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Derrick Hodge: Raw, Unabashed Honesty

By Published: July 9, 2013
AAJ: Live Today is a tour de force on your part where you're credited as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger. The title track, "Live Today," dropped in 2011. Was the reason for the two-year wait because of all the particular components and details you wanted to put into it or was it simply a matter of your busy schedule?

DH: Well that one in 2011 was not supposed to be out, that was a leak gone wrong but right at the same time. To be so upset about something like that happening then being overwhelmed by the reception that came from it. All the sudden the phone calls and the emails that my manager was receiving [left] us like, "Okay, let's just not get too caught up and let's keep focusing on what needs to happen." Fortunately it wasn't too big of a deal, we just kept it going. But that whole thing was totally a product of a leak; it wasn't even a finished song yet believe it or not.

But as far as the palette of the record—I figured since this is my first album, I owe it to people and to myself to give what I feel is most honest. And what is most exposed to how I'm taking everything in. To try to create a record that kind of speaks maybe to more than one certain type of thing—I'm not saying there would have been anything wrong with that all. I could have done something that would have just focused more on the writing, playing, and paying more respect to the history of the instrument, and that would have been cool. But I felt like people needed to hear some level of risk. If somebody is being kind enough to spend their money to purchase my album or spend hours of their time to come to my show to hear me speak from the heart, I want to give them something that I feel is just raw and that they can say they were a part of.

I feel like this first album is kind of a palette of things that's really honest to how I was taking things in, whatever that may be. A lot of people have a problem on how things are categorized, I really don't care how anyone hears it and they call it whatever they call it. I don't have a problem with that. I'm honored if someone says it's in the tradition of jazz or if it's not in the tradition, I'm just honored that they even say that label of jazz. For me, the history of that music and the people that I associate with that name—it just brings out people who are at the top of artistic game and that represent such a strong piece of American culture. That's why a lot of songs like "Dancing with Ancestors," and the way I wrote certain things and motifs, were coming from a certain type of history of American music. I wanted to pay respect to that. Pay respect to a lot of those heroes who birthed that desire to get that stuff together.

It's really about me being honest about how I feel and paying respect to those who came along the way and helped me. From wherever I go from this point on any other record I ever do, I can say that there are elements of that rawness in this album—no matter where I go—even if the next album more just trying to solo over stuff and go crazy in that direction. Whatever it is, whether people loved or hated this album, I can say that I respect them and myself enough to give them something that was very honest.

AAJ: You speak about honesty and respecting the tradition, but the only song that has a sort of traditional format where the melody is stated then solos take place is "Solitude," where you play the melody on bass then Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
takes a solo. Is this record more about respecting the spirit of the tradition rather than using its format?

DH: This [record] is more dedicated to the spirit of those that influenced me and I look forward to the eventual questions of "How does this song sound like such and such composer but these songs don't really have that form?" I look forward to those questions because I can say "No, actually if we look at it on paper there are so many things that are derived from how someone developed this theme." AABA, form, development, and recapitulation—that's just surface stuff. There's so much in the history of how people approached music, palettes, and harmony that is so amazing that I wanted to try to document. When I write songs like "Dances with Ancestors," there [are] no real solos on there but I want people to feel the spirit of those who came before me like Terell Stafford
Terell Stafford
Terell Stafford
. Even modern day people like Stefon Harris
Stefon Harris
Stefon Harris
or Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter

I really wanted to capture that spirit of those people because I think that's the best way to show respect to them. Not trying to necessarily copy their format or way of doing it because we're all coming from a spirit that evokes. I figured the best way to do it was pay homage to that by just being honest to myself.

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