BY STEVE ROBY | MARCH 17, 2019
Laurence Hobgood is one of the most accomplished jazz pianists working today. The talented musician is noted for his nearly 20-year collaboration with singer Kurt Elling, a combination that garnered 10 Grammy nominations. He’s also a top-notch jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and producer, as well as a Yamaha artist and Grammy winner for his 2009 CD, Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman.
Hobgood will be releasing a new CD on April 26 titled tesseterra. The recording combines his love of jazz trio and composing for string quartet with uplifting arrangements of what he calls the “expanded songbook” – repertoire ranging from Cole Porter to Sting, Hoagie Carmichael to Paul McCartney, Chopin to Crosby Stills & Nash.
The Laurence Hobgood Trio will be performing at the Kahilu Theatre on Sunday, April 7 at 4 p.m. Ticket info can be found below.
I caught up with Laurence Hobgood via a phone interview during a writing session he was doing in New York City.
Aloha, Laurence. We’re looking forward to your upcoming show in Waimea. How is your current tour going?
The current tour is a beautiful combination of two things for me because the trio that I have with Jared Schonig, on drums, and Matthew Clohesy, on bass, is very special to me. I don’t think it’s putting it too mildly to say that in a lot of ways I’ve waited my whole life to have these particular personnel and part of the joy is that they really are into it. They’re both very in demand, New York young players that offer a broad spectrum of styles, and they’re both touring internationally regularly with different people. I had to plan far in advance to make sure that I’ve got them when I’m doing what I want to make happen. Getting to go out on the road, play on the West Coast, and then come to Hawaii and play a trio concert and at the Kahilu Theatre will be wonderful.
Matthew Clohesy, Laurence Hobgood, and Jared Schonig
Besides touring and recording, you also teach theory, composing and arranging. What are students looking for when they take your course?
They take the course for a variety of reasons. One might be to get a very analytical nuts and bolts awareness that there’s structural information out there about how music works and to gain more variety with what they’re trying to do with music. They’d like to learn more about how others approach the exact same thing, but from a very intuitive place. One of the things I tell my private students in their very first lesson, I always say, ‘My goal as a teacher is to make myself obsolete. Your goal as a student should be to get to the point where you know music well enough that you can answer all of your own questions. And it’s the complexity of those questions that tells you what kind of musician you’re going to be.’
What was it like working with Kurt Elling for so many years?
It was an amazing education on several different levels. One of them certainly was seeing something being built from literally the ground up. When I met Kurt, he was moving furniture and paying off student loans, and then he started to attack the Chicago jazz scene particularly on the South Side… there’s like a whole different culture down there. Kurt was really part of that, and that’s when I met him. I got to learn all that stuff, not in a two-year university environment, but in a twenty-year real-life experience. I’m very grateful for the time that I had to learn the craft, and find my own voice as I was doing it right.
Your new CD Tesseterra is coming our next month. Can you tell us about that?
That’s been a dream of mine ever since I was in school. I’ve loved listening to and writing for string quartet. It’s so totally contrapuntal and tonally interesting… a fascinating puzzle solving exercise and musical expression. I just had this idea that string quartet and a great trio would be a great combination, and then Kurt Elling’s record, Live at Lincoln Center, won a Grammy, and that had string quartet all over it. That was when I reconnected with string quartet writing and I started experimenting with a couple of things. In fact, the first really successful one is the track of “Georgia on My Mind.” I wrote that arrangement six or seven years ago and haven’t changed a thing. The writing got a little bit more, in some cases, abstracted, but it’s not abstracted the way most people would think of it. The whole concept of it is that it’s all iconic song repertoire reimagined for that instrumentation… Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Chopin, Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael, Sting, Paul McCartney… that’s the writing pool. Every single one of the songs on the CD means something to people. I’ve had arguments with my wife about [including]“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and whether that’s truly an iconic song. I think it is.
I’m sure Judy Collins does too. What can fans expect at your upcoming Kahilu Theatre show?
We will be concentrating on the repertoire from my most recent CD, Honor Thy Fathers, and every track is a dedication to some influence…. Nat Cole, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans… those are the people that each track is dedicated to. You’ll definitely hear some jazz updating of pop tunes like Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” and “Give Me The Simple Life.” Remember that old tune? It was used in an old commercial, but they changed it to ‘…Campbell Life.’
Unfortunately, I do, and the jingle will be stuck in my head today.
Well, all you have to do is go to my Soundcloud page and listen to my version to get it out of your head.
Nice segue, sir. Are you working on any new projects or recordings this year?
Before the holidays, I recorded with a drummer Harvey Mason on a project that he got me involved with a yet unknown singer. I’m not going to say his name, because this is all a big surprise. I wrote the whole record… eleven arrangements, and right now I’m writing for a really interesting project that does involve the trio, and we will have recorded it in L.A. right before we come to Honolulu, and before Waimea. All I’ll say about it is that it’s a woman who had more of a history with opera and musical theater and that the project involves these healing bowls. She wanted to do something really cool that involved something stylistically for a more eclectic palette. I wouldn’t strictly call it jazz, but it’s still very focused. I’m doing the arrangements to incorporate the bowls. And, so, that’s what I’m working on right now.
Thanks for your time, and we look forward to your upcoming show at the Kahilu.
If You Go
The Laurence Hobgood Trio will perform some electrifying jazz music at the Kahilu Theatre on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at 7 4 pm. Tickets are $65/$45/$25, and can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela HI.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photo credit: David Belusic and Steve Parke.