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Harvie S - "Eye-contact with the listener"

Harvie S. – formerly Harvie Swartz – is considered among the greatest contemporary bass players. In his "first" career he played and recorded with Mike Stern, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Gil Evans, Mike Brecker, Chick Corea and many others. After refocusing his musical direction during a visit to Cuba he shortened his name to Harvie S and founded his band "Eye Contact" where, as a "second" career, he started to combine Afro-Cuban and Caribbean elements with modern as well as traditional aspects of Jazz. His central idea is to thus bring Latin-American music and improvisation together.

Harvie S.

Carina Prange did this interview with Harvie S. per e-mail.

Carina: After studying Latin music for six years, publishing the album "Havana Manana", you combined Jazz and Latin. On your latest album – "New Beginning" you integrate all of your different musical directions. Why did you "jump so deep" into Latin music – do you have a special relationship to Latin?

Harvie: Out of curiosity I decided to check out Afro-Cuban music seven years ago and it became a major part of my musical being. There is so much deep music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and in general the Caribbean. I keep trying to learn and combine it with my first love, which is Jazz. I will say that it combines very well with Jazz because it comes from the same African roots.

I am running my band as a creative ensemble, but I add the Afro-Cuban element. It is different than someone getting some Cuban ´heavies´ and blowing bebop over it. I am writing music in authentic styles, but I am also combining it with Modern Jazz and Free Jazz. If one studies Afro-Cuban music they will understand a lot more of what I am doing. You will also hear Funk and Brazilian and Calypso influences throughout. I try to be true to my intentions.

Harvie S & Eye Contact - "New Beginning"

"New Beginning" is a CD of all original music in a style that is endemic to this band. The music is fresh and it features the musicians in a creative role. I purposely kept away from doing remakes of old standards. I have been leading this band for six years and I want to be expressive in my musical mission. I hope that some people realize that I am trying to forge a path into the future and not just rehash the past because it will go down easier for record companies and radio stations.

Carina: Can the CD "New Beginning" be called the starting point of a new career? And what might come next?

Harvie: My first CD with Eye Contact was very much steeped in tradition, because at the time I wanted to illustrate that I could write and play authentically in Afro-Cuban styles. I was very pleased with the positive response that I received from the top Latin critics, web sites and publications.

I then decided that I was ready to make a second CD which would be less Authentic Afro-Cuban and more Modern Jazz as I perceive it. It was a New Beginning and it was at this time that I became Harvie S. The music I am writing now is Modern Jazz with a strong dose of Afro-Cuban in it.

Harvie S.

Carina: As a jazz-musician – how important is it for you to improvise?

Harvie: Improvisation is the cornerstone of my being. I love to be in situations where I can spontaneously create within a structure. Real improvisation must come from somewhere if it is to go anywhere. I improvise within my band on my instrument and the way I try to infuse the direction with elements that may seem to come from nowhere.

I love to change directions and see where it will lead. I encourage my band members to be creative in their roles and to express themselves within the group. We work as a team and no one is the star. The focus is on the band sound.

Carina: "14 year association with vocalist Sheila Jordan set the standard for bass and voice." – How would you define this special relationship between a singer and an instrumentalist? Which opportunities does that offer and what limitations lie in such a musical cooperation?

Harvie: I created a bass orchestra underneath her and tried to keep it interesting and surprising on every tune. I came up with intros, endings and themes on all the tunes, but they were very fluid, and every night new things would happen. I was bowing, using harmonics, tapping, scat-singing with her and in general being a performer. We wanted the audience to feel that they were in our living room and we were all hanging out together having fun with music. Then we would hit them with a heavy ballad and people would cry.


What some didn't realize was that I play completely different
on every situation depending on what the music needs!

In some ways it hurt my career, because when musicians saw me in that context they figured that is what I would do on their gig. What some didn't realize was that I play completely different on every situation depending on what the music needs. It was quite a job considering we did concerts with two sets of 90 minutes quite often.

When I took solos I would play melodic, angular, or whatever was on my mind. It was a lot of freedom that could choke you (and an audience) if you were not careful. You had to pace yourself so as to not give it all on the first tune. Bass solos can get old and I tried hard to keep it interesting all night. I could write about this for days.

Harvie S.

Carina: You are a jazz educator at the Manhattan School of Music since 1984. Which are the most important facilities young people should have to become really good musicians? What would be the advice of a professional for them to find their own way as part of the music industry?

Harvie: It is marvelous to teach students from diverse backgrounds and abilities. My students at MSM come from across the Globe and undergo stringent auditions for acceptance into the school. Their dedication and discipline is inspiring. Always, I enjoy meeting and teaching students. When I teach, I work from the ground up and give each student a full understanding of how to play the bass as an instrument and how to use it in a band as a backup or soloist. I teach each student on an individual basis, depending on what they need to become more expressive and proficient on the bass.

Carina: For your bass, you use exclusively LaBella strings, "The Realist" pickups, "Acoustic Image" amps and microphones by AMT – what's special about these? How much do you depend on certain equipment?

Harvie: I have been using LaBella strings for over 20 years. I like the sound and feel they have. LaBella really cares about what musicians need and want. They are very responsive to musician's feedback. I use the 7720 light gouge. I have been using the Realist pickup for a few years now. Basically it reproduces your sound. If you get a good sound on your instrument the Realist will reproduce it accurately, especially if you have a good amp.

That brings us to Acoustic Image. Their products are so perfect for the working musician. Lightweight. Warm and natural sounding. I love my coda combo amp. I just got the new Clarus Series II (head) and nothing I ever used got a better acoustic bass sound for me. I take it on all my tours. Last but not least is the AMT microphone which is the best microphone you can use live through an amp. It is great and it combines well with the Realist. Yes I feel it is important to have the right equipment to reproduce your personal sound in every venue. Unfortunately there are very few amps made for acoustic bass, most are designed for bass guitar.

Harvie S.

Carina: You played with the "best", most well-known jazz-musicians of the last century and are rated among the bests yourself. How does it feel to be in this position: have you reached the end of a long journey?

Harvie: Yes, I have been very lucky to have played with some well known musicians. I can only say that I am honored to have been given such a gift. I have also played with many unknown musicians and learned and got a lot from them also.

Everyone has something to contribute in some way. I can't imagine reaching the end of my musical journey. I will always be a work in progress. I thrive on an evolving existence and I hope to never end my quest. I have always been a part of some innovative ensemble and will continue to do so.

Carina: Is it important for you to have a working band - or is it more important to play with as many different musicians as possible and to stay and react in the moment?

Harvie: I grew up listening to working bands like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ahmad Jamaal, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey and others. I feel that when a group of musicians that have affinity for each other create together the sky is the limit. When the combination is right the music goes to special places. All-star bands don't always make all-star music.

On the other hand I will say I love to jump in and play with a new group of musicians. It can bring you to another zone. That is the wonder of Jazz. Music is the language I speak. Finally after doing my band for six years I have found the right combination of players. We are going to record live on May 20th and 21st at Sweet Rhythm in NYC. I am very excited about doing this.

This will be my first live CD with my own band. We have been playing the music and we are ready to do this. My band has Daniel Kelly (piano), Renato Thoms (percussion), Adam Weber (drums), Scott Robert Avidon (sax), Gregory Rivkin (trumpet) and Gregor Huebner (violin, piano) will play a bit with us that night.

Harvie S.

Carina: Authenticity - how much importance does that have for you in terms of music?

Harvie: Good question! – I feel that when one presents a style of music one should understand it in a thorough manner. In order to be creative you have to know what has come before you. That is why I respected what Miles was doing in his later work. The roots of Jazz were there, but they were not showing. That is why John Scofield, Mike Stern, Michael Brecker for example, are so great to listen to. They know the roots of Jazz and decided to expand on it and create something of their own.

I spent such a long time playing all forms of Jazz and seven years ago I took a left and fell in love with music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Africa. I stopped playing Jazz for a couple of years and immersed myself in Afro-Cuban music and Latin Jazz. That experience pointed me to my new direction and that is Modern Jazz with and Afro-Cuban base. I respect the clave and the tradition of that music. I show it in my writing. My next CD will really get the point across!

Carina Prange

Harvie S im Internet: www.harvies.com

Photos: www.harvies.com

mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Harvie S & Eye Contact - "New Beginning" - Review (erschienen: 4.8.2002)

© jazzdimensions2003
erschienen: 25.5.2003
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