Harvie S is one of the most adventurous musicians working on the scene today. On his latest CD, "Funky Cha," the bassist continues to push into new territory, exploring the meeting of jazz and Afro-Cuban music.
The album features reworkings of a few familiar tunes by Thelonious Monk and Cole Porter, but it’s mostly made of up six original tunes that capture S and his band’s bold, infectious sound. One of the compositions featured is "S," which won second prize in the 2006 International Song Writing competition in the jazz category.
S recently spoke to JazzReview.com about the latest CD, Latin jazz and what’s in his CD player.
JazzReview.com: Tell us how your latest CD, Funky Cha, is similar and different from your earlier releases.
Harvie S: I would say my latest CD is a refinement of a concept that I’ve been working on for a while incorporating Afro-Cuban music into modern jazz. I think my first CD in that style was very Afro-Cuban with a little touch of jazz, and then I think my second one was almost more jazz than Afro-Cuban. My "Texas Rumba" CD was getting there I think. On this one, I pretty much synthesized keeping an Afro-Cuban sensibility mixed with modern jazz. I feel I made a good statement.
I’ve had the same piano player for the past five or six years and the same drummer for two years. I’ve developed a really great rapport playing with Daniel Kelly and William "Beaver" Bausch. We also have a great horn player, Jay Collins, who is an expert in Afro-Cuban and jazz. I got the right people together and the right tunes. I feel really good about this particular project.
JazzReview.com: What new things were you trying with this recording?
Harvie S: It’s almost hard to put it into words, but I wanted to get a real group sound in this recording. I felt I did that in "Texas Rumba." On this one, I think it developed even more, especially with the addition of this new drummer. He pushes us into a lot of directions. I wanted to get a real group feel in the music. I think that happened. I feel we’ve got our own way of playing. We’ve done a lot of gigs together, so it isn’t just a session where I called some people and we went and played. This is a group concept that we’ve developed together.
JazzReview.com: There’s a quote from you that said the blend of jazz and Afro-Cuban music varies from project to project, but both traditions are alive in your music. The balance, however, may be different in each project.
Harvie S: Exactly. I guess it depends on the mood that we’re in or the mode that we’re in. We can go either way. I can make a very danceable CD or I can make a very abstract CD, but the idea is to go for more of that middle ground. We have that danceable element, which I feel is very important in music because music should want to make you dance and make you want to move. Only once in a great while am I in a mood for something so esoteric. There’s a certain place for that, and I do like that, but I love rhythm. I love grooving. I love having a great time, but I don’t want to play stupid music either where it’s like machines pounding out a rhythm. I want to challenge myself and the musicians around me--musically, harmonically, and stylistically and with interesting forms to improvise on. I like to combine all that into my music.
A lot of times critics, etc., listen to my CD and they don’t get it quite truthfully. Even people who write good things, I don’t feel they always get it. They think it sounds easy. It should sound that way, but when you try to play this music it’s really hard to play. I’ve even had that with musicians who sub in the band sometimes. I give them a CD and say really study up on this. They listen to it once and think this stuff is easy, then we get to rehearsal and they think, "Oh my God. This stuff is so hard. I had no idea."
JazzReview.com: What makes the music so deceptively hard?
Harvie S: Harmonically, there are a lot of different twists and turns. I deal with a lot of forms. The tune "S" is six-bar phrases, which people aren’t used to grappling with. You really have to understand form in order to play my music. My forms are not standard. Also, in order to play this music, you have to know a lot of styles. You have to know your modern jazz style. You also have to know a lot of the Afro-Cuban styles. You have to understand rumba, mambo, son, and guajira. You have to understand the way Elvin Jones played with Coltrane. You have to understand how Tony Williams played with Miles and how Herbie Hancock played with Miles. You have to understand Duke Ellington and Count Basie. If you haven’t dealt with that, you have difficulty playing the music.
JazzReview.com: Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new CD. The album opens with a reworking of the Monk tune "Rhythm-a-ning." How did that come about?
Harvie S: Like I said, I wanted to come up with a group sound. That was an arrangement that drummer William "Beaver" Bausch came up with. He’s a rumba expert. I said, "I would like to do something that would feature your great playing in the rumba style." That’s not something that I write as well as other styles, even though I can write in that style. He’s studied that more than I have.
He came up with this very interesting arrangement. It draws on a lot of things. It fit right in because he knows the band. It was so good that I thought it was a great summation of what the band does and sounds like, so I opened the CD with that cut.
JazzReview.com: It’s like an invitation to the rest of the album.
Harvie S: Exactly.
JazzReview.com: You also have several original numbers on the CD. Tell us about "Mariposa en Mano."
Harvie S: That’s actually a reworking of a previous song I had written on a CD that I did years ago that David Sanborn played on. It was called "Until Tomorrow." I met a saxophone player who played with Tito Puento. He told me that he played it in his band, and he did it in Latin. I’m thinking maybe that would work and started to fool around with it. I rewrote the whole tune. I only used the original melody in one spot. I wrote it right before we recorded. The band hadn’t heard much of it. I said, "I have a new arrangement. Can we try it?"
They really loved it. I was going to call it "Until Tomorrow," but I decided to change the name. I saw a photo of my wife when she was probably 18 or 17. She was holding a butterfly in her hand. It was a beautiful shot. "Mariposa" is butterfly, and "mano" means in hand, so it means butterfly in hand. I thought it was just a perfect title for this song. This song is the most traditional-oriented song on the CD. People seem to really like it. It’s pretty much my take on a charanga kind of song. It’s charanga, but without the authentic charanga instrumentation. Still, people who know Cuban music have said, "Oh man, that sounds so Cuban."
JazzReview.com: Are you a prolific writer or does it take a while for you to nurture a song to completion?
Harvie S: Sometimes they come out fast, and sometimes they’re slow. I’ve had about 90 compositions recorded. I’ve done quite a bit of writing. I have a degree in composition. I’m right in the process now of arranging and producing a CD for guitarist Jim Silberstein. I just did one with a vocalist from the San Francisco area named Sherri Roberts. We did a CD called "The Sky Could Send You." I wrote the arrangements. Phil Woods and Lew Soloff are on it.
JazzReview.com: On the new CD, you do a Cole Porter tune, "What Is This Thing Called Love?" How did you decided to do that song?
Harvie S: One night, I came up with this arrangement in my head. This was about a year, maybe two years ago. I just told everybody what I wanted to do to the tune. There was no chart or anything. It was just a concept. We worked it out and played it on a gig. I wasn’t sure I was going to do it on the CD. I said, "Look, let’s run through it one time and see what happens." We just played it, and it came out great. There is an arrangement as such, but it’s more like I told them what I wanted to go for, and we all just did it.
JazzReview.com: How about the title track, "Funky Cha"?
Harvie S: One critic said, "‘Funky Cha’ was no more and no less than what it said." He said it wasn’t super original. It wasn’t meant to be super original, but he didn’t know it was a 14-bar phrase. It’s not that common of a phrasing. But, he said it was totally satisfying. I liked what he said. It’s a fun tune. It’s just a groove. It’s funky, and it’s a cha-cha.
JazzReview.com: There’s a rich history of Latin jazz. Where do you think Latin jazz is right now? Is it healthy? Does it need a push?
Harvie S: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I have an answer for that. What I’m seeing is the term Latin jazz a lot of time, people who are Latinos don’t like the term. They say, "It’s not Latin jazz. It’s jazz."
Music that grew up in Cuba came from a tradition of African music combined with a Spanish flamenco and European classical. Through the advent of radio, they would listen to American jazz. All of these influences got into the music. That’s what happened there. In America, there was a less of that Latin influence. Americans weren’t listening to Cuban radio. Jazz grew up in America kind of untouched by that until later on when there were periods where it intersected with Chano Pozo, when he came. I think now it is starting to really come together more than it used to. I was a total jazz musician for most of my career. I didn’t know how to play Latin music until nine years ago. I started to study it and really got into it.
JazzReview.com: You’ve really take care to study Afro-Cuban and Latin music.
You even went to Cuba to learn more.
Harvie S: I studied in Cuba. I’ve also studied in New York with different people. Essentially, I’m still a jazz musician. I really respect this music. If I’m going to play it, I want to do it right. I don’t want to skim over it. It warrants more than that.
JazzReview.com: What was it like to go to Cuba?
Harvie S: It was amazing to go to Cuba. I was lucky to go with this program. It was the Caribbean music and dance program. You got up every day and there were classes and lectures. I befriended a bass player there. I got to go to his house. We would play CDs. I got to really experience where the music came from. It helped me to get in the groove of it. Just like when you want to know something about jazz, you have to go check the source out. You go to New York, maybe New Orleans. You’ve got to see the origins of that music.
The musicians in Cuba are just on the highest level. One of the bass teachers that I had played electric bass and acoustic bass. He could sing. He could play percussion, but his main thing was he was a classical guitarist. He was 22-years old. Those are the kind of things you would run into over there.
JazzReview.com: What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?
Harvie S: Garbage. I came from a nonmusical family. Music was a very small part of my growing up. I grew up listening to whatever happened to be on the radio at that time.
JazzReview.com: How did your abilities and knowledge develop then?
Harvie S: Everyone was asking that question in my family. I gravitated toward this more interesting music. I went once to a music summer camp. The tune that really got me excited and changed my life was Ray Charles singing "What’d I Say." That was the blues. Once I was touched by the blues, I never came back. The other tune was "Bags Groove." I heard Milt Jackson doing "Bags Groove." That was also the blues. The blues has always meant a lot to me. That’s what happened. I got excited about the blues and that got me into jazz.
I started listening to Dave Brubeck, then I jumped to Miles and John Coltrane. I said, "This is me. This is my music." As I got older, I started studying the earlier stuff Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong. I then started listening to people like Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon. I heard Scott LaFaro play with Bill Evans. I was a pianist. Bass was my second instrument. When I heard Scott LaFaro on a recording, I went, "Oh my God, that’s my instrument. That’s what I want to do." I loved the way he played bass. I loved the feel of the bass.
JazzReview.com: What’s in your CD player?
Harvie S: I was listening to a record. I shouldn’t even tell you this. Have you heard of these old records that were made in the ’50s by Jonathan and Darlene? They are basically comedy records. Jo Stafford and her husband, Paul Weston, made these very funny records. She would sing like a quartertone off the melody. My friend, Bill Mays, the pianist, sent it to me in the mail. They’re called Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. They do parodies of bad singers. It’s difficult to sing that badly. For someone like Jo Stafford, who could really sing, she would miss the intervals and miss the pitch. It’s very endearing to listen to. The other thing I was listening to was a CD that I’ve been recording and producing. It’s with a guitarist named Jim Silberstein [and guests Jim Rotundi and Eric Alexander]. I’m producing and arranging, so I was checking to make sure the tracks were OK.
JazzReview.com: What’s next for you?
Harvie S: Basically, this summer I’m touring. I’ll be going to Spain to do some master classes and concerts, with a guitarist from Spain named Ximo Tebar. Also, at this workshop will be Pat Martino and Ron Affif and others. Then I go to the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland. I’ll be leading two concerts there and probably playing with some groups that may need a bass player. I don’t know who I’ll end up playing. Then I go to Austria for two weeks. I do my annual Afro-Cuban workshop that I do with the Austrians. I do concerts and workshops. I’ll return and be in New Jersey for a week with Vic Juris, Quincy Davis, maybe Claudio Roditi. We do workshops for that week. I also teach at the Manhattan School of Music. Then in November, I go back to Europe to do two tours it’s a little hectic, but I’m thankful that people want to use me.