JG: Canada has a long tradition of jazz music. Briefly, how did this come about?

JH: Forgive me, but I really have no idea. I imagine someone picked up a saxophone and the rest is history. There is a book on the subject though - I think it's called Jazz in Canada
by Mark Miller. Perhaps I will read it.

JG: And where do you personally - as an individual musician or as part of a (loose?) Canadian collective - fit into it?

JH: I would say barely or edgewise or loosely... somehow or not at all. I don't know. I think I made it into the book somewhere in small print but I'm not sure about that. I should really read it.

JG: Can you say something about the status and popularity of jazz music within the music scene in general in Canada? How well does it fit in? I'm reminded of a story I heard recently about a zoo who's claim to fame was that it kept a lion and a lamb in the same cage, seemingly in harmony. Someone asked the zoo-keeper how on Earth they managed to achieve this. He replied: it's easy, you just need to put a new lamb in every day.

JH:  Whoah.

JG:  Is the lamb Canadian jazz? - does it need to be constantly re-invented and renewed to survive? Or is there genuine harmony in the cage?

JH:  Wow.

JG:  O.K., then... could you describe your usual working practices: formal, improvisation, what?

JH: I'm trying to 'kick things about'. I think that's an Anthony Braxton expression but I might have gotten it wrong.

JG:  Why the ukulele? Here we have The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - are you the lone champion of the instrument in Canada - or indeed, in jazz and improv.?

JH:  The ukulele is easy to play, inexpensive and makes a sweet sound. I am certainly no champion though - it hurts my back. I wanted to make a record using very restricted means. In fact, I wanted to make a record using a stick of salami but the producer wouldn't go for it. I think he was probably right.

JG:  Perhaps you could re-record Zappa's Uncle Meat

JG:  You asked me recently about a zen saying I'd mentioned. It involved the individual doing one thing at a time, or not as the case may be. I'll tell you the saying, first:

   Seung Sahn would say, "When you eat, just eat. When read the newspaper, just read the newspaper. Don't do anything other than what you are doing."
  One day a student saw him reading the newspaper while he was eating. The student asked if this did not contradict his teaching. Seung Sahn said, "When you eat and read the newspaper. Just eat and read the newspaper."

My point was this: you seem to be trying to marry traditional jazz (for want of a better term) with experimental, improvised jazz, and I don't think this has worked - or indeed could work for any musicians. I believe that old-style jazz has said almost everything it's going to, and any such music which has value only has it because it's doing something that's already been done. However well it's now played, it still isn't new
I'm thinking of the album Piano Music
by Jean Martin and Evan Shaw. What I would call straight jazz. It sounds good, it's very well played, but that's not enough for me. I want    progression, re-invention: I want the new lamb every day!

JH:  New lamb everyday. I understand. Some people smarter than me might say this quest for newness is a tired one and that there is something about old things revisited and reinterpreted which is where the gold is. Although I understand your desires I have a feeling these people are on to something.

JG:  If I stick to my guns with the opinion that old-style jazz is redundant, I would add that I think there's enormous potential for experiment and improv. without it often sounding like someone throwing a load of instruments down the stairs or stripping it back so much there's very little of substance left.
   I know you took great exception to me holding this view as regards my review of your album (with Jean Martin) Freedman
. After you said so, I played it again several times - gave it my utmost attention in a variety of listening conditions (loud, quiet, in car, background, etc.). Ultimately I couldn't change my initial opinion - and I reiterate: criticism and reviewing is 99% subjective - that there is little of substance to be heard here.
  I think that collection of pieces is, simply, unfinished
 Again, I'd like to hear your comments on this!

JH:  I think you've made a good point in saying it's unfinished. There is something in that quality I like.  I have never made a record so quickly and with so little contemplation. While we were recording it I felt like we were connected in the way you want to be when making music and, though there were no big events or episodes in our performances I thought that there was just enough invention and variety to string a listener along. I still think that, but in truth I've only listened to the album several times and could be wrong. It's funny having this discussion with you because I'm reminded I spend so much time with the same bunch of people making music that it does seem to become more and more objective - this works, this doesn't. But as we can see it's quite subjective once you get outside the neighborhood.

JG:  Let's explore further this subject of influences and motivations. You countered my zen tale with a Biblical quote: is faith / religion / spirituality something that drives you at all as a musician? Can you tell me a little about these day-to-day influences and motivations, musical or otherwise?

JH:  I have a son who is a daily source of spiritual wonderment, inspiration and motivation.

JG:  Why play? Is it, for you and perhaps the other musicians you work and record with, a case of Art for art's sake (or as Big Audio Dynamite put it: "Just play music!") - or is there a game plan; a prescribed (or not) purpose?

JH:  It seems to be a central part of maintaining my mental health. I'm not sure why. Feels good to be engaged with a discipline as a way to experience a sense of purposefulness I suppose, or a life in service to a thing. Plus, it can be a very enjoyable, social activity.

JG:  On the Blah Blah 666 album, It's Only Life!
, you wrote a third of the tracks - including the title track - as well as playing on them. Although these pieces are in some ways quite different from each other, there's unmistakably a common thread running through each.
  I know you've taken exception to such comments before, but I'm going to say it again: the pieces are very French
. I talked a little above about some of this flavour coming from constants like the melodica, which outside of the first few New Order singles is an instrument pretty much unheard of in Britain. What's the attraction of it to you - and to Canadian musicians do you think?
  I might as well go the whole hog now and repeat something else I think you've taken umbrage with and that is the influence - conscious or not - that Frank Zappa's music has had on French and other European music, not just jazz by any means. Or was Zappa merely latching onto something already extant in jazz?

JH:  The melodica is easy to play, inexpensive and makes a sweet sound. Frank Zappa was a wonderful musician. I don't know how to measure these things like influence or how jazz in Canada came to be. I find these sorts of questions impossible to answer - beyond my scope or interest or experience. Forgive me.

JG:  Of course! I'm just throwing ideas at you - seeing what sticks, so to speak. A piece such as Home Sexuality
(on It's Only Life!) feels much more complete to me than anything on, say, Freedman.

JH:  I see what you mean now. Probably if you heard My Freedman's tunes played by his band St. Dirt Elementary School you would think they were complete. I purposefully tried to abstract them on FREEDMAN because I prefer making music that way. Home Sexuality
took about five minutes to write - a rather derivative Les Paul knockoff.

JG:  No, I'm not equating completeness with a big sound. Cage's 4' 33' is complete, after all. I think this is one of the stand-out tracks from that album. Did you write it for this particular band, i.e. with these musicians in mind?

JH:  Yes, I wrote it for this band. I thought we needed a derivative Les Paul knockoff.

JG:  In my brief review of several Barnyard Records releases, I said that the track It's Only Life! is "annoying". I'm willing to admit now that was a rushed response: the more I listen to it, the more I see into the piece. And that's the thing with this album: it does have depth and a maturity that your more minimalist pieces lack (sorry, I'm harking back to Freedman again).
  It's not as successful a piece of music, to me, as Home Sexuality, or even Blossom - which features some lovely guitar playing - but I apologise for calling it "annoying"! As a last word on this album, I have to say that it was an inspired choice to have your Blah Overture
opening the CD and Jean Martin's Sonata Tragica ending it. Both pieces are, shall we say, similar but different, and bind the collection together like the first and last page of a novel does.

JH:  I don't think there is a question in there but just as a point of interest It's Only Life is my pride and joy. I realize how annoying it is. Really! My wife calls it 'tedious'. But I love it. I only wish it was longer. I could tell you how I wrote it but you wouldn't believe me.

JG:  Go on, try me!

JH: Very well. I don't remember exactly but it was something like this: I took the first bar of the first solo transcription in the Charlie Parker Omnibook (by Jamey Aebersold), and then followed it with the second bar of the second transcription and so on. When I got to the end of the book I would take the 2nd bar of the first transcription and so on. I then compressed it all into the range of an octave, halved the rhythmic values twice, inverted and wrote it backwards. There was also some repetition and transposition involved but I don't remember what I did there. It took forever. It occurred to me after that I could have just written something like that without going to such lengths but there was something I really enjoyed about doing that. And like I said, I really love the recording of that piece. Weird eh? I don't know anyone else who likes it.

JG:  Sometimes it's all in the process, I guess. I like it though.
  Excuse my ignorance here, but does this band (Blah Blah 666
) perform live? How has that worked out both for you and for your audiences? I imagine it's a much more rewarding experience than performances of the more experimental material? Although perhaps this is an unfair question, considering the totally different nature of the music.

JH:  Yes we've played a handful of times live and it is a very good time.

JG:  I imagine it's a much more rewarding experience than performances of the more experimental material?

JH:  No, I don't think so actually.

JG:  Although perhaps this is an unfair question, considering the totally different nature of the music.

JG:  No I don't think it's unfair I'm just not sure why you think it would be more rewarding. It's not. In fact it's rather a pain in the ass to get that group of people in the same room together and there is a lot of music to read.

JG:  Then why do it? Is your stripped-down, minimalist music (as with Freedman
) then just partly an excuse to avoid the hassle of having to get the band back together in one place?

JH:  Yes, partly. Of course.

JG:  I can't believe that for a second!

JH:  Believe it!

JG:  What, not having to read music in order to play?

JH:  We read music playing the Freedman book. He published a book of tunes. It's very readable and handy.

JG:  Let's go back to Blah Blah 666 again. Is there no improv. involved with the group - in the studio or live?

JH:  Yes, of course but it has more to do with improvising a set - what tunes we play and how we segue between them and how they are deconstructed. It's mostly about putting on a bit of a show I think whereas typically straight  improvising without fixed material is for me a more internal,  generally quieter thing.

JG:  I'm probably imagining it (It's Only Life rather than, say, Freedman
) as being more rewarding because I'm approaching this as a listener rather than as a (the) musician - it's always going to be more rewarding for 99% of your audience, isn't it?
  Can you try to say why performing Freedman rather than the band stuff is
more rewarding to you. I'm sorry to keep going on about this but I'm trying to pin you down - to understand your motivation.

JH:  Intimacy. Simplicity. Clarity. Economy. Illusory!

JH:  Who or which %99 of my audience are you referring to? Authenticity is the thing that I find people respond to regardless of what it is your pushing through the air. If you mean something like "generally speaking" I still answer no. NO, NO, NO. It's either happening or it is isn't right? And it's easier to make it happen, for me, with the lamb than the lion.

JG:  A couple of short questions to finish off: Is your music mood-led? As musician-performer or listener?

JH:  I don't understand the question. I'm sorry. Not in the mood I guess.

JG:  Miles Davis or Evan Parker? (Personally, I'd probably answer 'Don Cherry' there if I was asked.)

JH:  Both are wonderful musicians. Don Cherry too. Wonderful. Giants.

JG:  Finally, what are you working on now?

JH:  Lots: a 30 minute piece for CONTACT Ensemble, Element Choir and Barnyard Drama; a tour with Ryan Driver and jean Martin; working at Keys to the Studio (which may interest you John:; an album with Organballoon (pipe organ and balloon); a series of improvisation workshops in Northern Canada and parenting / husbandry.

JG:  Keeping busy then!
  I meant to ask: how does this current work fit into the timeline of what you've done
and what you'll do? What position are you at the moment on that line, if it isn't too abstract a question?

JH:  I'm stumped. I'm not sure time exists. Are you?

JG:  I'm pretty sure, yes. In one form or another.

            John Gimblett 2009