About Billy Hart

Billy Hart: A 40-Year Retrospective

Billy Hart by George Wells small“The majestic drummer Billy Hart has the extraordinary ability to both respond to and spontaneously shape a band’s conception. Freedom, discipline, daring, passion, swing, broken rhythm, orchestral textures, interactive sparring, shocking dynamics, astounding creativity and authority.

 “Want to know what jazz is really about? Listen to Billy Hart.”
— Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press

Billy Hart is the tie that binds it all together. Like a very few other drummers – you could include Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette in this elite group – Billy Hart has a timeless style that transcends all genres. This requires an acute sensitivity to whatever his bandmates are doing in every moment, and having the chops to adapt as needed. It requires following and leading simultaneously, which may seem contradictory until you factor in the catalyst: swing. Nobody swings harder than Billy.

Jessica Felix has this to say about the reasons for this year’s Billy Hart Retrospective. “So many great jazz masters have had tributes to their talent and contributions, I felt one for Billy was way overdue. He is truly one of the greatest drummers in jazz history. He has been on thousands of recordings over his 50-year career and, in turn, has enhanced the careers of several exceptional musicians. He has also been a true friend to Healdsburg Jazz Festival, performing here 11 out of the past 17 years.” (Read more in our Complete Program.)

Many people do not know his deep contributions to jazz and the vast number of musicians he has performed and recorded with over the years as leader, sideman and collaborator: Shirley Horn, Wes Montgomery, Betty Carter, Jimmy Smith, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, and so many more. When he began to lead his own bands in 1977, they proved to be, like him, both disciplined and daring. For this tribute, we will take you through his musical history, and showcase his deep passion for jazz and the breadth of his achievements.

People gravitate to Billy Hart – musicians are coming from as far away as Germany to play his Healdsburg shows – not just because they know his playing will elevate their game, but because of the humble strength he radiates. Billy is a big reason the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has been able to work miracles for 17 years.  This time, you will understand exactly how. Download Billy Hart discography (PDF)

Saturday, June 4 with Quest and Enchance

Musicians for June 4

Sunday, June 5 with Billy Hart Quartet and Oceans of Time

Musicians for June 5

Above is a video history of Billy Hart performances, from the 1960s with Jimmy Smith, through the Herbie Hancock era,  then onto performances with Stan Getz, Shirley Horn, a rare Toots Thielemans gig, several songs with Art Farmer, even a Healdsburg Jazz Festival performance from 2012 with Michele Rosewoman. They play automatically; click the “forward” button to advance to the next video, or just lean back and enjoy the jazz evolution of the great Billy Hart.