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David Hazeltine: Champagne Tastes

David Hazeltine (photo: Ed Berger)
David Hazeltine (photo: Ed Berger)

His tall stature and serious demeanor are imposing at first. But rather unexpectedly pianist David Hazeltine’s erupts in a wide grin, often with a giggle, several times as he recounts his circuitous path to becoming one of New York’s top keyboardists. And with 17 releases as a leader, Hazeltine’s becoming a major voice on the international jazz scene-albeit quietly and with little fanfare.

Born in Milwaukee in 1958, Hazeltine was introduced to music by his mother, a country and western guitarist and singer. He began playing organ at the age of eight, but it wasn’t until three years later when his mother brought home a Jimmy Smith album that he discovered jazz. “When I was 12, my mother found this blind organist named Will Green,” Hazeltine says. “He was a very talented and swinging jazz musician, and every Saturday I would be taken into Milwaukee’s ghetto for a lesson. He taught a very hands-on approach to playing. It was only after a few years that I began to study the theory behind what I was playing.” At 17 Hazeltine was set to enroll in engineering school, but at the last minute switched to a Milwaukee conservatory where he majored in classical piano and composition.

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