HEATHER HARDY "I Believe"
By JOHN MULLER
Heather Hardy's head is thrown back, her eyes closed, a little smile on her face, a black electric violin under her chin. The band is pulsing to a blues bass line. On her right, band leader/singer/guitarist Sam Taylor, wearing his trademark yachting cap, smiles with approval.
A chorus of wailing blues licks from Hardy's fiddle fills the air above the crowded dance floor. Bodies bob and weave as the driving notes she plays give the song momentum.
It will be like this all night, Hardy's impish figure always moving to the beat. Her dark hair falling over her shoulders, hips thrust forward in a commanding stance.
Welcome to Heather and Sam week in Tucson. The two popular musicians now based in New York City make their periodic visits back to the Baked Apple a reunion celebration with their fans. A whole lot of embracing goes on in the music, for fans and musicians alike.
"Everything I've got is poured into got is poured into every song," said Hardy, a straight talking Connecticut Yankee off the bandstand. "After these gigs I feel completely empty. There are no emotions left inside me."
Hardy likes that feeling. It tells her the music has been honest and direct. Happiness was celebrated. Anxieties were purged.
"The blues is a lifetime experience," Hardy said. "Everything that happens in my life comes out in my music."
A lot has happened to this classically trained musician with a bright smile. She grew up comfortably in Westport, Conn., then was accepted to the Manhattan School of Music in 1983. After she passed the entrance exam on both piano and violin, school officials said she would have to choose one. No double majors allowed.
Hardy chose piano the first year, then took a year off from her studies. She returned for two more years, studying violin. But the young musician kept hearing the rhythms of a different drummer.
"To earn some extra money, I started playing classical music in subway station. In New York you can make a lot of money playing on the street. The musicians are very good. It isn't like the best musicians are working in bars and the lesser players are in the subways."
Hardy met many of those players, getting introduced to folk music, Irish music and a lot of guitarists. One in particular, "an old beatnik who knew all these traditional blues tunes," persistently encouraged her to break loose from her classical lessons and try some improvising.
"I've always had a good ear, that's my strongest musical quality, so he'd be playing and I'd hear a note or two. I'd start playing on that and he'd be shouting 'Go for it!' We hung together every day for a year or two. That's how I got started improvising, because he gave me the freedom to play some really awful stuff."
Then there was the punk rock band False Prophets. Hardy was asked to join, going on a European tour with them.
There was that time with a Brazilian jazz group, too, and lots of Irish/folk sessions. By 1991 Hardy had completely undone the rigid classical training of her adolescent years. She was also involved with this guy who was moving to Tucson.
"I had just arrived out here, didn't know anybody, was jamming at a friend's house when this woman said I should be playing in Sam Taylor's band," Hardy recalled. "She didn't know Sam personally. I called information to get his phone number."
The rest, as Tucson's blues crowd knows, is history. Taylor and Hardy immediately had a special chemistry that came out in their friendship as well as their performances.
"Sam's the one who really taught me the blues, which I am still learning. He has always been and continues to be my mentor," Hardy said, her voice both proud and respectful.
For five years, the Sam Taylor Blues Revue with Heather Hardy was a staple of the local club scene. Her special rapport with Taylor gave his music extra zip. Club hoppers kept hearing something new.
But how you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've tasted the Big Apple?
"The bar crowd was so used to us, and for us it got to be like, if we're in Jaime's it must be Wednesday.
"We all needed a break from each other."
So last June, both Taylor and Hardy decided to head for New York City. Accompanying Hardy were her six-month-old son Jacob and the boy's father, Mike Nordberg, who is also the band's bassist. While three fifths of the Sam Taylor band went East, drummer Jerome Kimsey and guitar player Brian Dean remained in the Old Pueblo.
"My dream," said Hardy, "Is to make enough money so I can move those two guys to New York. They are the best."
Now Taylor is living on Long Island while Hardy, Nordberg and young Jacob Hardy live on the ground floor of a brownstone in Harlem. While it might be said somewhat cynically that young parents know a lot about singing the blues, Hardy believes the experience is stirring new creativity within her.
"In the past year I've written seven songs-my best songs ever, and I've never been a prolific writer," she said, still sounding somewhat amazed at this unexpected output.
In New York, Hardy is putting a lot of energy into establishing her solo career. She plans to record a second album using those seven new songs and her own band, Little Mama. Fans can still buy her debut album, "Violin," at all the Tucson club dates.
There doesn't seem to be any danger Hardy will be repeating herself musically. She has a levelheaded attitude toward being willing to pay her dues to learn the blues. Being a parent has brought her a new appreciation for life and, as she noted, "When you're a parent you learn to improvise a lot."