By John Lawrence
There is a nice little jazz series running in San Diego at the Handlery Hotel’s 950 lounge at 950 Hotel Circle North. This has been put together by Holly Hofmann who has been presenting concerts in San Diego for 30 years or more. In addition, she plays a helluva flute. Recently I saw Stef Johnson with Rob Thorsen and the week before Gilbert Castellanos and Bobby Cressey. The place has a nice happy hour menu and reasonably priced libations. There is no admission or cover charge. Parking is free with validation.
Jazz does not have that many dedicated venues in San Diego so the jazz loving public has to rely mainly on the musicians themselves to create their own gigs. There are no institutional venues such as classical music has. No Symphony Halls. No billionaire sponsors. For that you have to go to New York City, the epicenter of jazz. We do have a dedicated jazz radio station – KSDS-FM – 88.3. Now we just need a billionaire to step up and underwrite the equivalent of New York’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center. Holly would make a wonderful impresario for such a venue because her connections in the jazz world are endless and her dedication, nonpareil.
San Diego Has Great Jazz Talent
The talent pool in San Diego and LA is considerable. Many jazz musicians have attempted to make a go of it in San Diego, but then moved on to greener pastures when prospects became untenable. One such was Hal Crook who started a school here and had an excellent big band which performed weekly. Like Hal said about his book, How to Improvise, at a workshop I attended, “My book will explain to you what to play, when to play, how to play. The only thing it can’t tell you is where to play.” That’s the hard nut to crack. Having moved on, Hal is now at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
The aforementioned Bobby Cressey, in addition to playing jazz organ at the Handlery, is also the organist for the San Diego Padres. A man of many hats, in addition to jazz he plays electro, hip hop, dubstep, reggae, classical, rnb, ska, gospel and blues. He currently plays with the world famous DJ Skee’s Skeetox band. I guess one has to be involved in many aspects of the music business these days to make a go of it. But maybe he’s spreading himself too thin as a jazz artist. Just sayin’.
On the other hand Gilbert Castellanos, winner of San Diego Music Awards artist of the year in 2013, is a full on dedicated jazz musician. His mastery of the trumpet has increased by leaps and bounds over the years that I’ve been following him. Gilbert honors the history and tradition of jazz with every performance. In particular he played Clifford Brown’s composition “Delilah” and Charlie Parker’s “Segment.” Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker were two of the most important musicians in the development of jazz. Unfortunately, they both died young, much too young.
Brown Was the Very Essence of Musical and Moral Maturity
Charlie Parker was a heroin addict and died at the age of 34 on the Jazz Baroness’, Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s, couch. He had multiple organ failures. He created the greatest revolution in any art form in the 20th century. Unfortunately, he couldn’t overcome or transcend the racist society he grew up in or his own lifestyle.
Clifford Brown was clean living, hardly even touching alcohol. He was an inspiration to other players who had thought that they had to be high to play well. On going through my old vinyl albums recently, I spent some time reading the liner notes of a few rare Clifford Brown albums which went into detail about that tragic rainy night when Clifford lost his life in an auto accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on his way to the next gig. It was in 1956.
He and pianist Richie Powell were catching some shut eye while Powell’s wife, Nancy, was at the wheel. Nancy was known to be an erratic driver. There were no seat belts in those days. Brown and the Powells were all killed instantly after the car hit a bridge abutment. It was Clifford’s second wedding anniversary with his wife LaRue. It was her 22nd birthday. Clifford was 25 and, despite having spent a year in the hospital following a prior auto accident in 1950, is a major part of jazz history having only been active for about four years.
Nearly everyone who knew Clifford agree on his likeability and welcoming personality. “To me, the name of Clifford Brown will always remain synonymous with the very essence of musical and moral maturity,” Quincy Jones said. “This name will stand as a symbol of the ideals every your jazz musician should strive to attain.”
After his death, Clifford’s wife LaRue remained active in the jazz world establishing in 1994 the Clifford Brown Jazz Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to Brown’s memory and inspiring a love for jazz among young people. The Foundation is currently under the direction of Clifford Brown III, Brown’s grandson and a respected Bay Area trumpeter and music producer.
Clifford’s son Clifford Brown Jr has received the Ampex Award of Excellence as the nation’s top jazz Program Director, and in 1996 he received the Beverly Anne Johnson Media Award for his many years of being a “positive Black male role model.” Since 1979 Clifford Brown Jr. has been one of the most popular radio personalities in the San Francisco Bay Area and has made the Brown name synonymous with broadcasting there.
So life goes on.
Clifford Brown Is My Ideal As a Jazz Trumpet Player
Clifford Brown is my ideal as a jazz trumpet player and composer – beyond Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie. He adhered to and transcended the tradition of Charlie Parker who pointed the way for others before his young life came to an end. Gilbert Castellanos, Holly Hofmann, Rob Thorsen and a few other local San Diegans follow in that venerable tradition while expanding it at the same time. Who knows what heights could have been scaled had Clifford Brown survived that crash that rainy night?
While Pannonica de Koenigswarter was called the Jazz Baroness, Holly Hofmann certainly deserves the epithet: Jazz Empress of San Diego. Holly has presented concerts at Diego’s Loft from 1988-90; Horton Grand from 1990-1997; Bristol Hotel from 1998-2000; San Diego Museum of Art from 2002-2009; Birch North Park Theater from 2010-2012 and Croce’s First Thursdays from 2015-.
In addition to her impressive resume as an impresario, she placed eighth in the flute category of the Down Beat Critics Poll last year. On her latest CD, “Low Life,” made with her husband, pianist Mike Wofford, she plays the alto flute exclusively. Jazz critic Dan McClenaghan says this in his review of the album:
Holly Hofmann, one of the jazz world’s premier flutists, explores a deeper-toned territory with Low Life: The Alto Flute Project. Primarily a conventional C flautist—with an impressive discography—Hofmann has broken out the lower tone of the alto flute in her concerts, and occasionally on record. Now it’s time for a full length CD featuring her expertise on the instrument….
Hofmann’s lone writing contribution to the set, “Lumeiere de la Vie,” is a five minute long gold nugget of a tune, a smooth and gorgeous masterpiece, and the CD’s closer, guitarist Pat Metheny’s “Farmer’s Trust” blossoms like a spring flower, a sweet and unpretentious ballad, so delicate and lovely in the hands of this band and flutist Hofmann that it can make a grown man cry.
This Friday, October 30, Rob Thorsen will be at the Handlery with L.A. guitarist Steve Cotter. Steve comes from the Wes Montgomery school of great, swinging guitarists. Fernando Gomez is back on drums.
Upcoming in November:
11/6 Latin Percussionist Tommy Aros with Irving Flores, piano and Dean Hulett, bass.
11/13 Guitarist Peter Sprague with Mackenzie Leighton, bass and Charlie Weller, drums
11/20 Los Travellers: Carlos Vasquez, drums, Ray Briz, piano and Glen Fisher, bass
11/27 Two Guitar Trio: Mundell Lowe, Bob Boss and Rob Thorsen, bass