Given all the references to rhythm, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the accomplished pianist grew up playing the drums. Raised in Memphis, James Hurt was always fascinated by music and upon auditioning as a percussionist, attended performing arts school to strengthen his musical skills.
A shift to the piano was expedited by the fact that a living legend was only a phone call away. When the Hurt household got its first upright piano, James’s mom had a pal come over and show the young percussionist what was what with the 88s – a guru by the name of Phineas Newborn. “He was older, and dressed real nice,” says Hurt. “I didn’t know who he was. He sat down to this heavy old box and started massacring it, man. He played one song with his left hand another with his right. Amazing. He’s been an inspiration to me through the years. Not style-wise, but as far as talent goes, definitely. I look to his proficiency as an example of what can be accomplished.”
Hurt hit New York in 1994, after earning his master’s degree in education. Like many newcomers he spent time at local jam sessions. From Iridium to Smalls, his rep as a wild card improviser grew quickly. “No one really wanted to hear what I was playing when I first came to town,” he recalls, “but after a while I found guys with whom I could communicate. The exchange you get out of shedding and sharing is priceless….you can’t find that in college, or anywhere.”
“I don’t attempt to reinvent bebop or anything else,” he says. “It took at least four years in New York to absorb what was going on – and there was plenty going on, believe me. The idea is to keep moving to the next plateau. At first I was upset about not being on the scene earlier. But I did a lot of living before New York, and took the time to get my expressions together. I think it paid off to arrive exactly when I did.”
Though a down-to-earth guy, Hurt’s liner notes explain he’s long been interested in celestial forces. “Some people tease me: ‘Hey man you can’t know about that stuff, you’re too young.’ But the power of creative energy is always relevant. I’ve been interested in space, cosmos, astrology, and extra terrestrial phenomena since I was a kid. I hadn’t expressed those curiosities musically until now. But they’ve been in the back of my head for a long time.”