Derrick Hodge Interview for Jazz and Jazz Stories

Interviewer, Bob Danziger (December 18, 2018)

Click to read the entire interview: Derrick Hodge  12-23-18

Video produced for the Class on Derrick Hodge (2019)

Derrick Hodge: Passion, Honesty, Acceptance


B] What was music like in your family when you were very young, what sort of lullabies may you have heard? 

D] First of all, my biggest musical influence was my Mother.  From what I hear, [as an infant] I just always gravitated to the music.  She said I was beating the rhythm to music that was playing in the car. . .  Day care called her out of her job to come pick me up because I was breaking all the bottles on the crib playing.  The older kids, the 3 year olds were singing lullabies.  I was in the one year old class beating the rhythm and breaking the bottles.

During that phase she would always sing to me at night – it was often gospel influenced.  She’d sing “Yes, Jesus Loves Me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” (sung by Derrick) – songs that are rooted in spirituals, traditional types of songs.  She would always sing that type of music to me.  You know, it kind of stuck with me to this day.

We didn’t have a lot coming up and the biggest thing she would do [is] turn on the radio every night and I would go to sleep listening to music, wake up and the radio would still be playing.   And she would always tell me, for the meanwhile to listen.  Listen to every part if it, just listen to whatever you can, and every night it would revolve between 5 or 6 stations for that week.  From Gospel Highway 11 (1100 am) to Power 99 (fm -Philadelphia’s Hip-Hop and R&B station).  And that ended up being my biggest regimen for my career: listening and wanting to listen.

Later, when I got in to college you’d have to write on your entry form your influences.  Aside from someone who played my specific instrument, it kind of blew them [away] because I would write down singers.  Like Nancy Wilson.  I think it was indirectly the influence of my Mother hearing the importance of melody and the way she would sing to me all the time.  And at that same time it kind of coincided with her making sure I was always listening to music.  That informed my decision making as an artist.

Derrick Hodge’s Special Connections to the Monterey Jazz Festival:

D] Let me start with Don [Was].  I met Don at Monterey Jazz Festival through my playing with my brothers Robert Glasper, Mark Colenburg, and Casey Benjamin.  My manager . . . right after I left the stage said, “Hey man, Don Was is here, he actually wants to meet you.”  And it was just that quick, I still had my bass on my shoulder, walking off the stage, and he told me that, and 3 minutes later I’m standing in Don’s face.  And we said hello, and literally by the third sentence he said, “You need to be part of Blue Note.”  He got right to the point.  And I looked at him and I was like “Man are you serious?”  He said, “Yes sir, give me your info.”  And he and my manager exchanged info, [Don said] “let’s talk Monday” and I kid you not 48 hours later we were in discussions which lead to my signing to the Blue Note label – right there at Monterey Jazz Festival.  So I’m not joking when I say that my connection to this Festival actually means something.

That’s how it started.  Yes, it started right there, man.  Right on the side of one of the tents.  That lead to a relationship with them that I just didn’t expect.

On producing with Quincy Jones:

The conversations we had will stay with me for a lifetime.  The biggest thing out of all of it informing me to always pay attention to the music, and not try to be so perfect . . .  leave room for God.

The world right now needs honesty.  That’s what I’m committed to.

On Jazz and Culture

B] When I interview older people, they talk about Duke EIlington or Billie Holiday.  People of my generation, like John Clayton, or Angelique Kidjo they talk about James Brown and the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and the Jacksons, more than they do those earlier greats. And now I talk to people and they’re talking about Common or The Roots and J Dilla, and people like that. Not just musicians but the audiences now are used to turning on the radio or streaming, and the rhythms are much tighter. There was a lot more going on with a clearly identified relationship to the beat, that didn’t exist in the 70’s. Earlier you said you were a radio baby.  In another interview you mentioned you were a “metronome baby.”  And now jazz is this giant tent: where do you see the beat going, and the metronomic aspect of music going at the jazz festival level?

D] I think it’s gonna go, in what we call jazz, is going to go as the people go.   Because everything you said, it speaks to believe it or not, the mainstream definition of what people call jazz has evolved with the times.   I don’t want to get in to this big debate.  Everybody is talking about what jazz is and isn’t.  All I know is what we call it has definitely changed with the times.

In music culture, the way of dealing with drums and sampling has evolved.  If you’re hearing that in the music too, if you’re hearing that at the Festival too, and you’re hearing that means there is acceptance of the energy relevant to the times.  You just mentioning different artists over time and how that sound was developed and the influences of Common and Dilla and all those guys, and how that can be able to fly under this jazz category and you’ll have a Common on Monterey Jazz Festival stage a year ago.   It also speaks to people running the Festival being willing to be open to the people defining what [jazz] is.

B]  Common killed too, he was a huge hit.

D] That’s my brother, man, I was right at that show.  Thank him for giving me a little shout out from the stage.  I got to stand right next to Herbie.  I was behind Herbie when Common was performing and I did a little video of Herbie vibing out to Common and dancing to Common.  And everybody tripping out backstage afterwards.  That speaks to artists like Herbie being that open and being that accepting.  It also speaks to the respect that artists actually have for the history.  It meant so much to them – Herbie showing them that love.

I think it’s a testament to that set, regardless of labeling, . . . not just getting caught up in to defining what it was. And that’s why I’m so happy to be part of this. [Monterey Jazz Festival] is a very accepting idea.

Jazz is a Word 

One of the things about jazz – jazz is a word.   What makes American music, jazz, an American music so great, it’s a melting pot of all the influences, and jazz accepts it.  And that’s what makes American music, I think an art form across the globe, great.  So it’s not one consistent thing.  It’s a melting pot, a hybrid of all of those things.  And the contrast – that’s what makes it so beautiful.


D]  For me, jazz wasn’t something that I had really listened to like that until College.  I didn’t have a record or anything like that.  When I got in to College, I was so far behind and almost at an embarrassing point.  My professor Terell Stafford was sopatient with me, and so honest with me about things I need to check out.  And because of that I would hang out by his office . . .  anything he would play I would hang out by his door and listen to the music.  And I’ll never forget my freshman year the first album that he played that I heard was Nancy Wilson with Cannonball Adderley, and the song was “Never Will I Marry.”  And of course Sam Jones was the bassist, but something about her voice . . . all of a sudden I was thrust in to a diet of hours and hours of jazz and different songs in that idiom every day.  It was a lot to take in.  Because something about her voice, the feeling of it stuck with me.  It made me want to connect with that style of playing, not just the educational thing, I actually felt it.  And that feeling just stuck with me.   The same way that I heard out of Terell Stafford’s office that following week when I heard Miles Davis.  Just the way that the phrasing stuck with me.  It just stuck in a good way.  And actually I would try to mimic Nancy Wilson’s way of delivering a story.  And I didn’t know until later, and I heard the interview, where she talked about that specific record with Cannonball, how she wanted to fit in like another horn player.  She was in to that kind of phrasing for that specific album.

But that way of phrasing, really trying to make a story comes across, above all, not just the old expression of playing an instrument.  Making sure the story . . . somebody can hold on to every note you play regardless of what instrument you play, where your story becomes their story.

Preparing to appreciate you and your music better

B] What should either the young folks who know maybe know a little more about music that’s been on the radio in the last 20 years and older folks who really skipped a few generations of music what, what should they be listening to, reading, watching, thinking about to understand you and your music better?

D] Instead of what they need to know, I feel like the biggest thing is: I tell anyone to approach their every day and approach their music the way I grew up, to listen to everything around, not just the thing you might agree or disagree with how it’s said, [but] trying to understand the person speaking it.


My last question kind of goes back your church experience a little bit.  Perhaps, year before last, Mr. Sipp was one of the performers and he did something I have never seen before.  On the garden stage when he did his walkabout, he walked straight back to where there was a kind of handicapped section, there were three people in there. I was in my wheelchair, but I’m good, and there were two guys, who were in really bad shape.  Kind of shaking and in really bad shape. And he walked right over to them and he used their hands to play his guitar, and he held them and he hugged them and he stroked them.  And it was one of the most healing things, I have ever seen in music and the looks on their faces and the looks on their families faces were indescribable. Because when you’re in wheelchair, people often think you’re contagious or something and they avoid you, they won’t touch you and that sort of thing. And here he was just all over them, it was a beautiful thing.


Mr. Sipp comes out of the gospel background. He was a gospel musician for many years before he started doing blues. Thelonious Monk you know was a gospel musician before he started doing his thing, and I just was wondering if you ever saw that kind of magic happen in music, either in the church or in a concert setting, or something like that?


D] Oh man, what I can tell you, more times than I can count, and when I tell you I’m a product of that.  And to be in that impact sticks with me regardless of genre.  That feeling of impact and connection is something that I hope somebody can share a story like that about me one day.  That matters more than, as much as the story of playing some grand stage or some grand situation.  That matters just as much, and that what makes me value a Nancy Wilson, when I hear her mind circling . . . and I’m overwhelmed with how much I need to learn.  Something about the way she touched me that made me want to connect with . . .  music.  . . .   Inspiring the value of that is connected to so many folk experiences and real connections that I witnessed as a child.  You would never know.   You just don’t forget.

. .  .

D] Honestly in this interview I appreciate you touching on those types of questions and points.  Instead of just name dropping and random instrumentals – I appreciate that.  Because that’s what I want to get to.  It’s a vast subject – that’s what I want to pull out of myself even in this residency and beyond.

I want to get every facet of myself out to you.

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