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Before & After: Kevin Hays

"Am I being controversial enough?"

Kevin Hays (photo by Kevin Gruetzner)
Kevin Hays (photo by Kevin Gruetzner)

Known for his exceptional output as a leader and his modern-minded pianism in bands led by Nicholas Payton, Al Foster, Chris Potter and more, Kevin Hays has nothing if not a discerning ear. He’s rooted and highly proficient in the postbop piano lineage but always game to branch out. On several releases, most recently the 2015 trio outing New Day, he has featured his mellow, pop-tinged singing voice. He’s ventured into semi-classical terrain with the 2011 solo piano disc Variations and the two-piano collaboration Modern Music with Brad Mehldau and composer Patrick Zimmerli. Shores Against Silence, Zimmerli’s new archival Songlines release, features a younger Hays on a set of extremely demanding and never-before-heard music from 1992. Between that and Hays’ latest trio effort for the Sunnyside label, North, we get the measure of a complete and always evolving musician.

When we caught up with the pianist, 48, he was still getting settled in a new Brooklyn apartment after several years living upstate. No stereo yet, but we gathered around an adequate speaker and rapped about the following music.

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