Searing Trumpet from the Professor

A quintet with many gigs in famous places has brought Michael Hackett [second from left] to where he is today: teaching jazz at the college level – where there’s proof that jazz has a reinvigorated audience with students – and looking forward to digging in again and laying down some tracks. Michael’s trumpet sings and soars and you know he’s got something great coming just around the corner.  

When did you start playing trumpet?

I started playing at age 9.

Your musical idols?

First, and still, Doc Severinsen! Then Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, and Woody Shaw.

Music growing up or in the family?

My father was a high school band director and trumpet player, and my mother was a classically trained singer with the Chicago Lyric Opera in the 1950’s. My siblings were all musical and went on to at least begin degrees in music in college. My sister Janet and I are still professional musicians. She is active as a classical singer in Oregon. My brother still sings and plays guitar, although growing up he was a trumpet player as well.

How long have you been teaching music?

My first real experience teaching music was after leaving college in 1991. I taught privately in music stores in the Washington, DC vicinity, then was hired to teach at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in DC. I began my current position at UNC Charlotte [NC] in the fall of 2011.

Talk about the jazz scene at UNC and in Charlotte.

Charlotte, surprisingly, does not have a jazz club of its own. We have two concert series, but these frequently feature out-of-town guest artists for themed (tribute) events. I rehearse and perform regularly with the Piedmont/Triad Jazz Orchestra based in Greensboro. UNC Charlotte has one large jazz ensemble and two jazz combos.

The PTJO is a very high-level group, with great soloists in every section. It also features original arrangements and occasionally original compositions of band members, with the only purchased/stock charts being those of Basie, Ellington and Quincy Jones. It is the central performance outlet for me at the moment.

When you compose, what themes inspire you?

It may sound corny, but personal experiences; family, first and foremost. Also life events, things that move me. And I like to just sit at the piano and hear what comes to me. Sometimes you keep it, sometimes it never grows fruit, but I just let the ideas flow.

Do you still play together in your quintet?

We’re no longer playing together due to the distances involved; the other musicians live in Bloomington, IN and NYC, and I’m in Charlotte now. We did a few performances to promote the CD, but by the time it was recorded I was already in Charlotte, so regular gigs were out of the question. Prior to moving to Charlotte, the group played quite a bit in clubs in Bloomington, South Bend and Indianapolis, at clubs like Trios in South Bend and The Jazz Kitchen in Indy.

The musicians are all, except one, faculty members in the jazz department at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington. Jason Tiemann, the drummer, has since moved to NYC where he regularly plays with people like Harold Mabern, Eric Alexander, David Hazeltine, etc. He’s moved up!

How engaged are college students in jazz?

My students are hungry for jazz and some have become quite invested in it. There is a great interest among many college music students to pursue jazz, perhaps even more than before. This is somewhat ironic as the recording opportunities and playing opportunities continue to shrink.

My hope is that these interested, capable young folks will help regenerate a larger interest in society for jazz-based music. I’m not holding my breath, as the ‘market share’ of jazz continues to shrink, and pop music continues to get further and further from anything jazz-based.

What is the most interesting trend in jazz today?

I think definitely the influx of youth and their willingness to try anything. New electronic sounds, production methods, fusion of other cultures, you name it. Lots of experimenting is being done out there, and that’s a good thing.

Why do you think jazz gets so little play- think about our day-to-day experiences, like in a mall or on TV commercials?

Because, for the most part (excepting Sinatra, Tony Bennett, et. al.) you have to think. It’s not mindless music. People want to consume music without having to invest any intellect or thought.

Some folks – Chris Botti comes to mind – are able to infuse their music with intelligence and still have it be simple enough that people who don’t want to think don’t have to. But the intelligence is still there in Botti’s music, and he uses heavyweight jazz musicians in his band à la Miles. It’s still music with integrity. Most of the stuff on late night shows is angst-driven musical drivel with guitars, drums and a backbeat. Those things are not of themselves empty, but music based solely upon those features, to me, is.

What is the mix of originals vs. covers when you perform?

Depends on the gig. At a jazz fest, I will try to play more of my original music. In a club, we might not have the opportunity to rehearse, so we play more standards.

Where do you go in your head when you play?

To my quiet place. I want sound to fill my head and to be able to react instantly to what’s going on around me. This requires an absence of competing thoughts. Sometimes, a bizarre quote will just pop out and crack me up, but it’s in the moment and not preconceived in any way.

What’s your favorite track on “New Point of View” and why?

Hmm, difficult question. Probably “Everything I Need.” I like the long form, where it goes harmonically. And it represents my feelings of love for my family. In the end, they are Everything I Need. If you listen to the melody, you can even hear the words as a sort of silent lyric.

What does the name of the CD refer to?

The name “New Point of View” along with the cover photo of downtown Charlotte represented a new chapter in my life, starting my career at UNC Charlotte as a college professor, as opposed to the freelance musician that I had been previously.

Upcoming CDs?

Nothing planned yet. I need to write some new music and get some gigs!

Where have you played and do you have a tour schedule?

I’m old and I’ve “been everywhere, man!” I’ve played The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Apollo Theater, The Rainbow Room, Blues Alley, Birdland and The Village Vanguard, just to name a few. The quintet doesn’t tour and we haven’t tried to because of our teaching schedules and the distances involved. I’m just looking forward to what might come next. 

Any award nominations?

No, but New Point of View was on the jazz charts for about four weeks when it was released in 2013. That’s been a while now. Time for a new one! 

Other comments?

I’m very interested in getting more active again playing and writing. At some point, the grind of teaching and everything else that goes into being a college professor gets overwhelming and can take the creativity out of your day. Some balance this better than others, but it is a real challenge.

Photo courtesy of the artist

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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