HE has been called one of the most manically obsessive, spasmodic drummers in jazz. Ari Hoenig is a regular face in the New York jazz scene and has collaborated with Pat Metheney, Wynton Marsalis and Joshua Redman.
“I was exposed to classical music from an early age by my parents,” he said during the Mosaic Music Festival 2012 in Singapore.
His father, a composer and classical vocalist, and mother, a violinist and pianist, fostered his love for music. But his introduction to the drums was more of a rebellious move to assert his identity.
“I was good at the piano (he also plays the violin), but that was driven by my parents. With the drums, I felt some kind of connection to myself... my individuality arose from it and I just wanted to keep drumming and making music,” says Hoenig, whom by age 14, after two years picking up the drums, was already honing his skills in the Philadelphia jazz scene where he grew up.
“My history with music and the way jazz was performed in Philadelphia at the time influenced my playing.”
He says polyrhythm was a big aspect of the music then. “Polyrhythm can create an emotional connection with the audience and I wanted more control of that. It was exciting to experience that connection with the audience.”
During performances, you’ll find Hoenig showing laser-sharp concentration, a vein-popping expression on his face. “It’s a high level of focus that comes naturally to me, like being underneath a parachute which encapsulates me with the music,” he explains.
Formed in 2002, the Ari Hoenig Quartet is not a one-man-band, according to the 38-year-old drummer.
“I look for people I can have a musical conversation with, who have individuality and a distinct musical voice in their playing,” he says. “Of course, we’re all friends and easygoing to be on the road with, which is important.”
As a band leader, Hoenig has released a few albums since 1999, the latest being 2011’s Lines Of Oppression, named after the long job lines he noticed while on tour in Haiti in 2007.
Asked about his creative process as a composer, he says with a laugh: “It helps to have a deadline and some sort of direction.
“I’ll usually write something with a structure in mind, but what makes your compositions better is to have good musicians play them.”
Hoenig also plays solo gigs, many of which is without any pre-thought to what he’d be playing beforehand.
“It’s empowering when it works, but it can be scary, too. It usually works to some degree,” he says, adding that the key is to have a thematic idea and consistency.
“Even mistakes can be developed into themes and repeated with subtlety. In that regard, there are no mistakes, which makes improvising more compositional.”
As an educator who conducts clinics and lectures around the world, he usually tells budding drummers to pursue their creative ideas. “They’re as good as anybody else’s, so don’t be afraid to be yourself,” he says.
For Hoenig, drumming fits him like a comfortable shoe.
“I’m pleasantly surprised, year after year, as my drumming career seems to get better,” he says. “I’d describe it like this: Musicians live like kings... we’re not rich like kings but we live like we are.”
Visit www.arihoenig.com to check out his music.