Jim Hart - Vibes and Drums

“Music’s a powerful drug,” says Jim Hart. “Sometimes it can make you feel rotten – and you really feel it. But when it makes you feel good, there’s nothing like that ‘feeling’, and it can last for days.”

Hart grew up surrounded by music. “My mother was into folk music and used to run folk clubs in Birmingham – I remember her singing and playing the guitar to me when I was a child. My brother studied trumpet with a jazz trombonist while I was very young and now sings and plays trumpet in a jump jive band, while my dad has just finished writing a musical.”

Hart started playing drums when he was about five years old. “My first kit was a Premier Olympic with all the old original hardware. When I was older we got rid of it. I wish we hadn’t! We’d always had a piano in the house and I was asking to have lessons before I was really ready to. I was very small at that age and they said I should come back when I could reach the pedals! I think I started having lessons around six. Then later of course I was fortunate to have private lessons with Cecil DuValle – a great teacher from Philadelphia. He taught me about playing whatever I was interested in and improvising as well as more formal classical stuff.”

At 16 Hart went to Chetham’s school of music, “which was amazing.” This was followed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “I chose the Guildhall because it was somewhere where I could study jazz whilst keeping my classical and orchestral options open as I’d always enjoyed doing both.”

Hart’s had a number of drum kits since that Premier Olympic. “My second kit was a Premier APK, which I bought from a local music shop in Liskeard (Cornwall). This was followed by a Remo Bravo, which I also bought from the Liskeard shop.” Moving up to London, Hart purchased a Mapex Saturn Series. “I got it from Pro Percussion in Kentish Town. I still have this and use if for gigs when I want to use a 20” bass drum.” Hart then fell for a Pearl DLX Professional. “It was originally from John Rose Drums shop in Manchester and had had two previous owners – Steve Brown who bought it new and then Matt Fishwick. I bought it from Matt when Matt moved over to New York.”

As for vibes, “my first vibraphone was a beautiful 1930s Trixon that I got when I was about 11. It belonged to a neighbour of my piano teacher who had got too old to play it. I love the tone of it. It has that real old sound – bright like milk bottles. I still have it and it is set up at home where I play it every day. Then later I bought a Deagan Commander which used to belong to Lennie Best who died about ten years ago. Trevor Tomkins let me know that Lennie’s widow was looking to find a new home for it and so I bought it from her in 2003. It’s my gigging instrument and although it’s all of 40 years younger than the Trixon, it has a rich, warm tone and there’s still that element of the brightness in it, despite sounding like a modern instrument. I often think that many of the modern vibes sound a bit dull, as if they’re too well tempered! You can’t get a full sound out of them above a certain dynamic and they don’t cut through as well.” He continues. “I’ve never found a set that I prefer to my Deagan, although I did play a very nice instrument at Ronnie’s recently – a Studio 49, made by a German company. I guess I wouldn’t mind having one of those or a Musser Century. But that would have to be as well as, rather than instead of my Deagan.”

Hart uses Mike Ballter Super Vibe series mallets (generally 123R and 124R). “They’re quite heavy, which I like, as the mallet does a lot of the work for you and they produce a lovely warm tone. And My Deagan has a pick up system built in to it and so I sometimes use an amp with it. I have a Laney VC15–110 valve amp. It is quite light and transportable and again produces a very warm tone which reinforces the natural acoustic sound, so you don’t even really notice the sound of the pickups.”

But this beautiful instrument nearly came to a sticky end a few years ago in Cyprus. Hart takes up the story: “The first year I had my Deagan, I travelled with it out to Cyprus to play at a festival. I was young and very stupid and thought that I could just use the pickups and so not take the resonators, thinking that I might be able to get away without a flight case. I rolled the notes up and put them in my suitcase (which is fairly standard) and then spent a whole day wrapping the frame in foam and cardboard boxes to go in the hold. When it came out on the conveyor in Cyprus it was broken in two. I’d had it about a month. A friend of the promoter was a South African carpenter called Steve. He fixed it and not only that, he built me a fight case to bring it back home in! And the repair he did still holds good to this day.”

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