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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
fate had a second epiphany in store for Harvito.
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"
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.
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?
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."
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.
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.
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.
quotes taken from an interview conducted in November
1999 by Martin Cohen for MPR
written by Jim McSweeney.