I 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.

DAVID HOFFMAN, 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.

Dave 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 For You Freely on FROM ENERGY TO STILLNESS, was a big draw for many folks

A mood 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 apartment.

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 of Jazz?

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 California.


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 the most?

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 from?

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 life.


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 LILLYPAD.


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 improvisation (http://www.davidhoffmanjazz.com). 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 pictures?

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


Yeah, The David Hoffman Sextet LIVE. I just got in the first batch last week.

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 solid.

"You're the man Dave"

Yeah, I'm the man alright! LOL



* Here is a beautiful "obit" and tribute Dave wrote for Ray