thought since the fella I play with has such a colorful life touring
the world as the Trumpet Soloist for Ray
Charles, it might be interesting for folks to hear a
little bit about his experiences.
Ray Charles trumpet soloist, arranger, and world traveler
I think we' are all interested in your background, where you
are from, what your training was etc etc but I think most folks are a
bit more impatient and would want to know right off how you got the
gig w/ The Ray Charles Orchestra?
It was one of those "right place at the right time" kinds
of things that happen so often. My friend Jeff Helgesen was playing
the gig, and when he left he told me that the position was open and
that if I wanted to try to get the gig I should send the tape to the
bandleader. I didn't end up being called then because they hired
someone that had been in the band before, as is their habit when
someone leaves. But then he left to be an architect again and Ray had
heard my tape, so he called me and asked me to join the band.
What was your first gig like? And where?
It was hellish all the way around. Ray called me on a tuesday and I
had to be in LA thursday morning for rehearsal for the start of the
tour. I was rushing to get subs for my gigs and pack to leave for 6
months. I had one long rehearsal and one short one with the band, and
felt totally unprepared for the first gig, which was the Playboy
Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. We get our set list
just a few minutes before the start of the show, and I was searching
for tunes in the book that I had never played. A couple included solos
where I had to go to the front of the band. As the stage was revolving
into place, a gust of wind hit my music stand and all my music started
to fly away. I caught most of it, but it was seriously out of order.
To add insult to injury, they did not really have a band suit that fit
me. The jacket was several sizes too small, and the pants were several
sizes too large. So when I went out front to play a solo I not only
had to worry about the music, I had to worry about the possibility of
my pants falling down in front of 10,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl.
Well, maybe your pants falling down in the Hollywood Bowl
is a good thing? Maybe it is grist for the Bio mill? And maybe those
west coast people might light to see what a real "corn fed"
midwesterner is like?
I'm sure that would have got my tenure with Ray off to a wonderful
start, but it was not meant to be.
with the master
Your training on trumpet has been both unusual AND
traditional. I mean you were very much schooled in jazz but didn't go
through the regular college route. To KNOW music and your instrument
YOU MUST STUDY. How did you gain the traditional background without
the traditional route of college and do you recommend this to others?
I did have quite a bit of formal schooling, although I guess it was
more "informal formal" schooling. My trumpet teacher was my
father, so that helped. Plus I had a very good high school band
director who started to get me enthused about music in general and
jazz in particular. Then there were band camps in the summers that
were invaluable. Stan
Kenton had them every summer in Springfield, MO, and
several of us in the high school jazz band would attend those. I did
go to college for a couple of years before deciding that going to
California with a band was a better learning experience. In many ways
it was. I never did get back to college after that. But being on the
road did teach me a lot about music, and also quite a bit about
dealing with the very unorthodox lifestyle of that kind of travel. As
for whether or not it's the best approach for anyone else, I really
don't know. I was following my muse. Everyone has to do that for
themselves. But I would suggest not discounting opportunities offered
to you when you are young. It's the time where you should be
adventurous and maybe a little bit careless even. When you're older
other responsibilities start to get in the way.
Actually, the Piano was your first instrument wasn't it
Dave? A lot of folks are pleasantly surprised when all of a sudden
they hear a wonderful piano tune on one of your recordings. I know
You Freely on FROM
ENERGY TO STILLNESS, was a big draw for many
image of Dave in his church home at the piano.
Yes, I played for many years. I still love it and recently acquired
a very nice grand piano from a friend who couldn't store it at his
Many folks out there may know that to play in a Band like
Rays, Jazz is going to be very helpful. Many folks don't really
understand what Jazz is. I mean there was Dixieland, Swing, then Be
bop. I think "Bop" may be what confuses most folks without
training. Can you elaborate what happens in the context of this type
Bop uses some of the same chord progressions as earlier jazz. The
difference is in phrasing (think of the phrase be-BOP and you have
some idea of what i mean) and in the fact that the chords are extended
from basic triads and 7th chords to altered 5ths and 9ths and 11ths.
But the basics are the same as in traditional jazz or swing. Beboppers
still love to play the blues, and love to write new melodies to
standards like "I've Got Rhythm"
Yes, I remember when a teacher of mine said, well, in the
first "x" amount of bars of the song you'll hear the melody.
Folks may then trade ie from sax to trumpet etc. Then the melody is
abandoned and they members play within the harmonic structure of the
music. SO.. Even though it sounds to some like gobbledygook, if you
keep humming the melody of the song as it turns around, you'll find
that what the band is playing "fits" and
"supports" that currently un played melodic line. Right?
||Daves album GROOVIN.
where the focus is on Bepop w/ latin influences. Some great
players from the midwest and a few of Sergio Mendez folks from
Yes, that is true. There has to be some relationship to the melody
and to the chord structure when an instrumentalist is soloing. How
close a relationship depends on the style of the music. Some guys get
further out than others. It works when everyone is listening to each
other and feeding each other. All music is a team effort, and it's a
conversation. Everyone has to listen and contribute
How was Ray to work for? He's a bit of a legend and Icon.
What was he like?
He is a legend and an icon. There were ups and downs in working for
him. He can be decidedly unpleasant at times, and extremely
self-centered. I think he has forgotten the people that enabled his
success, much like many people in his position. I have learned a lot
musically from him, especially in things like how to phrase a ballad
effectively. And he has always had confidence in me as a player and as
a writer, which I appreciate very much.
What kind of music did Ray listen to? What did he respect
If you look at the tunes Ray has recorded over the years, many of them
are surprising. He will do whatever strikes his fancy, whether it's a
standard or a jazz tune or a country tune or funk or anything else
under the sun. From what I can see his listening habits are similar. I
would say a wide variety of music.
OK. Lets go to the bus, What's it like to be on a bus or
plane 7 months out of the year. Any interesting stories? Any
shootings? Hijackings? Practical jokes?
How much time have you got? I'm writing a book of stories and
anecdotes about life on the road, and it would fill much more than one
book if I told everything. You can read a lot of my funny stories, and
photos as well, by going to my web site. davidhoffmanjazz.com.
And I add stories fairly regularly, too.
Being on the bus 7 months a year is as close to hell as you can
get, I think. It's tiring, annoying, frustrating and makes you look
very much like a giant billiard ball. There are more than a few laughs
too, though. As we were cruising down the road our bus driver asked,
"Is this Atlanta or Atlantic City?" We really had a lot of
confidence in him after that. He was also heard to say while driving
through Hartford "Is this downtown Connecticut"? At this
point the whole band went out and bought road atlases.
Your background is in Jazz and Ray presents something a bit
different than that. What did you get from Ray that is different than
what you may have gotten from a more traditional Jazz musician such as
Miles Davis, Coltrane, etc etc
Ray wants all jazz musicians in his band. Jazz musicians that can
"play the blues". So in other words, musicians with the
training to play the most demanding jazz and still be soulful. Some of
the tunes in Ray's book are demanding, and really only jazz musicians
are able to play them. Things like swinging at fast tempos, ballads so
slow that they can't be counted, only felt, technically difficult
passages. Then you have to follow that with something that's simple
and bluesy and full of feeling.
I would say that what I've got from him (and from other greats) is
that no matter what you are playing, it has to come from your soul. If
you're not feeling what you are doing, it's just valve wiggling. And
that doesn't differ a bit from what Miles or Coltrane expected from
their musicians. It's all just music. The heart of it is the same,
just dressed a bit differently.
Great. Well , we've heard about Ray's influence, BUT being
on the road with this guy is also a way to meet other musicians.
You've told me about the many "jam sessions" that occur, and
the many great bands with whom you've shared the bill. How 'bout this:
Who among the folks you've "fallen in " with - famous or not
famous - in these circumstances has really hit you hard? Who in a
session where you intimidated by? Who in a session did you learn a lot
My first year on the band, Jim
Rotondi was in the trumpet section, and he may be the
finest jazz trumpeter I've ever worked with. Just hearing him every
night was pretty instructive. He was just one of many that came
through the band. The best thing is that everyone wanted to learn from
each other. Some very serious musicians, and they would share their
knowledge and philosophies.
I don't think I ever felt intimidated at a concert or a session,
because the nature of music is that everyone contributes what they
can, and everyone's contribution is valuable. If you play from your
heart, you are doing the best thing. If you are very proficient AND
play from your heart, that's the best of both worlds.
I loved the times when most of Ray's band would show up to a jam
session. That happened in my hometown one evening. Ray was playing in
Peoria and Larry Harms had set up a jam session for after the concert.
Everyone was just in the mood to play, to hang out, to listen to the
great local musicians. Those are the kinds of times that are very
special, and there were many of them over the years.
Sometimes just hanging out in someone's hotel room and listening to
music is special, as well. Trading pointers and just talking music and
What about the movement of the present day. Music that is
defined as Light Jazz?
I think much of it is the antithesis of real music. Devoid of any
magic or soul, performed either lacklusterly or overly emotionally, so
heavily produced that it is robbed of any sort of spontaneity. I'm not
putting everyone into that classification, but in general the form
leaves me pretty cold. "Lite" jazz is much like "Lite"
beer... watered down.
Forgive me but I wanna put in a plug for a poem I did about
this subject called THE
Anyway... Well ya know, your album From Energy
To Stillness sort of fit there, and maybe sort of fit in New Age.
It was odd in that, in my opinion, it was where Light Jazz should have
gone. Now New Age has the same connotation with some musicians. That
is, that it is a bit empty and devoid of grist. Even thought FETS
struck a chord with just about everyone at live gigs. The Light Jazz
radio folks did not believe it was commercial. I find that
frustrating. Why are programmers so frightened to take risks?
Programmers are afraid to take risks for the same reason anyone is
afraid to take risks. They might make a mistake, and in their
profession if you make too many mistakes you are unemployed. Plus
radio stations are much more "corporate America" than they
used to be. When I was growing up, the disk jockeys had some say over
what they played on their shifts. Many DJ's created hit records this
way. They took the risk on an individual basis, and once other DJ's
and programmers saw a tune taking off, they would also add it. It was
a much more grass-roots process.
These days the play lists just get shorter and shorter. But the
really odd thing is that the shorter the play lists get, the more
successful the station seems to become. If it didn't work for them,
they wouldn't do it, right?
And how about fusion and how is it different from Light Jazz?
I would consider someone like Pat
Metheny to be fusion. Or Bela
Fleck or Mike
Stern or any number of very talented artists. They wipe
me out, because they are taking the idiom further, and the idea of
"fusion" is fusing elements of different genres together.
And many of them do it very well.
In the albums you have done with me you take a step away
from your background. What do you think of all this instrumental music
folks alternately classify as New Age, Ambient, Contemporary
Instrumental, World Beat, Acid Jazz etc etc
I think they are trying to categorize things too much. I know people
(and record stores) love categories, but the best music generally
defies those rules. And the music came first with the originators of
any style. Dizzy didn't say "I'm going to invent a new form of
jazz and call it be-bop". He just played like Dizzy and the
categorizations came later. The same can be said about many of the
artists today. They are just doing what they do.
Now that Ray has passed and you are home more often what
are you planning for the future?*
Well, I'm getting into this web site stuff and setting up a page
there where I can teach. I've already placed a few lessons in
I'm also looking fore ward to teaching in schools and working with
their music programs. Then you are I have been working on our eclectic
rhythmic/Ethnic stuff, and the both of us are looking fore ward to
playing with live dancers. I've been really pleased with what we've
done with the Illinois ballet and hope we get more of that happening.
I may seek to record other people as well as teach.
Oh yeah, me too. I might mention that we are working on
some gentle music for relaxation that we hope to have in the near
future. I was really pleased with some of the ambient rain and trains
you recorded out at your country home (Dave lives in an old converted
church.). We can probably use that. Isn't it amazing that we have
these digital tools at our fingertips so we can just paint our
Yes, I was very happy with the ambient nature sounds I got. AND
YES, to have these recording tools at our side is just amazing! As you
mentioned, to record the wonderful nature sounds I was able to stick
the mic out the door and let it go.
I should also ask you about the regular gig you have in
Toulon Illinois. I think this is a very unique gig. Matter of fact,
it's the best live jazz venue I've seen in Illinois
Yes. A very unique fella that was involved in politics, and as a
professor at The University Of Illinois moved back to his hometown of
Toulon. He bought the old Newspaper and started THE
NEWESROOM BISTRO. Every saturday folks arrive about 6:00
and have dinner. Then there's a few hours of live jazz. I agree with
you that it is a great venue. The sound is incredible, and the
employees are very respectful. No noise, no ringing of cash registers.
Then during break, the owner gives the audience the tour of the
historic old building. I think this is one of the finest live music
venues in the state.
And lastly you just finished a LIVE JAZZ cd
David Hoffman Sextet LIVE. I just got in the first batch
Yes, I remember when you brought it to me to listen to and
I couldn't believe it. I mean, you recorded this yourself, and the
thing sounds as good as any live jazz album I've heard. It reminded me
of the very best days of the Blue Note recordings with folks like Eric
Dolphy, Charles Mingus and those cats. The rhythm section sounds as
good as any studio recording I've listened to.
Yeah, I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I want to invite
folks by my site to check it out. It turned out to be a bit magical.
Everything played straight with no overdubs. BAM, and it came out
"You're the man Dave"
Yeah, I'm the man alright! LOL