Smitty: Well, I am just stoked about my next guest here at JazzMonthly.com. He is a great friend, a monster keyboard player, he has a rap sheet that lets you know he is not one of the usual suspects, he’s a platinum award winning artist, he has a great new CD out that’s called Metropolis, please give a wonderful welcome for the incomparable Mr. Alan Hewitt. Alan, how ya doin’, my friend?
Alan Hewitt (AH): Good, Smitty. Boy, what an intro!
Smitty: Oh yeah.
AH: You should be saying that about yourself.
Smitty: Aw, come on!
AH: Man…that’s really nice.
Smitty: Well, you’re so welcome. And you got it goin’ on, so what can we say.
AH: We are good friends, we could say that.
Smitty: Yes indeed, my friend. And I am loving this new record, man. Metropolis.
AH: Oh, I’m glad. You never know. You do it and you put it out and you like it. But then you never know if other people are gonna like it, but I’m pleasantly surprised.
Smitty: From the very beginning, it’s got such a phat groove and the rhythms are just there.
AH: Cool. Yeah, I tried to make the whole project a continual thought. I connected a lot of things and tried to get a vibe. I was more interested in getting a vibe happening on the whole thing than anything else, and then everything kinda fit into place.
Smitty: Yeah. Did it ever, man. This is a magnificent piece of music, man.
Smitty: It’s very cool.
AH: Thank you.
Smitty: You didn’t just start doing this stuff overnight. Talk about how this keyboard appeared in front of you and you started playing this thing
AH: Well, it’s kind of a transition to transition to transition, and that’s kind of a full circle. Basically started out on drums and played there for a long time. I started out when I was 12 and my dad would go to the gigs with me because I wasn’t old enough. Because I played with all the older guys, and then gradually started touring with other bands, you know, R&B bands, dance bands, still being a drummer but working on keyboards, and I used to play vibes back then too. And then eventually went to Berklee.
When I was at Berklee I started really working on piano more because I wanted to go into composition, and by doing that, that worked out good because when I was playing in the groups, I was singing and playing drums, and Elektra Asylum, a label in New York, came and saw us and wanted to sign us but didn’t really want me behind the drums, so we did some demos for them and they really wanted me out front, but I didn’t want to be out front just singing, so I said “Okay, this is the time to switch to piano,” so that’s what I did, and that’s where that transition to piano started. From that point it was good because I’m able to do everything that I need to as far as composition and scoring for other stuff, and the drums because everything’s rhythm based pretty much, so it all kinda works in the long run.
Smitty: So then the keyboard was a no-brainer?
AH: The keyboard was something that I just worked at. It did come natural and I didn’t really do the massive training on that as I did on the drums. So, I don’t know. Listening and playing along and listening to other people and that kind of thing. The vibes are kinda cool because I can use the drums and the keyboard stuff together.
Smitty: Yeah, I like that combination. However, you haven’t said much about this singing thing, man. Talk about the singing because I haven’t heard you sing a single note.
AH: Well, I did a couple albums vocally. (Both laughing.) At one point I just decided “Are you gonna be a jack of all trades and master of none or try to master a few things?” And how much time is there in the day? Practice piano, practice drums, practice vocals…there just isn’t enough time…..And try to write for TV and stuff, so I dropped the vocal thing. (Laughs.)
Smitty: Okay. Maybe one of these days we’ll talk you into singing a couple of syllables at a performance or something.
AH: You got it!
Smitty: You’ve worked with and produced music for so many great artists, legends out there Earth, Wind & Fire, Donny Osmond…Talk about your experience of working with such great musicians on that level.
AH: Yeah, it’s really truly amazing because you dream of working with these kind of people, and I don’t know if you’d call it manifest, but it happened and I was lucky enough to be able to work with guys from Jonathan Butler, Earth, Wind & Fire, Maurice (White)…we have the same birthday, so to work with him was incredible. He would come over to my house and to my studio, and really at that time it was a pretty humble studio (both laughing) and we would sit and write tunes and for hours and talking in between and it’s really wild. That was really my training for working with other artists too because you have to really control your enthusiasm and not get so caught up in being star struck. Because really they’re idols. Earth, Wind & Fire has always been a big deal, so it was really nice, and of course I worked with several rock guys and Gavin Christopher, do you remember him?
AH: Yeah, he was the “One Step Closer.” Do you remember that song?
Smitty: Oh yeah.
AH: Yeah, great singer. He was one of the guys in the early days that I worked with that I thought was just excellent, and Donny Osmond was unbelievable and the stuff I did with him, we actually did that with Def Leppard.
AH: And then, of course, Jonathan Butler, I did some production writing with him. Also, on my last record he did a song for me (“Sweet Thing” from Noche de Pasion) so it’s, just kind of a thing that’s just surreal.