The Kevin Hayden Trio is Gradually Leaving Jazz Behind
Kevin Hayden has a love/hate relationship with jazz. He loves the music, which he’s been listening to since he was a toddler, when his father began teaching him to play drums. Over time, though, he’s learned to hate the culture, which he says ropes off newcomers to the genre, keeping them at a distance.
“The word ‘jazz’ scares people and turns them off,” Hayden says. “A lot of that is because of the old heads not keeping up with the times, isolating the genre from the public. A lot of them literally turn their back on their audiences. They’re not connecting; it’s like they’re playing only for themselves. Many of them are old and stubborn, and their audiences are old and stubborn, so in that sense I think the genre has shot itself in the foot.”
And so Illegal Playlist, Hayden’s third album with his trio featuring brothers Terry Harris Jr. (piano) and Alan Harris (bass), doubles as his kiss-off to the genre. It opens traditionally enough with a run of elegant contemporary jazz tracks with shades of Robert Glasper, but around its midpoint it opens up, first with a pair of fusion tracks in the Chick Corea mold (“Ice in the Sun” and “Caravan”), and then with the bluesy “Scat For Stevie.” From there jazz becomes an afterthought, as the trio plays with smooth R&B and hip-hop, channeling the late, great rap producer J. Dilla on “Dilla Esq” and pairing with local rapper Klassik on the closers “Enemy/Inner Me” and “Not What You’re Used To.”
“We structured the album that way because our sound is changing,” Hayden says. “This is the direction the group is going. We’re going to be more hip-hop, so we ended the album on that note so people know what to expect from us going forward.”
Hayden expects Illegal Playlist to make him an even bigger pariah in local jazz circles than he already is, and he’s alright with that. In hip-hop, he’s found what he was never able to in jazz: an inclusive music form that embraces newcomers and encourages participation. “It’s a logical direction for us, because the older you get, the less notes you play, and the smarter you play,” he says. “But mostly for us, the bottom line is, if people aren’t grooving, and if they’re not nodding their heads, then why are you even playing your instruments?”
Hayden says the trio’s next release will likely be a full-length album with Klassik. “Hip-hop just feels so good to play, so we’re going to keep doing it. There will probably still be hints of jazz in what we do, but I don’t know that we’ll cover any more jazz stands,” he says, before taking a brief pause to correct himself. “Actually,” he says, “We can do whatever we want. We’re independent artists, so we can release as much music as we feel like and do whatever we want with it.”
Illegal Playlist is available for streaming and purchase at kevinhaydentrio.bandcamp.com.