Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hornsby Show w/ a Phat Door Prize


From the Times Union:

Hornsby's music box
Pianist sums up two-decade career with a big door prize for fans

By R.J. DeLUKE, Special to the Times Union
First published: Thursday, November 16, 2006

If you show up for Bruce Hornsby's concert at The Egg in Albany on Saturday, rest assured you'll get a lot of music. Much of it will come from the man sitting at the piano on stage. The rest of it you can take home in a box.

Each ticket holder on Hornsby's current tour receives "Intersections," a box set featuring four CDs and a DVD encapsulating his career to date. It includes 53 songs in all, culled from his nine previous albums, as well as unreleased live material and some solo piano offerings.

"The box set was the first situation where I could put all this in one place," Hornsby said in a recent interview. "If somebody says, 'I've heard your name, I don't really know what you do.' This (box) is something I can say ... 'This is the whole gamut of what I do, right in here.' "

If you're looking for even more evidence of Hornsby's range, consider his 100-plus collaborations with artists ranging from Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Don Henley to Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson -- leaving out Hornsby's extended tenure as the pianist with the Grateful Dead.

The box set includes a team-up with country artist Ricky Skaggs, a Keith Jarrett tribute, and duets with jazzmen Branford Marsalis and Ornette Coleman.

"One of the most special aspects of the box set to me is the DVD," Hornsby said. "We have Gregory Hines tap-dancing to our music, national anthems (performed) at World Series, like Branford Marsalis and myself freezing our (rears) off at Cleveland Stadium in '97 when it was 34 degrees. A duet with Roger Waters. Jamming with B.B. King at the China Club. ... A duet with Chaka Khan. There's three Spike Lee videos. So there's a lot in there."

There's a large helping of live material. "I was looking to present what I consider to be definitive versions of the songs," Hornsby said, "and in a lot of cases I think the way we play them now (in concert) is miles beyond the original record."

That includes "The Way It Is," the 1986 hit that launched Hornsby's career. The album of the same title went triple platinum and earned Hornsby and his band the Range the Best New Artist Grammy. Subsequent albums -- including "Scenes From The Southside" (1988), "Harbor Lights" (1993), "Here Come The Noisemakers" (2000) and "Halcyon Days" (2004) -- have sold a total of 10 million copies worldwide.

At the 20-year mark of his successful recording career, Hornsby is touring by himself. He comes to Albany with nothing in tow but an acoustic piano. "My left hand will be the band," he said.

But unexpected moves have been Hornsby's stock in trade since his career took flight. Raised in Virginia, Hornsby studied music and piano at the University of Richmond, the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami. He schooled himself on the work of the great jazz pianists -- including Jarrett as well as Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea -- and players in other genres like Professor Longhair, Dr. John and Elton John.

His scholarship on the history of his instrument show up in his sound.

"That's what happens when you have big hits ... a whole bunch of people know a little bit about you," said Hornsby. "In the case of most people who have hits, that is what they do and that's all they do. But in my case, I'm a schooled musician. And I'm a lifelong student, so I'm always about taking my music to another place and improving. I've always been about playing the instrument well. Consequently to me, the most interesting music I've made (has come after) my sort of five-year 'hit' period."

The concert may cross different styles and have an improvisational bent, but there will be four or five of those late-'80s hits thrown in. "People may even recognize them," Hornsby added, tongue firmly in cheek.

" ... I might change them around, but generally I play them fairly faithfully -- at least part of it. I don't totally reinvent it. I'm not trying to be Bob Dylan here, where you try and recognize the song that he plays. Although I love that."

With his career to date neatly summed up by "Intersections," Hornsby has more artistic swerves ahead. In addition to a new bluegrass album with Skaggs, he's recorded a piano jazz trio album with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Christian McBride that will be out next year.

If that isn't enough, he was contacted by Playwrights Horizons, a New York City-based theater production group, to write a musical.

"They heard my last record, 'Halcyon Days.' There are three songs in the middle that sounded to them like Broadway songs and they thought, 'This guy should be doing (a musical).' So they contacted me and said they'd like to commission me to do this," Hornsby said. "It's a long process."

Hornsby prides himself on his ability to switch from spotlight performer to sideman in the same season, or the same week.

"I've just gotten all these great calls over the years," he said. "It wasn't anything I set out to do. I wasn't trying to be this great collaborator, but I just got all these calls.

"I see that happening now to John Mayer. He's playing with Eric Clapton, writing songs for him; he's playing with Buddy Guy; he's played with the Stones. You saw it with Dave Matthews a few years ago too, this collaborating.

"I was that guy for a good while," said Hornsby, who ended the interview by rushing out the dor to take one of his sons to cross-country practice. "I do a lot less. I say no a lot more, because it takes a lot more to get me out of the house."

R.J. DeLuke is a freelance writer from Saratoga Springs and a regular contributor to the Times Union.

Bruce Hornsby

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

Tickets: $34.50

Info: 473-1845; http://www.theegg.org

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