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Back to Bass: Derrick Hodge Bridges Styles at San Jose Jazz Summer

In Music
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From a young age, bassist Derrick Hodge had planned to become a drummer, but an impressive performance by a bass player at church changed his tune.

Jazz Bassist Derrick Hodge’s debut album, Live Today, contains a hodgepodge of influences, but rather than creating jarring fusion, he takes all these elements he grew up with—R&B, hip-hop, rock, folk, gospel—and mixes them elegantly with jazz, creating a stylized and modern sound, which he will bring to the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest on Aug. 11 at 4pm on the Adobe Blackbird Tavern stage, and 8pm on the RBC Jazz Beyond stage at the Pagoda.

“Music should be a reflection of the times. I think Live Today is a melting pot of sounds. There’s nothing new under the sun. It’s how people take these elements and put them together. That’s always unique. The core elements of it are things that, one way or another, have existed or have evolved or came from something else,” Hodge says.

As much as the elements and styles on the album are eclectic and mixed in creative ways—there’s a song with Common rapping on it, and another song with Alan Hampton singing on it—Live Today has a uniform overall sound that transcends genre. It’s smooth, cool and even a bit uplifting.

“It’s my first album. It’s my baby. The album is really just me attempting to be honest with my influences, be honest about my take on music at any given moment, on any given day,” Hodge says.

While jazz is the prevailing sound on the album, it wasn’t really till college that Hodge truly discovered how great jazz was. Growing up in Philadelphia, Hodge consumed all sorts of musical genres around him, as Live Today demonstrates. When jazz came to him, it overwhelmed him.

“It was very much like, ‘Where has this been my whole life?’ I just hadn’t been exposed to it like that. It has such a great history and tradition,” Hodge says.
Since then his career as a bass player has led him to work with the Robert Glasper Experiment, Q-Tip, Jill Scott, Maxwell and other diverse artists.

His interest in the bass was much like his discovery of jazz. From a young age, he was determined to be a drummer, but when he witnessed Joel Ruffin, a guy at church, play the bass so flawlessly, it completely changed his musical trajectory.

“My mom brought me to church to keep me out of trouble. I literally did not move, from when service started till the service ended. I just sat there and stared at him, when he was playing, when he wasn’t playing. He was that amazing. That’s why I try to make sure I’m as honest as possible to what drew me to the instrument. Something about the way Joel played the instrument, it was that simple, he was just that good,” Hodge says.

When Hodge started playing bass, no one gave him formal lessons. He just learned by doing and by watching other string instrument players around him.
“I’m kind of an open palette, an open canvas with ideas, open to so many different ways of expressing on stage. I love the sound of bands and I love the feeling of a band’s sound overtaking a room, just making people feel good about life, about whatever. I try to have that openness when it comes to my own thing,” Hodge says.

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