Billy Hart played in rhythm-and-blues bands while in high school, accompanying such important soul artists as Otis Redding, Joe Tex, and Smokey Robinson as house drummer at the Howard Theater in Washington DC. During the 1960s, he performed with Jimmy Smith, recorded with Benny Golson in performance at Ronnie Scott’s club in London, and toured with Wes Montgomery. Following Montgomery’s death in 1968, Hart moved to New York, where he recorded with McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul, and played with Eddie Harris, Pharoah Sanders, and Marian McPartland. In 1970, Hart joined Herbie Hancock’s group, with which he remained for three years. Hart was also a member of the New York Jazz Quartet at this time. In the late 1970s, with drummers Freddie Waits and Horacee Arnold, he formed Colloquium III, a group that led percussion workshops at the New York Drummers’ Collective. As a sideman, Hart performed or recorded with many notable artists, including Miles Davis, Jimmie Rowles, JoAnne Brackeen, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Doug Raney, Lee Konitz, Pierre Dørge, Louis Smith, Clark Terry, Duke Jordan, Chico Freeman, Johnny Coles, James Newton , Jimmy Knepper, Peter Leitch, Johnny Dyani, Paul Bley, and Idrees Suliemann. He worked intermittently with Mingus Dynasty in the 1980s and early 1990s. From 1984 to 1990, he was a member of the group Quest, led by Dave Liebman and Richard Beirach. During this period he also appeared in two videos, Jazz in America: Gerry Mulligan (1982) and Jazzvisions: All Strings Attached (1988), the latter together with John Patitucci as accompanist to John Abercrombie, Larry Carlton, Larry Coryell, Tal Farlow, and John Scofield.
By the end of the 1990s, Hart had made more than 400 albums. Among those with whom he recorded were Ralph Moore, Gary Bartz, Judy Niemack, Marc Copland, Gust William Tsilis, Jane Bunnett, Warren Vaché, Sonny Fortune, Stanley Cowell, Denise Jannah, Ivo Perelman, Kevin Hays, Ray Drummond, Eddie Henderson, Jerry Bergonzi, Uli Beckerhoff, George Cables, Ron McClure, Andy LaVerne, Don Byron, and Chris Potter. He also led a band which held annual engagements at Sweet Basil, New York, through the 1990s. Hart is widely regarded as one of the most capable of modern-jazz drummers; he is equally at home in electronic and rock-influenced styles, in free jazz, and in bop. He is the author of book Jazz Drumming. (Rottenburg, Germany, c.1988, and New Albany, IA, c.1989).
Faculty of Western Michigan University and Oberlin University. Recordings on Steeplechase, A&M, Warner Brothers, ECM, Choice, Arabesque, Pathfinder, Sunnyside, Freelance, Evidence, Gatemouth, Atlantic, Muse, and Nonesuch.
Photo by Andrew Hurlbut