Derrick Hodge: Raw, Unabashed Honesty

DanMichael Reyes By

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AAJ: It goes without saying that you're a very versatile musician. But I'm wondering, as I look at myself and my peers who are attending various conservatories who are also comfortable in more other genres outside of jazz, would you say that this is just the way musicians nowadays are? That we have to be versed in a lot of genres and put on a lot of different hats?

DH: I think, it's almost by default now. Let's focus solely on jazz—if you're someone right now in high school, the odds of you even knowing about jazz or even being in jazz band is probably not even an option. That budget that was dedicated to that probably doesn't even exist, they're probably putting it to something else now. I'm a product of music in schools and even though I was pretty much ear-trained, I was still a product of music in schools.

A lot of kids now don't even have that option unless they have a family that might be aware of that or their ears were exposed to it where they were like, "Oh I want to do that!" So then the parents are like, "Well, they have an interest, let's get them a teacher," and the teacher puts them on to that. So it's hard to not be honest to just whatever your natural influences are. Because that's really all you have that you can take in. [Music] is not really cultivated, there's nothing staring you in the face that's saying, "You can choose this course in school. Where you can get in marching or orchestra. Even if they don't have upright bass, you can play electric bass!" They don't have that option.

So I think those kids that got exposed to the music no matter what or how, once they're advanced and end up getting into the New Schools or the Berklees, their influences are still their influences. And they receive a lot of information of "Check this out, check that out, and this is what real that his and real that is." Then it becomes a state of confusion because you spend a lot of time working on it and if you're honest with yourself, you kind of lose your sound and what you want to do, or what drew you to the music in the first place. Then you end up leaving school or whatever you end up doing. One way or another you end up finding your voice, or you don't.

But that's reality; I don't think kids now have any other option other than just getting interested in the music somehow. Whatever that is, hoping that they just stick with it and the right people, program, band, or somebody hears them and says, "I want to take a risk on you. Join my band." Those opportunities aren't the same anymore, there's not even IAJE, which I loved. That was a big influence on me—I didn't know anything about jazz other than that. I'm a direct product of that and seeing the benefit of that. When that concept doesn't exist I think people now have no choice but to do what they do and because of that whatever music comes out of that is just going to be what comes of it.

I have these influences on my record because I was exposed to that at a certain point in my life. When I got in Mulgrew's band, he told me, Karriem Riggins, and Rodney Green of how proud of us he was, and he was like, "I hear you guys are doing a lot of other stuff." And I'll never forget he said, "But to do this music, you have to dedicate time and energy to this. It just demands it—the history is so rich, in order to pay justice to it you have to at some point spend time listening to those records. Really learning and really taking in the idiom and really shedding."

That was some of the best advice that I ever received, because it helped me—even to this day—to respect music. Even if I don't create that sound or if I don't write anything on my record that has AABA form, I still respect that and the history of that because I know how much of the art form came from that. If you listen to songs that, form-wise, doesn't have anything to do with that, the sound and the note choices that they're using in one way is coming from the artist that recorded those types of songs. People's advice like that helped me, but a lot of kids now don't even have the opportunity to be in a Mulgrew Miller trio or whatever. So it's tough, so I figured the best I can do is to be honest to what my influences are put that out there so the opportunity presents itself so I can speak about it.

Selected Discography

Derrick Hodge, Live Today (Blue Note, 2013)

Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012)

Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (Obliqsound, 2011)
Bilal, Alright's Revenge (Plug Research, 2010)

Kenneth Whalum III, To Those Who Believe (Kenneth Whalum, 2010)

Gretchen Parlato, In A Dream (Obliqsound, 2009)

Robert Glasper, Double Booked (Blue Note, 2009)

Terrence Blanchard, Choices (Concord, 2009)

Maxwell, BLACKSummer's Night (Columbia, 2009)

Kendrick Scott, The Source (World Source Music, 2007)

Terrence Blanchard, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note, 2007)

Stefon Harris, African Tarantella: Dances with Duke (Blue Note, 2006)

Terrence Blanchard, Flow (Blue Note, 2005)

Mulgrew Miller, Live At Yoshi's, Volume Two (MAXJAZZ, 2005)

Mulgrew Miller, Live At Yoshi's, Volume One (MAXJAZZ, 2004)

Bootsie Barnes, Boppin' Round The Center (Harvest, 2004)

Terell Stafford, New Beginnings (MAXJAZZ, 2003)

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Derrick Hodge
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