Parkland Press

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Hobgood’s ‘Jazz Upstairs’: expect old-school stylings

Friday, November 15, 2019 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

Laurence Hobgood brings his trio to the “Jazz Upstairs” series, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Hobgood has had a 30-year career as a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and producer. The Grammy recipient has performed at venues throughout the world, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Tanglewood and the White House.

Hobgood is known for his 20-year collaboration with singer Kurt Elling. He received Grammy nominations for each of Elling’s first 10 albums, for which Hobgood wrote virtually all the music.

He partnered with three-time United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky in a recording-performance project, “Poemjazz.” Their second CD, “House Hour,” was released in 2015.

Hobgood’s 2015 trio CD, “Honor Thy Fathers,” features bassist John Patitucci and drummer Kendrick Scott. The disc includes the standards “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” “Give Me The Simple Life,” Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” and originals by Hobgood. Thematically, it honors his musical influences.

On Hobgood’s latest CD, “tesseterra,” his trio joins forces with the string quartet Ethel to produce what he calls the “expanded songbook.” The CD features Hobgood arrangements of tunes by artists ranging from Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Hoagie Carmichael to Sting, Joni Mitchell, Michel Legrand, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Stevie Wonder.

Says Hobgood in a phone interview, “The cool thing about arranging standards is trying to contribute the modernizing of the canon itself. As an arranger there’s a certain freedom if the song is recognizable. You can stretch the form. People get engaged but can’t quite place the tune. It gives you license to extrapolate from the original.”

Rounding out the trio for the “Jazz Upstairs” concert are Sam Minaie, bass, and Jared Schonig, drums. Both bring strong resumés and great jazz sensibilities to the group.

Minaie was born and raised in Reno, Nev. He started on piano but switched to bass at age 14. He received a degree from the University of Nevada, Reno, and gigged around the Reno-Las Vegas area.

He then moved to Los Angeles where he studied with Charlie Haden at the California Institute of the Arts and received a master’s degree. He lives in New York.

Minaie has played with Patti Austin, Melody Gardot, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Tootie Heath and Donny McCaslin. His quartet released a CD, “Heyo!,” in 2017.

Los Angeles native Schonig began playing the drums at age 14. He received seven Downbeat Student Music Awards before graduating from the Eastman School of Music. He’s played with Wycliffe Gordon, Fred Hersch, Donny McCaslin, Nicholas Payton, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Ernie Watts. He coleads The Wee Trio and performs in Broadway show pit orchestras.

Of the “Jazz Upstairs” concert, Hobgood says, “I’m kind of old school; I just like recognizable melody. A lot of jazz right now is almost math-based and pattern-oriented. But we’ll play a lot of standards, a sort of celebration of song mentality. What I like to convey to audience members is that this show is fun. We’re playing at a very high level but it’s very engaging.”

Doors open at 7 p.m. for a free buffet, included with the ticket price. A cash bar is available.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715