Billy Hart was born in Washington, D.C., on November 29, 1940. His first steady gigs of note were with Shirley Horn and Buck Hill. In the 1960s, he toured with Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Eddie Harris, and Pharoah Sanders, and recorded with McCoy Tyner, Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter. In 1970 he joined Herbie Hancock’s Sextet, and after that band broke up in 1973, he joined first McCoy Tyner (two years) and then Stan Getz (four).
In the 1980s, Hart was a regular with many bands and leaders: Gerry Mulligan, Billy Harper, Clark Terry, the New York Jazz Quartet, the Jazztet, Mingus Dynasty, and most extensively with Quest (with David Liebman, Ritchie Beirach, and Ron McClure). In the 1990s, Hart was a member of the Charles Lloyd, Joe Lovano, and Tom Harrell groups, and in 1999 he began performing with the Three Tenors (Liebman, Lovano, and Michael Brecker). He is on roughly 500 records as a sideman.
Since the early 1990s, Hart has devoted much of his time to teaching, particularly at Oberlin. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music and Western Michigan University, he teaches private lessons through The New School and New York University, and he contributes to the Stokes Forest Music Camp and the Dworp Summer Jazz Clinic in Belgium.
Currently, Hart leads a group with Ben Street, Mark Turner, and Ethan Iverson, and is a featured member in the trios of guitarist Assaf Kehati and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.