Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Hart, Billy (William W.; Jabali)
Hart, Billy (William W.; Jabali), drummer; b. Washington, DC, 29 November 1940.
His grandmother was a concert pianist, Marion Anderson's first accompanist; she interested him in classical music. His mother, from Philadelphia, enjoyed Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie, while his father, from Washington, D.C., enjoyed Duke Ellington and John Kirby, which his mother considered more "far out." They took him to the Howard Theater when he was little to see Earl Bostic, Bullmoose Jackson, Basie, and Ellington. His parents and brother have passed away.
He studied some piano as a child, and took up drums in a local drum-and-bugle corps at around 11. Soon he had a drum set, and at 15 years old he met Buck Hill, who lived next door to his grandmother. Hill handed him two 78 rpm Charlie Parker records and got him started in jazz. Soon he began playing for rehearsal sessions led by Eddie Warren, father of bassist Butch Warren and elder brother of guitarist Quentin Warren. The latter suggested him for a rehearsal gig at Warren's house with Stuff Smith. During high school, he played with rhythm-and-blues bands in local dancehalls and cabarets; later on, in the Howard Theater house band under Charles Hampton's leadership, he backed Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Smokey Robinson and others. He and fellow McKinley High School graduates Reuben Brown and Butch Warren were the house trio at a local room called Abart's for nine months, backing Buck Hill on weekends; later he worked with singer-pianist Shirley Horn's trio, and played Brazilian rhythms at Charlie Byrd's club with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and Bola Sete. He attended Howard University, along with Marion Brown, while he continued to freelance.
He heard and emulated drummers who passed through town with Pop acts, particularly New Orleans stylists like Idris Muhammad with the Impressions, Clayton Filliard with James Brown, and Ed Blackwell and Earl Palmer with the Ray Charles band. He'd also study Washington drummers like Charlie Buck (who preceded Art Blakey in Billy Eckstine's first big band), Harry "Stump" Saunders, Ben Dixon (who was also a composer who took solos in odd time signatures), Jimmy Cobb (a big influence), Buddy Mack Simpkins and Grady Tate, as well as contemporaries like Jimmy Hopps, Joe Chambers, Eric Gravatt, Bernard Sweetney, Hugh Walker, and Mike Smith.
He worked with Jimmy Smith and then Wes Montgomery in the mid-'60s. At the same time he became interested in Stravinsky, Bartok, Messaien, Stockhausen and John Cage. Marion Brown introduced him to Sunny Murray and others. Going through Chicago with Smith and Mongomery, he encountered Gerald Donovan, known as Ajaramu, a drummer associated with the AACM, who introduced him to Thurman Barker, Steve McCall, and Alvin Fielder. After Montgomery's death, he played a couple of years with Eddie Harris (ca. 1968-1970), then Pharaoh Sanders, Herbie Hancock (ca. 1971-3), McCoy Tyner, and Stan Getz (starting in 1975).
He co-formed Colloquium III with Horacee Arnold and Freddie Waits and led percussion workshops at the N.Y. Drummers' Collective. He has recorded or performed since the 1970s with Miles Davis, Jimmie Rowles, Hal Galper, Clark Terry, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Lee Konitz, and Chico Freeman, Frank Foster, Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry, Mingus Dynasty, Quest (with Dave Liebman), James Newton, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell and Charles Lloyd. In 1997 he worked with Toots Thielemans for a week at New York's Blue Note, and Ray Drummond's Quintet at the Village Vanguard. His son's African name is Tul. He lives in NY and retains a residence in NJ as well, where he used to live.
Enchance (1988); Oshumare (1985); Rah (1987); Take It Easy (1989); Amethyst (1993); Oceans of Time (1997)
Herbie Hancock: Mwandishi (1970); Stan Getz: The Master (1975); Buck Hill: This is Buck Hill (1978); Stan Getz: Pure Getz (1982)
Panken, Ted, liner notes to Billy Hart: Oceans of Time (1997)