“It’s embarrassing, really, at my age,” Billy Hart said over the phone in February, prefacing a long enumeration of the working bands for which he plays the drums. In a few hours, one of them, Contact—Hart plus Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, Marc Copland and Drew Gress—would start night three of a week at Birdland, and he didn’t have time to spare. Still, as has happened more than once during our 20-year acquaintance, a perfunctory chat—we were pinning down an interview—was ballooning from five minutes to 90. “I tell people I thought my career was over at 30, that I was too old and behind the game,” said Hart, 71. “But that’s when it started. I joined Herbie Hancock, which opened a whole ‘nother thing. I couldn’t be any busier. If I don’t stop it, it looks like it won’t stop.”
It was hard to dispute this assertion. For one thing, Hart was anticipating an early April Birdland residence with the quartet he has led since 2003: pianist Ethan Iverson, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Ben Street. The dates would celebrate Hart’s ECM leader debut, All Our Reasons, which the band recorded after a six-night run at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in December.