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February 23, 2011

The joy of sax

Antonio Hart part of U of L’s Jazz Fest lineup

The University of Louisville’s Jazz Fest has long combined topnotch teaching and evening concerts that are open to the public, and this weekend rarely strays from that theme.

Antonio Hart, who performs Friday, emerged in the early 1990s. The saxophonist has released seven albums as a bandleader and has recorded and performed with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Dave Holland and bebop alto sax composer Phil Woods. Hart has built a following in Louisville with impassioned performances at Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Workshops, while teaching jazz studies at Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College City University of New York.

LEO: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Antonio Hart: My earliest influence was Grover Washington Jr., and I was also into Kenny Garrett, who was playing with Miles (Davis) and Art Blakey. When I got to college, I had a great teacher who turned me on to Johnny Hodges. The reason I enjoyed Hodges and some of those so much was because they really sang through their instrument. It didn’t sound like a saxophone, it sounded like a human voice. The fluidity, the effortlessness that they were able to make the music with impressed me and was something I was searching for. Cannonball Adderley reminded me of what I grew up with going to church. I can identify with him a lot, because it reminded me of my upbringing.

LEO: What do you try to convey to your students at workshops such as at U of L?

AH: The respect for the history. A lot of younger musicians are impressed with what is happening now. I find that, because they haven’t done their research, it’s like having a house with eight floors — but there’s nothing holding one through four up. So eventually, they’re going to have to start back from the beginning and build their foundation, so they can understand the players they are listening to. It didn’t start with Charlie Parker. You listen to who Charlie Parker listened to, so you get to Buster Smith, and Johnny Hodges and Sidney Bechet, and all the early players, and you get to Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. There are a lot of techniques those guys did in their playing that a lot of young musicians don’t do anymore. So I try to plant a seed that will interest them in researching the history; knowing why somebody like Louis Armstrong is very important, not just knowing the name, but knowing why — what did he do to change the music? If that comes across, and I trigger their interest, that would be the highlight of my week.

Also appearing at Jazz Fest: Pianist Renato Vasconcellos (Feb. 23); trumpeter Pharez Whitted (Feb. 24); and Jeff Hamilton Trio (Feb. 26). Hamilton has a long history of playing with greats such as Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, in addition to leading his own groups.