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With 'A Conversation,' Trumpeter Tim Hagans Seeks a Greater Musical Dialogue

Tim Hagans
Courtesy of the artist

Grammy-nominated trumpeter Tim Hagans' newest recording, A Conversation, is a five-part musical narrative that addresses the ongoing need for dialogue.

"It could have been called 'The Conversation', but I changed it to 'A Conversation' when I started writing [the piece] because I wanted it to be more abstract," Hagans tells me in this installment of Let Me Tell You 'Bout It. "It could be four people trying to decide where they're going to have dinner, or a family deciding what car they want to buy, or political parties or people within political parties."

WBGO's Let Me Tell You Bout It w/ Tim Hagans

Hagans composed and arranged the piece for the NDR Big Band of Hamburg, Germany, an ensemble that bills itself as an ensemble of soloists. Hagans' 20-year relationship with the orchestra as a featured soloist and guest composer allowed him to craft a distinct long-form composition in five movements that arrive at different sound textures, or opinions in the conversation, based on unconventional orchestral combinations.

"If I gave the trumpet section their abstract opinion and then the trombones their separate abstract opinion, it would not [accurately] portray the opinions because it would be coming from the same instrument," Hagans said. "So, I divided the band up into three different wind instrument groupings [that combine] brass and woodwinds."

Arriving at these distinct sound possibilities can also be traced back to key wisdom Hagans received from his mentor Thad Jones. "One of the things I learned from Thad was to stay true to your voice," Hagans shares. "As trumpet players, we can only play one note at a time. We live in a horizontal world, so we're trying to find the best vertical harmonic realms to support melodies."

Throughout each of the five movements, Hagans casts the act of conversation as a lively, dynamic exchange. "Movement IV," in particular, contains an emotive solo by the leader that catalyzes the NDR into some of their most soulful and bluesy commentary. By the time "Movement V" heads to the homestretch, there is a buoyancy that suggests a move toward resolution even if all parties involved do not come to total agreement.

"As artists and humans, especially during this time, we're trying to figure out how to create to express ourselves because that's an important part of how we work in life," Hagans says. "We want to give our expressions and our communication as a gift...art makes people think, and we have to keep thinking of ways to survive and support each other."

A Conversation is available now on Bandcamp.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.