After Dark: Mickey Hart Band

04:03 PM, May 16, 2013

One time Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart plays Water Street May 23. (Michael Weintrob)/


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

If you go

What: The Mickey Hart Band with The African Showboyz.
When: 9 p.m. May 23.
Where: Water Street Music Hall, 204 N. Water St.
Tickets: $30 advance, $35 the day of the show, available at waterstreetmusic.com and (888) 512-7469.

Mickey Hart was 7 or 8 years old when his mother’s mail-order Count Basie record arrived along with another album that had accidentally been included in the shipment: A collection of pygmy music.

I wasn’t interested in Count Basie and Duke Ellington at the time,” Hart says. “I thought everyone was listening to pygmy music.”

This was Hart’s introduction to world music, a discovery that he metaphorically describes as “something that got me out of my one-room house.” Those world rhythms have pursued him, and he has pursued them, throughout his long career as a drummer with The Grateful Dead and all of the Dead to follow – The Other Ones, The Rhythm Devils with fellow Dead percussionist Bill Kreutzmann and multitudinous collaborations. And on to The Mickey Hart Band, equally world-music fueled, playing next Thursday at Water Street Music Hall. With the African Showboyz, four men from Ghana who open the evening, and who will also join The Mickey Hart Band for added polyrhythms, vocals and that human activity so related to beats and rhythms, dancing.

When the Dead went out on tour, I always had another room, “Hart says. “Everybody went to parties and I would be in there reading and with a couple of computers, doing stuff. That’s when I wrote the Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Planet Drum books. I was really focused, it was 12 to 14 years of study before I could even write them. It superseded everything except family and The Dead.

I was on the quest for the grail: Where did percussion come from? Why do we drum? What is its effect on us?”

The quest took the 69-year-old Hart around the world for years. Much like the legendary musicologist Alan Lomax, who spent his adult life recording old bluesmen and folk musicians in their native environments, Hart sought out the world’s percussionists and recorded them. That obsession became The Mickey Hart Collection, a 25-album set of the world’s percussionists released in 2011 by the scholarly Smithsonian Folkways.

Going out in the field is not like the studio,” Hart says. “Anything can happen. Wind, rain, insects, humidity are all the enemy in the field.”

In Bali, Hart found his efforts to record the local drummers being sabotaged by the heat – it was too hot, they had to record at night – and then by the sounds of the city. Mainly, barking dogs. “I kind of went crazy,” Hart says. “I started screaming, ‘We eat dogs in America!’ I hired all of the local policemen to keep all of the dogs and ambulances off the streets around us. ‘Here’s some money, make it quiet.’ “

Hart speaks the language of the Percussion Illuminati. When he mentions Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, a longtime collaborator with The Dead, or Sikiru Adepoju, who plays the talking drum in The Mickey Hart Band, those names roll fluently off his tongue. He talks about the song of black holes in space and “nunc stans, “the idea of being in the moment. Animals don’t know about birth and death, only humans do. So the big thing is to be in the moment, in the flow.

The over-arching theme of all this is, I found evidence wherever I looked.”

Evidence of …?

The most exciting frontier in music is music as medicine. The demystification is what I’m really into. The neurology of music. How do we see music, how does the brain look before, during and after? We have science behind it now, backing the anecdotal evidence of it. Scientists are crunching the information. They have the machines to be able to measure brain-wave function. Two years ago, it was impossible to do that with such precision.

In medicine, music reconnects the broken connections. Music, rhythm, dance, rock and roll, any vibratory stimuli, has certain rhythms. Some you cannot detect, they are way beyond your perceptions. They’re looking at stem cells, DNA, heart tissue, whatever’s imbedded in the vibratory areas. We know it won’t just make you dance, it also makes you feel good. It’s mysterious, invisible and powerful beyond what we know.”

Hart turns to the great Jamaican and Greek philosophers. “Bob Marley said it pretty well. ‘Music have plenty power.’ Pythagoras, too. If Pythagoras were alive today, he would be smiling ear to ear. He thought the universe was a giant musical instrument; he called it the sonorities of the revolving orbs. Of course, he couldn’t hear it. But somehow he knew, he was right. The sun, the planets, they all vibrate, they all send off a signal, were it be sonic or light. Of course, you can’t hear sound in space, so you have to take that radiation and change it into a radio signal. Dancing With the Infinite Universe is very sexy.

It’s this multi-dimension living machine we call” — pause for dramatic effect — “The Body.”

The essential energy to life is vibration,” Hart says. “Without vibrations, you can’t live. When the vibrations stop, you’re dead. It goes back 13.8 billion years ago, when the blank page of the universe exploded. That was Day One. It’s like Carl Sagan said, we’re made of star stuff. That vibration is universal.”