Trey Anastasio with Jennifer Hartswick Band, Lion’s Den, NYC, 11/7/03- photo by Regan Teti
RR: You are currently based in Chicago these days.
JH: I am. Yeah. We’ve been there about three years. We’re actually in the process of moving back to Vermont, which I’m very excited about.
RR: Let’s go back to your origins in Vermont, and your various travels after that.
JH: I’m born and raised in Vermont, and I was in New York for a very brief amount of time, going to school there, but I pretty much lived my whole life in Vermont. I definitely moved around. I moved to New York, and went to school up there, and went to school in Hartford. Once I left school in Hartford, I was on the road, but I was always based in Vermont.
RR: And you came from a very musical family. How did you settle on trumpet? Did you play various instruments other than that while you were growing up?
JH: I played pretty much every instrument I could get my hands on, (laughter) which is par for the course for my family. I started playing piano at four years old, and picking up clarinet, flute, and sax and all of that. Everybody is my family is a music teacher—all musicians and all music teachers—five aunts and uncles, and two grandparents. They’re all music teachers, (laughs) so there isn’t a chance to do anything else. I picked up all of those instruments, and that was before I was 10 years old. My uncle needed a trumpet player for his jazz band, and thought it would be a good idea if I picked up the trumpet, as well. It was all over after that; I completely fell in love with it. I always sang. I always played, and I always sang. It was just always the same mechanism for me. It’s all the same thing. It’s all music. I grew up doing that pretty much all the time.
RR: That development coincided with a special fondness for jazz, as well.
JH: Yeah, very much. Yeah
RR: So in high school, I would assume that your musical tastes were far different than any other teenager.
JH: (laughter) Yeah. I was the weird kid. Yeah. My family are all classical musicians, and then, we would listen to jazz occasionally, and I just really latched on to it, so yeah, other kids were listening to the radio, and I really didn’t turn on the radio until I was 14. Unless it was to listen to NPR, or something, I was a total nerd. (laughter)
RR: And suddenly you are playing with Trey Anastasio, first in the studio, and then in his solo band. How did the leap to that platform take place?
JH: I was doing a lot of playing in a jazz sextet with Dave Grippo [longtime TAB saxophonist and clarinet player] who is a part of that whole story. He had seen me at a jazz festival when I was 16, and thought that I was having the most fun he’d ever seen, and he wanted to have that much fun with me. He came backstage, and we started playing together. When Trey was doing his first solo album One Man’s Trash, he was looking for a trumpet player, he had asked Dave if he could recommend anybody, and he said me.
We started working together when I was 17, and recorded on One Man’s Trash. We just really hit it off. We met in the studio that day, worked all day together, and just really, really had a great time together, and really clicked. We kept in touch over the years, and a couple of years later, I was a jazz major in the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, and I had left after three semesters. It just wasn’t what I was looking for. I packed up my car, and had no plans. Ten minutes out of the driveway, my phone rang, and it was Trey, and he was putting this band together, and wanted to know if I wanted to go on tour in a couple of weeks.
RR: Ten minutes out of the driveway.
JH: Yeah, I thought, “I’ve had enough. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll figure it out,” and fate’s a beautiful thing, you know? (laughs)
RR: When you began with TAB, was it a crash course in Trey’s style of improvisation? How nervous were you? How easy was it to get into the flow?
JH: I’ve never really been nervous when it comes to music. Number one, it’s a very comfortable environment. Trey always makes sure he creates that. It was certainly a different world the first time I walked on a tour bus. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. “O.K. O.K. This is O.K. This is great.” (laughs) And we do the first show, and “This is the most people I’ve ever played for,” and you just sort of get the hang of it after a couple of days. You think, “All right. O.K. So this is what I do now. O.K. If we were to do this again, I would do this.” It just becomes your reality. I think the younger you are, the easier it is to slip into that. You have that ability to be a chameleon, and slip into whatever the situation may be. I think it was an asset that I was so young when I started.
RR: What were the group dynamics like in Trey’s band in the early 2000s? Have those dynamics within the core players changed at all over the years?
JH: It’s only gotten deeper. You’ve got Russ Lawton and Tony Markellis who are the nicest human beings on earth, and then, at that early stage, you had Dave Grippo and Andy Moroz [trombone], who are also in that category. It instantly became this really comfortable and loving environment for everybody. Being able to see Russ and Tony, and play again, is a joy that I can’t explain. (laughs) It’s really incredible. Now, we have a 10- or 11-year relationship that just makes it that much deeper. It hasn’t changed. It’s just gotten better.
RR: Along the way, 2004 occurred, and we are all well aware of what happened in August of that year [Phish broke up, and Trey was “permanently” solo, for a time]. Trey came back with a completely different band in 2005, and yet, you were also part of that group, as well. Ironically, despite many challenges—musical, or otherwise—Trey was hitting some peaks right at the tail end of that transition period in late 2006, especially at the New Year’s Eve run in Atlantic City. Describe that period of time from 2005 through December 2006.
JH: It was definitely a change. It was a shift. I was glad to be a part of that shift because he was including a lot of new people at that time. There was new management, new band, and new everything. It was just different. I was used to a certain thing, and I was happy that he was playing, and happy that he was going in a new direction with the stuff that he wanted. It’s always a change when you change a lineup that way, and we had gone through three drummers. It was definitely…it was not a rock solid time…musically. (laughs) I will say that. You sort of settle in. At the shows in Atlantic City, we brought some really familiar faces back out, and it was really nice to have everybody there.