by Eric Mullis
Many Charlotteans have heard of Bill Hannah. Hes been regularly playing jazz in Charlotte since the '60s and has taught scores of music students in various Charlotte middle schools. Whenever I tell folks that I play with Bill, they usually know who Im talking about. Indeed, he still plays almost every night of the week in venues such as Big Bens English Pub, the Cajun Queen and the Double Door Inn.
Ive learned a lot about jazz as an art form and jazz in Charlotte while playing with Bill. Im always impressed with Bills ability to get into a tune and his ability to banter with the audience. Hes unflappable because, like a seasoned comedian, hes heard just about everything that someone in the audience is going to say (personally, Im still surprised about how kooky some jazz listeners can be). Hes also musically unflappable because hes played just about every jazz tune in the book.
Of course, Bill is an old dog and is going to run the show the way that he wants. Hes likely to call and start playing a song that you dont know and youll have to be quick on your feet and ears if youre not going to royally screw it up.
But, after playing with Bill for a few years, Ive realized that Im a bit unflappable myself. I dont know every song in the jazz Real Book but the chances are good that Ive played it with Bill.
Thats one of the most impressive things about Mr. Hannah. Hell let anyone play jazz even if they just plain stink. His jazz improv classes at CPCC are open to anyone and his jazz jam on Thursday nights at the Double Door is open as well. Hell let students and complete strangers blow.
On the one hand, that openness can be a bit frustrating. After all, no one really likes to hear a musician butcher a good tune. But, on a more optimistic note, Bills openness is admirable since it gives the young musician a chance to get up there and take a shot at it. Im certainly glad that Bill gave me that opportunity...