Max Heukeshoven (right) performed with his brother Hans (left) and their father in the jazz trio H30 last week. Later, their mom sat in for a couple flute solos. “You can’t avoid it growing up,” Max said of music in his family.
by CHRIS ROGERS
When, as a boy, Saint Mary’s University (SMU) Assistant Professor of Music and jazz band leader Eric Heukeshoven’s eldest son Hans wanted to play drums, Eric told him that was a great idea. When Hans’ little brother Max wanted to play drums, too, Eric told him, “No, no, you want to play bass.”
Max may have felt like the instrument was thrust on him at the time, but it looks natural in his hands now. The young man’s fingers flew all over the fretboard last Thursday night as he played a couple sets with his older brother, his father, his father’s students, and a special guest — his mom.
“I’ve only been playing jazz a year,” Janet Heukeshoven said after performing several solos in front a crowd. “I’m a beginner.” She is a beginner, relatively speaking. The accomplished classical flutist and SMU music professor is the newcomer to jazz in the family, though she might have fooled the audience. “Growing up she always said, ‘I wish I could do that,’” Hans said. “It’s fun that she’s learning how.”
Max gave his mother a bit of a hard time. When Janet momentarily struggled to get her music stand set up between songs, Max both teased her and broke the silence by playing the “Jeopardy” theme song while she tried to get it straightened out. “Par for the course,” Janet said of her son afterward. “I know what I can get away with,” Max said.
The Heukeshovens played for a hurricane relief fundraiser at First Congregational Church last week, part of the church’s ongoing Cafe Congo series. Eric rose from the piano bench for brief jazz history lessons between songs, and Max spoke up from the rhythm section to correct him on the origins of the song “Black Orpheus.”
Things really started moving when the full band — one of SMU’s jazz combos — joined them. On a spinoff of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” the horns fell silent for a spell, leaving just rapid-fire bongo and a kick drum thumping so hard it slipped away from the drummer little by little with every stroke.
For many Americans, music is so generation-specific that it can be hard for parents and their children to connect over music, but that’s not the case for the Heukeshovens. After last week’s show, Hans sported a T-shirt made to look like Run-D.M.C’s iconic ‘80s hip hop logo, but which actually read “Run Phi Mu Alpha,” the national music fraternity to which all the Heukeshoven men belong. Max was wearing a Phi Mu Alpha pin. He said he played a little with garage bands as a teen, but like his father, he mostly plays jazz. “They share with me a lot: ‘This is what I’m listening to,’” Eric said of his sons. “When I’m playing with Dad and Max, I kind of know what to expect out of them,” Hans stated. On some songs, no cues are required.
Eric, Hans, and Max started performing together several years ago. Eric said they realized they had the makings of a jazz trio — piano, bass, and drums — they just needed a name. “We thought The Heukeshoven Trio was way too long,” he joked. They went with H30 instead.
“This is Eric’s dream,” Janet said of the family band.
Eric loves music. There are always new angles to explore and different ways of listening, he explained. After hours of rehearsals at work each day, Eric said his friends and colleagues tell him, “‘God, you must be fried after that.’ But it’s just the opposite. That’s where the energy comes from.”
“It’s really great as a parent to be able to make music with your whole family,” Janet stated. She said she admires her family so much — as musicians, and as people.