Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Hardman, Bill (William Franklin)

Bill Hardman was one of hard bop's go-to trumpeters, best known for his three separate stints in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Urgent and edgy with a raw, tart, and slightly pinched tone, Hardman’s energy was well-suited to the soulful style. His adept knowledge of the idiom made him a reliable and prolific sideman in the late 1950s and 1960s, and he remained active until his death in Paris in 1990.

Hardman utilized a scampering, running style in the vein of Clifford Brown and Kenny Dorham. His technique at faster tempos could be unclean and he sometimes sounded uncomfortably hurried as if racing to catch up with the beat.

He was more accurate at mid-tempos, where he could better control his articulation, and he possessed a strong, consistent high range which he used wisely. In the later 1960s, Hardman developed a tender, fuller tone, though it still retained hints of the brittleness it had in the 1950s.

William Franklin Hardman, Jr. was born in Cleveland, OH on April 6, 1933. He studied both trumpet and trombone as a youth. After settling on trumpet, Roy Eldridge and Louis Armstrong became Hardman’s early influences until he heard Charlie Parker at age sixteen.

He began playing trumpet professionally soon after, performing with Tadd Dameron while still a teenager. Hardman joined fellow Ohioan Tiny Bradshaw’s jump blues band in 1953, staying with the singer/pianist into 1955. He can be heard in the ensemble on tracks included on Bradshaw’s King Records compilation The Great Composer.

In the spring of 1956, Hardman spent a few months in bassist Charles Mingus’s group. Documented only by radio broadcasts, it was in Mingus’s group that Hardman first met and played with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianist Mal Waldron.

McLean’s album Jackie’s Pal, recorded on August 31, 1956, introduced Hardman on record to the jazz listening public. Even on this first recording Hardman and McLean prove to be a powerful and empathetic frontline pairing; Hardman was one of few trumpeters that could blend with McLean’s intentionally sharp intonation and biting tone. They are also heard together on the altoist’s McLean’s Scene (1956) and Jackie McLean & Co. (1957). All three albums include Waldron on piano.

Drummer Art Blakey soon snatched up both McLean and Hardman to fill the frontline of his newly reformed Jazz Messengers. Completed by Philadelphians Sam Dockery and Spanky DeBrest on piano and bass, respectively, this second edition of the Jazz Messengers was sandwiched in between two of Blakey’s most famous groups, resulting in a much overlooked position on the Blakey timeline.

Renowned not only for being the original group, the first edition of the Jazz Messengers also featured Blakey’s former co-leader, pianist Horace Silver, whose unique compositional style dominated their early sound. The third group featured the young superstar trumpeter Lee Morgan, as well as brilliant composers Benny Golson and Bobby Timmons, the latter contributing the Messengers’ first and greatest hit, “Moanin.’”

The McLean/Hardman Jazz Messengers lacked the star power of these groups and also didn’t have an authoritative compositional voice; Blakey often relied on compositions from established writers outside of the group. However, it played an important role in defining the enduring Messengers’ sound sans Silver.

Hardman recorded prolifically with Blakey in 1956 and 1957, appearing on more than a dozen Jazz Messenger albums for various labels, including Columbia, Bethlehem, Savoy, Bluebird, Calliope, and Blue Note. Highlights include Hard Bop (Columbia, 1956), Hard Drive (Bethlehem, 1956), and Drum Suite (Columbia, 1957), which included the track “D’s Dilemma.”

In April 1957 the addition of tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin made the group a sextet, and the expanded band can be heard on A Night in Tunisia (Bluebird, 1957). McLean would leave the Messengers soon afterward.

Hardman stayed and took part in one of the more interesting Jazz Messenger albums, as Blakey invited pianist Thelonious Monk into the studio with the group on May 14 and 15, 1957. Monk’s indubitable and uncompromising style pushes Hardman and Griffin out of their comfort zones to take chances on tracks such as “Rhythm-A-Ning” while the pianist also offers some ear-catching counterpoint. Hardman complements his aggressive yet ebullient lyricism with more deliberately fragmented statements and blues licks.

Apart from his work with Blakey, Hardman made other important dates as a sideman in the late 1950s. He is heard on Mal Waldron’s 1957 albums Mal 1 and Mal 2, Hank Mobley’s self-titled 1957 Blue Note record, and Mingus’s A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry, also from 1957.

After being replaced in the Jazz Messengers by Lee Morgan in 1958, Hardman briefly joined Horace Silver’s group. Less active in the studio over the next two years, his next recording wasn’t made until February 1960, on alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson’s Blue Note release Sunny Side Up.

In New York on October 18, 1961 Hardman recorded his first album as a leader for Savoy Records. Released as Saying Something, it featured altoist Sonny Red, pianist Ronnie Matthews, bassist Doug Watkins, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. A fine hard bop outing, Hardman’s tone is mellower and his technique is stronger than on his earlier recordings. His balladic reading of “Angel Eyes” is sincere and touching and his confident yet nimble strut on the fast-paced “Capers” is the album’s highlight.

Hardman continued to perform with Lou Donaldson throughout the early 1960s while the altoist was transitioning from acoustic bop to the grooving, organ-centric sound he favored later in the decade. The trumpeter can be heard in top form on Donaldson’s soulfully swinging Fried Buzzard, recorded live in 1965. Musty Rusty, recorded later that year, featured Grant Green on guitar and included Donaldson’s earliest experiments with boogaloo beats.

Hardman returned to the Jazz Messengers in late 1966 and would stay into early 1970. There were only a few of recordings made during these years, which was quite unusual for the normally prolific Blakey. In February 1970 the group recorded live in Tokyo, and an LP was released that featured Hardman, Carlos Garnett on tenor sax, Jan Arnet on bass, and pianist JoAnne Brackeen, the first female member of the Messengers.

After leaving Blakey, Hardman briefly rejoined Mingus’s group in March 1970. Around this time he also made record dates with vocalist Eddie Jefferson, organist Reuben Wilson, and trombonist Curtis Fuller.

From 1972 through 1974 Hardman worked in The Brass Company, a group he cofounded with bassist Bill Lee (film director Spike Lee’s father) and drummer Billy Higgins. A large brass ensemble, it consisted of five trumpets, two flugelhorns, trombone, euphonium, plus a rhythm section of pianist Stanley Cowell, Lee on bass, and Higgins on drums. They released one album on Strata-East in 1975 called Colors which featured a guest appearance by tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan and compositions by the three cofounders, and elaborate arrangements by Lee.

Hardman rejoined Blakey for the final time in 1976, replacing Woody Shaw. Featuring Hardman and tenor saxophonist Dave Schnitter in the front line, the group recorded one album, Backgammon, and toured Europe extensively.

In 1978, he recorded Home for the Muse label. The album featured tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, Slide Hampton on trombone, pianist Mickey Tucker, bassist Yoshio Suzuki, percussionist Lawrence Killian, and drummer Victor Jones. Hardman would work and record with organist Charles Earland in 1978 as well.

From 1979 through 1981, Hardman continued to work with Cook and his drummer of choice, Leroy Williams, releasing Focus (1980), Politely (1981), and Cook’s Good Cookin’ (1981).

In 1988 Hardman moved to Paris where he would stay until the end of his life. He released one more album on SteepleChase entitled What’s Up, recorded with Cook in Copenhagen on July 7, 1989. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 6, 1990.

SELECT DISCOGRAPHY

AS A LEADER:

Saying Something (1961)

Home (1978)

Focus (1980)

Politely (1981)

What’s Up (1989)

WITH THE BRASS COMPANY:

Colors (1975)

AS A SIDEMAN:

Hard Bop (Art Blakey, 1956)

Hard Drive (Art Blakey, 1956)

Jackie’s Pal (Jackie McLean, 1956)

McLean’s Scene (Jackie McLean, 1956)

Drum Suite (Art Blakey, 1957)

Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (Art Blakey, 1957)

McLean and Co. (Jackie McLean, 1957)

Mal 1 (Mal Waldron, 1957)

Mal 2 (Mal Waldron, 1957)

Mirage (Art Blakey, 1957)

Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry (Charles Mingus, 1957)

A Night in Tunisia (Art Blakey, 1957)

Ritual: The Modern Jazz Messengers (Art Blakey, 1957)

Second Edition (Art Blakey, 1957)

The Great Composer (Tiny Bradshaw, 1959)

Sunny Side Up (Lou Donaldson, 1960)

Two Feet in the Gutter (Dave Bailey, 1961)

Fried Buzzard (Lou Donaldson, 1965)

Moanin’ (Live) (Art Blakey, 1968)

Come Along With Me (Eddie Jefferson, 1969)

The Sweet Life (Reuben Wilson, 1972)

Backgammon (Art Blakey, 1976)

Good Cookin’ (Junior Cook, 1981)

Last Stitt Sessions, Vols. 1 & 2 (Sonny Stitt, 1982)

Viewpoints and Vibrations (Steve Turre, 1987)

Contributor: Matt Leskovic