Drummer Ted Hawke first set eyes on Paris in 1991. He liked what he saw. He was in the middle of a big band gig but it didn’t feel like just another tour stopover, like the hundreds he’d made all over North America, Europe and Japan. It felt like home. After that first experience he started coming back whenever he could, his visits growing longer with every stay. Three years ago he definitively jumped ship. What made him do it? “It was the vibrations. The more I saw of Paris, the more I felt them. They’re practically the same as New York’s. Plus all the festivals and culture and stimuli, and the African music. It’s fantastic for that, and there are lots of great musicians based here too.”
Originally from Baltimore, “Lady Day’s hometown,” Hawke moved in his late teens to New York, where he found employment playing in the orchestra pits of big Broadway extravaganzas, eventually clocking up work on 45 musicals as well as playing in famous venues such as the Apollo with Marvin Gaye, “a really enjoyable moment in my life.” Jazz, however, was always his first love. “I remember hearing Charlie Parker when I was about 10 and thinking, ‘This is really something!’ It had a lasting influence on me. I had to follow that music.”
That journey saw him work with major artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Heath and Kenny Durham. It was with singers, though, that Hawke’s supportive but creative drumming won many fans, leading to gigs with Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, tours with Carmen McRae and television specials with Shirley MacLaine. Does he have any good crystal stories about her? “No! She’s wonderful. One time my drums were set up on a platform that was about 20 feet high, and she climbed all the way up there to see me. It was actually kind of dangerous. All the time she was up there she was asking questions about my playing.” Doesn’t he think that’s just a little nutty? “No! The name of that special was ‘Sweet Shirley MacLaine,’ a reference to ‘Sweet Charity,’ but she really is sweet.”
On May 5, Hawke and his trio are at the Sunset for a concert followed by a jam session. “Jam sessions are important. They give the guys who are doing a lot of shedding the opportunity to show their chops. It helps them feel the groove. That’s important, plus you can get lots of great surprises. That’s what this music is all about. Surprises. New stimuli.” He pauses for a moment. “You know what I tell people? Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Maybe you can end your piece with that…”
Sunset, 60, rue des Lombards, 1er, Mº Châtelet, 10pm, tel: 01.40.26.46.60, 80F.