It seems that Alex Hahn just needs to smile through the mouthpiece of his alto and music is born. He’s put together a finely tuned, nice and tight ensemble that makes jazz sound as pretty as gems tossed up in the air.
The driving beat of the song “Psychedelic Sun” shows the personnel in their best light: getting down with strings that blend like butter with Alex’s alto, accompanied by pure deep soul from the trombone. “Rebirth” is beautifully melodic, poignant, and layers emotion over emotion to stunning effect.
A sonorous journey with fresh melodic lines, Alex’s music make happy the listening heart.
When did you take up sax?
I started playing the alto saxophone when I was ten years old. Both my parents are musicians so I knew I wanted to study music at an early age. My dad plays the saxophone and clarinet and my mom plays piano.
I chose the saxophone because of my dad. He was my first teacher. The first song he taught me how to play was Happy Birthday. The first day of band class in fifth grade I was already playing happy birthday when everyone else was still trying to get a sound out of their instrument. I felt so bad-ass!
Where do you go in your head when you solo?
A lot of different places. However, I try to listen as much as I can to the musicians I am playing with. This not only best serves the music but allows for the most interaction and communication on the band stand.
What was the jazz scene like in Texas when you were going to school?
I loved the music scene in Denton, Texas. It is a great college town with lots of places that host live music. In Denton, there is live music basically every night of the week. This is where I performed and crafted my first compositions. Some of the songs I wrote toward the end of my time in Texas ended up being on my first album “Traveling.”
Southern California is an amazing scene for music. My favorite part about living in LA is the variety of music. I have played straight-ahead jazz gigs, fusion, funk, original music, cover bands, done studio work, taught lessons…basically everything there is to do. I love playing different types of music and LA is a great place to do so.
The Thelonious Monk Institute is based in Los Angeles as well. I have been lucky enough to study with and play with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath and Dick Oatts, to name a few. The amount of knowledge and musical wisdom they possess is incredible. It also has giving me a space to further expand my musicianship.
What inspired the name “Emerging” for your new CD?
I was trying to think of a word that best described the point I am in my career. I am still a young artist and felt that this album release was a sort of “coming out party.”
What are some of the highlights of production and recording?
I learned so much from the process of recording and producing this album. Because I am not on a label, I did everything myself. It felt satisfying to see the end product after putting everything I had into the album. It was also a joy to record and rehearse with the band. All of those guys are my great friends so there was such a strong positive energy every time we played.
What is your favorite track and why?
I think my favorite track is “Rebirth.” I love the way the band and strings came together. This was also one of the first tunes I wrote for the album.
What do you hope is the response to this CD?
I hope the listener feels joy and energy. This is something I think about every time I perform live and I hope it came across on the record.
What specifics have you learned from studying under Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter?
It is such an honor to learn from both Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. They are living legends of jazz with so much to offer. Just getting to play alongside them is a lesson in itself.
What I learned from Herbie was composing with a purpose. For example, he uses life experiences and everyday occurrences for inspiration to write new songs. This has helped guide my compositions and given me endless sources of inspiration.
How has your sound evolved already from 2014’s “Traveling”?
I definitely feel I have become a much better overall musician since “Traveling.” My knowledge of harmony has expanded as well as my improvisational approach and techniques.
However, I still tried to compose with strong melodies in mind. Melody is what audiences are going to remember and something they can latch onto. I always try to compose with this in mind.
How do you begin the process of composition?
I hear a melody in my head and then try to sing it into my voice memo on my phone so I can listen to it later. I then listen back and start composing based on the melody I sang.
What is the biggest challenge in being a jazz artist today?
It’s that you also need to be a social media expert, marketing expert, composer, arranger, improviser and booking agent. For artists not signed to a label or booking agent, it is our job to do all of those things to become successful.
How much of your career is devoted to marketing?
I would say 40% is spent in marketing through social media and sending emails. I believe it is so important to have a strong digital footprint as well as keeping in touch with mentors, teachers and friends.
Whom do you typically perform with?
I always try perform with my friends. To me, having a personal connection with the musicians you perform with makes the music that much better. Plus, it’s more fun.
Where would you most like to perform that you have not yet?
I would love perform with my band at the Hollywood Bowl stage. I performed there at the Playboy Jazz Festival back in 2010 but that was with my high school jazz band. It would be amazing to perform back at Playboy Jazz with my own group.
How do you explain six awards from DownBeat, and what does it mean to you?
I have definitely been lucky to have so many great musician friends around me. From Orange County where I grew up, Denton, and now Los Angeles, I have always been around great musicians. They give me motivation to apply for these types of awards and help make my music better.
Plans, projects and performances for this year?
I am starting to work on my next album. I have a few compositions finished thus far but am still trying to finish the remaining ones. It will be a completely different band and vibe from my previous two albums. I am also trying to plan a World Tour with my band. The Emerging Tour ran from June – September in 2017 playing on both coasts and in Texas. I hope to make the next tour bigger and better!
For more information, visit www.alexhahnmusic.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Alex Hahn.
© Debbie Burke 2018