Holly Hofmann has worked hard to change the way the world looks at flute players. Her sound is not the small, sweet, demure sound often associated with the flute. Instead, her music is full of life and excitement, as she turns the flute into a straight-ahead jazz instrument.
Hofmann was born in the early sixties and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She has one sister and one brother. Her father, Nelson Hofmann, played jazz guitar. Hofmann was exposed to all kinds of music at an early age, particularly jazz and classical. When she was only four years old, she began playing a plastic flute-o-phone. When she was five, her older sister bought her a flute. Hofmann developed an early preference for jazz, but her parents wanted her to have solid training with a classical background. She studied for a short time with Walter Mayhall, and then, when she was only seven years old, she began studying with the first flutist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Maurice Sharp. Sharp did not allow her to play in school groups, as he was concerned that she would pick up bad habits. Her mother played the piano to accompany her until Hofmann entered high school, when the music became more complicated. She continued her formal training through high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan for gifted students. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and then went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
Hofmann feels that her classical training laid the groundwork for her to be able to play jazz. “It’s absolutely a help, because you have to be so accomplished to do jazz, and without the classical discipline a lot of times it’s just not possible,” she said to the Tucson Weekly. She went on to acknowledge, “Had I not had a jazz background before I started the classical lessons, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the jazz feel I now have. So I think I did it in the right order, but I absolutely need that classical training for the technical ability to play all the styles and to play all the things that are in my head.”
Hofmann was unsure if she would play jazz or classical after completing her master’s degree. She headed to San Diego in 1984, knowing that living on either the East or West Coast would improve her chances for success. She had friends playing in an ensemble in San Diego, and so she followed along. She began playing jazz in clubs and working as a promoter, booking groups for area hotels. She began making a name for herself by booking notable groups into the Horton Grand Hotel. In January of 2002, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Hofmann, in the 1990s, had turned the hotel into a “thriving, year-round venue that featured national and local talent several nights each week.” She found that working as a promoter helped her get to know other musicians and find acceptance in the musicians and find acceptance in the music community.
Born in the early 1960s, in Cleveland, OH; daughter of Nelson and Betty Hofmann; married Mike Wofford (a pianist), 2000. Education: Bachelor’s degree, Cleveland Institute of Music; master’s degree, University of Northern Colorado.
Began playing flute, age five; began formally studying flute, age seven; played in jazz clubs, worked as promoter booking acts into area hotels after moving to San Diego, 1984; released debut recording, Further Adventures, 1989; began playing and recording with pianist Bill Cunliffe, 1991; became first flute player to headline as leader at New York’s Village Vanguard, 1996.
Addresses: Office —1125 Via Las Cumbres, San Diego, CA 92111, phone: (858) 268-1814, fax: (858) 268-8909, e-mail: [email protected] Website — Holly Hofmann Official Website: http://www.hollyhofmann.com.
By 1989 she had made her recording debut with Further Adventures on Capri Records. This album was followed by Take Note in 1990.
In 1991 Hofmann booked a group at the Horton Grand Hotel that included pianist Bill Cunliffe. Hofmann was impressed with Cunliffe’s abilities. The two started playing together extensively, including a tour of New Zealand and Australia. “The thing that Bill and I have in common is extensive classical training. He’s the only guy I know who has incredible classical ability and still swings as hard as any pianist I know,” Hofmann told the Los Angeles Times in December of 1996. “We don’t ever want to sound like classical players who do a little jazz,” she said. “When we do bebop, we swing really hard.”
While Hofmann was finding success in many arenas, she was also continually struggling against the stereotype of the delicate female flute player. “Once I called a promoter about playing in his festival,” she recalled to the Tucson Weekly, “and he said, ‘You’re a white female flute player and you want to play in this festival? You’ve got to be kidding!’ He just laughed in my face.” She went on to say, “There are some promoters that say, ‘We don’t want a flute on the front line in a festival or a jam session because flute is not one of the jazz horns.’ The other thing I get is from other promoters saying women don’t swing, women are not strong jazz players. So the biggest impediment I face would be the combination of female and flute.”
She often found herself being the only female instrumentalist at jazz festivals. “There’s still this attitude, this question about whether a chick flute player can fit in with all the guys. My answer is: Yes, she can,” Hofmann told the Union-Tribune in March of 1998. Hofmann’s skill and style would prove her worth to the promoters once they heard her strong, solid sound. In 1996 the Los Angeles Times described her as “a muscular player who has stood toe-to-toe with the likes of saxophonist James Moody, trombonist Slide Hampton and others.”
She continued to work with different combinations of musicians in duets, trios, quartets, and quintets. In 1996 she achieved a great landmark in her career as the only flute player to headline at the Village Vanguard in New York City, playing with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Victor Lewis. “That was quite a coup,” she told Francesca Nemko of JazzNow. “I’m the first flutist in the club’s history to be hired as a leader. I always play that gig with Kenny Barron, Ray Brown, and Victor Lewis. That’s been one of the most helpful engagements for me, because people who were hesitant to bring in a flute player now acknowledge me.” She has returned to the Village Vanguard many times since.
Hofmann appreciated opportunities to play with well-known bass player, Ray Brown. “No matter where I play with him it results in future gigs,” Hofmann told the Albuquerque Journal. She toured Europe with the Ray Brown Trio in 2001 prior to his death in July of 2002.
In recent years, however, her main gigs have involved playing as a duo with Bill Cunliffe and playing in a quartet that includes her husband, pianist Mike Wofford, whom she married in 2000 after 13 years of playing together professionally.
She uses her classical training to bring out a sound with a minimum of vibrato and a maximum amount of air speed. She also prefers to play the flute without an amplifier. “I don’t like what microphones do to the flute sound,” she said to the Union-Tribune in 2001. “It doesn’t reproduce the nuances of the flute the way I like it. When Bill is really digging in and playing forte, I have to dig in and really get some sound out of that instrument.”
Cunliffe and Hofmann are well suited to one another musically and have worked together on a number of albums, including Tales of Hofmann, Just Duet, and Flutopia. Cunliffe speaks highly of Hofmann. “Holly is a major classical-sounding player yet she plays bebop flute like a swinging saxophone player. I don’t know of anyone else who can do that,” he stated in the Edmonton Journal. During the 1996–97 season, the duo of Hofmann and Cunliffe toured together so much that they cut an album together called Just Duet. The Los Angeles Times reported that the most impressive aspect of their performance “was the way the flutist and the pianist fit their sounds together, hand-in-glove, no matter what they were playing.”
Hofmann felt that her perspectives changed after she turned 40 years old. She faced that possibility that women flute players may not be commonly accepted as jazz musicians in her lifetime. She also decided that it was more important to her to play fewer gigs, making sure she played with the right people and didn’t have to be compromised. She stopped working with people she didn’t like because for her, as she stated in an interview with Contemporary Musicians, “music is from the gut,” and she has to feel comfortable with the people she is working with to play that way.
On top of performing and recording, Hofmann has continued to act as the booking agent for a number of big San Diego hotels, including the Horton Grand Hotel, L’Auberge Del Mar Resort, the Bristo Court Hotel, and the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina on Harbor Island. She also teaches flute clinics at high schools and colleges and has five private flute students.
Hofmann’s two main goals are to influence young women in realizing that they can indeed play jazz and make a living at it, and to change the role of the flute in jazz, “making the flute just another jazz horn,” as she said in an interview with Contemporary Musicians. According to a 1997 Los Angeles Times article, she is achieving that goal: “Hofmann, one of the most accomplished flutists around, has single-handedly destroyed the stereotype of the delicate female flutist, thanks to her muscular attack and improvisational abandon.”
Hofmann travels and performs extensively, regularly playing in the major jazz clubs in New York City, including the Blue Note, Birdland, and Just Jazz. When she is not touring, she makes her home with Wofford in Southern California.
Further Adventures, Capri, 1989.
Take Note Capri, 1990.
Duo Personality, Jazz Alliance, 1992.
Tales of Hofmann, Azica, 1995.
(With Bill Cunliffe) Just Duet, Azica, 1996.
Flutopia, Azica, 1999.
(With the Holly Hofmann Quartet) Live at Birdland, Azica, 2000.
Just Duet, Vol. 2, Azica, 2002.
Albuquerque Journal, March 29, 2002, p. 16.
Edmonton Journal, October 2, 1998, p. E19.
International Musician, September 2002, p. 20.
JazzNow, November 1997.
Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1996, p. 6; July 26, 1997, p. 6; June 8, 1999, p. 6.
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 26, 1998; December 20, 2001; January 6, 2002, p. F4.
Tucson Weekly, March 21–27, 2002.
“Holly Hofmann,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 29, 2002).
Holly Hofmann Official Website, http://www.hollyhofmann.com (October 29, 2002).
Additional information was obtained through a phone interview with Holly Hofmann on November 21, 2002.
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