Holly Hofmann And Bill Cunliffe
In the hands of Holly Hofmann, the flute is a powerful instrument.
Thursday, February 6, 2003
A short list of jazz''s iconic instruments would include the tenor saxophone, stand-up bass and trumpet. The flute probably ends up tagging along behind the violin, bass clarinet and vibraphone.
Holly Hofmann is a leading force in changing that perception.
A tough mainstream player who swings with authority, Hofmann brings a tonal heft to the instrument that it too often lacks in jazz settings. While she can interpret ballads with unabashed lyricism, she is just as likely to tear through a blues, artfully employing honks and growls.
In a scene with a plethora of hard-charging horn players, Hofmann has gained considerable attention through her collaborations with some of jazz''s most revered musicians, including trombonist Slide Hampton, guitarist Mundell Lowe and saxophonist James Moody (who is also an accomplished flutist).
Her longtime relationship with late bass legend Ray Brown included stints when he anchored her quartet, and international tours when she was featured in his band, often over the protests of promoters who preferred a more traditional lineup.
"Dizzy once told me he thought I sound more like a trumpeter than any other instrument," Hofmann said recently in a telephone interview from her home in San Diego. "Ray always told me that the reason I was touring with the trio is that I stomped on it. He had a big fight with half the promoters just to bring me. When he said flute, they said, oh come on!
"There''s a preconception as to what that''s going to sound like. Now, I try to take stomping to the next level, to keep the sense of swing while reaching harmonically."
Hofmann performs on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company with her longtime duo partner Bill Cunliffe, the winner of the 1989 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award and a leading player on the L.A. jazz scene. Recently nominated for a Grammy for his arrangement of "Angel Eyes" on trombonist Alan Kaplan''s album Lonely Town, Cunliffe has been a first-call sideman for more than a decade, regularly performing with heavyweights like Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, James Moody, Bobby Watson, Ray Brown and Joshua Redman. As a leader, he''s recorded a half-dozen excellent sessions, most recently a bebop workout exploring the music of Bud Powell, Bill Plays Bud (Naxos Jazz).
With Hofmann, Culiffe displays his fine feel for European classical music as well has jazz. They just released their second duo session, Just Duet, Vol. 2 (Azica), a gorgeous CD mixing Cunliffe originals with jazz classics and classical material by composers like Delius, Bach and Vivaldi.
"Working with Holly is always a blast," Cunliffe said during a set break while working with tenor sax giant Benny Golson at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. "We can go so many different directions, from Monk, Milt Jackson or Jelly Roll Morton to a Jobim tune to a ravishing melody by Schumann. The duo setting allows for so much spontaneity, and Holly is really extending the flute''s possibilities."
In many ways, Hofmann''s success flies in the face of the flute''s perennial position as a sideline instrument in jazz. The vast majority of jazz flutists double on the instrument, focusing most of their time on the saxophone. While Wayman Carver brought the flute into Chick Webb''s popular swing orchestra in the 1930s, it wasn''t until the ''50s that the instrument gained popularity through the work of Buddy Collette, Bud Shank, Paul Horn and Frank Wess (in the Count Basie Orchestra).
Herbie Mann has built a highly successful career with his Latin jazz flute work, but the instrument has been most thoroughly explored in avant garde settings, with players like Eric Dolphy, Price Lasha and Roland Kirk paving the way for James Newton, a brilliant improviser who now spends much of his time teaching and composing.
"One reason it hasn''t caught on is that it''s an incredibly difficult instrument to play," Hofmann said. "It takes more air than any horn because there''s no resistance. And flute has traditionally fallen into that abyss between avant garde and pop jazz, the fusiony Latin stuff. There just haven''t been enough players dedicated to bringing it into the mainstream."
Hofmann is leading the charge to rectify that situation, making a convincing case that in right hands the flute can hold its own against all the other horns.
Holly Hoffman and Bill Cunliffe play Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 at the Jazz and Blues Company, in the Crossroads shopping center in Carmel. Admission is $35, half-price for students under 18. BYOB. Call 624-6432 for info.