Interview: Andrew Hartman

On Friday, May 5th, guitarist and composer Andrew Hartman will release Compass, his second album as a leader. A Cincinnati native and an alum of The Ohio State University, Hartman was active in the Columbus jazz scene for several years, including releasing his first album with his Columbus group, Andrew Hartman and Still Motion, in 2010. After a year in London and further travels, Hartman is now based in New York City, where he writes and arranges music and performs in a variety of settings. Compass was recorded with a star-studded lineup of fellow NYC residents saxophonist Chris Cheek, bassist Ike Sturm, and drummer Zach Harmon, and the quartet has created a vibrant new work of modern jazz. Hartman was kind enough to answer my questions about the album, his career, and his adventures. Keep reading for more, along with video samples of album tracks. Click here to order CD or digital copies of Compass, which will also be available on CDBaby and iTunes.

Your new album is very exciting! What can you tell us about the material you wrote and the sound you envisioned?

Andrew Hartman (AH): Thanks, Andrew. The new album is called Compass, and it features some music I’ve written over the last 5 years. It’s more modern in terms of some of the melodies, feels, time, and harmonies of the tunes. But the forms of the tunes, and interplay within the band definitely draws from the straight-ahead tradition. The guitar, saxophone, double bass, and drums line-up has a long history, too, and I think that helps to place it in that context.

As far as the pieces themselves, I noticed that the things I was writing around 2011/2012 were more simple. That began to evolve and change a bit too, over the last couple of years. But I think even the more ‘complicated’ tunes, so to say, on the album have that sense of simplicity. The idea is still to let the pieces, the soloists, and dynamics of the band, speak for themselves.

You assembled a world class band for the recording. How did this band come together?

AH: I met (bassist) Ike Sturm in 2014, not long after I had moved to New York. Ike is the director of Jazz Music at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan. The idea of a church service based around jazz music was completely new and enthralling to me, and it’s become a really special place in my life. Ike, besides being a phenomenal bassist, bandleader, composer, and arranger, is a wonderful human being. We started playing some sessions together, got to know each other, and began doing some gigs together.

Probably a few months after meeting Ike, I met Chris Cheek. We had a chance to work together in August or September of that year, playing a duo gig together. He is such a nice, generous, and humble person, I could hardly believe it. I had looked up to Chris’ playing since I first heard it in high school with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, and it grew from there. To get to share the front line with him has been an incredible experience for me.

Zach Harmon is a more recent transplant to the East Coast, like me, after a decade of living and working based in LA. Zach and Ike grew up playing together, and have a great hookup. I got the chance to hear him play with some different groups, and asked him if he’d be part of this project. He brings a really great character to the project, and I’m so glad to have him on board. The first time we all played together was in 2015, and it felt amazing. There was a really great chemistry, and hopefully we’ve managed to document some of that on Compass.

How have your travels and experiences of the last five years shaped your musical and personal outlook?

AH: It takes time to settle into a new place, and I think that can be especially true if you’re a musician or artist. It can be really challenging to find your footing when you touch down, without something regular like a 9-5 job, or school. Moving around a lot and traveling over the last 5 years has really shown me some of the beauty of humanity in the kindness and support of strangers, and the general goodness of people. You come to understand that sense differently when you’re hopelessly lost in a city where you don’t speak the language and don’t know a soul. Or, when you’re trying to make a living through music in a new metropolis. Traveling has also deepened my appreciation for my family, friends, and music in a new way. You talk to each other when you can, but you always keep one another in your heart.

In Europe, Brazil, and elsewhere, I got to take in a lot of new music that I don’t think I would have heard otherwise, and meet players with different approaches to music. Beyond that, I gained a sense for the appreciation that audiences in other countries have for live music. I was really fortunate to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds while living in London, and get a different perspective on the world. Of course, New York has been similar in terms of meeting people from all over, but there’s another layer to it when you’re abroad. I think it has all influenced my writing and playing in many ways, from the challenges and difficulties of moving, to taking in new places and cultures, and new sights and sounds.

What is something you learned or experienced in your time in Columbus that has stuck with you since?

AH: Even though I grew up in Cincinnati, I still think of Columbus as home, in a way. It was tough to leave Columbus. Some of my closest friends, musical co-conspirators, and gigs and bands that I really loved were (and still are) there. The people, the musicianship, and the openness of the city, have all had a huge impact on me, personally and musically. When it comes down to it, it is really all about the people. I’ve still spent the majority of my adult life in Columbus, and I’ve had many great teachers, from the classroom to the bandstand. Playing with people is the most real learning experience you can have as a musician. Everyone shares their ideal with you – their passion and their heroes. You may not be ready for it, and you may not be into it at the time, but it stays with you until you are ready and able to give it some of the time and attention that it deserves. That idea of sharing your joy and your love, through music, is something that a lot of Columbus musicians embody. The music community there is a family, and I’m happy that I’ve got family there.

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