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Harvie S.

You probably won't see a headline that says, FAMOUS JAZZ BASS PLAYER BEGINS SECOND CAREER AS LP PERCUSSIONIST but it's a remarkable story all the same.

Once upon a time, Harvie S., now often referred to as "Harvito Suarez", was a respected musician of the jazz persuasion. He played bass with such outstanding bands as Double Image by night, and by day, taught at the Manhattan School Of Music. Then one night something happened that changed his life.

"About five years ago I decided it was time to study some Latin music, just to learn a little bit about it. And all of a sudden I understood why I'd stayed away from this idiom for so long, because once I got into this music, I started putting all my time and energy into learning it. I went to a club one night, I think it was the Village Gate when it was uptown--where they did a Latin night."

There was a bass player there named Mario Rodriguez now playing with Gato Barbieri--who recognized Harvie. They hit it off and agreed to get together and exchange musical ideas.

"Not long after, just out of the blue, he says he wants me to sub for him, wants me to go to a Bobby Sanabria gig. I didn't even know who Bobby Sanabria was. But I went and played with these guys and got my feet wet. And I thought, wow, this is something. I mean, the few moments when it was really happening felt so great. So I started to roam around. I'd go to these Latin clubs and meet people and sit in. And I tried to keep a low profile. I wouldn't say I'm Harvie S. I'd wear a baseball cap and if somebody asked my name I'd say Harvito. I checked my ego at the door and just started my career over. I really wanted to learn this music from the ground up. Since then I've done everything from dances to club dates in the Latin style. So I'm really learning all the styles. I really want to know it streetwise, rather than just open up a book."

But fate had a second epiphany in store for Harvito.

"What happened then was that about two and a half years ago, I went to Cuba to study and when I got back I sat down at the piano and I just started writing tunes. So I thought it would be nice to get together with some guys and play them"

>He formed a band featuring Memo Acevedo an outstanding drummer and LP endorser on percussion, Bruce Arnold on guitar, Gregor Hoovner on piano and violin, Ed Uribe on drums, and Harvito himself on bass. The group was called Eye Contact and they were a hit right from the start. Very cubano, but with the openness and freedom of jazz. They did concerts and festival dates in 98, released their first CD, Havana Manana this year, and are planning to begin touring in the fall of 2000.

And how did he come to learn an idiom that most Latin players were immersed in from the cradle on, something that for them was a lifestyle, as much cultural or familial as it was learned?

"I started putting the music on all the time. Whenever I was in my car it was playing, whenever I was in my house it was playing. I was always listening to the parts, listening to what was going on the same way I did with jazz when I was growing up. After a while it gets in your blood. Of course I studied and practiced all the time as well. Now I can play my bass and tap a clave at the same time, like Bobby Rodriguez."

In addition to Bobby Rodriguez he cites Andy Gonzales, Joe Santiago, Johnny Benitez, and Ruben Rodriguez as major influences. It's a measure of respect that he gets asked to sub for some of these players, and that they return the favor.

And he's not just entering new territory as a bass player and composer. Latin music is making a percussionist out of him as well. He's been working with a number of LP instruments including conga and guiro, and made his recording debut with clave and bells on Havana Manana. As rhythm continues to draw him deeper into the music a symmetry emerges: he now jams to records and sits-in as a percussionist just like he once did as a bass player.

So the future has that bright, uptempo feel to it. There's a steady gig playing bass (and percussion) with Chris Washburne's band (he wrote and arranged the title track of their new CD) to compliment his work with Eye Contact And then there's all the possibilities and challenges of the unfamiliar. It may take some time to work his way through the entire LP catalog, but if the recent past is any indication, every time Harvie Swartz picks up a new percussion instrument he'll add another increment to an already evolutionary career.

All quotes taken from an interview conducted in November 1999 by Martin Cohen for MPR

Story written by Jim McSweeney.