Take Five With Eric Hofbauer

Eric Hofbauer By

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Meet Eric Hofbauer:
Known as "a crucial instigator in Boston's DIY avant-jazz scene" (Jon Garelick, Boston Phoenix), Eric Hofbauer has been one of the city's most active musicians and organizers for the past decade. When not documenting his own distinctive approach as a solo guitarist, or leading his working quartet, The Infrared Band, he is performing and recording with such ensembles as the Garrison Fewell/Eric Hofbauer Duo, BOLT (featuring Jorrit Dijkstra and Eric Rosenthal), Karayorgis/Hofbauer/William/Gray and Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club. He is also a 2009 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Music Composition, and a teacher of jazz guitar, jazz history, and composition at Emerson College and The University of Rhode Island.


Teachers and/or influences?
Teachers: Mick Goodrick, Paul Bley, Ran Blake, Robert Ferraza, Wendell Logan, Don Walden. Influences: Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I first felt the elation and wonder of improvisation. I was in high school.

Your sound and approach to music:
My approach is what the aficionados call post-modern. I believe in the three jazz vocabularies of improvisation: swing, bop and post-bop (some call it "free"). I approach them like a chemist, my compositions are the laboratory and the various vocabularies are the elements I fuse to create new compounds.

The whole history of jazz and American music is on the menu and I am a sound omnivore.

Your teaching approach:
The study of jazz music is a study of language, of history and culture, and perhaps most importantly, a study of the self. It is my goal to ensure that each of my students have the necessary tools to communicate with their instruments, understand the music's traditions, and discover his/her own unique stylistic voice within the art form. I have developed an empathetic teaching style, which is tailored to each individual student, especially in the private instrument or composition lesson setting and in ensembles. I believe it is the teacher's responsibility to adapt to each student's learning style and interests to create ways of imparting the fundamental elements of jazz while encouraging the students' own self discovery and creativity.

The jazz language can be broken down to elemental parts, all of which are at the nexus of my teaching priorities. Technique, scales, ear training, and reading are central to understanding jazz. I also believe a thorough study of what I call the "vocabularies of jazz" is crucial to the success of students practicing in the 21st century. I focus my instruction around the three major vocabularies of the jazz language: swing, bebop and free (post-bop). These vocabularies were the building blocks of the majority of jazz styles in the 20th century and are the keys to synthesizing personal style and individuality in the post-modern jazz world of today. In my ensemble or private instruction, I encourage a deep understanding of these traditional vocabularies as a way to self-discovery. I share concepts, but I do not give away the answers by making students practice licks or patterns or only work with limited interpretations of the jazz tradition. Conceptual understanding of each vocabulary through transcription, analysis, and repertoire study can illuminate the path towards fluency while stimulating an individual approach to all jazz styles.

Keeping students inspired and passionate is at the heart of my adaptive teaching philosophy. I always encourage questions and dialogue. I also pose questions to my students at length to help me develop a deep understanding of their abilities and influences to create an individualized path of study for them. With this method, I can express the same concepts through several different and personalized ways. For example, one student may discover how to use over-the-bar line phrasing by learning Charlie Parker melodies as etudes, while another may acquire that skill through transcribing, then comparing and contrasting, the solos of Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the album Cookin'. Regardless of the method, the important outcome is that, through my guidance, the students are focused and passionate about the elements of jazz and discover them in their own way.

Individuality and personal style are the building blocks of jazz and can be heard in the innovations of all the great past and current players and composers. If my students can be grounded in the fundamentals of the history and language of jazz while developing their own style and voice, then I have succeeded in not only feeding the tributary of jazz, but I have helped a young artist to know themselves.

Your dream band:
I am living the dream band. My Infrared Band: Kelly Roberge, sax, Miki Matsuki, drums, Sean Farias, bass; all underrated virtuosos on the Boston jazz scene.

Favorite venue:
Penn Ar Jazz Festival in Brest France. Amazing producers, superb lodging and food, the best, most attentive and supportive audience I have ever played for—especially since it was a very intimate solo guitar show, but you could hear a pin drop in the performance space from the first to last note of the show.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
I have a tie for favorite, Level is my favorite ensemble release by the Infrared Band. It has strong narrative about duality and the balance between opposing forces.

My other favorite is American Fear, one of my solo guitar releases. Again it is one of my favorites because of the cohesive narrative of the pieces on the recording.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Miles Smiles, by Miles Davis; It really explains a lot in terms of why I play the way I play.

Did you know...
I have written a jazz theory book called The Diamond—Tonal Organization for Chromatic Improvisation, based on my own theory of harmonic and melodic substitutions and poly-tonal structures. I am also half way through a book called Evolving Sounds : A Modern Interpretation of Jazz Vocabulary. Both are unpublished and waiting patiently on my hard drive to introduce themselves to the world.

What is in the near future?
My next solo guitar recording called American Grace which will complete my American Trilogy, which includes American Vanity and American Fear.

By Day:
I am jazz 24/7: by day I teach jazz history at Emerson College and guitar, composition, jazz history and ensembles at University of Rhode Island.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
working on becoming a jazz musician.

Photo Credit

Marcus Stern

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