Monday, July 26, 2010

Kees Hazevoet: Holland's Uncommon Observer

Kees Hazevoet in 1969
Pianist, multi-instrumentalist and improviser Kees Hazevoet was born in Amsterdam in 1948, and grew up in a family situation that welcomed both musical expression and an appreciation of nature. Hazevoet began his studies on piano quite young (his mother played the instrument as well). “I liked to play in the open air, so I bought myself a trumpet and a few years later a clarinet. We lived on the edge of town and there was still plenty open space around. My parents listened to the popular classics – there were also records by Glenn Miller, Erroll Garner and Louis Armstrong in the house, which I liked a lot as a kid.” As a teenager, Hazevoet quickly became interested in jazz, listening to American beboppers and avant-garde players, and was immediately attracted to the drummers. “Art Blakey was an early favorite, and later the other greats (Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Kenny Clarke, Shadow Wilson, etc.) as well. Around 1963, I started playing with neighborhood friends. In 1964, I heard Albert Ayler and Sunny Murray in Amsterdam. That did it for me.”

Hazevoet’s relationship with drummers is clearly quite strong; his eventual associates included fellow countrymen Han Bennink, Harry Piller and Martin van Duynhoven, as well as the itinerant South African drummer Louis Moholo. The importance of the drums in his music stems to the early period of study and listening: “I played those records with Taylor and Sunny Murray (at the Montmartre) over and over, partly of course because of the piano, but mostly because of the drumming. It was the same with the Ayler and Murray records. He really made those groups sound different. I always liked those special drummer combinations, like Trane and Elvin, Monk and Blakey, Miles and Philly. For me, Ayler and Murray are in that league. In the 1960s, I really felt very close to Sunny Murray’s playing.”

By age 16, Hazevoet was taking the jazz classes offered by reedman-composer Theo Loevendie, and soon after developed an association with the bandleader, organizer and reedman Willem Breuker. “I first met Willem at Free Jazz Inc., which resided at a squatted building in the center of Amsterdam in 1965. The next year, Willem began organizing his large orchestra and asked me to join on piano. Rehearsals (involving up to 20-25 musicians) were in the small basement at Willem’s parents’ house. One journalist liked what I was doing with [tenor saxophonist] Hans Dulfer’s group at a concert at the Stedelijk Museum in early 1967, and headlined his newspaper review ‘Strong piano playing by Kees Hazevoet.’ People started asking ‘who is this guy?’ and I was introduced to many of the more traditional musicians. I was very young and very lucky.”

Hazevoet began co-leading groups with Dulfer, baritone saxophonist Henk van Es, and others in the late 1960’s, and in 1970 recorded his first album as a leader, Pleasure (reissued on Atavistic) with saxophonist Kris Wanders, bassist Arjen Gorter and Moholo in the rhythm section. “I asked Louis Moholo, who happened to be in town, to do the Pleasure recording with us. As for the ‘artist produced’ part, this was just because no one else would let us make a record, so we did it ourselves. A friend of mine printed (silk screened) the sleeves by hand at no costs and we distributed the discs ourselves. We got some good write ups and hence some gigs for the group.” Later records were also self-released on imprints such as KGB (Unlawful Noise, a 1976 larger ensemble) and Snipe (Calling down the Flevo Spirit, 1978), both of which are very individual documents of the Dutch free music impulse. Rather than the theatrical characterizations of Breuker’s work or the Instant Composers’ Pool, these recordings have a meaty energy that’s quite singular. Hazevoet puts it simply: “I never was enthusiast about the ‘nationalist’ fervor displayed by some of the guys. First, I am not a nationalist and second, I really liked American jazz music in all its forms, from King Oliver to Albert Ayler. That’s what inspired me, not Europe.”

Calling down the Flevo Spirit is special as Hazevoet’s last recording and an intimate series of duets with Bennink, going back to a raw and also somewhat quaint approach to improvisation. “Han and I always were good friends. We both had a preference for the outdoors, which was part of our bond. In the second half of the 1970s, we really became close friends, not only musically, but also socially, with family visits and our respective wives at the time getting along as well.” As for the sound, “I had a huge collection of music from all over the world at the time and listened to it a lot. I wanted it to sound ‘primitive,’ which I think it does. I used to play a lot in the outdoors on my own.”

Being in nature became a more direct part of Hazevoet’s life in the ensuing years, as he left music to become a world-renowned biologist specializing in the fauna of the Cape Verde islands. “I just had enough of the music scene. I always had a kind of scientific mind and approach towards music, like exploring the world of sound and different methods of creating and organizing it. Having to spend the rest of my life travelling to all these boring places and do your act on demand just didn't appeal to me. Of course, I hadn't felt like that all the way, but towards the late 1970s I certainly did. Moreover, I didn't want to depend on subsidies for the rest of my life.”

“In the early 1980s, I went to Africa (Mauritania, Senegal, and Guinea). I always wanted to go there and I loved it. I heard and saw some fantastic drumming and dancing there. At the same time, I was after the birds and other beasts. In 1986, I first came to Cape Verde and I liked it. I figured out a way to do some research there and took it to the Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam. In 1996, I received a PhD for my work in Cape Verde. In January 1998, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, which is more relaxed than northern Europe and also closer to Cape Verde (which is a former Portuguese colony). As for biology, I think of it as a strictly historical endeavor. I'm interested in deep time and patterns of diversification in conjunction with geology (plate tectonics).” Hazevoet now lives part of the year in Lisbon and part in São Vicente, Cape Verde, with his family, and while he no longer plays music, remains tapped in to the vital, generative aspects of natural creativity.

Willem Breuker - Litany for the 14th of June 1966 - Relax/Wergo, 1966
Hans Dulfer - Candy Clouds - EMI-Catfish, 1970
Kees Hazevoet - Pleasure - Peace, 1970 (Atavistic CD, 2003)
Haazz and Company - Unlawful Noise - KGB, 1976 (Atavistic CD, 2001)
Kees Hazevoet & Han Bennink - Calling Down the Flevo Spirit - Snipe, 1978 (Atavistic CD, 2009)

Image courtesy the Kees Hazevoet archives. This article also appears in the August issue of All About Jazz New York. The full interview and photo essay will hopefully be published soon - more details to follow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Legacy of Bill Dixon (1925-2010) Part One

"Bill Dixon left us a lot of homework, and the job now is to sit down and do the work - because if you don't, when you see him again, Bill will kick your ass." -- Stephen Haynes

In the month since trumpeter and improvising composer Bill Dixon passed away, some things have become abundantly clear. I've often found that when I was listening to his music, I felt the presence of Bill in the room, car, or wherever I was at the time. This memorably occurred while I was driving around South Austin listening to a live recording from Newport of the composition "Pomegranate." It's not just Bill's own music from which I feel this presence, but at any time I was thinking seriously about the music - any of this music. For example, when I was asking myself whether Andrew Hill's sidemen in the '60s could really play his music (I don't think so) or if a crucial difference between Albert Ayler and John Coltrane was that the former may have played everything he had in him, while the latter may not have (debatable). And that it's okay to be wrong about some things as long as you own your own wrongheadedness, rather than apologizing for it. Democracy, politics, art, and consciousness all demand dialogue and learning from one's own difficult, unfolding experience.

In my own writing and thoughts, the task at hand is to be as rigorous with a piece on an up-and-coming or lesser-known figure as with the acknowledged masters. And when I write something, I must be able to stand by it. I was recently taken to task on a review of a work which was actually a positive review, though it was brief (which was apparently part of the problem - not all artists can be afforded unlimited space, unfortunately). In my conversation with this artist, the idea of comparisons came up. I have generally tried not to compare artists who are working in similar-but-different realms, and sometimes I slip up, maybe because it is "easier." This gets into another area, and that is how one chooses to define art, whether by proximity, recommendation, and familiarity, or on its own singular terms. The latter is, of course, ideal, but the former has its place too, and I'm trying to figure out what that is. After all, one cannot build a bridge in the middle of the air (or if one could, I doubt it would be very useful). Art still needs bridges toward understanding, and yet it is an extremely challenging feat of verbal architecture to make something like that a reality. Not just the understanding, mind you, but the bridge itself, and you have to know in order to help others know, all the while acknowledge your learning process.

In any case, even in areas which I was a) incomplete or b) brief, I stood behind those words because they came from honest thought and a desire to build something between art and those who might receive it. I am okay with that, but what I am not okay with is the instances in which that does not come across. What is very clear is that there is a lot of work to be done and a process set in motion. Sometimes I'll be wrong and borderline off-base, but if being closer to a clear perspective on this music is a hope, then no other path could be chosen. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

Thanks, Bill, for guiding us to a place where we can see the work that must be done on ALL of this music. It can't be reiterated enough.