"SKA MAN FINDS THE BLUES!"
Somewhere out in the world tonight, the odds are DAVID HILLYARD is playing a gig. In 2012 alone he has been to 14 different European countries, Brazil, Canada, and 16 different states in the USA. At 158 gigs (and counting) this year he has performed at everything from large European festivals to a handful of diners at a brazillian restaurant in New York City. I caught up with him after one of his 'regular' gigs, his bi-monthly residence at the Brooklyn Restaurant-cum-Venue, Two Boots.
Dave was explaining to me the ups and downs of gigging. "Last month, I played for thousands of people at the Rhythm Festival UK and then got home and a week later was subbing for a friend at a small lounge in Harlem. The commonality for me, is that I try to always connect with the audience. I'm trying to share emotions with people. Feelings, good or bad, are what we all know on a gut level."
He continued, "That's where I got the idea for the title of the new ROCKSTEADY 7 album, FRIENDS & ENEMIES. The thought came to me during a gig that friends and enemies are really the same thing, they both care about you and share something with you. The opposite of love is really indifference."
If you aren't familiar with Dave's saxophone playing history check out his wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Hillyard. He has been a gigging/touring musician since back in his teenage years in the 1980s and has gone on to play with Hepcat, Rancid, Stubborn All-Stars, Willie Williams, Stranger Cole, Glen Brown, Glen Adams, Archie Bell, and for the last 18 years, he has been the featured soloist with NYC's legendary Ska band, THE SLACKERS. Let's just say he's been around.
ROCKSTEADY 7, a fourteen year old all-star collective, is the band where Dave is able to showcase his unique style of Saxophone playing with extended Jazz improvisations over Reggae-Ska rhythms. As Dave explains, "I'm a freak stylistically. I'm a southern Californian raised kid who started out playing like Jamaican saxophonists, Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook. Then I moved to New York and got into classic American saxophone like Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Illinois Jacquet. Then I went on the road and started to understand the blues. I got into Howling Wolf, Tbone Walker, and Sonny Boy Williamson."
This Blues influence becomes clear immediately on FRIENDS & ENEMIES. On the first track, "I Can See Clearly Now", Dave's solo adds harsh blue notes to the tunes sunny overtones. "Blast Off" is a stomping Jump Blues that recalls early Rock N Roll. "Evil" is reggae blues with a hint of menace in its swaggering groove.
Dave explains, "I try to incorporate what vocalists do stylistically into my performance of the song I'm covering. I think about their inflections and the sound of the words. I also try to get into the meaning of the words and how I would convey this on the saxophone. When I'm covering 'If You Want Me To Stay', that chorus is in my head the whole time. I'm thinking about times when I've had fights, arguments, and people haven't wanted me around. I'm trying to tell a story when I'm playing."
Recorded live, without overdubs over the course of 1 day, at Seaside Studios in Brooklyn, FRIENDS & ENEMIES has a direct raw sound. The horns soar above the multi-layered rhythm section led by legendary master Jamaican percussionist, LARRY McDONALD, whose musical history goes from Mento to Ska to Reggae and beyond. This thick, full sound is uncomprimising in both the power and authenticity of its Jamaican rhythms and the adventurous Jazz of its solos. It's far from the cocktail lounge sound of most Jamaican Jazz hybrids and far from the spastic twists of most contemporary American Ska It sounds like Fela Kuti, Burning Spear, the Skatalites, or one of David Murray's big bands.
Making the instrumental accessible through storytelling and fusing the rhythms of Jamaica Ska/Reggae with American Jazz has been the hallmark of ROCKSTEADY 7. As JAZZIZ Magazine commented about his last release, "HILLYARD CAN PLAY!"
Recorded live, without overdubs over the course of 1 day, at Seaside Studios in Brooklyn.
About The Rocksteady 7
The Rocksteady 7 is a musical collective that draws up a pool of the finest ska and reggae musicians in New York and beyond. Here are some of the players that play with the band;
Saxophone/Band leader: David Hillyard;
Percussion: Larry McDonald
Drums: Eddie Ocampo, Benny Herson, Glen Hackett
Trumpet: Rolf Langsjoen, Rich Graiko
Trombone: Phil Cooper,Buford O'Sullivan, Chris "Squantch" Sears
Guitar: Justin Rothberg, Dave Hahn, Jay Nugent
Bass: Dan Jesselson, Sheldon Gregg, Chris Weiggers
Keys: Dave Wake