Derrick Hodge: Raw, Unabashed Honesty
DH: First of all I was very fortunate to grow up in a hotbed of talent being from Willingboro, New Jersey. And yeah, I'm a product of gospel and R&B. My introduction to music was my mom putting on the radio every night and saying "You like to play the guitar? Listen to music." This happened every night; she came in the room and turned Power 99 on. I was always a radio baby and I happened to grow uptwo streets over from me was Thaddeus and his brother Tye. I'll never forget when I was like in fifth grade, Tye came to the school and played on this bass drum with two mallets and did a 10-minute concert that blew my mind. I remembered his face and he started coming around the church that another family friend told us to start saying that "We should get involved in church and do something positive," and that's what we did and it all happened to be in that same circle.
That's how Thaddeus and I met and in retrospect we did not realize all the things that was going to spring from it. We thought we were isolated from a lot of other things that were going on. We were products of the radio and just checking out whatever people sent our way. Me, Thaddeus, and another one who grew a mile from me, Adam Blackstone, a lot of us were like that and we all happened to play bass as well. But because of that, a lot of people were drawn to that area in Willingboro, New Jersey. And that's how I met James Poyser, when I got on my first gospel record when I was 14 through my church, Bethany Baptist. That's how I met James and all these guys who later would be instrumental in my development and give me opportunities.
AAJ: After your formative years, you went onto Temple.
DH: When I got into school for jazz it was because my high school professor went to Temple, it was that simple. He said, "Go to Temple because I went there," and that's exactly what I did. That changed so much for me because I had great teachers like Terell Stafford, Ed Flannagan, and Ben Schachter that really, really schooled me. It put me in touch with a great teacher like John Clayton. I met him through Terell Stafford and Terrell was kind enough not to just say, "You have a lot of promise." He threw me in the fire; I think my first official record was with him when he did New Beginnings (MAXJAZZ, 2003) and Mulgrew happened to be on that album. That was my only thing with jazz at the time, other than that I was still doing other music. It was a hotbed of talent in Philly at the time. Musiq Soulchild was doing records along with all these different Philly artists and I was already involved in that. But because jazz was so new to me, I really approached it like, "Ah! This is a whole new world!"
AAJ: You almost didn't finish your studies at Temple since you were already touring. How did you come to the decision to come back and finish your undergraduate studies?
DH: That decision came downI was touring with Jill Scott at the time and I had a conversation with her and I said that I wanted to finish and she encouraged me all the way. At the time everybody was like "What are you doing? You're making money and you're young?" But that was something that I wanted to do and that final year ended up changing everything. That's when I really got serious with jazz. Up until that point, I was developing skills but I still didn't know what I wanted to do. But it wasn't until that senior year when I went back to school where Christian McBride happened to come in and through him I got into that Aspen Snowmass Summer Academy thing. It was more of a situation where things came my way to help dictate my path for meI was more a product of that more than anything. At that point, I was just as impressed with classical as I was with anything, that's the thing that I've done from day one. Playing electric bass in a classical orchestra.
AAJ: I was talking to a friend of mine who is now at Berklee and I asked him how does playing electric bass in a classical orchestra work out. He told me that it was a matter of his high school not having the budget for anything else. Was this a similar case for you growing up?
DH: [Laughs] Playing electric in orchestra was completely a situation of school budget. But every year they would take school field trips and that's how I would go every year and sit in the balcony and listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra rehearse. I think that birthed my desire for composition that made me want to go that route. That impact of hearing an orchestra, I can't even say how big of an impact that had on me.