natural beauty we enjoy for free every day – like making the effort to see the sun rise, or sharing a cup of coffee with friends. When we nurture our souls, it gives us the to power we need to help others in our world. This is something I’m trying to do, and I think that others might feel this way too.
Let’s talk about the great American composers you mention that are part of your inspiration on this album.
When I finish my tour every year, I normally sit and play other composers for about a month: I’ll always play Bach for example after touring jazz. This year I spent some time on Cole Porter and was really intrigued by what a master of melody and nuance he was – two qualities that I admire. He can alter a single note, and it will have impact! And he just has the greatest melodies – even my engineer Al Schmitt, said Cole Porter “was his favorite” composer and of course he’s worked with everyone from Duke Ellington to Diana Krall, so he knows music. As “simple” as Porters’ tunes sound, they are quite sophisticated, and not necessarily easy to play. He really was one of our true American musical geniuses – writing 300 songs while attending Yale, heading the glee club and graduating as class valedictorian before going to Harvard Law School, where he ended up taking music classes instead of law.
That is pretty incredible. But you also mention that you’re inspired by fellow composer/pianists ‘Count’ Bill Basie and Horace Silver.
I have always liked their blues styles. Horace Silver wrote a lot of great compositions for the band that are still played today. He was a strong composer and band leader whose work was blues based, but I think you could probably say “Señor Blues” was a cross genre piece way before it’s time! It’s interesting that Horace Silver lived quite a while in Malibu, California where I live now – his reputation was that he was very kind and spiritual man.
They say that Basie could make a “single note swing”. To me that is the essence of cool! Any musician can play a ton of notes, but can you make a single note swing? That’s a little tougher. He used less notes as a form of texture in his pieces, something I enjoy doing now too. That kind of thing is fun for a pianist!
Since this is a solo piano album, did you miss working with your band?
It was an incredible experience last year, as every year, working with the likes of Antonio Sanchez, Gregg August, Terell Stafford, and always with JD Allen. These musicians are some of the best in the universe! When I work with the band, I’m always concerned about their musical needs and direction. When I play solo I’m just concerned about the piano and how it sounds, so it’s good to do both. I’m really lucky I can do both since I enjoy it all!
So what’s next? Will there be #20?
HAH! I hope so, but I never know. I’d love to do 20 albums in 20 years – that would be cool! But next up is my tour for “Day & Night” that starts January 10th at Carnegie Hall. I’m really looking forward to that – I love their piano!
“Day & Night” is available December 16, 2016.