Derrick Hodge: Raw, Unabashed Honesty
Versatility is a trait that any young musician wishes to attain in his/her career. While the ability to seamlessly flow in and out of any musical situation or genre can be attained by spending countless hours in the shed and listening to an array of records, a unique musical environment helps immensely in shaping a young musician's ear. Derrick Hodge has no hesitation in stating that he is a product of his musical environment, having been raised outside Philadelphia in Willingboro, NJ, a place he describes as a hotbed of talent.
Growing up, he lived in the same vicinity as notable gospel musicians like bassist Thaddeus Tribbett, music producer Tye Tribbett, and Justin Timberlake's musical director and bassist, Adam Blackstone. As a child, Hodge played guitar before eventually switching to electric bass so he could play in his elementary school's orchestra. By the time he was in high school, he was playing both electric and contrabass. At the urging of his high school professor, Hodge continued his formal studies at Temple University.
Since his days at Temple, Hodge has enjoyed a career playing gospel, R&B, hip- hop, jazz, and at times a mélange of all four genres. He has played, toured, and recorded with artists like Jill Scott, Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild, Mos Def, Common, Q-Tip, Terence Blanchard, Stefon Harris, Mulgrew Miller, Gretchen Parlato, Bilal, Kenneth Whalum III, and most notably The Robert Glasper Experiment, which won a Grammy Award this past year for Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012).
On Live Today (Blue Note, 2013), Hodge coalesces all of his experiences to create a category-defying record on which he is credited as a composer, arranger, bassist, percussionist, and keyboardist. While Hodge says that Live Today serves as "snapshots of how [he] felt as an artist at a given moment on a given day," it also serves as a unique microcosm of his careerone in which he has shown flexibility and a willingness to adapt any musical situation while remaining honest and true to his voice.
All About Jazz: Congratulations on the new record and the newborn, this must be an exciting time for you. What's the baby's name?
Derrick Hodge: Josephine Hodge, she's my first child. It's a year of birth, new beginnings, and for exploration. I'm so excited.
AAJ: Talking about birth and new beginnings, I'd hate to flip the switch and talk about the complete opposite, but I know that you were very close to the late Mulgrew Miller who passed away earlier this year. Is there anything you'd like to say about Mr. Miller before we start?
DH: Yes, I'm glad you asked. First of all, let me just speak about him as a man. Mulgrew came into my life at a time where the whole worldmusically, was just awe for me. Jazz was new for me and so many things were new. I pretty much got into the music through the school system in college and all that stuff, so I'm kind of a newbie when it comes to that. Someone by the name of "Bootsie" Barnes from Philly referred me to [Mulgrew Miller]. "Bootsie" put in a good word for me and Mulgrew drove an hour and a half to come see me play at this small club and I was shocked that he came just to check me out and show support. My brother Jonathan was playing drums and I couldn't believe it man, he said to me, "Wanna come to the house and play a few tunes?" [Laughs] And I did that. I think three days later, I showed up with a suit on and put some cologne on because I knew his wife was there so I wanted to impress the family. It was so funny man; it was such a big moment for me. He was like, "Cool man, I have a show coming up, would you like to play with me?" And I said, "Sure." My first week with him was at The Vanguard.
AAJ: First week with Mulgrew Miller at The Vanguard? Wow.
DH: [Laughs] Yeah, a full week just thrown in the fire. My first week there and my heroes came out: Russell Malone, Ron Carter, and Stanley Clarke came out that week. There was a lot going on, but I will never forget Mulgrew's disposition from the day I met him, to the day I showed up at his house just naive and green with a suit and cologne on to please his family, to the last time I hit the stage with him. His disposition and his attitude towards me never changed. And that speaks to the spirit he has; I've learned so much aboutnot just how to carry myself as a musician and a leader, but just as a man and how to treat people, and how to give your best musically on and off the bandstand without expecting anything in return but just doing it because every day is a chance to create a legacy. Not in just what you play but in every way, in giving other people opportunities, and trusting them no matter what.
Although I was green, Mulgrew still treated me like one of the cats. I had so much to learn, I'm still learning to this day, and will continue for the rest of my life. But Mulgrew, the way he treated me, he showed me respect and trusted that I would figure things out. I owe so much to him. My approach to being in the moment and really going hard on this album and really pushing that out there is really in the spirit of people like Mulgrew Miller and Terence Blanchard. I used to hear a lot on how they spoke about Art Blakey and how it was being a platform and try to be honest and play what feels good to you, but also being a platform for others to keep the music going. And really, that's kind of the glue with this concept of that record.
I started talking about that online on Facebook here and there about Mulgrew over a month ago; then unfortunately this happened. I can honestly say that I shed a lot of tears at the funeral, but I can say his spiritevery time that I think of him, there's nothing but joy. I was blessed to meet someone like that who only comes once in this lifetime. We were very fortunate, me, Karriem Riggins, and Robert Glasper because we got close to Mulgrew.