Have you heard of Kip Hanrahan? He may not be a household name, but his influence on the music industry is undeniable. Hanrahan’s background began in art school where he studied painting and sculpture. However, he eventually found his true passion in music, specifically percussion. Hanrahan’s unique approach to combining different musical genres, including jazz and Latin music, has earned him critical acclaim from music critics and fans alike. His collaborations with artists such as Jack Bruce, Allen Toussaint, and Andy González have produced some of the most innovative and captivating music around.
As the All About Jazz site notes in its biography, “Hanrahan has an uncanny ability to assemble remarkable musicians and apply their talents in interesting ways. The results are often magical.”
Yet, with all his albums, soundtracks, and productions Hanrahan, “chooses to remain in the shadows, an obscure figure that turns the knobs and brings it all together.”
Introduction to Kip Hanrahan
If you’re looking for a unique and captivating musical experience, then look no further than Kip Hanrahan. With his innovative fusion of jazz, funk, rock, and world music influences from around the globe, this Grammy-nominated composer/producer/musician has been creating timeless sounds since the 1970s.
Music has the ability to transport us to a different place and time, and Hanrahan’s unique approach to music does just that. By blending different genres and influences, Hanrahan creates an auditory experience that is truly one-of-a-kind. His ability to seamlessly fuse together elements of jazz, hip -hop, and Latin music, among other genres, is a testament to his mastery of musical versatility. As a listener, you can’t help but be taken on a sonic journey that is both invigorating and hypnotic. Hanrahan’s music is a true testament to the power and beauty that comes from diversity and experimentation in art.
So how did all start out?
Hanrahan was born in a culturally diverse neighborhood in New York City in 1953, providing him an early exposure to a tapestry of musical influences. Interestingly, he wasn’t initially drawn to music. Instead, his artistic journey began in the visual arts. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the power of images and the stories they told, leading him to study painting and sculpture in art school. It was during these formative years that he discovered the rhythmic pulse of music, a passion that would eventually overshadow his love for the visual arts. Hanrahan found himself drawn to the percussive elements of music, finding similar narrative and emotive qualities in rhythmic patterns that he found in visual art. This newfound love led him to study percussion, setting the stage for his future in music.
As a part of his art studies at Cooper Union, he traveled to North Africa, and lived in India for a year. In the 1970s Hanrahan moved to Paris, France to work on films with Michel Contat, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean-Luc Godard.
Yet, his career in music started with his initial collaboration with poet Ishmael Reed, the spark that brought about his record label American Clavé.
American Clavé and Its Legacy
Legacy is a powerful word, one that carries a great deal of weight and importance. For Kip Hanrahan, it can be found in the very name of his record label – American Clavé. The Spanish word “clave” literally translates to “key” or “code,” but in musical terms, it refers to the underlying rhythm or beat that holds a song together. And that is precisely what American Clavé was all about – finding the key to unlocking the rich and diverse musical traditions of America.
Founded in 1979, American Clavé quickly gained recognition for its unique approach to music, blending together various genres and cultural influences. The label released not only Hanrahan’s own work but also albums from a diverse range of artists, including Jack Bruce, Steve Swallow, and Taj Mahal. American Clavé became known for its groundbreaking sound and its ability to bring together musicians from different cultural backgrounds to create something truly special.
As far as the initial Ishmael Reed collaboration, Hanrahan was going to direct a film based on Reed’s script to the music of Cecil Taylor and the dancing of Mikhail Baryshnikov, but it grew out of his control and fizzled away. Meanwhile, the label released Ya Yo Me Curé (1980) as its first title, an album by an old friend, the trumpeter, and percussionist Jerry Gonzalez. Both Gonzalez and his brother Andy, a bassist, have been recurring contributors to Hanrahan’s music. As a result of that experience, he decided to make a record of his own, Coup de Tête (1981), which he describes as his “Alice in Wonderland,” where he tried out every idea he was unable to use on the Gonzalez session.
After a few more recordings featuring Gonzalez and other Afro-Cuban musicians (Chico Freeman, Angus & Julia Stone, Allen Toussaint) with whom he shared an interest in Afro-Latin music, Hanrahan released Desire Develops an Edge (1983), which was placed by The Wire magazine among the hundred records that set fire to music.
From there on, and Vertical’s Currency (1984) that followed, up to his more recent albums like Beautiful Scars (2008) and Crescent Moon Waning (2018), it was always something new, something else, and at the same time with touches that defined Hanrahan’s approach to music.
At the same time, Hanrahan produced for his label probably some of the best recordings of the Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzola.
Hanrahan’s Collaborations and Productions
This was one of the most remarkable aspects of Kip Hanrahan’s career is his collaborations with other musicians. His ability to bring together artists from diverse backgrounds and create something truly extraordinary is a testament to his skills as a composer and producer. Over the years, Hanrahan has worked with some of the most renowned musicians in the world, including Miles Davis, Brian Eno, and Allen Toussaint. He has also produced albums for a wide range of artists such as jazz pianist Don Pullen and Latin jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie.
One of Hanrahan’s most notable collaborations was with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis on his album Amandla in 1989, as well as Astor Piazzola’s Tango: Zero Hour (1986) and The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night (1988), which became one of Hanrahan’s most successful productions to date. This collaboration helped bring Piazzola’s music to a wider audience and solidified Hanrahan’s reputation as a groundbreaking producer.
Continuing Musical Exploration
Throughout his career, Hanrahan has continued to push boundaries and explore new musical territories. After writing some lyrics for a song, Hanrahan sends demo tapes to potential vocalists, but the song is still a work in progress. “You write for them not necessarily for the timbre or for the range, but for what you know of their personality,” Hanrahan explained, “and you change the words and you rewrite it for that.”
As one reviewer explained, he constructs the music like a narrative, in a process that he describes as striving to “make a sequence of passions audible.” He develops his ideas in the recording studio, mixing densities and voicings, provoking the unknown in a search that seems almost metaphysical.
“There’s this emotion inside of you that needs to make itself heard,” he said, “and you don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to be heard as, but you know the direction it’s supposed to go.“
Hanrahan has also composed several soundtracks for films and documentaries, including The Blood of the Beasts (1949), Pinero (2002), and Chasing Confluence (2009). He has also worked with dancers and choreographers, creating original scores for performances such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Blue Sunshine.”
In addition to his musical pursuits, Hanrahan is also a respected writer and curator. He has written for publications such as The New Yorker and Rolling Stone and was a curator at The Whitney Museum of American Art in the 1990s.
At the age of 69, Hanrahan shows no signs of slowing down. His constant search for new musical inspiration and his ability to bring together diverse voices and cultures continues to make him a pioneering figure in the world of music. American Clavé may have closed its doors in 2007, but its legacy lives on through Hanrahan’s ongoing musical explorations and collaborations. As he once said in an interview, “Music is not a thing from the past; it’s what we continue to do.” And indeed, Kip Hanrahan continues to do just that – create music that transcends time and cultural boundaries, leaving a lasting impact on the world. So let us keep an eye out for his future projects and collaborations, as they are sure to be just as innovative and awe-inspiring as everything he has done before.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.