Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with musician and teacher Kevin Hart.
Q: Do you have a doctoral of musical arts degree from the University of Illinois?
A: I was working on my doctoral in percussion performance and finished my course work, and then these part-time teaching jobs started springing up and I started taking them. I teach at Knox College in Galesburg — I started there in 1996. I teach at Illinois State University — I've been there six years. I also teach jazz combo here at Parkland one day a week. I've been here since 1999.
Q: Do you have any other jobs besides performing?
A: The teaching keeps me pretty busy. I take whatever gigs I can, 100 or so a year. I do a lot of my own groups — I have Kevin Hart & the Vibe Tribe and the Kevin Hart Trio — I play piano in that, with bass and drums.
Q: Is the vibraphone your bread-and-butter instrument?
A: The vibraphone is what I like to play if I can get a bigger gig together. I get a lot of questions about it. People are fascinated by it because they don't see it very often. It has a nice sound, which people seem to enjoy. I play as much piano as I do vibes. I do feel I'm more proficient on the vibes. I think I feel the most comfortable playing the vibes.
Q: You're really good. I wish you played the vibes more often here in C-U. How often do you perform here?
A: It's not that much anymore, maybe four to six times a year. (Urbana pianist) Donnie Heitler and I'll do something once a year, and I'll play with my own group at The Iron Post. And different people like (jazz guitarist) George Turner ask me to play with them as a sideman. I played for (Krannert Art Museum's) Petal & Paintings last year. Things like that still pop up even though I don't live here. And I'll play Christmas parties for different departments at the UI.
Q: When did you start playing the vibes?
A: My first instrument was the drums. Then my mother made me take piano lessons, starting in third grade. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, one of my older sisters graduated from high school and bought a set of vibes. She was still living at home, so we had a set of vibes around the house. I combined my piano knowledge with my drumming techniques and started playing her vibes. I didn't take formal lessons; I played by ear. I had some vibes lessons in college from a percussion professor. At that point, I'd already been playing the vibes for a long time.
Q: Vibraphonists are sort of a rare breed, right?
A: They are. I think part of it is because vibraphones are expensive instruments. People don't tend to have them around the house because of that and because they're bigger than most instruments. You do find them in band programs, and that's probably the only chance that kids have to mess around with them.
Q: Does your sister still play the vibes?
A: No. She and her husband run a music store in Bradley. I grew up in Bourbonnais, which is connected to Bradley.
Q: What do you like about the vibraphone?
A: It's probably my favorite keyboard-percussion instrument. It's a little more expressive. If you want, it has a sustain pedal, much like the piano. I think the thing I like most about playing it is it's a more physical instrument. You have to really move to play it.
Q: You also write music. Do you write for the vibes?
A: I basically write for groups that I'm in. I'll write things I can play with Vibe Tribe. I also play piano in the Faculty Jazz Quartet at ISU, so when I'm writing a tune, I'll try to arrange it to fit that group. When I write a tune, it's usually meant to be played by a small group.
Q: Do you have any gigs coming up soon in C-U?
A: I don't think so. My next gig nearby will be 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at Lock Stock & Barrel (129 S. Oakland Ave.) in Decatur. That will be with my Vibe Tribe.