Interview with William by Steve Cauffman

Interview with Drummer William Hooker

Interviewed by Hartford Jazz Society member Steve Cauffman, September 2004 via e-mail and cassette tape.

SC: Tell me a bit about your early life.

WH: I grew up in New Britain, Connecticut and basically was a good student, and came from a good home. Did all that I could possibly do to make my way through New Britain High School, Nathan Hale Junior High, and on my way though that. I tried to get good grades and I tried to be an exceptional student as far as playing in the band and orchestra, in leading the chorus, and just basically getting good grades and that's about it.

SC: What led you to music?

WH: What let me to music was the fact that I guess I performed in a young group in Connecticut when I was a young kid and performed rock and roll. And then after that I got into basically a little bit of jazz.

SC: Can you trace it back to one moment where suddenly a light went off and you decided that you wanted to become a musician or was it a slow, gradual realization?

WH: Well, actually I never decided to become a musician, I was one and I didn't think of it in terms of the rest of my life or my career or anything like that because I was pretty good in most of the things I tried to do, be they academic or musical.

SC: What was it like to be a musician in New York from the mid 70's to the early 80's? How has the music scene in New York changed since then?

WH: Well, it was pretty nice actually. There were a lot of good musicians around. There was opportunity to shed, cause at that time I didn't have a particular day job and I was really, basically like meeting a lot of people. Since then, I guess the music scene has changed a great deal because it's a little more traditional, a little bit more laid back, even though in my quarters it still as hot as possible, but I think this was even more prevalent in terms of what I do because people were coming here from Chicago and from the west coast to really begin to start anew, another kind of a music.

SC: Who are your mentors, musical or otherwise?

WH: My mentors basically are I would say my mother and father. All of the music I heard on Blue Note and thereafter. I wasn't really taken under anyone's wing at any time, so because of that it was just basically me working a lot and picking up as much as I possibly could in the various clubs and places that I performed at.

SC: We know that Louis Armstrong said something like "if you have to ask, you'll never know", but I'll ask anyway. How do you define jazz?

WH: Jazz, jazz is soul. That may seem like a very, very trite answer, but that's the way I'll put it.

SC: Do you consider yourself a "jazz" musician?

WH: I consider myself a jazz musician. I consider myself a jazz musician simply because many people define that word in different ways so I would say that I fit under that umbrella.

SC: Do you consider yourself a student of the jazz tradition? How does your music fit in the tradition?

WH: Yes, definitely because that's what I performed at, that's how I learned. It fits in that tradition because it's based on improvisation, it's based on learning one's craft, it's based on written out music in many cases, based on traditional duo, trio, quartet, sextet settings, and I play gigs in most of the places are considered jazz clubs.

SC: What do you think of Louis Armstrong?

WH: I love Louis Armstrong. I love Louis Armstrong because after studying quite a bit and finding out who he was, what he did, what he overcame, he was an extraordinary individual.

SC: What do you think of swing? - of be-bop?

WH: I think swing is great. I mean, I listen to it periodically, the same for be-bop and the current jazz scene. I stay in touch with all these things as much as I possibly can because I like it.

SC: What do you think of playing with musicians who come from a non-jazz background?

WH: Playing with musicians who come from a non-jazz background is also very enlightening because I get to find out what's in their minds. I get to see what's going on with them and in another part of the whole musical creative spectrum.

SC: Can you hear differences between drummers from Boston versus drummers from New York versus drummers from New Orleans, versus drummers from Los Angeles, etc?

WH:  No, not really. I haven't basically looked at music in that way and I kind of don't listen to it that way. To tell you the truth I don't even know where many musicians are from.

SC: In Arthur Taylor's book "Notes and Tones",

WH: which I really liked, I have got to say. I have a copy of it right here on my bookshelf.

SC: Max Roach says, "We are of African descent. Our music is rooted deeply, rhythmically and harmonically, in African music. It's part of us." while Art Blakey says, "Our music has nothing to do with Africa. African music is entirely different, and the Africans are much more advanced than we are rhythmically, though we're more advanced harmonically." What are your thoughts on the influence of African music on jazz in general and on your music in particular?

WH: I would really try to tread the middle ground between Max and Art Blakey because in many ways you know it is of African descent because we are of African descent, but when you get down to the musical elements you can see that there's a lot of truth to what Art Blakey was talking about. African influence, I don't necessarily look at it that way, I just look at my music in terms of what I do, how I play, who I am right now. I try to see the entire Diaspora and I try to incorporate it anytime that I can in the music that I'm doing and in my performing with other people.

SC: In addition to composing, you write and recite poetry. What role does the written word play in your music? For those compositions with words, do you write the words first and then compose the music or do you compose the music and then add the words?

WH: Good question. Basically words are just another element of the improvisation, which can take us into another level of continuity and another thing to feed off of as we do the entire work. Usually I do the works first, the written word first, and then I try to incorporate into the improvisation and see if it's appropriate.

SC: How does the spiritual side of your life affect your music?

WH: I believe that music is a very, very spiritual thing; it comes from a higher source. I believe I am a spiritual being coming from a higher source as well and I think that both of those try to coincide.

SC: Where have you taught and how long have you been teaching?

WH: I teach in Flatbush, Brooklyn and this time around, this is my third year.

SC: I believe students would be energized by your passion and enthusiasm for music...

WH: and they are, I've got to say.

...but what are some of the challenges you face teaching kids today?

WH: Well hey, you face the fact that many of them have no home training. Many of them are just out here by themselves and without any sort of role models or guides to life, that's the primary thing, and that filters off into other kinds of things, disruptive of behavior or it goes to the good side too. If you see a student that's very, very well versed in their own culture etc., etc., then it brings you up to try to understand where the child is coming from and that's a good thing.

SC: How has the business side of music changed over the course of your career?

WH: Well, it's just a little more detailed and explicit right now because usually we'd just get out there and just play for the door or just play to play, but now with traveling, etc., you have to make sure things are done in a certain way. I mean you have to make sure you have hotels, planes, food, all those kinds of things that I think comes from playing in a worldwide situation.

SC: In what ways is it easier now?

WH: It's easier now...that's a strange word because it's never easier to tell you the truth. It all depends on how much, how many people you have working with you to try to manifest what dream you have, then it becomes easier. If you are doing it by yourself, it's never easy, because you have to deal with different people in different levels all about different sorts of things, specifics.

SC: Technologies such as the Internet and downloading/burning/ripping MP3s and CDs are changing the way we acquire and listen to music. Are these new technologies helping or hurting music?

WH: I think they are helping. I think they are helping, but I just don't think we should go gung-ho with it and make it the only thing that exists. I think it helps to be able to go into a situation, pull out some side you really like, and listen to them again, whether it's on CD etc., etc., but as I said, I wouldn't want that to be the only way that I relate to music.

SC: Should music be available for free on the Internet?

WH: It already is and whether I think it's right or wrong, it is. It's a situation that can't be denied, just as people hawk records for like two dollars apiece.

SC: What type of drum kit do you use?

WH: I use a Ludwig.

SC: How is it set up?

WH: Traditionally: one tom, bass drum, floor tom, two cymbal, high hat, and a snare, usually that's my set up.

SC: How do you tune your drums?

WH: I just tune it to what I hear, that's basically it. If I tune it, I tune it to the weather, what I hear, and what I'm trying to get in terms of response.

SC: Do you practice frequently?

WH: I practice pretty frequently, at least two, three times a week in the studio and then, if I get a gig along with that, that helps too.

SC: Do you prefer playing in front of an audience or in a recording studio?

WH: In front of an audience definitely, especially if the situation is set up correctly because then this music is meant to be, I think, played before people, so that's the ideal situation.

SC: Do you listen to your own recordings?

WH: Not really. I go back to them sometimes, you know, I listen to them once they are put out just to make sure everything is right and that's it, then I move on to the next one.

SC: What's on the immediate horizon for you? How about in 5 or 10 years?

WH: Well, that's difficult to say, difficult to say because I'm really hoping that many of the projects I have happening now will be recorded, will be done live, many musicians and the relationships that have been building will come to fruition and by doing that I will get the opportunity to travel a little bit more, as well as reach an audience that I think is a respectable one and a respectful one.

SC: You have the last word: is there anything else we should know about William Hooker?

WH: Well, the only thing I would want you to know about William Hooker is that in every situation I go into, I try to relax; I try to enjoy life as much as possible. Separate from music and art, etc., etc., I think that I've had the opportunity to travel and my life is pretty organized, waking up early, trying to experience as much as I can, and I would hope that other people do that as well. Peace and blessing to everyone out there.

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