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Jay Hoggard

A very significant vibraphonist for for over 30 years, Jay Hoggard has long ranked with the greatest innovators of his instrument including Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Terry Gibbs, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Khan Jamal and Walt Dickerson, as well as his contemporaries Steve Nelson, Joe Locke, Bryan Carrott, Stefon Harris, Warren Wolf, and others. The release of five of his CDs, including SOULAR POWER and SOLO FROM TWO SIDES, gives listeners an opportunity to experience some of the many sides of this vital musician, and they document the vibraphonist's musical language during the first ten years of the 21st century. This is a major event!

Jay Hoggard, who was born in Washington D.C.,grew up in a religious family in Mt Vernon, New York. He began playing the vibraphone when he was 15. At Wesleyan University in Connecticut he studied in the World Music program including traveling to Tanzania to study firsthand East African xylophone music. Soon after he graduated in 1976, Jay was recognized as an increasingly important force on his instrument, able to display his own voice in settings ranging from the avant-garde to swing, from unaccompanied solo performances to work with a wide variety of all-star performers.

While his work was well documented in the late 1970s, '80s and '90s, by 2003 Jay Hoggard came to the conclusion that it was time for him to own his own music and take charge of documenting his musical dreams. “By then it had become a lot less expensive to make one's own records,” says the vibraphonist. “With the collapse of the record industry, it made perfect sense to have my own label.” Adding to the logic was that Hoggard had stored up many fresh ideas and concepts that deserved to be recorded.

Jay Hoggard's current working band is documented on SOULAR POWER (2008),an exciting release consisting of 11 of his original compositions plus “On A Clear Day.” With James Weidman, Belden Bullock and drummer Yoron Israel inspiring him, Hoggard stakes his claim as one of the major vibraphonists of today, performing music that is full of subtle surprises, covers a wide range of moods, and is never predictable. Among the many highlights are the forceful post bop of “Soular Power,” the touching ballad “You're In My Heart All The Time,” the soulful “Blues Bags,” a catchy boogaloo “Sweet Potato” and the driving “Mystic Winds/Tropic Breezes.” Jay really stretches himself during a set that has the feel of a live recording.

The same can be said for the frequently-stunning SOLO FROM TWO SIDES (2009). Performing unaccompanied on vibraphone and marimba, Jay Hoggard creates music that is hypnotic, intriguing, melodic, thoughtful, surprising and thoroughly original. While a handful of vibraphonists have recorded solo sets in the past (including Gary Burton, Khan Jamal and Walt Dickerson), none have sounded like this. There are many rich melodies (“Kalila's Smile” and “Riverside Dance”are two strong examples), pieces that display the African heritage (“Ujamaa”,"The Golden Ashanti", and “Rain Forest”) and new spirituals such as “In The Spirit” and “Worship God In Spirit, Truth And Love.” Each of the 13 selections is memorable in its own way. But that is to be expected for Jay Hoggard has developed his own personal voice, both as an improviser and as a composer.

SWING EM GATES (2007) is a tribute to Lionel Hampton which, although featuring some of the songs that Hampton made famous (including “Flying Home,” “Memories Of You” and “Air Mail Special”), finds Jay Hoggard sounding very much like himself. “I crossed paths with Lionel Hampton on a few occasions early in my career including sharing the stage during an all-star concert. He was always very encouraging and inspiring to me, telling me to always be myself in my playing.” So close was their relationship that, when Hampton was ailing later in his career, Hoggard often substituted for him. Swing 'Em Gates has Jay Hoggard swinging his way through standards with the assistance of a trio that on three songs includes the legendary pianist Dr. Billy Taylor.

SONGS OF SPIRITUAL LOVE (2004) is a set of vibraphone-organ/piano duets by Hoggard and James Weidman in which they explore the African American sacred musical vocabulary. “Since I grew up in the Afican Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, I am hard wired for these melodies which are second nature for me.” The emotional versions of such songs as “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” John Coltrane's “Dear Lord,” “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” and “The Lord's Prayer” are very respectful but also full of exciting melodic improvisations. Especially memorable is a rendition of Hoggard's best known melody, “God Will Guide.”

The earliest of the JHVM releases is THE RIGHT PLACE (2003). Featured with his quintet (the late pianist Hilton Ruiz or James Weidman on piano and organ, bassist Belden Bullock, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and Dwight Andrews on reeds) plus both Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng and Asher DeLerme on percussion, Hoggard performs nine of his originals plus Ruiz' “Guataca.” Highlights include such gems as the upbeat “The Right Place,” the Mid-Eastern feel of “ Joyful Swamp ,” “Startin The Blues En Clave,” the mysterious “Crossing Point,” and the heartfelt “Lessons From My Dad.”

Also of strong interest is SOMETHING "BOUT BELIEVING, a 1999 CD put out by the Twinz Records label and made available from JHVM that features Hoggard (along with Weidman, Bullock and akLaff) performing Duke Ellington's sacred music including “Come Sunday,” “The Shepherd” and “Heaven.” Back in 1967 the youngster accompanied his father to one of Ellington's sacred concerts and the performances changed his life, inspiring him to become a musician and ultimately a major vibraphonist.

The release of these diverse but consistently rewarding CDs are a major event in 21st century jazz. Not only do they feature Jay Hoggard at the peak of his powers, but they add rich melodies and superb vibraphone solos to the legacy of jazz.