According to his bio for his November concert at An die Musik, Hart Guonjian-Pettit “is one of the most sought-after jazz and commercial trumpet players in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area… balancing such jazz idioms as hard bop, bebop, modern and traditional jazz with classical chamber and commercial music engagements.” He has studied with Chris Gekker, Chris Vadala, and Alex Norris, and has performed with notable musicians such as Sean Jones, Terell Stafford, and Warren Wolf at numerous venues in the DMV.
As learned from an October 29th interview with Aaron Hill, Hart GP (as he is known) places a high value on being part of a music community and also on teaching music to the next generation.
Hart GP mainly grew up in Towson, MD. Playing the trumpet was a constant in his life. He recalls how he ended up with the trumpet. His fifth grade band teacher was going down the line of students and assigning or recommending instruments. When Hart heard the kids he didn’t like name their preferred instrument, he decided to choose a different instrument so he wouldn’t be in the same class with them–and thus he ended up with trumpet. After he chose the trumpet, he stuck with it and eventually after landing in high school marching band, he felt that he found his instrument.
Significant influences contributing to his growth as a musician include “amazing” trumpeter and fellow student Nico Sarbanes, two years his senior. Sarbanes led him to listen to Clifford Brown, who became his idol. Another important influence was Winton Marsalis’s album Live at the House of Tribes. From there he discovered Chet Baker, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and Kenny Dorham. One of his important local influences is alto saxophonist Tim Green. Hart says, “Every single time I hear Tim Green play the alto sax, I’m like, ‘This is what it is!’”
Hart shared many reflections on the value of being part of a musical community, learning from more experienced musicians, growing in collaboration with others. He and Hill both shared a recollection of one memorable night at Terra Café, in the large outdoor patio where Clarence Ward III’s jam sessions were being held as things were opening up after the COVID lockdowns. Hart reflected how after the isolation of COVID, “everyone was eager to get out, be with one another, build community and fellowship” at the jam session. When a torrential rainstorm started up, all the musicians were scrambling to protect all the instruments from getting wet–no matter whose instrument it was. Hill called it a “magical moment.”
Hart enjoys playing, but what really gets him excited, he said, is sharing music through teaching. He studied music education at the University of Maryland while continuing to develop his own craft. After leaving school, he got a job and is now in his seventh year teaching band and orchestra full time in Silver Spring. Currently he is doing graduate work at University of Maryland under the new acting director trombonist Mark Williams.
Hart explained his philosophy of teaching improvisation saying that it’s too easy to get overwhelmed with scales, theory, and chords. “If you can get a little tidbit of information –a little one-bar sequence–that is compelling to an audience, you are on the path, and you can continue to fill in the gaps with your understanding of scales, chords, etc.” He created a video on YouTube titled “How to Improvise on Jazz Standards,” using “Take the A Train” for the demonstration.
Hill asked Hart to name three to five ingredients needed to become a musician. Hart answered that the first is excitement about the music and the drive to keep working on it. Second is a structured approach to daily practice and a plan for long-term growth. Third is to seek out a musical community–a private teacher, a mentor. Fourth is being tough on yourself in practice but feeling good about yourself in performance. Lastly, you need to willingly collaborate with others. “At the end of the day, you have to learn to give some, take some, wait a little bit, give a little bit.” These points guide him every day in working with 11to14-year-olds. Hart also notes that many of his students may have never seen a live music performance. So he tries to bring in live musicians or at least show them videos of a live performance.
Recently, Hart’s band, Hart GP Jazz, recorded at Blue House Productions, playing the music of Lee Morgan with bassist Obasi Akoto, drummer Brendan Brady, pianist Anthony Pocetti, and saxophonist Elijah Balbed. On November 19th, Hart played at An die Musik with trumpeter Alex Norris, pianist Hannah Mayer, drummer Quincy Phillips, and bassist Jeff Reed (who has also been an important mentor). Hart also does a lot of free-lance work, playing in wedding bands and in a brass quintet. In the last few years, he has been branching out into more popular genres–top 40s, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson—“all that music that really deeply speaks to people.” Hart is also interested in exploring more original music.
His long-term goals are just to keep playing music and to keep teaching. Hart believes that one of the most valuable aspects of learning and playing music is “learning how to cooperate, work together, identify problems to be solved.” He quoted Winton Marsalis: “Through first-class education, a generation marches down the long uncertain road of the future with confidence.” No matter where or who he is teaching, Hart GP calls this his guiding principle.
HART GP can be reached on Facebook, Instagram (@hartgpjazz), and YouTube. The interview can be heard and seen here.
–by Liz Fixsen, based on an audio interview between Hart GP and Aaron Hill.
Liz is a jazz vocalist and pianist and jazz aficionada who can be frequently found hanging out at jazz haunts throughout Baltimore. She is on the board of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance, and she edits and writes for the BJA’s quarterly newsletter.
Aaron Hill is a jazz pianist who regularly plays in the house band at the Monday night jam sessions led by Clarence Ward III at R House in Baltimore. He has performed at major venues and with notable players throughout the DMV. This is his second interview contributing to the BJA newsletter.