in New York City, Ken Hatfield is one of the best guitarists
when it comes to combining jazz, Americana and neoclassical. The latest
chapter in the life of a great guitar legacy can be heard on Kens
2016 releasea book with all sheet music of the music within,
in-depth liner notes and an accompanying CDentitled
12 Preludes For Solo Guitar. Commenting on his
unique approach towards composing, writing and recording his music,
Ken tells mwe3.com, I already wrote of book of studies called
Etudes For Solo Guitar In 24 Keys, so the Preludes really are Preludes,
while the Etudes really are Etudes. But like Chopin, I intend them
to all have artistic as well as pedagogical value. It really depends
on how deeply a player gets into this music
there is a lot there,
but its not all on the surface. Some of the Preludes are more
technically challenging than others, but I intend them all to be more
about the music than calisthenics. And they are all designed to be
playable for most fingerstyle players that know the fingerboard and
can read traditional musical notation. Guitarists will note
that this is very high quality classical guitar picking and strumming
but Ken is also quite hip to jazz geniuses like Charlie Byrd, and
even classical guitarists such as John Williams, for example. On 12
Preludes Ken delves into his deep standing affinity for both classical
and melodic pop melodies played from a jazzy Byrd / Jobim guitar perspective.
The amazing thing is that the 12 Preludes CD is combined with
the meticulously printed and packaged sheet music for all the songs
Ken plays here. Guitarists and fans have been admiring Ken's music
for decades and newcomers looking to check out one of New Yorks
best kept guitar secrets, give a listen to Ken Hatfields 12
Preludes For Solo Guitar. www.KenHatfield.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Hows life in New York City these days? Been a long time since
we first met in person way back in 2002. How have times changed for
you since then? How many albums have you released during the past
15 years? Sorry I lost track of you after 20th century guitar magazine
folded at the end of 2008. It was a major jolt! Even though he passed
in 2006, I miss reading all the great jazz music reviews by the late
Jim Fisch, who was a great asset to the magazine. It was a fun time.
Ken Hatfield: The only constant thing about NYC is that it
constantly changes. But Ive learned to expect and accept that
after all, Plato suggested that the fundamental ingredient of time
is in fact change. So if we are alive, we live in time, and change
is how we experience the passage of time.
Since 1998, when I released my first recording as a leader, Ive
released nine CDs on my Arthur Circle Music label, and I am the leader
and arranger on another, played on some compilations, plus Ive
authored seven books and contributed compositions to several compilation
Yeah, I really miss Jim Fisch. He was a great human being and very
knowledgeable about many aspects of music, especially jazz and world
music. When he passed away I was in the middle of writing Etudes
for Solo Guitar in 24 Keys. I dedicated Etude # 14 to Jim.
mwe3: How is your latest album 12 Preludes For Solo Guitar
a further expansion of your overall recorded repertoire and wide
ranging guitar concepts? 12 Preludes is available as both a
stand alone CD as well as a CD + book with all the sheet music for
all the 12 preludes, so, I assume with this release, youre reaching
out not only to the musicians who might want to attempt to learn these
pieces but also to the music fans that have always enjoyed your guitar
playing and style.
Ken Hatfield: Im increasingly drawn to composing, and
the guitar has been my constant companion since I was eight years
old. So naturally a large part of my compositional output includes
the guitar, and more often than not it plays a major role in what
I write. This is in part because most of the ensemble music I write
involves me as a player. Since I will work on my own projects for
love of the project, this can be economical, but as a composer I also
want others to play what I write. I know of very few cats that learned
Thelonious Monk tunes hearing them once or twice in a club. So I try
to document my compositions. And in the case of solo guitar works,
I frequently publish them in folio form as well. Plus a lot of scores
and parts are available exclusively on my website www.kenhatfield.com
It has been my experience that most great music cannot be fully
comprehended in a single listening. So Im trying to encourage
folks to listen attentively and to re-listen to things that mystify
them. Its hard to play a piece that you dont understand.
So delving into the printed music can get you to a deeper understanding
of the music. And providing printed scores of my music facilitates
other players discovering their own interpretations of my ideas, which
they can share with their audience. And if that takes years to unfold,
in the meantime the general audience has my interpretations of many
of my own compositions to listen to via my recordings. For me its
all about being an advocate for my musical ideas.
In the 12 Preludes liner notes I saw you used my quote from
20th Century Guitar where I called you a veritable Picasso of
the jazz guitar world but after playing 12 Preludes, perhaps
I guess it should have said, that you are a Veritable Picasso
of the jazz and classical guitar worlds! I guess its no
secret that the best guitarists also like to blur the lines between
jazz and classical music. I am thinking of Steve Howe, Charlie Byrd
and you too. Did you set out to further blur those guitar lines on
Ken Hatfield: Not intentionally. Unless I have a commission
with specific guidelines, I generally set out to explore ideas I find
musically interesting. The mystery of where ideas come from and why
certain people get certain ideas, artistically speaking, is hard to
discuss without sounding like youre courting mysticism. But
I do get plenty of ideas, and I feel part of the obligation that comes
with the sheer joy of receiving ideas is the responsibility to document
them so they can be shared. I try to vary the means of documentation
as much as I can within the ever-increasing constraints of a world
where many think they are entitled to have access to the fruits of
such labors for free.
I never set out to create a hybrid or fusion music. I came to this
confluence of Jazz and Classical music's, which the late Gunther Schuller
called Third Stream Music, quite by accident. I have always
been an improvising musician. In the 1980s, Mercedes Ellington approached
me about helping Judith Jamison find some guitar music for the choreographic
work Ms. Jamison was beginning. I met with Judy several times, making
suggestions that didnt quite hit the mark, so eventually I suggested
I could write something for her. She was open to the idea, and when
a few weeks later I gave her some skeletal solo guitar pieces, she
really liked them. That opportunity opened a whole new world to me
and changed everything about how I perceived what was possible in
music. Eventually it led me to want to actually study composition
seriously. Upon going back to school to study composition, I found
the classical guitar to be a better fit for what I was studying and
writing. And, as luck would have it, my friend Steve Kroon recommended
me for Dom Salvadors band at the same time. Finding myself with
many of NYCs best Brazilian musicians further stimulated my
interest in the instrument favored by Baden Powell, João Gilberto
and Tom Jobim etc., i.e. the nylon string guitar.
the natural confluence of influences, driven by curiosity, and associations,
professional and academic, led me to my own sound and approach, both
for writing and for playing. Some may feel that the resulting music
crosses genres. But what is the purpose of categorizing music by genres
in the first place? I feel that often it only serves to encourage
folks to decide whether they dig something or not without having to
listen to it, based on the bag its put in.
What guitarists did you and do you continue to use as a role model
for your own development and style? Some call you a jazz guitarist
but youre obviously reaching out to the classical guitar fans
with 12 Preludes album and book right? The only other guitarist
I can think of when comparing your sound would be Charlie Byrd, who
blended his love of classical guitar with jazz. When did you meet
Charlie Byrd or did you do a show with him?
Hatfield: My two favorite guitar players of all time are Wes Montgomery
and Ralph Towner. But there are so many incredible players that I
can only keep up with a few at a time. I am a jazz musician, first
and foremost. But as a composer I want to write more than musical
short stories, though lord knows Ive written quite a few of
those. There is nothing wrong with good short stories, but if something
in you longs to write a novel, you have to have the skills necessary
to develop both the story and the characters so that they hold ones
attention over the length and breadth of a novel. Historically many
jazz composers wrote tunes as vehicles for blowing and or suites comprised
of a collection of such tunes in various bags and moods. To me, such
suites always seem analogous to a collection of short stories. Nothing
wrong with that; Ive done a lot of it myself. But for some reason
I also want to investigate longer forms and strategies for presenting
bigger, more fully developed musical ideas. Form and content have
to fit, and some ideas are just too much for a three-minute hit or
a five-minute radio friendly jazz track. I know this perspective may
seem odd to those discovering my music via the 12 Preludes, which
are all quite short. But longing to explore forms that are genetically
derived from the musical DNA at the heart of a composition and not
just string together a series of musical pictures at an exhibition,
so to speak, has been a driving force for much of my work. Perhaps
this came from working with Judith, and the longer forms of ballet,
but there was and is a real desire on my part to create works that
hold together over a presentation that is longer than what the antiquated
hit record format demands.
knew Charlie quite well. Charlie Byrd and his brother Joe grew up
in the same part of Virginia that I am from: Hampton Roads / Tidewater,
Virginia. I even worked as a member of Charlies band along with
his brother Joe and his son Jeffrey at his home base in Annapolis,
Maryland: the King of France Tavern in the Maryland Inn.
Charlie and the teacher I studied with when I was growing up, John
Griggs, had studied with Sophocles Papas on the G.I. bill in Washington,
D.C. John and Charlie remained lifelong friends, so John
introduced me to Charlie when I was at Berklee, and we would get together
and play whenever Charlie was in Boston. So when I moved to Baltimore,
Charlie hired me to play with him whenever he was in or around Annapolis,
where Charlie lived. I also played with Joe Byrd in some of Joes
groups before I moved to NYC. We all kind of lost touch when I left
Maryland. Then one day I ran into Charlie at Michiko rehearsal studio
in NYC, where he was rehearsing with the Trio da Paz for his My
Inspiration recording. When Duduka and Romero saw me, I was rehearsing
with Gene Torres and Vanderlei Pereira for a Buscarino concert at
the Classic American Guitar show, they wanted to introduce me to Charlie.
We took one look at each other and started laughing and embraced one
another. We stayed in touch mostly via phone after that, though we
did see each other a few more times before Charlie passed in December
of 1999. Joes wife Elena booked my group Trio Novo
in D.C. and Annapolis a few years before Joes untimely passing.
mwe3: Youve played a lot of classical guitar music over
the years so do you consider the 12 Preludes to be studies
as well as preludes? And how difficult do you feel they are to learn
and can an advanced beginner or intermediate guitarist with some classical
training learn to play them? Do these preludes become more complex
to play as the album progresses and as the key signatures change?
Ken Hatfield: I already wrote of book of studies called Etudes
For Solo Guitar In 24 Keys, so the Preludes really are
Preludes, while the Etudes really are Etudes. But like Chopin, I intend
them to all have artistic as well as pedagogical value. It really
depends on how deeply a player gets into this music
a lot there, but its not all on the surface. Some of the Preludes
are more technically challenging than others, but I intend them all
to be more about the music than calisthenics. And they are all designed
to be playable for most fingerstyle players that know the fingerboard
and can read traditional musical notation.
on the implications of your question about key signatures, I can only
say that the relationship between keys and complexity is ambiguous
at best. Once one gets away from a fixation with the root and fifth
of any tonality, you quickly discover how many familiar tones are
shared between the easy keys and what many perceive to
be difficult keys. No one thinks the letters of the alphabet
get more unmanageable as we approach the letter Z.
Well, individual notes within the context of specific keys are much
like letters within words, and chords are much like words within paragraphs,
etc. Ive always worked at being able to function in all keys,
so I hear each key as having its own unique personality and charm,
regardless of how many flats or sharps its respective key signature
mwe3: Tell us about the Thomas Humphrey Millennium guitar you
recorded the 12 Preludes album with. Is that your favorite
guitar and what are some of the qualities of that guitar that helps
set it apart from other classical nylon string classical guitars youve
played then and now? What are some of your other guitars that you
have written music on and have played on record and in a live setting?
Do you still keep acoustic steel string and electric guitars around
Hatfield: I have many guitars, probably too many: steel strings,
both electric and acoustic, dobros, banjos, mandolins, and other stringed
instruments, but mostly classical guitars. I play Buscarino guitars
more than any other, especially live, and even on most of my recordings.
In fact, until the Preludes recording, everything Ive recorded
as a leader except The Gospel According to Sam from String
Theory, whose guitar part was played on a Sergio Abreu, was played
on one of the five Buscarinos Ive owned. Ironically, it was
Sergio who first introduced me to the late, great luthier Thomas Humphrey.
Ever since that meeting in the early 1990s I wanted to get one of
Toms guitars. Tom even hooked me up with the folks at Martin
when they first introduced two guitars based on Toms Millennium
design. But nothing compares to Toms actual guitars. Ive
never played one that was a disappointment. So when I found one for
sale a few years after Toms untimely passing, I acquired it.
It is a magical guitar. Playing it is like having a teacher to guide
you, in that when you play correctly, you are rewarded
with the most glorious array of sonic possibilities, but if you play
sloppily, you sound like a hack!
I rarely write music on any instrument, though I do check what I write
on instruments. And the sound of an instrument can get in my minds
ear, inspiring me. That is what Toms guitar did with these 12
Preludes and some new stuff I hope to record in the future. Often
just playing, which for me is usually improvising, on an instrument
helps me discover sounds or, more accurately, ways of shaping notes
that I realize I can employ to make parts have their own individual
character within a composition. That is a big deal for polyphonic
music. It can make the music really feel like a dialogue or conversation.
mwe3: It seems with all the new technology, apps and computer
programs, that youre going against the grain so to speak releasing
a more pure sounding album of nylon string guitar preludes. Do you
feel we are losing our souls in a way with all the technology and
dependence on the internet and how has the internet helped you as
a guitarist and a recording artist? The guitar tuning pages with the
virtual tuning forks are fun! Now 15 years after broadband do you
feel the internet is helping to further music and musicians?
Hatfield: All the new tools that the digital paradigm and the
internet have provided, are merely that: tools, nothing more. Its
what we do with them that makes all the difference. I used Finale
to engrave the scores for the 12 Preludes book, and others, too, like
the 24 Etudes book. Without such tools I could not afford to share
my music this way.
All things change and evolve; that is inevitable and unavoidable.
I would just like to see folks be a bit more discerning about what
they embrace and question why they choose certain things to embrace.
New is not always better. Change is not inherently improvement. Lack
of knowledge is also known as ignorance. New tools have empowered
musically illiterate folks to combine things that are frequently unspeakably
lame, and the technology allows such combinations to be presented
to folks that listen superficially in ways that an increasing number
of folks apparently find acceptable! In such cases, if the chords
they use were chemicals, à la George Van Epss chord chemistry
analogy, their chemical reactions would either fizzle or explode -
they are incapable of anything in between! These are merely effects,
nothing more. Now even effects can be useful, but only when their
intended use is guided by knowledge within a context that has variety.
The technology is alluring, and cats fall in love with what they sample
and combine, simply because they did it. That is narcissism, not artistry.
The basics of music have not changed. They will always involve mastery
of rhythm, melody and harmony, and especially the interaction of the
three. A lot of kids have been woefully deprived of access to the
means of acquiring these traditional tools and skill sets, so they
have developed other ways to create with the resources at their disposal.
We should celebrate that. But not at the expense of what has stood
the test of time. I may have invented a totally new game that involves
using a baseball bat and a basketball, because I had access to those
things, and no one ever hipped me to what basketball actually is.
But that game is not basketball. And no one in the NBA would let me
on the court with a baseball bat, at least not during a legitimate
We need a balance between demanding that the next generation respect
the traditions that preceded them and a nurturing educational approach
commensurate with lovingly passing on the richness of what our forefathers
have given us. No one needs to reinvent the wheel. Failing to accept
the inevitable change that life as well as technology will bring is
as much of a doomed strategy as ignoring the 500 years of documented
musical history that predates us. Somewhere a balance between the
two i.e., maintaining tradition and embracing change that may become
innovative, needs to be found and fostered.
mwe3: When you write music, such as the preludes on the 12
Preludes CD and book, do you concentrate mostly on melody or chord
changes or unique fingerings? What is involved in writing a prelude
for guitar and how different is it to write a prelude for guitar compared
to say another musician writing for piano or another instrument? What
are some of your favorite guitar preludes composed by other guitarists
Hatfield: I use all and none of the above. It depends on the ideas
involved in the music. I have worked hard to develop as many compositional
tools and skills as I can. So each piece starts and develops in its
own way. Some start with a groove; others begin with a relationship
between several chords that suggests a tonality; some start with a
melody; some begin with a short phrase that can replicate in multiple
voices with staggered entrances creating their own harmonies, especially
the contrapuntal works. Schoenberg often said composers should invent
the melody and harmony simultaneously. All melodies have harmonic
implications. Do you accede to them or go against them? No two pieces
are the same, at least I hope mine are not!
Many of my pieces are written only on the page with no instrument,
just hearing the parts in my head and trying to get what I hear on
the page before it evaporates. I try not to write for an instrument
if I cannot hear that instrument playing that part, regardless of
the instrument. I will then check things on a guitar. Though sometimes
I now travel with only a mandolin (its easier with the Airlines),
so at such times, Ill check things on that. Other times Im
forced to use Finale, and Ill let its playback mode play things
for me to check. More and more Im using instruments less to
compose. Beethoven used that say that the cats that wrote on the piano
sounded like their fingers wrote the music, not their brains!
Manuel Ponce and Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote some of my favorite preludes
mwe3: Why do you use 12 different key signatures for the 12
Preludes album and do you have favorite key signatures to write
and perform your music in?
Ken Hatfield: There is a long tradition of using the circle
of fifths as the organizing principle for the presentation of musical
collections of things like preludes and fugues and etudes, etc. This
makes perfect sense if you understand how, since the time of Pythagoras,
around 500 B.C., the individual tone has given rise to all of our
notes as overtones, which when arranged in ascending perfect fifths
and alphabetically aligned, yield our major scale. Its a bit
like asking why are blues generally in a 12-bar form using the I,
IV & V chords? Or why do guys have a Y chromosome? Because that
is the way it is!
I try not to favor one key over another. But it really depends on
the music. Polyphonic music with voices/parts moving in contrary motion
can quickly tax what is physically possible on a guitar much more
than on a keyboard instrument, so certain keys can be better for certain
ideas for the guitar. I try to let the music determine that.
I was fortunate that when I was learning to play jazz all the horn
players liked flat keys
you know, going counterclockwise around
the circle of 5ths: C to F to Bb to Eb, etc..., so I learned that
way of approaching things first. When later I discovered how and why
string players preferred the sharp keys - i.e., C to G to D to A,
etc..., moving clockwise around the circle of 5ths, I was way ahead
of the game. That is now just so much a part of who I am and how I
do things that I do not see any advantage to changing. Hell, I never
even owned a capo until someone recently gave me a prototype of one
Tell us about working with Jim Clouse and Michael Long during the
writing and recording of the 12 Preludes CD. How many albums
have you worked with Jim on and was Jim involved in the mixing and
mastering of the 12 Preludes album as well? What else can you
tell us about your students? I imagine Michael Long must be one of
your more advanced students, as you trusted him to help check the
fingerings of the music.
Ken Hatfield: Jim Clouse is one of he best musicians I know.
We go way back to when I first arrived in NYC. Jim is not only a great
engineer, but a world class saxophone player, and his résumé
includes Tania Marias band and Mel Lewis' Monday Night Village
Vanguard Orchestra, a wonderful drummer who was the musical director
of the Joffrey Ballet as a drummer, and one hell of a third baseman!
Seriously, Jim has the best ears of any engineer Ive ever worked
with. A lot of cats that record elsewhere due to space or gear considerations,
end up mixing and mastering with Jim. He is the best! And he is a
great cat to spend time with. Ive done at least five records
as a leader with him, and a few film scores, a ballet score, several
arranging projects, and even a couple of live projects. Id be
hard pressed to find anyone Id rather work with.
Mike Long was also one of John Griggss students. So when John
passed away in 2009, Mike asked about studying with me online. Mike
is a computer code writer by vocation and a marvelous musician, so
he actually guided me into online teaching, initially to help him
continue his studies, and now so I can share what Ive learned
in a lifetime of music with other students. Mike is conscientious,
so he was among the first to get and play through the preludes. I
never use tablature and rarely use fingerings, so I find checking
any of that to be much harder than checking the actual musical notation.
Having others who will double check such things is very helpful.
mwe3: What interests you most about the guitar and about music
in 2016? What concerts or performances stand out in your mind most
over the past decade? What are your concerts like and do you try to
balance the shows with both classical and jazz songs?
Ken Hatfield: The guitar truly is a miniature orchestra like
Segovia often said. Its also the worlds most popular instrument.
And its much more portable than a piano. Im really intrigued
with exploring the role such a versatile polyphonic instrument can
play in a variety of ensemble settings, particularly for jazz music.
Even legends like Sonny Rollins have lamented how easily a piano can
take an improvising soloist into directions the pianist wants to go
in, often against the soloists will. Consequently, increasingly
cats prefer guitar or vibes as comping instruments in jazz. Well,
the classical guitar can both create more texturally and polyphonically
varied support while taking up less sonic space than any other chordal
instrument, and do so with such transparency of sound that it could
well make it the instrument best suited for accompaniment in all of
jazz contexts. But then Im biased.
I hope to get the chance to explore and extrapolate upon this in a
variety of musical contexts both live and recorded. And I hope to
do so with many of the great players Ive developed relationships
with as well as new ones Ive yet to play with, and do so all
over the world!
Hearing João Gilberto live and hearing Jason Vieaux live both
stand out as exceptional guitar musical experiences. And hearing Harold
Maberns Trio and Miguel Zenóns Group, both at the
Village Vanguard in NYC, stand out as extraordinary live jazz performances.
How challenging is it maintaining a schedule where you divide your
time between writing music, teaching guitar, performing and also recording?
What is the best part of being a musician for you? Is it any of the
above or is simply living in NYC the most fun part of all? So now
with 12 Preludes out and getting press and airplay are you
planning a musical move for 2017?
Ken Hatfield: Man, life is challenging in and of itself in
this day and age. The best part for me is and has always been the
music. It is the only thing compelling enough to get any sane person
to put up with all the business baloney.
The only real beefs Ive got with things pertain to the prevailing
notions that content should be available free of any effort, on the
part of the audience, or absent fair monetary remuneration for the
content creators. Such short sighted, selfish ways of looking at and
justifying things is simply unsustainable in the long run. For any
economy to work, each part must support the other parts. I cannot
buy what you make if you do not buy what I make
that needs to
be replicated throughout any society for its economy to thrive. Unfortunately,
too many fail to realize how interconnected we all are.
To me, if our bodies are what we eat, wouldnt our brains also
develop based on what we put in them? Ironically people consume the
musical equivalent of junk food and then justify not paying for it
because most recordings have only one good track. How about listening
to better, more thought provoking music? And how about starting with
music not focused solely on words, or because you liked the
dance moves in a video? Why not consider instrumental music as a means
to better comprehend some of the things music alone, not words or
visual stimuli, can communicate? I suspect if that happened more frequently
wed have a more conscious society, one less prone to justify
why they can perpetrate or tolerate the dreamers of their own culture
being cannibalized by that culture, in the name of momentary diversion.
I have two projects already written: one is an ensemble project, the
other is a solo guitar project. The availability of the funds needed
to document each will determine which is born first.