As a gifted storyteller, Dan Hazlett eloquently crafts life-changing tales.
The Waterford folk-jazz singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares insightful stories steeped in transition and growth on his latest anecdotal album, Turning Stone.
“Every person in every song is a character, even if you’re the person, because you’re not that person anymore. Even if you were when you wrote it, you’re someone else now. Every song, in its own way, is a tiny piece of musical theater. That’s now my approach. This is a world … this is a little novel or a little painting all unto itself,” Hazlett said.
“At some point, you just have to let the characters speak for themselves, and they will say surprising things. And that is really fun, and you end up with material you would never have written if you focused on ‘What would I say?’ It’s more interesting to learn ‘What would this person say?’”
With Turning Stone, Hazlett examines life through the lens of an inquisitive mathematician, a courageous child, a lost soul, a lonely housewife and other people facing life-changing circumstances. The album’s tracks convey the thoughts, feelings and actions of intriguing characters who tackle their own challenges within a jazzy, acoustic-pop landscape.
“This project turned out to be the one that’s fully produced, like a band and sort of poppy and just a different kind of record. The songs ended up being in there because musically they kind of wanted to be together. It was more like, ‘How do these songs sound together?’” he said.
Turning Stone Tales
In fact, all of Turning Stone’s 10 exquisite tracks sound smooth and soulful alongside Hazlett’s compelling narratives. The folky, trumpet-fueled opener, “Proof,” pays tribute to a 2005 film of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Stomping drums, crashing cymbals, bouncy bass, thoughtful acoustic guitar, buoyant trumpet and curious electric guitar prompt an accomplished mathematician to prove and share the universe’s theories and positive energy.
Hazlett sings, “There’s proof in the question you are able to ask/In the beckoning smile and the well-performed task/In the way things work out and the way that they don’t/Turns out in the end, to every question the answer is yes.”
“Anthony Hopkins’ character is a brilliant mathematician who’s now dealing with dementia, so there’s a scene where Gwyneth Paltrow’s character finds him outside. He says, ‘I’m really working here and read this proof.’ She begins to read it, and it’s like if physics were poetry,” he said.
“If physics or math were poetry, then what would we say about it? And there’s an Einstein quote along the lines of … ‘We have to decide whether we believe the universe is a friendly place or an uncaring place. It’s gonna greatly affect our approach to how we live as a species.’ His answer was, ‘I choose to believe it’s a friendly place.’”
Hazlett quickly switches to an unfriendly place on “Cool,” a somber jazz-Latin ballad documenting a brave child’s struggle with abuse. Haunting trumpet, solemn acoustic guitar, pensive bass, light drum taps and tingly cymbals provide a welcome refuge.
He sings, “Bruises, hidden by a T-shirt/Don’t let on that they hurt/Try and understand/This time really ought to learn you/He was only trying to turn you/Into something like a man.”
“I was at Interlochen and one of my students was talking about his home life. I just kind of let this character speak for himself. I also wanted to touch on the subject of domestic abuse and domestic violence because that’s kind of where the story came from,” Hazlett said.
After experiencing the troublesome world of “Cool,” Hazlett ventures to a junk shop in Menlo Park, California with Joseph on “Antique Bed.” Gleaming acoustic guitar, whirring electric guitar, sentimental bass, pounding drums, delicate percussion and forlorn trumpet echo Joseph’s intense longing to find the bed’s previous owner.
He sings, “Can you fall in love with a girl who you haven’t met yet/When your dreams fill up with a face you won’t forget?/It’s a question Joseph asks nearly every single night/When sleep drifts in like a mist on a gray October moon/And her pale ghost lies down like an unpaid debt/Or a long forgotten name, somewhere carved on a stone.”
“This song was an interesting experiment … I was reading this novel, and it said, ‘Joseph is on the antique bed in a junk shop in Menlo Park. He wondered why anyone would choose to part with such a wonderful bed. Maybe someone had been so much in love,’” Hazlett said.
“I just made everything else rhyme and fit the same structure, and I went, ‘Where’s the story going now? Oh, let’s make it a ghost story.’ I was just gonna go where I wanted, and it was fun to write that way.”
Hazlett also beautifully recaps the ghostly regrets of a lonely housewife on “I Am the Girl,” which encourages choosing true love over security. Melancholic acoustic guitar, cautious bass, woeful harmonica, soft drums and sparkling cymbals encourage her to find Billy Dare in another life.
He sings, “Nobody knows the girl who used to run/Through the green and amber summer/With her hair all full of leaves/Nobody knows how she shinnied down the trellis/To the arms of Billy Dare/Kissed all night long beneath the eaves.”
“I played ‘I Am the Girl’ at a particular showcase, and a friend of mine was there. Afterward, he said, ‘Well, I wanna know about Billy Dare. What’s his deal? And I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting,’” Hazlett said.
Turning Stone’s Prologue and Epilogue
For Turning Stone, Hazlett spent four years rerecording, revising and remixing the tracks to shape his 10th album. He worked closely with drummer Scott Williams at his longtime Home Street Studio.
“It’s been really worked over, and I’ve gone back and started over and redone and remixed things. I wasn’t in any hurry,” Hazlett said. “You find out after a while as an artist … ‘Who am I doing this for?’ No one else really gets it in the way that I do. No one is gonna care as much as I do. I’m the one I have to satisfy.”
“I felt like, ‘I’ve got nine records, do I really need to do it again?’ Years went by where I was producing records for other people and writing a lot of songs and playing gigs. I spent a lot of time focusing on being an instructor because I was teaching at Interlochen,” said Hazlett, who’s inspired by Michael Peter Smith, Paul Simon and James Taylor.
“But, eventually, I just wanted to start recording. I didn’t have any plan or agenda at all. I just started picking the songs I thought were the strongest. I was producing a record for someone else, and my drummer was over getting the drums all set up, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s test out this setup on one of my songs.’”
Hazlett liked the result and continued recording with Williams. They created a variety of full-band and acoustic tracks, which Hazlett later shared with Smith.
“We swapped mixes so we could give each other feedback. It was really just about the recording, and that was a huge gift on his part. It was an honor for him to give me his opinions,” said Hazlett about Smith, who passed away in 2020.
“He said, ‘Here are the things that are wrong.’ And one of the big things that was wrong was the songs didn’t belong together. I spent a long time contemplating all his remarks, and then went back to the drawing board on the record.”
Hazlett reworked the tracks and split them in half for two different projects, one of which included Turning Stone. The other tracks will be featured on another acoustic-centric release.
“I have a lot of new material that’s taking me in a new place that I’d like to do something with. I also have this musical that I wrote with my daughter, and we’ve never gotten anyone to perform it. I’d really love to see that produced somewhere,” he said.
Outside of future projects, Hazlett is promoting Turning Stone this spring and summer. He’s hosting an album release show Saturday at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre with Jim Bizer (guitar, vocals), Jeff Schott (bass), Beverly Meyer (vocals), John Finan (vocals), Mary Beth Howell (vocals) and Williams (drums).
“We’re gonna do the whole record, plus some other songs. I have a really cool band that I’ve assembled,” Hazlett said. “It’s gonna be a night nice.”
Saturday, March 26 | 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Trinity House Theatre, 38840 W. Six Mile Road in Livonia