Jan Hammer

As anyone familiar with this interview series has most likely gathered, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra are something of an obsession for me — not to mention a gamechanging force in the early blending of jazz and heavy rock. Jan Hammer's passionate, virtuosic keyboard playing was a crucial element of the group, and his time with the band is only one brief chapter in his career. In this interview, conducted at Jan's home studio in upstate New York, we touch on the birth and development of Mahavishnu, as well as Jan's collaborations with great musicians across the jazz and rock spectrum, from Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Sarah Vaughan and John Abercrombie to Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana and Journey's Neal Schon. Jan couldn't have been more enthusiastic or generous with his time, and it was an absolute honor speaking with him. To learn more about Jan, go to janhammer.com.

Wendy Eisenberg

Wendy Eisenberg is a jazz guitarist by training who can often be heard playing just about anything but conventional jazz guitar. That includes free improv, art pop, noise and avant-garde punk with radically inventive bands like the now-defunct Birthing Hips and the currently active Editrix. In 2018, during an episode of Jeremiah Cymerman's excellent 5049 Podcast, Wendy — who uses gender-neutral pronouns — made a passing mention of their love for the Australian death-metal band Portal, and at that point, I knew I wanted to speak to them for Heavy Metal Bebop. We met up in March and delved into Wendy's vast musical universe. Topics discussed include: how hearing Sonny Sharrock helped expand their musical horizons, why Portal is their favorite band ever, why they feel like an outsider in both jazz and metal, how Birthing Hips flourished within the context of higher education, why they're not a fan of jazz covers of pop and rock tunes, how their early love for Pantera informs the music of Editrix, what they took away from playing with Curtis Fuller and Earl Klugh, and much more.

Ches Smith

To call drummer Ches Smith merely versatile would be selling him way short. He's played the most advanced jazz with artists such as Tim Berne and massively heavy rock with bands like Theory of Ruin, and covered just about every point in between with projects like Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog and Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant. In this conversation, he discusses his early years playing Poison covers, how he absorbed the the language of bebop drumming, his time on the road with Mr. Bungle, the inner-workings of Trio-Convulsant and Theory of Ruin (a band that featured former Fudge Tunnel and Nailbomb guitarist-vocalist Alex Newport), what he learned from touring alongside Slayer's Dave Lombardo and the Melvins' Dale Crover, the metal metamorphosis of Good for Cows (his duo with bassist Devin Hoff), how he was eventually able to bring his full range of jazz and rock know-how to the table in a single setting, and much more. To learn more about Ches, go to chessmith.com.

Vernon Reid

In this series, I've spoken with many musicians who have a serious appreciation for heavy metal, and some who have plenty of experience playing it, but Vernon Reid is in another category altogether. He's a genuine legend of the genre whose band, Living Colour, achieved household-name status with their 1988 debut, Vivid. Both before Living Colour and alongside it, the guitarist and songwriter has worked on the cutting-edge of jazz, playing with artists such as drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and pianist Geri Allen, as well as in the project Spectrum Road, a tribute to the Tony Williams Lifetime that featured Jack Bruce, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman-Santana.

In this episode, Vernon discusses the Decoding Society's unique musical DNA, how he came to work with Jack Bruce, what makes the power chord essential to his musical arsenal, why the Mahavishnu Orchestra foreshadows Meshuggah and much more.

Tyshawn Sorey

Tyshawn Sorey probably needs little introduction to listeners of this podcast. I first became familiar with Sorey via his astonishingly proficient and future-minded drumming in collaborations with Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman, and have watched with awe as he's grown into a sui generis musical force on albums such as last year's monumental Pillars. In this episode, he discusses his love for metal bands such as Meshuggah and Gorguts, why his in-the-red improv project with guitarist Joe Morris has been so liberating, and how working with John Zorn helped him expand his creative horizons. To learn more about Tyshawn, go to tyshawnsorey.com.

Kenny Grohowski

The jazz/metal crossover can take many forms, but in the case of Kenny Grohowski, that overlap is clear and overt. Growing up as a serious fusion head, this NYC-via-Miami drummer went on to study jazz at the New School and play with established artists such as Lonnie Plaxico and Andy Milne. Metal was a later discovery for him, but as of 2019, Grohowski is now fully immersed in that scene. He regularly performs and records with the outlandish, eclectic Imperial Triumphant, as well as Simulacrum, a trio masterminded by John Zorn that draws on Grohowski's entire skill set.

Kenny and I spoke about how hearing Meshuggah helped him get over his fusion snobbery, the unique "swing" of metal, the anatomy of a Zorn session, how he's able to make his blastbeats breathe and much more.

Kate Gentile

Kate Gentile is a drummer-composer with a highly advanced and personal musical language. Trained in jazz from high school on, she began listening to metal in recent years and has since gravitated toward some of the more intense, outlandish areas of the underground. In this episode, she discusses a slew of her favorite death-metal bands — including Cenotaph, Defeated Sanity and Malignancy — the process of incorporating double-kick drumming into her jazz work, why Tony Williams' playing was a revelation early on, what she admires about metal fandom and much more. To learn more about Kate and her work, go to kategentile.com.

Dave King

Best known as one third of jazz luminaries the Bad Plus, Dave King is also an experienced rock drummer, and an avid fan of the genre in all its forms. In this episode, he discusses everything from his love for classic Iron Maiden to what it was like to meet Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler. To learn more about Dave, go to daveking.net


Greetings, and welcome to the Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast.

Heavy Metal Bebop is a series of conversations about jazz and metal. HMB explores the intersections of these genres through in-depth interviews with key figures from each of these worlds. Begun in 2011 as a series of web Q&As, HMB has relaunched as a podcast as of February 2019.

Go here to read all prior installments, including interviews with Craig Taborn, Bill Laswell and Black Flag's Greg Ginn.

Details of the podcast version of HMB are still being worked out, but to start, new episodes will appear monthly.

Learn more about HMB host Hank Shteamer here.