29 January 1940, Washington, D.C., USA. Hart is a self-taught drummer who, by the late 90s, had established himself as an one of jazz music's most invaluable session players. In the early 60s he worked with Shirley Horn (vocals) and briefly with the Montgomery Brothers.
In 1966 he joined Jimmy Smith and in 1968 moved on to the band of Wes Montgomery. Following Montgomery's death Hart based himself, becoming an integral part of the New York fusion and "avant-garde" scenes. Sessions with Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Eddie Harris and Pharoah Sanders followed, along with long-standing commitments with the innovative Herbie Hancock sextet (1969-73) and McCoy Tyner (1973-74). Hart showed his remarkable versatility by playing mainstream jazz with Stan Getz for three years (1974-1977). His first album as a leader, "Enhance", was a starkly "avant-garde" session recorded while Hart was still playing with Getz. In the 80s Hart played with the collectives Quest (with Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach and Ron McCLure ) and Great Friends (with Billy Harper, Stanley Cowell and Reggie Workman ), while continuing to record sporadically as a leader.
Throughout the 80s and 90s Hart has remained abusy freelance drummer capable of providing a crisp, driving, beat or a much looser accompaniment depending on the situation. He has also played with Joe Lovano, Clark Terry, Lee Konitz, Chico Freeman, Charles Lloyd, Tom Harrell, Larry Coryell, John Handy. Flashback to the mid-'60s, Washington: Bobby Timmons at the Bohemian Caverns, Shirley Horn at the Showboat Lounge. Thirty years later, you're surprised to learn that Billy Hart was the drummer at those gigs. Hart's career has been like that. You think back about certain groups and certain records, check your references and odds are that Billy Hart was on the gig. He has been in so many well-known bands and on so many records that one is taxed to recall another jazz drummer with such vast experience. "I'm on almost 400 records, and people don't seem to know that," the Washington native said in a call to the New York home of a friend. "I played a lot of crossover - popular jazz - in the beginning that required a loud, strong, aggressive way of playing. Then I learned more of an acoustic texture later on. "And I had this amazing amount of experience. I was with [singer and pianist] Shirley Horn three years, [organist] Jimmy Smith three years, [guitarist] Wes Montgomery two years, [tenor saxophonists] Eddie Harris and Pharoah Sanders two years. Then I went with [pianist] Herbie Hancock for three years, and then I was with [pianist] McCoy Tyner for almost two years and then I went with [tenor saxophonist] Stan Getz for four years."
Those were pivotal years in jazz. Smith, Montgomery (who died in 1968), Harris and Hancock represented some of the original electronic crossover music, Hart said. "I was hired to play with [them] because of my ability to play the pop vocabulary. It was only after I got to Stan Getz that I began to learn more of the acoustic texture. I guess I was lucky enough to have gotten experience in both ways, both textures, and that may make me a little unique, when I think about it." One also recalls that Hart's contemporaries, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, developed into renowned multitextural drummers. Like them, Hart also logged time with trumpeter Miles Davis' group.
Since the end of his tenure with Getz (circa 1979), Hart has maintained a heavy schedule of free-lance work. He has been a member of the quartet Quest for 10 years, and he's currently in three other bands: trumpeter Tom Harrell's, tenor saxophonists Joe Lovano's and Charles Lloyd's. He's on a stack of new albums, including those led by Harrell, Lovano, Horn, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune, pianist Kevin Hays, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and bassists Ray Drummond and George Mraz. And he occasionally leads his own sextet, which can be heard on "Amethyst," released in 1993 on Arabesque.