Dave Hartl assemblage

Who's This Guy?

Dave Hartl works as a pianist, synthesist, accordionist, composer, arranger, and producer. He was with the University of the Arts in Philadelphia teaching electronic music applications, keyboard, theory, and other courses for over 20 years, played over 60 musical theater productions, and worked with acts such as Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Andrea Bocelli, Bo Diddley, Mary Wilson and the Supremes, Phil Woods, Joanne Brackeen, Bill Watrous, Anthony Newley, The Three Degrees, LaToya Jackson, Ben Vareen, Annie Haslam's Renaissance, and many others. He is currently the keyboardist for the Southeast Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra and the Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic and has performed with the Philadelphia Chamber Symphony, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the Philly Pops, as well as playing accordion with the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the world of big bands, he has performed with the Dave Stahl Big Band and his Sacred Orchestra, Norm David's Eleventet, Rick Lawn's Power of 10 and the Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band. He has appeared on numerous recordings, including the Concord Jazz release "Midnight Blue" by guitarist Jimmy Bruno. Other groups Dave has founded are Breckerville, Musical Collusion (releasing a CD of originals written with saxophonist Carl Cox), and The Night Cafe.

Founding The Night Cafe with mandolinist Allan Slutsky in 2008, they rediscovered the sound of early 20th-Century European cafe music, great movie scores, and light classics in the style of Fritz Kreisler. Dave also played with Allan Slutsky in the touring "Standing In the Shadows of Motown Live!" show and remains involved with him on side projects.

Dave is trying in his original music to combine the freedom and improvisation of jazz with the sonic textures of electronic music and the structure of story-telling composition. Following 2 albums of electric fusion with his group Gaijin and an acoustic straight-ahead outing with his quartet, on his CD Lab Work he played piano, 28 different synthesizers, Chapman Stick, MIDI guitar, accordion, theremin, and chromatic harmonica with some extra tracks flown in from friends in Philadelphia, Japan, and Holland. His next release, Busman's Holiday, featured a Teo Macero/Miles Davis approach to editing structures out of freeform jams synthesizing elaborate accompaniments to them. This was followed with 2 solo piano albums, one featuring the music of Frank Zappa and one featuring the music of Brian Groder; Tales of the Plague, a compilation of work made from home during the 2020 pandemic; an synth and accordion version of Astor Piazzolla's 5 Tango Sensations; and an album of spontaneous improvs on the Fender Rhodes entitled The Rhodes Less Traveled.

These days, Dave spends a lot of time on the road playing with the best Linda Ronstadt tribute group in the world, The Ronstadt Revue, and is an arranger and accordionist for The Divine Hand Ensemble, with whom he arranged two CDs of Piazzolla tangos and Frank Zappa instrumentals. In addition, he performs regularly with Philadelphia Jazz Chanteuse Paula Johns, for whom he arranged a show of Dionne Warwick tunes and released an album. He also can be found playing occasionally withThe Hot Club of Philadelphia playing gypsy jazz, and playing jazz standards with George Torrella in the Lehigh Valley.

OK, so that's the official bio you keep around to paste in places like this. If you really need to know how a life in the music biz can twist you to the current state in which I live, here's a bit more of what has happened so far:

Born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania of German stock, at the first sign of a good ear and an interest in music at the age of 5, an accordion was strapped on my back. Through school I picked up clarinet and guitar, ending up in my geeky teen years as Pennsylvania State Virtuoso Accordion Champion. Immediately quit accordion and got serious about piano, studying classical piano and getting a performance BM degree.

But two things happened in the home stretch to that degree. First, I discovered the huge Moog modular synthesizer the school maintained, and second, I started studying and listening to jazz. Playing accordion gives you the right-hand keyboard skills, a thorough working knowledge of the circle of fifths in the left hand, and the ability to shape notes with the bellows. As much as I loved piano the inability to do anything with a sustained note other than hang onto it or release it seemed very limiting. And listening to the great blues guitarists of the time made me frustrated with being locked into just 12 tones per octave. So when performance sythesizers started appearing to the general public in the late '70's, I was there! You could do all these great expressive things with tone and pitch that other instruments couldn't do.

Imagine my surprise throughout my life that jazz, the field that I thought was daring and exploratory, rejects electronic textures for the most part, relegating them to the pop ghetto. I got my chops together just in time for the Jazz Police to outlaw the use of synths in jazz. Yo! Jazz is supposed to embrace mutation and change and you're supposed to find your voice and play from the heart. I'm sincere over here! As twisted as you may find my mutant music, I believe in it. When did they change the rules? I really, really believe that the sonic pap that Kenny G. spews out has absolutely NOTHING to do with jazz, can you please stop calling it that? And I think jazz does have an obligation to explore and move forward, not be restricted to being a museum of past triumphs. If you can't lead, at least get out of the road, Jazz Police.

So we play other things in music to make a living, hoping for enough left over to bring these CDs out when we can. What do we do to survive? The usual solutions musicians have done for generations: teaching, theater work, casual gigs, etc. I've been lucky to have survived by playing with really good players all my life, and they've made the trip enjoyable and ever moving forward. I spent the '80's playing for the older generation's cabaret shows in Atlantic City, got into theater work in the '90's and still do whatever comes up. I love the variety and would go crazy doing the same thing with no letup.

I hope you'll go over to the other pages here and check out the music. I try to tell stories. I use synths. I use acoustic instruments. I use jazz improvisations. I like putting free sections into a classically-developed form and stretching the boundaries of harmony and tone color into rock/R&B/whatever grooves. I use strange forms and scales. I also use the best and most inspiring players I can possibly cajole into recording with me, to all of whom I'm grateful. Hopefully, you'll give it a chance and hear something you like. As I tell my players, nobody likes everything I do, but everybody seems to like something in there!

Updated January 11, 2024.