Bruce Hornsby: The Adventure Continues
Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers play The Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, OK May 26. It’s impossible to easily classify Hornsby’s sound, and it’s probably silly to even try. It’s better just to listen and enjoy. This extremely gifted musician has applied his talents to pretty much any genre you can readily think of – pop, jazz, bluegrass, country and even modern classic – all to superb effect.
This singer, bandleader and pianist has three Grammy awards to his name. First stepping into the national spotlight with his band the Range and their 1986 album The Way It Is, with its enormously successful title cut, Hornsby has gone on to have one of the most diverse musical careers imaginable. Jamming with the Grateful Dead, collaborating with bluegrass great Ricky Skaggs and jazz legend Charlie Haden, and scoring films for Spike Lee are just a few of the highlights.
Hornsby very graciously agreed to answer a few questions by email in advance of his Tulsa show.
JW: I have read that you are a fan of Tulsa’s own Leon Russell. Could you please tell me how Russell and his music have influenced you and your music?
BH: I started playing the piano because of Leon Russell and Elton John. My older brother turned me on to their music, specifically Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Joe Cocker’s record that Leon was so responsible for as a player, arranger and writer; the first Leon solo record; and Elton’s Tumbleweed Connection. Leon was a huge influence on me as a player. I tried to help him in the early 90s; we got a deal at Virgin Records for him to make a record. I thought I could do a pretty solid Leon imitation until I started hanging with him, and I realized that his trip was way deeper than what I was doing. We’ve been friends ever since, and I’ve had a lot of laughs and good times with him through the years.
JW: Your music covers a huge spectrum of styles and genres and you have played/collaborated/recorded with all kinds of musicians. While you incorporate all of those influences and types of music into your own sound, it seems you are particularly drawn to jazz and bluegrass. What in particular about those genres appeals to you? Is it something both styles of music have in common?
BH: I’ve always been interested in playing my instrument well, and bluegrass and jazz have one aspect very much in common- they’re both very much about virtuosity on the instrument. Whenever I play with Ricky Skaggs and his great band, I have to spend ten days to two weeks before the shows woodshedding with the metronome at breakneck tempos, just to try to keep up!
JW: After reading about your career, I was struck by the fact that it seems so marked by growth and experimentation. Do those ideas/concepts still drive you in your music? Are you always trying new things?
BH: I’m a lifelong student, and I’m always on the lookout for new inspiration. So yes, I’m always trying new things, experimenting with new approaches to playing and writing songs. Lately I’ve written a lot of music influenced by modern classical music, which tends to be a forbidden zone musically for most people. But I feel that I’ve written actually some of my funniest, most enjoyable music using this language, so that’s great fun for me.
JW: Any hints about what we’ll hear at your Tulsa show with the Noisemakers?
BH: We take requests, and that leads us down different paths every night. Our gig is pretty loose, it’s actually just a big party; as anyone who attends can see, our band has a great time playing every night. We never “phone it in.” So a joyful noise will be heard at Cain’s!
*Photo Credit: Sean Smith