Billy Hart on “Rain Dance,” 1973
In 1973 I was thirteen years old, and my father took me to see the Herbie Hancock Sextet at Cleveland’s “Smiling Dog Saloon.” I remember it as one of the most profound listening experiences of my life; at one point, the music was so intense that I remember feeling like screaming. I especially remember being riveted by the intensity of the drummer, Billy Hart. Coincidentally, the very next day was the release of Hancock’s album “Sextant,” and I insisted that my mother drive me straight to the store to get my hands on it.
Well, as is often the case, the studio failed to capture the magic of what I heard live. I remember even thinking, upon hearing “Rain Dance,” that the loop that opens the song, which I’m sure, in retrospect, is regarded as innovative, was embarrassingly corny. However, years passed, and when I came back to the recording, I noticed one passage the captured some of the magic—the wonderful interplay between bassist Buster Williams, Billy Hart, and Herbie Hancock heard here. I chose this to transcribe because something about the genre-defying concept and groove seems profound these days: what is it? It’s not jazz, or rock, or Latin, or anything identifiable, just something magical that was in the air of the time. In my opinion, after Jack DeJohnette, Billy and Al Foster were the two most important stylists to reach maturity during those years, and two of the last with first-generation ties to the jazz tradition. On a personal note, Billy is also one of the nicest and most generous men of his stature that I‘ve been privileged to know.