Volume III, Issue IV Winter 2004

The language of flute
Holly Hofmann talks about making a living in San Diego and playing with jazz legend Frank Wess

For the past decade and a half, Holly Hofmann has been one of the leading jazz ambassadors in the San Diego area. In addition to being one of the top jazz musicians in town (or Southern California, for that matter), Hofmann has invested her time, energy, reputation and no small amount of cash into a series of jazz clubs – none of which was able to find a permanent niche in San Diego's crowded nightlife.

Flutology - First Date When interviewed in the summer of 2004, Hofmann was on break from an intermittent tour schedule with fellow flutists Frank Wess and Ali Ryerson in support of their 2003 CD "First Date." Since then, both Hofmann and her husband, pianist Mike Wofford, have released new albums on the same Capri label that issued "First Date."

Hofmann grew up in Painesville, Ohio, just east of Cleveland, hard on the shore of Lake Erie. It was at home that she first got the music bug.

"My dad was a jazz guitarist, and we started playing together after supper every night when I was about 5. I had a flutophone; at 6 I had a recorder; at 7 I got a flute and started my classical lessons."

Playing jazz was frowned on in the classical setting where she received her formal instruction, Hofmann said – with one teacher warning her parents that jazz would ruin her. While she continued to play jazz at home, "You had to be covert about it at the conservatory."

"It's only been recent that schools have actual jazz programs," Hofmann said. "Then, you had to do it in the practice room and where you weren't going to be heard by the major professors.

"A lot of classical players think jazz players lack discipline; the reality is, jazz players need more discipline."

Hofmann said she ended up in San Diego after "realizing that I needed to be on one of the coasts" after she graduated from school in Denver. New York didn't feel like a good fit, so she decided to give the Left Coast a try – and has been here 17 years.

Not content to merely fit into the local jazz community as a performer, Hofmann has sunk untold hours – and dollars – into trying to get a series of venues established as top-drawer jazz clubs. While generally well-received by the jazz community, none came close to making a go of it over the long haul.

"I think San Diego is a tough town for the arts, period," Hofmann said of her efforts as club manager. "The dollars that people spend, their disposable income, there are so many options here. You nave indoor and outdoor options for disposable income year-round. In other places, you don't.

Minor Miracle Hofmann said she has seen studies that show music is only the eight or ninth entertainment priority for San Diegans, behind such activities as sports, the beach or dining.

"Jazz is a smaller portion of the audience anyway," she said, "It just follows suit that it would get pushed down the list, too."

While Hofmann isn't currently managing any jazz clubs, she does still book the occasional show, including a summer series at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

At the same time, San Diego is unique in having two full-time jazz stations broadcasting into the area. KSDS (88.3 FM) out of San Diego City College covers most of the county, except some pockets in the north and east; KKJZ (88.1 FM) out of Long Beach State University, can be picked up through most of coastal San Diego County, and even inland North County.

Hofmann said those two stations do bring a sense of community to the local jazz scene, and help promote live jazz in the area.

"I think every little bit helps," she said. "KSDS does interview the Art Museum [jazz series] artists. We've pretty much sold out every concert now, in a 450-seat hall; that's pretty amazing.

When not busy promoting live jazz, Hofmann was equally busy building up her own resumé as a performer.

And one of the high points of that career came in 2003, with the release of "First Date," the three-flute CD with Ali Ryerson and legendary Basie sideman Frank Wess.

"I was working at Birdland in New York City with Ray Brown, with whom I toured at the end of his life, and Ali and Frank both happened to be in the club listening," Hofmann explained of the project's genesis. "Ali sat in for a few tunes, and Frank said, 'That sounded pretty good for two flutes; we ought to try 3 flutes.' Nobody had ever done that.

Hofmann said the decision to record together was very natural. "Frank was one of my teachers. And certainly a mentor. We had played together numerous times at concerts and festivals. ... Frank and I have been friends for years, and Ali is a very good friend.

Live at Birdland "We had a great time. Tom at Capri Records is a great guy anyway. It's one of those rare record companies that lets you do exactly what you wanted to do."

Even though the trio – which plays collectively under the name Flutology – all play C flutes, they play different ranges, Hofmann said. "Ali plays primarily alto. Frank plays bass flute a little bit, but we switch off."

For much of 2004, the three toured in support of the CD, although a few dates in late summer were cancelled when Wess (who is in his 80s) became ill.

"I need a balance," Hofmann said of touring. "I'm very relieved to be home when I get home. And I love being out. I don't need to be out as much as some people.

"I'm trying, as I get older, to accept gigs based on the quality of the music more so than just getting out there for exposure. I figure after 9 CDs, if they don't know me, then ...

Winter 2004 Music Section | Winter 2004 Main Page
Current Music Section | Current Home Page